For US cri­sis, look no fur­ther than the White House

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion - Trudy Ru­bin Trudy Ru­bin is a colum­nist for the Philadel­phia In­quirer. tru­[email protected]

Ig­nore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s fake claim of a “grow­ing se­cu­rity cri­sis” on our south­ern bor­der.

His fear­mon­ger­ing only dis­tracts Amer­i­cans from our real se­cu­rity cri­sis: a chaotic for­eign pol­icy in­creas­ingly run solo by a pres­i­dent who be­lieves him­self too “bril­liant” to need ad­vice. A pres­i­dent who makes con­se­quen­tial de­ci­sions by tweet with­out con­sult­ing top ad­vis­ers or al­lies. A pres­i­dent who be­lieves he is uniquely qual­i­fied to make deals with despots but gets played by them ev­ery time.

The se­cu­rity threat posed by Trump was vividly on dis­play this week.

Even as Trump was mis­us­ing his prime-time ad­dress, his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and sec­re­tary of state were traips­ing the Mideast in a des­per­ate at­tempt to calm al­lies spooked by his sud­den tweet that U.S. troops were quit­ting Syria.

Yet the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­ior re­mains so er­ratic, the cleanup mis­sion was doomed.

Let’s briefly re­cap the Syria de­ba­cle: Trump’s mid-de­cem­ber tweet came just after a phone call with Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan; the Turk­ish pres­i­dent pledged to take on the re­main­ing fight against ISIS if the U.S. with­drew its 2,000 troops from Syria. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said Er­do­gan had also promised Trump he would “pro­tect” Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers al­lied with Amer­ica against ISIS.

Trump ap­par­ently bought both of Er­do­gan’s bla­tant false­hoods.

“The pres­i­dent hasn’t read his brief­ing books,” says the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions Tur­key ex­pert Steven Cook. Er­do­gan has made clear over and over that his pri­mary en­emy in Syria is the Kurds, not Is­lamic State. In­deed, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama asked for Turk­ish help in push­ing back a pow­er­ful ISIS at­tack in 2014 near Tur­key’s bor­der, Er­do­gan made clear he’d rather kill Kurds.

Cook adds, “The idea that Er­do­gan would fight ISIS is to­tally ridicu­lous.” Tur­key’s mil­i­tary is not geared for such guer­rilla war­fare, nor are their Sunni Arab mili­tia al­lies in north­ern Syria ca­pa­ble of do­ing so.

Yet the Turks are ask­ing the United States to turn over U.S. bases in Syria and to give the Turk­ish mil­i­tary weapons and in­tel­li­gence. Says Cook: “Peo­ple in the U.S. mil­i­tary are say­ing, ‘Why are we do­ing this when the Turk­ish mil­i­tary will turn around and kill our (Kur­dish) al­lies?’ “

The an­swer: Trump is so clue­less about the Mideast that he ac­cepts Er­do­gan’s pledges. Not sur­pris­ingly, Er­do­gan wants to deal with only a gullible Trump while ig­nor­ing the pres­i­dent’s un­happy se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers, who were not con­sulted be­fore the tweet and op­pose a speedy pull­out.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton and Pom­peo are each travers­ing the re­gion in an ef­fort to re­as­sure Is­rael and Gulf Arabs that a U.S. pull­out won’t en­cour­age an ISIS re­vival and em­bolden Iran to ex­pand its op­er­a­tions in Syria. But why should our spooked al­lies be­lieve Bolton or Pom­peo, when the pres­i­dent doesn’t lis­ten to them?

And why should any al­lies trust Wash­ing­ton, when they know Trump may sell them out with a tweet based on ig­no­rance or pique?

The Syria case lays bare the se­cu­rity threat posed by a U.S. pres­i­dent who thinks he has in­fal­li­ble in­stincts and has no clue that he is be­ing played by despots whose in­stincts, and knowl­edge, are far bet­ter than his.

Just as Trump was easy prey for Er­do­gan, he has lapped up Vladimir Putin’s false­hoods and has yet to budge China’s Xi Jin­ping — or North Ko­rea’s Kim Jong Un — on key se­cu­rity and nu­clear is­sues. Ob­sessed with leader-to-leader ne­go­ti­a­tions, the pres­i­dent may ul­ti­mately make bad deals, or after com­ing up empty, drift into mil­i­tary con­flict.

What makes Trump’s ob­ses­sion with a bor­der wall even more out­ra­geous is that it dis­tracts at­ten­tion from all the real threats else­where.

In­deed, the pri­mary threat to U.S. se­cu­rity, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 as­sess­ment by the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, is cy­ber-at­tacks against crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and mar­kets, with Rus­sia and China atop the list of ma­lign ac­tors.

Yet Trump re­fuses to di­rect an all-of-gov­ern­ment push­back against cy­ber war­fare and has dis­man­tled the of­fice of White House cy­ber­se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tor. He con­tin­ues to deny the re­al­i­ties of Rus­sian med­dling.

And his gov­ern­ment shut­down has side­lined nearly half the staff of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s new cy­ber­se­cu­rity agency, which was sup­posed to guard against net­work at­tacks.

Next on the threat list are the rise of smaller nu­clear and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons and the still-real ter­ror threat from ISIS and al-qaida. The pres­i­dent hasn’t paid any at­ten­tion to the for­mer. And, if he fol­lows his in­stincts, he will pro­mote an ISIS re­vival in Syria by be­tray­ing the only Syr­ian fight­ers, the Kurds, who truly took on the ji­hadis.

To re­phrase Pogo, “We have met the se­cu­rity threat, and he is Trump.”

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