Trump: A suc­cess­ful sa­vant?

Get­ting out of Syria, gets the Koreas talk­ing, wants to leave Afghanistan, fixed NAFTA, fix­ing the bor­der ... Sur­pris­ingly, for an odd guy, he’s get­ting it done

The Niagara Falls Review - - Opinion - RICK SA­LUTIN Rick Sa­lutin is a free­lance colum­nist based in Toronto. Reach him on email: rick­[email protected]­ter.net

Syria is the lat­est ex­am­ple of U.S. for­eign pol­icy in which Trump gets it right while al­most no one else, for or against him, does.

Of course they should leave. Their only jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was to stop Daesh, which ex­ists due to the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq. Iran and Turkey are nearby. They can han­dle it now, with Rus­sia if nec­es­sary. Yet Trump’s own beloved gen­er­als, in­clud­ing for­mer de­fence sec­re­tary “Mad Dog” Mat­tis — who quit over it — dis­agree.

His se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, tried to de­vi­ously undo the pol­icy and got slapped by Turkey’s leader for it. Pa­trick Cock­burn, in my opin­ion, the most re­li­able An­glo jour­nal­ist in the re­gion, says “in many ways Trump has a bet­ter grip on what’s hap­pen­ing there than Bolton.” And Bolton has spent his life on this stuff !

How does Trump get these things right? We know he doesn’t read. We know he doesn’t think. Ev­ery­one else says the op­po­site. Yet he nails it.

In the past he’d have been called an id­iot sa­vant, now it’s known as sa­vant syn­drome: clue­less ex­cept for one thing, where he’s bril­liant. Mozart is por­trayed in “Amadeus” as an id­iot sa­vant: a sheer ge­nius but only mu­si­cally. Salieri, his ri­val, is the heart of the film. We iden­tify with him be­cause he’s real: lim­ited in ta­lent and frus­trated, not a gifted nar­cis­sis­tic goof­ball.

How did Trump get North Korea right? Ev­ery U.S. leader since the “tem­po­rary” 1953 truce missed it. The North wanted le­git­i­macy and se­cu­rity, that’s why they went nu­clear. They’d been dec­i­mated by bomb­ing and hemmed in. Trump re­sponded to that and may pull it off. The ex­perts were uni­formly dis­mis­sive.

I’d say he got NAFTA right too. It was a hellish deal, for U.S. and Cana­dian work­ers. He im­proved it sig­nif­i­cantly for them: killed the odi­ous in­vestor-state clause let­ting cor­po­ra­tions sue for lost prof­its and raised wage stan­dards — even in Mex­ico. Also killed the “en­ergy pro­por­tion­al­ity” strait­jacket. He over­states the ben­e­fits, but not as much as Clin­ton, Chré­tien or Mul­roney al­ways did.

Take his de­ploy­ment of U.S. troops to the Mex­i­can bor­der. The whole anti-im­mi­grant pol­icy and rhetoric is de­spi­ca­ble and self-serv­ing. But in some larger sense he’s right: U.S. forces should de­fend their own coun­try in­stead of smash­ing so­ci­eties half a world away. Like Mozart in “Amadeus,” he seems to have no clear idea what he’s do­ing but it works in the over­all con­text. He has no hu­man or moral sense, no em­pa­thy, just this … knack. The oth­ers are Salieri.

Afghanistan’s an in­ter­est­ing case. He wants to with­draw: af­ter 15 years there, things are worse. Then he goes too far and tries to ex­plain the his­tory. He says “Rus­sia” (i.e., the U.S.S.R.) was “right” to in­vade in

1979 to pre­vent ji­hadi ter­ror against it­self. The ex­perts pounced. MSNBC’S “pro­gres­sive” bea­con, Rachel Mad­dow, said nowhere “in na­ture” had such a stupid idea been ut­tered.

But in 1998, long af­ter the Soviet in­va­sion, for­mer U.S. se­cu­rity head Zbig­niew Brzezin­ski bragged that the U.S. had se­cretly funded ji­hadis like Osama bin Laden to in­fil­trate and ter­ror­ize the pro-Soviet Afghan regime. So Trump was right about “Rus­sia” in­vad­ing to stop ter­ror — though wrong on the tar­get: he likely con­flated Afghanistan and Chech­nya. Be­cause he’s stupid and ig­no­rant.

Mad­dow said Putin had coached him. Pos­si­bly. But he sensed that it made sense. And Putin didn’t whis­per to him about NAFTA or North Korea. None of this makes Trump less of a menace. He’s still Most Likely to Blow the World Up. But that would be his per­son­al­ity, not his for­eign pol­icy in­stincts.

(His love for tyrants — Duterte, bin Sal­man — is about some­thing else: his weak­ness for brutish male fig­ures, prob­a­bly start­ing with dear old dad.)

He takes these stances alone, none of his en­tourage con­curs. Yet he doesn’t wa­ver. He’s steady as a rock and just as dumb, though on ev­ery­thing else, he’s un­sta­ble as water. I have no idea how to ex­plain it.

The term, id­iot sa­vant, has lost cur­rency, rightly. It was of­fen­sive, yet Trump may be an ex­cep­tion. His own peo­ple call him a mo­ron or, al­ter­nately, a “f---ing mo­ron.” They say he’s like a child, which in­sults chil­dren. I’m go­ing with id­iot sa­vant. More metic­u­lously: Trump Id­iot Sa­vant Syn­drome: TISS.

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