Saturday, April 2, 2022

Trump Reconsidered

Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh is certainly not a Trump supporter. Anything but. He is reliably left of center, but also reliably intelligent and balanced in his assessments.

In his Thursday column he made a shocking observation, namely that Joe Biden, among his dubious achievements, is making Trump look better by comparison.

To judge by the 56 per cent who see President Joe Biden as “not tough enough” with Russia, the door seems open to a brusquer kind of US leader.

If I had to venture a guess, the Donald is not likely to present himself again in 2024, but I also believe that, thanks to Biden, the Republican Party is ascendant, and that the 2024 candidate will be more like than unlike Trump.

This poses problems, because people who are distressed to hear Joe Biden and Kamala Harris muff their lines are more likely to want a candidate who can speak articulately, who does not make non-stop gaffes and who is control of his brief. That is, they might want someone who has more experience and more intelligence.

One recalls the caterwauling from the left when Donald Trump did not call Vladimir Putin an assassin to his face. But the American people seem to understand that the Biden effort to screech epithets at Putin is empty rhetoric, but that it has aggravated the situation in Ukraine.

Yet, Ganesh explains that the Trump record on Russia is not, by comparison, very bad at all: 

The Ukraine crisis is not the end of Donald Trump. Liberals are right to bring up his past flirtations with the Kremlin, but they overrate the harm it will do to his electoral viability. For one thing, few western leaders this century have a proud record on Russia. Biden belonged to a White House that “reset” relations with Moscow after its invasion of Georgia in 2008. His former boss, Barack Obama, laughed away the notion of the Kremlin as America’s principal threat. The best that can be said about that administration’s Russia policy is that it has aged better than Angela Merkel’s. Trump is damaged by his record, yes, but not uniquely or even especially so.

Of course, Trump’s approach involved a mixture of flattery, even diplomatic politeness, and threats. Trump might have been an amateur, but his approach stands up fairly well in retrospect. One might add, in relation to some recent remarks by Bret Stephens, that there was far more method in the Trump approach than his critics give him credit for. As Stephens said, calling your opponents insane does not do your mind any credit.

So, Ganesh assesses the Trump record:

The other problem with invoking his past is selective quotation. Yes, Trump flattered foreign strongmen. But he also threatened them. His world view has always been a dog’s breakfast of contradictions: praise for tyrants, but also a sense of macho competition with them; avoidance of foreign military burdens, but also a horror of anything that smells of weakness or retreat.

His handling of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un alternated between fatherly affection and impatience to nuke him off the planet. In 2017, he enforced Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria — unlike Obama.

One might critique the Trump approach, but as we watch the Biden administration cheerlead a war that will likely destroy Ukraine and send masses of refugees to Europe, Trump starts looking smarter by the day.

Trump, in short, meets the definition of strategic “madness”. He believes a US leader must be pugnacious and even reckless to keep the global peace. It is a belief that lacks nuance. It is likely a rationalisation of what are just his own uncontrollable instincts. But it also has a surface plausibility now that it didn’t just a few months ago.

Were he taking Biden on in an election now, imagine the lines of attack at his disposal. Should a US president really wait for Russia to invade a country before imposing sanctions? Should he state up front (via tweet, no less) what he is not willing to do for Ukraine? What happened to strategic ambiguity? And why is Trump the only US leader elected this century on whose watch Vladimir Putin has not attacked a neighbour?

I put the last sentence in boldface, because it is a bottom line judgment. When Putin took the measure of other American presidents in the current century, he saw no reason not to attack. When it came to Trump, he hesitated. Naturally, the morons on the left have been lauding the Biden approach, but what is there is praise about the current destruction of in Ukraine?

So, the Biden approach is an opportunity for Republicans. This is more the case since, as Ganesh notes, American voters tend to overcorrect on matters of foreign policy:

You need not be moved by these questions (or think Trump has the moral standing to pose them) to sense that swing voters might be. Since the end of the cold war, Americans have elected presidents who overcorrect the foreign policy of their predecessor. Biden broke with Trump’s unilateralist chauvinism, which broke with Obama’s “leading from behind”, which broke with George W Bush’s military over-reach. 

It is easy to imagine the popular view setting in by 2024 that Biden, for all his deft co-ordination with allies, is too conventional a leader for an era of brutes. The pendular logic of politics would then set the stage for Trump, or someone like him.

Again, focusing on Biden’s deft coordination ignores the babble that is coming from Biden’s mouth. Biden is not a conventional leader. He is not a leader at all. He and his administration are functioning as a ship of fools, a band of manifest incompetents that praises itself for being diverse. He and his vice president are giving the nation the impression that the rage for diversity leads to gross incompetence. Which may not in the long run be a bad thing.

So, Ganesh thinks that Biden’s gaffe about regime change in Moscow was not really a gaffe. On that he is wrong. There is no special virtue in chaos. Surely, the Russian invasion and the Biden gaffe makes manifest Biden’s weakness and incompetence, not so much his inability to bully people. One might say that a certain macho toughness seems to work in foreign affairs, but it does need to be tempered.

Seen from this angle, Biden’s supposed gaffe last weekend, in which he seemed to endorse regime change in Moscow, was nothing of the sort. It introduced an element of chaos into an administration that can be orthodox to a fault. There is such a thing as reckless caution. There is such a thing as inflammatory emollience.

Obviously, as we have noted here, the Biden foreign policy failure extends to the Middle East. Ganesh makes note of it:

This month, without so much as notifying Washington, the UAE received Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on an official visit. Elsewhere in the region, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said he did not care what Biden thinks. Small omens, yes, but throw in last year’s fiasco in Afghanistan and a deft Republican could spin a tale of the US as a pushover under present management.

I am less convinced that we need more madman diplomacy. We do need more true strength, not more girl power, not more weakness mixed with cerebral infirmity.

After all, Dwight Eisenhower was not a madman. He did not make empty threats. And yet, he avoided land wars in Asia because he did not need to prove anything to anyone. Under his watch Russia did not put armed missiles into Cuba.

When Ike spoke softly, no one doubted that he could use a big stick. We do better than to think that it's all about posturing, macho or otherwise. Of course, given the choice it is better to have a leader who appears to be slightly unhinged than to have a leader who is wasting his political capital defending transgender rights, child mutilation and new flight suits for pregnant pilots.

So, I take some issue with Ganesh’s conclusion, but here it is anyway.

Even the Ukraine crisis, if it drags on, will be reframed as less a case of Biden’s sure touch than of American helplessness and Russian impunity. What often does for a politician is not new facts but a new interpretation of existing facts. A country that tires of Biden the careful diplomat will pine for a leader who “might do anything”.


Suzannemarie said...

If I remember well, Donald Trump averted a nuclear attack on South Korea, Japan and California. He crossed the border into North Korea and shook hands with Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea.

To my memory, those to thank him for this extraordinary achievement did not come from California.

The Wraith said...

"The other problem with invoking his past is selective quotation. Yes, Trump flattered foreign strongmen. But he also threatened them. His world view has always been a dog’s breakfast of contradictions: praise for tyrants, but also a sense of macho competition with them; avoidance of foreign military burdens, but also a horror of anything that smells of weakness or retreat."

The issue at hand here is that Mr. Ganesh has little to no idea what it means to be a man. In his world, it's I Totally Hate You, or I Totally Love You.

Alpha males will acknowledge and respect a worthy opponent, while still making clear that they're ready to go to the mat if need be. Men will beat each other bloody in a fight, but if the loser fought bravely and well, the winner will likely help him up and buy him a beer(if they're actual men, and not stupid children/gangbangers). For clarification, watch the interplay between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in Rocky III. Formerly opponents, Apollo helps Rocky get himself back in shape to reclaim his title, simply due to the respect of one warrior for another. And then in the final scene, Rocky and Apollo end up in the ring against each other, to settle between them who's the best. A bit of Hollywood simplicity, but it does illustrate the mindset of the Alpha male.

President Trump showed Putin respect, and simultaneously demonstrated that he was worthy of respect. Now we have a doddering clown in the Oval Office, who wouldn't know actual masculinity if it slapped him. Putin knows this, hence his total disregard for anything the USA says.

Hard times create strong men; strong men create easy times; easy times create weak men...and weak men are currently creating hard times. So goes the cycle of history.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting who the Democrats NEVER (ever) cross: the pro-choice feminists, environmentalists, and educators (teachers/professors/administrators).


badisoch said...
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Anonymous said...

Trump's running in 2024. And watch this prediction: he may have Tulsi Gabbard, another non-party-faithful as his VP. And he'll win, as he did in 2020.

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