Editorial: How easily we are deceived
A week ago, Trump deflected the political dialogue from his administration’s shady connections to Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections (and a too cozy relationship Russian President Vladimir Putin) by dropping a few bombs in Syria. While the tactic violated everything Trump had said on the campaign trail that he would not do, and was against the very actions he warned President Obama not to take, it worked. At least, temporarily.
Rather than being concerned with Trump’s Russian connections, the public’s focus was suddenly on the new Trump-Russian rivalry, and on Trump’s decisive action in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent use of sarin gas, killing dozens of citizens, including small children.
Political pundits from the nation’s biggest media companies fell all over themselves trying to cipher the new meaning of Trump’s action: Had he really reversed course 180 degrees, and now was hell-bent on removing al-Assad from power? Did he suddenly get a conscience after seeing pictures of dying children from the gas attack? Is his former romance with Putin suddenly on the rocks?
Let’s get real. Trump’s poll numbers were rock bottom, ranking lower than any modern president at this point in his presidency. He had a Russia problem in that the public perception was rapidly growing that his connections to Putin, Russian oligarchs and shady dealings with Russian political operatives were all too close considering Russia has long been considered America’s principle adversary. Trump, in short, was being seen as “soft” on Russia — primarily among many Republican hawks — and it was costing him politically. He needed to change that narrative, and al-Assad gave him the perfect opportunity.
Bombing Syria wasn’t about Trump developing a moral conscience or a foreign policy. It was a political calculation based on the assumption he would gain more politically by firing on Syria, than he would lose in the now strained relations with Russia and Iran; and in fact, straining that relationship with Putin was also beneficial for Trump’s political image at home.
Is there the beginning of a foreign policy in the Middle East, or toward Russia based on this action? Not on your life. Why? Because Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy is so vast and so complete, he has yet to develop an understanding of the issues, let alone develop a coherent policy.
That should come as no surprise to anyone following his candidacy and his first 10 weeks in office: He is the most clueless, most uninformed president on policy issues this nation may have ever elected. His lack of knowledge is legion, and up until recently he was proud of it. On the campaign trail, he bragged of his “gut instincts” being superior to knowledge-based understanding. He boasted he knew more about waging war than “all the generals combined.” He dismissed treaties, foreign alliances, and long-standing institutions such as NATO and the United Nations as if his “America First” strategy was somehow brilliant, rather than a recipe for isolationism during which America would cede years of hard-won good will and world-leadership to our biggest competitor — China.
And China has taken advantage of Trump’s ignorance and small-minded ideas. It is China who may grab the mantle, however undeserved, as the world leader on climate change and reap a share of the good will in the industrial development of renewable energy while also losing high-paying jobs. It is China who is muscling into America’s two largest trading partners’ territories — Mexico and Canada — with new overtures for their business (potentially costing U.S. business a huge loss of close markets) as Trump threatens to undo NAFTA. And China has already moved aggressively into the emerging economies of Africa and Asia to position themselves as friends, while Trump projects an arrogant American vision of superiority that will alienate friends and embolden our opponents.
Foreign policy? Syrian strategy? Come on.
Can anyone truly believe that a man who has spent his adult life stiffing businessmen on job projects, luring suckers into Trump University, sexually harassing women and bragging of female conquests because his wealth allows him to “get away with it,” has suddenly developed a moral compass? Does anyone believe that a man who routinely lies to gain the upper-hand, who bad-mouths opponents at will and make outrageous allegations without anyevidence, who blames everyone but himself, and who is willing to reject all refugees from Syria (including hundreds of children and adults who needlessly die in harrowing attempts to flee danger), now suddenly cares about what he has previously dismissed as war’s collateral damage?
No, there is no sudden change in Trump’s heart or fundamental change in policy toward Syria or Russia. What Trump rightly understands is how eager Americans are to believe in the good in others, and therefore how easily they are deceived.
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