Blus­ter doesn’t ex­cuse Trump’s will­ful ig­no­rance

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— Of all the ab­sur­di­ties in Don­ald Trump’s rapid po­lit­i­cal rise, none is more puz­zling than his rep­u­ta­tion for tough­ness in the war against ter­ror­ism.

Trump is a real es­tate devel­oper who takes any do­mes­tic ter­ror­ist at­tack — what­ever the ac­tual cir­cum­stances — as con­fir­ma­tion of his views on a lax im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, as ev­i­dence of a law en­force­ment sys­tem hob­bled by po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and as cause for more ag­gres­sive pro­fil­ing of Mus­lims, Arabs, or whomever he is cur­rently defin­ing as the threat. Some of his fol­low­ers seem par­tic­u­larly pleased when he edges to­ward declar­ing Is­lam it­self to be the en­emy. “Frankly,” Trump has said, “we’re hav­ing prob­lems with the Mus­lims.”

This is com­plete mad­ness. No se­ri­ous coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­pert (Trump may have un­earthed some un­se­ri­ous ones to pro­vide cover) be­lieves that the task of con­fronting do­mes­tic rad­i­cal­iza­tion — of work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties to iden­tify threats and pre­vent at­tacks — is helped by declar­ing a war on Is­lam. Those who re­gard Trump’s use of the words “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism” as a coun­tert­er­ror­ism vic­tory are en­gaged in mag­i­cal for­eign pol­icy think­ing — the de­ploy­ment of in­can­ta­tions in a global con­flict.

Trump has hardly dis­tin­guished him­self in re­act­ing to that con­flict, fed by the ra­di­at­ing dis­or­ders of the Mid­dle East. As the Is­lamic State (also known as ISIS) rose, the GOP nom­i­nee said, “That’s not our fight.” And: “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care?” And: “Let Rus­sia fight ISIS, if they want to fight ‘ em.” But also: “Bomb the oil and take the oil” — which would seem to re­quire a choice be­tween the two. In­can­ta­tions are prefer­able to such gib­ber­ish.

Trump’s in­stinct is to lead from be­hind — the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, not re­pu­di­a­tion, of Oba­maera pol­icy in the Mid­dle East. But one of the lead­ing crit­ics of this pol­icy is also Don­ald Trump. “If [Obama] had gone in with tremen­dous force,” he has ar­gued, “you wouldn’t have mil­lions of peo­ple dis­placed all over the world.”

Those who be­lieve that preen­ing blus­ter makes up for will­ful ig­no­rance and dan­ger­ously poor pol­icy judg­ment have found their man. But this is not the worst of it. Any­one who has spent time work­ing in the White House would at­test that the sin­gle most im­por­tant pres­i­den­tial at­tribute is lead­er­ship in

WASH­ING­TON

times of cri­sis. We have no idea what chal­lenges the next pres­i­dent may face — an out­break of deadly pan­demic flu, the col­lapse of or­der in nu­clear Pak­istan, a cy­ber­at­tack on the U.S. electricity grid. All we know — or try our best to know — is the char­ac­ter, sta­bil­ity and cred­i­bil­ity of the pres­i­dent him­self (or her­self).

On cur­rent and con­sis­tent ev­i­dence, Trump would jump to con­clu­sions, en­ter­tain con­spir­acy the­o­ries and lash out in rhetoric that seems tough but ac­tu­ally com­pli­cates the task of lead­er­ship. Con­ser­va­tives try­ing to jus­tify a vote for Trump ar­gue that the pres­i­dency it­self will some­how ma­ture him. Yet the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee has pro­vided lit­tle rea­son to be­lieve he is truly ca­pa­ble of learn­ing or ben­e­fit­ing from good coun­sel. “My pri­mary con­sul­tant is my­self and I have a good in­stinct for this stuff,” Trump has said.

When I asked a for­mer of­fi­cial of Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion (who wanted to be un­named in or­der to speak more freely) about the re­quire­ments of pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship in a time of na­tional test­ing, the list was not a match with the GOP nom­i­nee. “It is re­ally im­por­tant to project a sense of calm,” the of­fi­cial said. “A leader un­der­stands that peo­ple feed off his emo­tions in a mo­ment of cri­sis. If he uses wild or fran­tic rhetoric, it will risk cre­at­ing a psy­cho­log­i­cal tsunami.”

The pres­i­dent may face si­mul­ta­ne­ous crises, the of­fi­cial went on, forc­ing him “to rely on oth­ers in the team to give good ad­vice.” And: “If the ego is cen­tral to a leader and a cri­sis oc­curs, it could lead to rash de­ci­sion-mak­ing.” And: “One can­not solve a cri­sis by blam­ing other peo­ple. This tone makes it harder to rally the whole na­tion.” A leader has to “ar­tic­u­late a cred­i­ble strat­egy” and honor the “Amer­i­can val­ues that unite us.”

By all of th­ese mea­sures, Trump rep­re­sents an ex­tra­or­di­nary risk to the na­tion. On for­eign pol­icy, he is the worst of all worlds — ex­treme and alien­at­ing in his rhetoric, con­fused, er­ratic and weak on mat­ters of pol­icy. When some of us talk about pres­i­den­tial tem­per­a­ment, this is what we mean. Trump has not shown the sta­bil­ity, pru­dence and judg­ment the pres­i­dency re­quires in mo­ments of na­tional test­ing. This is not only dis­turb­ing; it is dis­qual­i­fy­ing.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@wash­post.com.

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