His trade tus­sle with China, which looks to be a stand­off at the mo­ment, has not yet led to a break­down in good re­la­tions

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL - By Jonathan Power

What do we have to truly fear about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump? Last week, he pulled off the suc­cess­ful re-ne­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­ica Free Trade area. Pun­dits thought, with Canadare­fus­ing to bend, it couldn’t hap­pen. Maybe the deal now leans more in Amer­ica’s di­rec­tion but Trump has also given some­thing away: the right of Mex­i­coand Canadato sell their trucks and cars more eas­ily in the US. He said he’s a great “deal-maker,” and so this time he is.

His trade tus­sle with China, which looks to be a stand­off at the mo­ment, has not yet led to a break­down in good re­la­tions. Trump has been more than care­ful to keep the di­rect chan­nels open to Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, even if last week he be­came more openly crit­i­cal and per­sonal. He has treated Xi much bet­ter than he treated Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau of Canada. Nev­er­the­less, the fact is the Chi­nese have taken ad­van­tage of the US, ig­nor­ing its copy­rights, bla­tantly re­verse en­gi­neer­ing ex­pen­sive US prod­ucts and sub­si­diz­ing ex­ports. Trump goes too far with his de­mands, but he is on firm enough ground to force the Chi­nese to re-think some of their poli­cies. He’s mak­ing progress.

Like­wise, while be­ing tough on Rus­sia, ratch­et­ing up sanc­tions, send­ing modern arms to Ukraine, in­creas­ing de­fence spend­ing and stand­ing back from the cuts in nu­clear weapons that Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has sug­gested, he keeps his per­sonal chan­nels open to Putin, unlike Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Later he may reap the har­vest of this. Rus­sian pol­i­tics is very per­sonal un­der Putin.

With North Korea he ap­pears to have flat­tered Pres­i­dent Kim Jong Un to the point where Kim shows his con­struc­tive side to Trump. Progress is be­ing made on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment even if it’s not at the rate the for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment wants.

Nev­er­the­less, for all this, the fact is that Trump is a man with an ugly per­son­al­ity, as ugly in its way as Kim. Some­times one can imag­ine if he were not con­strained by law he would ex­e­cute some of his en­e­mies as Kim has done.

His staff find he’s im­pos­si­ble to deal with though he gets im­por­tant things done.

Af­ter read­ing Bob Wood­ward’s new book Fear, one re­alises that Wood­ward gives lit­tle space to Trump’s achieve­ments, and his in­ter­views and re-cre­ations of real life scenes are nearly all ori­en­tated in a crit­i­cal di­rec­tion.

Wood­ward has painted a pic­ture of a sor­did man, full of quite dis­gust­ing pro­fan­i­ties and un­truths that he aims at his staff and many of those who do busi­ness with him with hourly reg­u­lar­ity (If the women in his “base” could hear these many would be shocked.) It’s a fine book, re­searched in the most in­ti­mate and thor­ough way. One doesn’t doubt his ve­rac­ity. Quite a bit of it we have read in the news­pa­pers al­ready over the last two years, but even then Wood­ward gets deeper in­side the man, the pol­i­cy­mak­ing, and how it’s im­ple­mented. He’s the best fly on the wall any­one could ask for.

There are, too, whole chap­ters where Wood­ward writes about star­tling things we’ve not known about. Again and again, in order to keep the US on a sen­si­ble course in its poli­cies for trade, for­eign re­la­tions and fi­nan­cial af­fairs, his staff have to se­cretly re­move from his desk pa­pers wait­ing to be signed. This cho­leric man is so seized up by the next cri­sis or what ap­pears as an af­front he for­gets he asked for them.

Time and time again, his staff are coura­geous, of­fer­ing the Pres­i­dent clever anal­y­sis, de­spite his con­stant put­downs. He tells them its bull­shit and that he’s held his views on this or that for over 30 years and he’s not go­ing to change. Amaz­ingly, they ar­gue back, and he lets them — up to a point. In his way, he ac­cepts a lot of talk-back and even ver­bal in­sub­or­di­na­tion, but then gives the staffer hell.

There is in­sub­or­di­na­tion be­hind his back, too. On one oc­ca­sion, when dis­cussing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad of Syria, Trump said to Gen­eral James Mat­tis, the De­fence Sec­re­tary, “Let’s go in, let’s kill him.” “Yes,” Mat­tis said, “I will get right on it.” He hung up the phone. “We’re not go­ing to do any of that,” he told a se­nior aide. When the North Korea cri­sis first blew up, Mat­tis made it clear he didn’t want war. His view was that North Korea could be con­tained.

Iron­i­cally, as with North Korea lat­terly, Trump in some ar­eas of pol­icy can have non-war­like in­stincts. He ar­gued hard with the mil­i­tary, un­til they per­suaded him oth­er­wise, that the Usshould to­tally with­draw from Afghanistan.

Where this story ends no­body knows. Wood­ward for one doesn’t ad­vo­cate im­peach­ment but by the end of the book it hangs in the air. Who re­ally wants such a volatile, unhinged and amoral man to have his fin­ger on the nu­clear but­ton?

Af­ter read­ing Bob Wood­ward’s new book Fear, one re­alises that Wood­ward gives lit­tle space to Trump’s achieve­ments, and his in­ter­views and re-cre­ations of real life scenes are nearly all ori­en­tated in a crit­i­cal di­rec­tion

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