Five years ago, Rena Easton and I exchanged letters. Right away, I began to have visions of a disastrous future that would destroy all her late husband worked for. I will now make a record of my prophecies. Did Rena see a dangerous clown like Trump, coming? We got a Micky Mouse operation going here. Don’t forget to watch the Mousekteer Show tonight.
Too much coverage in the run-up to this week’s NATO Summit treated the conflict between President Trump and European leaders like a four-alarm fire – as if maybe it could be put out. Or at least tamped down to a smolder, so that maybe Moscow wouldn’t notice.
But fire is the wrong plague metaphor here. Think earthquakes — one after another after another, jolting the landscape of international relations and leaving behind ever-greater chaos. The list of recent temblers includes Trump’s assaults on the alliance, his ongoing efforts to harm or humiliate Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and others. But there are also the shocks from other member states over recent months — Turkey flouting democratic and alliance norms, Poland and Hungary edging away from the rule of law, Italy joining Trump in undercutting alliance positions on Russia’s aggression in Crimea and elsewhere. Trump used this week’s summit to administer additional stress tests, of course, from a personalized assault against Merkel at the opening breakfast to late-day tweets demanding, out of nowhere, that alliance members double the proportion of their GDP they pledge to spend on defense.
After all these earthquakes, what’s left of the largest, most prosperous, most democratic alliance in human history? Well, NATO was still able to put out a unanimous communique calling on Russia to demonstrate “compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.” And it started a training program for post-ISIS Iraq. So, no, Trump didn’t destroy the Atlantic Alliance at the summit. He is not going to come home and attempt to withdraw from the treaty that commits the U.S. to the defense of its European allies, and vice versa. With all due respect to pre-trip headlines, that was never the plan.
Let’s look at the pattern here: Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord — but that doesn’t take effect until 2020. He said he would pull out of NAFTA — and we’re still waiting on that one. He described the Group of Seven major industrial powers as useless without Russia — and yet he is still happy to show up at the summit and throw Starbursts at Merkel. He threatened to quit the World Trade Organization — but really he’s just complaining other countries don’t live by its rules.
The two pacts he has bothered to walk away from are the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the seven-party “Iran deal” formerly blocking Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. What did those two agreements have in common? They were brand-spanking-new Obama projects, not ensconced in years of policy-making tradition. His base was already against them, and both deals could be voided without doing much of anything, or asking congressional Republicans to do much of anything.
In case Donald Trump’s public-relations offensive against several U.S. military leaders was too subtle, the president spent part of his cabinet meeting yesterday taking shots at James Mattis, the Defense secretary who parted ways with the administration earlier this week.
“What’s he done for me?” Trump asked rhetorically. “How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I’m not happy with what he’s done in Afghanistan and I shouldn’t be happy…. I wish him well, I hope he does well. But as you know President Obama fired him and essentially so did I.”
For the record, Mattis became the first Pentagon chief to resign in protest after the president ignored his guidance on the U.S. military commitment in Syria. It’s true that Trump moved up Mattis’ departure date after pundits told the president what the retired four-star general wrote in his brief resignation letter, but it’s a stretch to say Trump “essentially” fired the secretary who quit.
Regardless, soon after disparaging Mattis, and echoing Putin’s talking points about the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan 40 years ago, Trump offered a peek into his perspective as a military strategist.
“Why are we [in Afghanistan] and we are 6.000 miles away? But I don’t mind. We want to help our people. We want to help other nations. You do have terrorists, mostly Taliban but ISIS. And I’ll give you an example. So Taliban is our enemy, ISIS is our enemy, we have an area that I brought up with our generals four, five weeks ago where Taliban is here, ISIS is here, and they are fighting each other. I said. ‘Why don’t you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it?’ I said, ‘Let them fight. They are both our enemies. Let them fight.’ Sir, we–
“They go in and they end up fighting both of them and it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I think I would have been a good general, but who knows.”
This speaks to a possible explanation for why Trump has been so dismissive and disrespectful of several generals and admirals: he’s convinced he could do a better job than them.
In fact, the president has long suggested that he sees himself as something akin to a great American warrior. As a candidate, Trump liked to say he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager.
The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
It matters, of course, that the claims were ridiculously wrong, but it matters just as much that Trump believed that they were true.
Complicating matters, Trump’s timing could be better. It was, after all, just last week when the New York Times took a closer look at Cadet Bone Spur’s draft-dodging past.
In the fall of 1968, Donald J. Trump received a timely diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that led to his medical exemption from the military during Vietnam.
For 50 years, the details of how the exemption came about, and who made the diagnosis, have remained a mystery, with Mr. Trump himself saying during the presidential campaign that he could not recall who had signed off on the medical documentation.
Now a possible explanation has emerged about the documentation. It involves a foot doctor in Queens who rented his office from Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and a suggestion that the diagnosis was granted as a courtesy to the elder Mr. Trump.