Trump: the un­guided mis­sile

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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US leader por­trayed as a dan­ger­ous force with a pen­chant for mak­ing rash de­ci­sions with a poor grasp of the con­se­quences

Shan­non Ebrahim is the For­eign Edi­tor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia

FOR AMER­I­CANS at least, this year hasn’t got off to a great start. The re­lease of Michael Wolff’s sen­sa­tional book, Fire and Fury: In­side the Trump White House, has flown off the shelves, shot to the top of Ama­zon’s best­seller list and con­firmed the worst fears of many. De­spite some in­ac­cu­ra­cies and be­trayed con­fi­dences, Wolff has man­aged to con­vinc­ingly por­tray Trump as a man who lacks the in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity to ful­fil his role as pres­i­dent.

What should be most con­cern­ing to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is the way in which Trump al­legedly ar­rives at de­ci­sions. Ac­cord­ing to those Wolff in­ter­viewed in his in­ner cir­cle, his de­ci­sion-mak­ing process is de­picted as un­in­formed, ran­dom, based on emo­tion and in­flu­enced by per­sonal con­nec­tions.

The theme of his pref­er­ence for in­stinct over ex­per­tise runs through the nar­ra­tive.

Per­haps most telling was the quote by National Eco­nom­ics Coun­cil director Gary Cohn: “Trump won’t read any­thing – not one-page memos, not the pol­icy brief pa­pers, noth­ing. He gets up half­way through meet­ings with world lead­ers be­cause he is bored.”

Trump’s dis­dain for read­ing and pref­er­ence for tele­vi­sion is widely known, but to hear his clos­est pol­i­cy­mak­ers say he hardly reads and strug­gles to process in­for­ma­tion is re­ally wor­ry­ing.

But the an­tics of the per­son are less of a cri­sis than his pen­chant for mak­ing rash uni­lat­eral de­ci­sions, at times with­out the ad­vice or coun­sel of his own staff.

The most no­table ex­am­ple in the book is the fir­ing of FBI director James Comey last May, which was a hasty de­ci­sion made al­legedly out of anger at the rapidly ex­pand­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion over whether the Trump cam­paign had col­luded with the Rus­sians.

Ac­cord­ing to those in­ter­viewed by Wolff, the pres­i­dent acted en­tirely on his own with no in­put from his pol­icy team and many of the West Wing staff found out about the ax­ing from Fox news.

What does seem clear from Wolff ’s in­ter­views is that the de­ci­sion to fire Comey came after weeks of lob­by­ing from his daugh­ter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, who were re­put­edly con­cerned about what such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion could re­veal about their fi­nances.

If the book is to be be­lieved, not only Amer­i­cans but the world is con­fronted by a pres­i­dent who shuns read­ing, is bored by pol­icy brief­ings, acts hastily and on emo­tion, is heav­ily in­flu­enced by his im­me­di­ate fam­ily and, most im­por­tantly, fails to un­der­stand the con­se­quences of his ac­tions. There are few who would deny this is a dan­ger­ous recipe.

In­ter­views with diplo­mats and for­eign of­fi­cials have char­ac­terised Trump’s for­eign pol­icy as cat­a­strophic, ter­ri­fy­ing, in­com­pe­tent and dan­ger­ous, ac­cord­ing to Su­san Glasser, colum­nist for Politico.

Many be­lieve that agree­ments with the State Depart­ment can all too eas­ily be over­turned by Trump’s tweets and that there is no strate­gic di­rec­tion, con­sis­tency or pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

It is one thing to be in­com­pe­tent, but when the US pres­i­dent has un­fet­tered power to make ma­jor for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions, some­one such as Trump has the po­ten­tial to be a dan­ger­ous force on the world stage. It is no wonder that his staff were at pains to get him to stop talk­ing about North Korea after he vowed to meet North Korea’s provo­ca­tions with fire and fury like the world has never seen (hence the ti­tle of Wolff’s book).

It is clear that Trump has not grasped the real con­se­quences of a nu­clear con­fla­gra­tion with North Korea and the po­ten­tial dec­i­ma­tion of the Korean penin­sula and po­ten­tially even parts of the US.

As with North Korea, Trump has failed to grasp the con­se­quences of the US pulling out of the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment, dis­play­ing his un­be­liev­able ig­no­rance by con­tin­u­ing to deny the re­al­ity of cli­mate change. In 2012 Trump re­ferred to cli­mate change as a myth prop­a­gated by the Chi­nese and there is noth­ing to sug­gest a shift in his at­ti­tude.

This is de­spite the fact that in Novem­ber, 13 US fed­eral agen­cies un­veiled an ex­haus­tive sci­en­tific re­port that says hu­mans are the dom­i­nant cause of the global temperature rise that has cre­ated the warm­est pe­riod in the his­tory of mankind. It seems that Trump, as many in­sid­ers have sug­gested, is al­ler­gic to facts.

Whether it is the bomb­ing of Syria, the surge in Afghanistan, the de­ci­sion to move the US em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem or the hos­tile stand-off with North Korea, Trump has con­sis­tently ig­nored the facts.

In the end this has noth­ing to do with ide­ol­ogy – un­like what drove past pres­i­dents in the pur­suit of reck­less for­eign poli­cies.

For Trump it is about be­ing fa­mous and liked. He has suc­ceeded in the first, but Fire and Fury is sure to put a nail in the cof­fin of the lat­ter. They say many a US pres­i­dent started a war as a des­per­ate mea­sure to boost their pop­u­lar­ity – watch this space.

LOOSE CAN­NON: Ac­cord­ing to those in­ter­viewed by Michael Wolff, Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing is un­in­formed, ran­dom and based on emo­tion.

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