Donald Trump has confirmed what has cryptic “calm before the storm” remark meant, after he and other administration figures previously refused to clarify what Trump was referring to after a recent meeting with top military figures.
According to Trump, when asked by Fox what he meant, the US President replied that he was referring to North Korea. This puts into question the received wisdom that Trump was implying US preparations to withdraw from the JCPOA (Iran deal), although further provocations against both Pyongyang and Tehran may still be equally on the cards.
Indeed, during a recent interview with RT (not available on line), I was asked what I believe the chances are that Trump is actually planning to withdraw from the JCPOA. I replied that because received wisdom throughout the world is that Trump is planning to de-certify the deal, my own view is that chances for withdrawal are “50/50”.
I explained that Trump’s much vaunted “element of surprise” tactic means that he often throws curve balls at the general public and apparently foreign governments as well. The particular JCPOA threat has united China, Russia, Iran, Germany, France, Britain and many EU states, including Austria, in a firm, and very public defence of the deal. Specifically, Austria seeks to guarantee that the deal holds among its other signatories, in the event of a Trump withdrawal.
Whether Trump is banking on an ‘element of surprise’, his administration is as chaotic as it would appear at face value, or a combination of both, is at this stage, a moot point. There is a difference between creating suspense on a reality tv series and irresponsible government. In respect of his foreign policy statements, Trump has certainly crossed the line into the territory of deeply irresponsible government, even if his remarks are a calculated act of self-defined genius.
Recently, I compared and more poignantly contrasted Donald Trump’s apparently “moronic” (to quote an alleged statement by Rex Tillerson) statements with Richard Nixon’s calculated ‘mad man theory’. I noted,
“Richard Nixon was many things, but he was certainly not a “moron”. He may have been the most intelligent US President of the 20th century. One of Nixon’s ploys was known as the mad man theory. According to this theory, which was often put into practice by the Nixon White House, statements that Nixon had apparently made indicating his willingness to use extreme force, including nuclear weapons, even in the seemingly most mundane situations, were purposefully leaked to foreign powers.
Dovetailing onto the idea of mutually assured destruction, Nixon’s mad man image was said to force other powers to the negotiating table, for fear that anything less would mean a Nixon pressing the nuclear button.
While the mad man theory defies the laws of ethics and of transparency, it is a classic case of extreme brinkmanship that was common during the Cold War and which Nixon mastered so much that he actually managed to achieve both detente with the Soviet Union as well as opening up western diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
Many have proffered the idea that Donald Trump’s public image as a trigger happy leader with no real knowledge of world affairs, is a giant bluff in order to try and bring others to the table. While it is not beyond the realm of the possible that Donald Trump’s objectively idiotic remarks on world affairs, his threatening rhetoric and apparent disorderly administration are in fact contrived measures designed to scare others into some sort of negotiating, this theory, even if true, is highly misguided.
During the Nixon era, it was clear what the United States wanted from the powers which the ‘mad man theory’ was tested upon. In respect of Donald Trump, apart from levying more sanctions on Iran, something that would infuriate America’s EU allies, there is little else that Trump could achieve apart from provoking Iran into war which even many in the Pentagon admit would be a disaster.
In respect of North Korea, brinkmanship has already failed. The more the US threatens Pyongyang with war and the more unilateral sanctions the US passes, the more North Korea retorts with further threats and with further weapons tests. China has already made clear that it will not allow a preemptive US led attack on North Korea and Pyongyang for its part, is always careful to temper its threats with statements indicating that North Korea would never be the first to strike against the US or allied target. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also warned the US that the North Koreans would rather “eat grass” than surrender to the United States. Where the Iraqi army ran away during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, North Korea would likely fight to the death, with every weapon and man at its disposal.
As for America’s proxy wars directly primarily against China but also Russia, there is also little that a “moron theory” could do other than entrench the Sino-Russian alliance more so than it already is.
To put it bluntly, while the “moron theory” may work on certain domestic issues, it is not, has not and almost certainly will not work in foreign affairs”.
Indeed, if Trump is issuing “moronic” statements on purpose, it not only serves no clear purpose for the US when dealing with countries on the other side of international geo-politics vis-a-vis the US (Russia, China, Iran, DPRK, Syria), but it is also fully alienating former allies including Pakistan, Turkey and possibly even Saudi Arabia.
As for typically stalwart allies, Trump’s Iran rhetoric is exposing a clear schism between the EU (including the pro-Israel British regime) and Tel Aviv. If Trump is bluffing about withdrawing from the JCPOA, Israel will feel that it was being publicly led on and consequently humiliated. Inversely, if Trump pulls out of the JCPOA, almost all of Europe will be entirely against him and may even work with Iran in a move to shelter Tehran from the effects of an American decision that would represent almost total isolation in terms of global opinion. I personally do not believe that the EU or Israel have anything remotely close to an ethical nor moral foreign policy, but in terms of how to treat allies, Trump’s rhetoric is a textbook example of how to lose trust among close allies. That being said, a schism between the EU and Israel would be a breath of fresh air for the multi-polar world. The fact however remains, that the US is still more powerful than a united Europe and thus, Iran may ultimately care more about what comes out of Washington than Brussels and Berlin.
So barring, a poorly thought out “moron theory”, what if Rex Tillerson said what he is reported to have said and what if he was correct?
A recent report in Vanity Fair suggests that not only is Trump a “moron”, but that he is literally losing his cool and even losing his mind.
The report in question states,
“At first it sounded like hyperbole, the escalation of a Twitter war. But now it’s clear that Bob Corker’s remarkable New York Times interview—in which the Republican senator described the White House as “adult day care” and warned Trump could start World War III—was an inflection point in the Trump presidency. It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.”
The conversation among some of the president’s longtime confidantes, along with the character of some of the leaks emerging from the White House has shifted. There’s a new level of concern. NBC News published a report that Trump shocked his national security team when he called for a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal during a briefing this summer. One Trump adviser confirmed to me it was after this meeting disbanded that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”
In recent days, I spoke with a half dozen prominent Republicans and Trump advisers, and they all describe a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods. Trump’s ire is being fueled by his stalled legislative agenda and, to a surprising degree, by his decision last month to back the losing candidate Luther Strange in the Alabama Republican primary. “Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump said. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”
According to two sources familiar with the conversation, Trump vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” (A White House official denies this.) Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary—the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure.
One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?” the person said. Even Trump’s most loyal backers are sowing public doubts. This morning, The Washington Post quoted longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack saying he has been “shocked” and “stunned” by Trump’s behavior.
While Kelly can’t control Trump’s tweets, he is doing his best to physically sequester the president—much to Trump’s frustration. One major G.O.P. donor told me access to Trump has been cut off, and his outside calls to the White House switchboard aren’t put through to the Oval Office. Earlier this week, I reported on Kelly’s plans to prevent Trump from mingling with guests at Mar-a-Lago later this month. And, according to two sources, Keith Schiller quit last month after Kelly told Schiller he needed permission to speak to the president and wanted written reports of their conversations”.
If these reports are true, it is a clear indication that Trump truly is unfit for office (not that there are any realistically good replacements to hand). The problem is that, Vanity Fair, like all mainstream media outlets, simply cannot be trusted. The sources for the damning report on Trump could either be fake, massaged to fit a narrative or taken out of context. The fact that such reports cannot be trusted is no one’s fault but the mainstream media outlets themselves.
Prior to Trump entering office and while Trump was still expressing desires to engage in detente with Russia, pull out of Afghanistan and not hinder Syria’s war against jihadist terrorism, the mainstream media were still out for Trump’s throat and the evident bias in pieces that were supposedly reportage, meant that the mainstream media rendered their entire output to being nothing more than thinly veiled opinion pieces on Trump, which were unethically disguised as factual reportage.
Of course there is nothing wrong with instinctively thinking Trump is crazy, or stupid, even without direct evidence, but as ethnics dictates, the mainstream media should have said ‘this is our opinion’. Instead they acted as though they were proffering fact.
The truth was then as it is now, that the mainstream media is more focused on style than on substance. Before Trump had any policy making track record, the mainstream media damned him because those in charge of CNN, NBC, BBC, CBS, NYT and WaPo don’t like a man who eats fast food, has a sense of humour and says words like “pussy” to acquaintances. I personally don’t care about any of that, I care about issues of war and peace and Trump was certainly more inclined towards peace than Hillary Clinton, whose blood soaked track record and her pride in such a thing, was uniquely disgusting.
Now though, Trump’s policy statements have become little more than declarations of aggression and some would say that in the case of North Korea, all out declarations of war. But where responsible journalists should be asking whether Trump is crazy, stupid, a bit of both, or simply playing a Nixonian game without the Nixonian panache or clearly defined goals, instead we simply get more of the same: conclusions based on preexisting biases.
From the likes of NBC, there are just more anonymous leaks indicating that Trump’s team thinks he is stupid. From his political rivals such as Bob Corker we get legitimate criticism, but criticism which is ultimately still opinion that preaches to a choir. Even beyond mainstream media, from Steve Bannon’s Breitbart there is little more than conjecture about a ‘political revolution’ being needed to ‘unleash Trump’ and from InfoWars, there is little more than hyperbolic name calling. It’s a desert of information.
What is needed is a genuine whistleblower to get verified information out to journalists. The seemingly ‘on the edge’ nature of the Trump administration begs for someone to do what Snowden did to the NSA, Manning did to the US military and what Seymour Hersh did in respect of the My Lai Massacre.
The problem is that Barack Obama has made life so difficult for genuine whistleblowers, that many seem to have conducted a cost-benefit analysis and in so doing have decided that unverified sources, combined with making things up as one goes along, is just as good as the truth.
The fact is that it is not good enough. Furthermore, when such an attitude coalesces with a mainstream media crying wolf over Trump, there is a clouding of any real discourse over just what is going on in an administration that appears to be in the hands of generals who alternatively answer to and answer for a President who is totally off the rails.
The mainstream media, in lambasting Trump over style, has made any objective reporting on Trump’s actual state of mind, impossible…that is unless a whistleblower comes forward with raw, unfettered facts.
Because the mainstream media made Trump’s presidency about personality, Trump can mouth-off about war without the level of criticism being turned up any louder than when he was caught saying “pussy” in 2005. He won the “pussygate” battle and now has carte blanche to provoke North Korea, Iran, Russia, China and Syria without facing any meaningful scrutiny from the loudest media voices in the United States. Such a shameful lack of priorities, is mainstream media’s cross to bear, so long as Trump is in office and maybe even beyond.
In some ways, the best thing that could happen, short of a whistleblower coming forward, would be for Rex Tillerson, a seemingly sane non-military voice from within the administration, to come clean. It might mean losing his job, but if he really did call Trump a moron, his job is probably on thin ice anyway, as many have indicated. Again, this is a calculated risk as Tillerson’s sane voice is needed, but if it is being ignored, there is little point in him sticking around.
Dear Secretary Tillerson,
Did you call Trump a moron and if so, please tell us just how genuinely moronic he is. World peace may depend on having such information to hand.
Everyone who has lost trust in mainstream media.