Donald Trump’s plan to unravel America’s international influence, moral standing, reputation, alliances, and values wasn’t going fast enough for him, so last week the pudgy toddler in the Oval Office slammed the throttle to the firewall, lit the afterburners, and decided to plunge the jet into the side of Burning Tire Mountain by green-lighting an invasion of Syria to give Turkey, Russia, and Iran a new playground in the Middle East.
But wait, as they say on television, there’s more.
Amid the conflagration of his Trumpot Dome scandal in Ukraine, Trump may have wanted a distraction by letting Turkey run buck wild over the Kurds, but as with all things, his every action makes things worse, not only for himself but for the nation.
We thought he’d capped the week by sending history’s most batshit crazy diplomatic missive to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By now you’ve seen it, and wondered, as they say in the cautious, deliberate language of diplomacy, “What the actual fuck?”
America’s collective reaction was, “Is this The Onion? The Babylon Bee? Spy Magazine, reborn?” Shortly after telling the Turks they were free to invade Syria and kick off their long-desired slaughter of the Kurds, Trump decided to try to put the horse back into the barn with a letter that read like a tour of his id rather than the needed demarche that would, you know, stop the impending slaughter and remake the Middle East into a Russian, Iranian, and Turkish regional hegemony.
The BBC reported that Turkish presidental sources said, “President Erdogan received the letter, thoroughly rejected it and put it in the bin.”
But late Thursday... wait for it... there was more.
Late Thursday, Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came racing for the cameras to breathlessly announce that Turkey had agreed to a 120-hour ceasefire to “allow the Kurds to evacuate.”
Desperate for something… anything… to save face, they claimed a great victory for a ceasefire plan that lets Turkey consolidate its invasion gains, enjoy complete air dominance in the region, all while sending the Kurds into the waiting arms of... Bashar al-Assad. It wasn’t a ceasefire. It was a total capitulation to the Turks.
It didn’t stop Pence from declaring victory.
Some victory. It was the cherry on top of the shit sundae of an already terrible week for America’s role in the world and our national security, but entirely unsurprising for anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Trump and his disastrous view of the world.
The bad guys have had Trump’s number for a while now, and it shows.
The rest of the globe knows Donald Trump isn’t playing 87-dimensional chess or being eccentric or quirky or standing up to “duh establishment.” They see the real Trump, and the opportunity he represents for the worst nations and their worst impulses to reshape the international stage.
They see that the tangible impact of his policies hurts American standing, and whether they’re hostile or friendly to the United States, they don’t have their views shaped through the hazy filter of Fox News agitprop (“It’s Trump or sharia gay marriage communism!”) or by nation-state social media manipulation.
They know Trump is very, very good for business—if your business is oppression, destabilization, or the expansion of power in places from which Trump has ordered American forces to cut and run.
When the members of the International Bad Boys Club of strongmen, totalitarians, kleptocrats, bad actors, and extremists heard Trump utter the risible line after ordering American troops to flee Syria—“we’re the boss, remember that!”—you could hear the howling laughter from Pyongyang to Caracas to Beijing to Ankara to Tehran to Manila. Putin, deep in his Moscow lair, just gave his usual sly chuckle. If you wonder which international malefactor wakes up every day and wonders how he got so lucky, it’s Donald’s immediate supervisor.
Dictators and thugs know Trump isn’t the world’s big boss but is instead their bitch. They know Trump is profoundly weak, and he’s made America profoundly vulnerable in turn.
They know his big-swinging dick act is for the rubes at home and that this weak, petulant child of a president is easily led by his ego and his wallet, a man subject to even the crudest forms of flattery and seduction. He’s a cheap date, and they know it.
White House Acting Provisional Temporary Maybe Kinda Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed it Thursday, admitting the Trump White House operates through political extortion, confessing the quid pro quo of the Ukraine scandal in broad daylight. Hell, Mick did everything but post a menu of prices for presidential favors on the Oval Office door.
They know Trump lacks knowledge, focus, discipline, or loyalty to any of the core principles that informed the views and behaviors of American presidents since the end of World War II. The bad guys know he’s not like any other modern American president, and that’s not a compliment.
Despite their political differences, presidents from Truman to Obama had a consistent understanding that American security and influence were contingent on engagement in the world rather than retreat. Their ideas about how to exercise power in the world—hard, soft, and hybrid—may have varied, but all stand as a raw contrast to Trump’s combination of defeatism and retreat, where American forces are, at best, mercenaries.
Bad actors always look for failed states, power vacuums, and places where the rule of law and international norms have broken down. Trump creates them. The worst terrorists, totalitarians, and expansionists seek areas that are attractive nuisances and ruthlessly exploit them. Trump is the guy who leaves the keys in the car, an open bottle of Jack Daniels in the cupholder, and a note on the steering wheel that says, “Have fun!” He’s the “hold my beer, watch this” president.
The forces in this world that are anathema to every American value see a shallow, trifling man-child, not an imposing figure imbued with the power of the American presidency and its mighty tools. They know him. He has shown all of them who and what he is, and not one world leader respects or fears what they see.
In three short years, Trump has done more to destroy America’s ability to move the world in our direction—you know, the old-fashioned things like serving as advocates for liberty, individual rights, world trade, free markets, and global order—and to protect the interests of America abroad than even the most eager imaginings of the worst adversaries of this nation could have conjured.
The idea that Trump was the first president who brought business and common sense to the Oval Office was very near and dear to the heart of his base voters. “Finally,” they thought, “Trump isn’t one of the hated neocons or one of those airy-fairy State Department globalist shills.” No indeed. He was the toughest, hardest Billy Badass on the block.
Trump won over the “bring the boys home and pull up the drawbridge” crowd, the America Alone cohort, with the charming 18th-century conceit that two big oceans and a couple of long medieval walls will protect us totally from the big, bad world.
He would end the “Forever Wars”—a phrase he picked up from Steve Bannon, whose necromantic reek is all over this phase of American cowardice and retreat Trump is state managing—and pull back our troops abroad. He would talk fire and fury and win, win, win.
Of course, the responsible adults in the room rolled their eyes behind this feckless jadrool’s back and thought Trump would be satisfied with cutting ribbons and the occasional tank-and-missile parade. They were so wrong and now sit silent as exactly the outcome they were supposed to prevent comes to the fore.
Being the president of the United State means there are forms to be observed. There are norms that must be followed. There are protocols that exist, not because of the Deep State or the RINO establishment but rather because they are the proven models of international diplomacy and not Trump's crackpot approach to the world.
His bizarre love affair with men like Putin, Kim, and Mohammed Bin Salman and now Erdogan isn’t leadership that puts America first.
It’s putting America’s neck in the noose.