Trump expressed utter indifference about the Turkish offensive into northern Syria and the Kurdish call for help from a genocidal Syrian regime allied with Iran and Russia. “If Turkey goes into Syria, that’s between Turkey and Syria," he said, and “If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them. … It’s not our border.” In reality, the United States has a major stake in northern Syria — our troops went there to fight the Islamic State and now they have been hastily removed just as that terrorist group shows signs of reviving.
Trump’s insouciance about the Turkish onslaught is, of course, at odds with the administration demand that Turkey declare an immediate cease-fire. How can Trump’s aides demand a cease-fire while the president says he doesn’t care if the fighting goes on? This makes about as much sense as Trump imposing sanctions to punish Turkey for doing what he gave it permission to do.
But it is a fool’s errand to look for coherence or logic in what Trump says. He declared the situation in northern Syria to be “strategically brilliant” even though a majority of House Republicans just voted to condemn his incomprehensible decision to give Turkey a green light for aggression. He said “our soldiers are totally safe” even as they were retreating so hurriedly that they called in airstrikes to destroy their own headquarters before it could be seized by the Turks and their brutal militia allies.
The humiliation suffered by the United States was clear to the world as Russian mercenaries apparently took possession of a U.S. military base. The United States’ enemies are advancing, but Trump seems to think this is all a big game. “It’s a lot of sand,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”
The same elementary-school mind-set was evident in the subliterate letter that Trump wrote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” he told Erdogan. “I will call you later.” We’ve had the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine and the Reagan Doctrine. This is the Mr. T doctrine, after the tough-guy actor whose refrain was, “I pity the fool!” Shockingly enough, Trump’s gambit failed. Erdogan reportedly threw away Trump’s letter. The Turkish offensive continues. The Turkish strongman is showing himself to be the true bully on the block; Trump is only a pathetic pretender.
But in President Walter Mitty’s mind, he is not the lounge lizard who claimed bone spurs to avoid service in Vietnam. He is a mighty conqueror who all by himself “captured” the Islamic State “in one month.” Or so he told Democratic leaders while he trashed former defense secretary Jim Mattis — a genuine war hero — as “the world’s most overrated general.” This was part of a general meltdown by the president that also included attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as a “third-grade politician” to her face. Trump engaged in his usual projection when he posted a picture of Pelosi literally standing up to him, calling it “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”
“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Pelosi said, and who can disagree? The president appears to be unstable — and also unstoppable. Did no one in the White House have the nerve to tell him not to send his puerile letter to Erdogan? Evidently not. Just as no one had the nerve to tell him not to pressure Ukraine to intervene in the U.S. election.
Trump’s increasingly batty behavior — triggered by the imminence of impeachment — makes it all the more imperative to impeach and remove him. But while Republicans are willing to rebuke him over Syria, they refuse to repudiate this farcical presidency. So the Trump show will go on, wilder and weirder than ever, even as a majority of the public demands that he leave the stage.