President Trump’s incoherent recklessness is not the only problem for U.S. foreign policy dramatized this week. Also troubling is the eagerness of Republicans to fall in behind whatever he does and turn to demagoguery to paint his political opponents as traitors, a term Trump regularly deploys himself.
The surprise winner of the prize for the most mendacious and shameful partisan attack is former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley for her statement on the Democratic response to the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Many Republicans — and some outside the party’s ranks — once praised her for a certain measured independence and civility.
Not this time. “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” Haley told Fox News. “No one else in the world.”
Wow. Clearly this is a politician who has decided there is no future in GOP politics for anyone but a Trumpian distorter of reality and divider of the American people, even at a moment of crisis.
“The claim is objectively false,” The Post’s Aaron Blake wrote of Haley’s words. It sure is. Former vice president Joe Biden explicitly said on Facebook, “No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing.” He added that the Iranian had “supported terror and sowed chaos.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called Soleimani “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.” Warren and Biden reflected the tenor of comments from across their party.
At the heart of the Democrats’ criticisms is a proper warning against Trump’s preference for bombast and dramatic actions over sustainable foreign policy strategies. In conflating this with support for an enemy, Haley was engaging in a particularly egregious version of behavior that has become routine in her party.
Republicans keep trying to pretend they believe that what Trump does is normal and that anyone who says otherwise is out of line. Their behavior in the impeachment controversy is of a piece with this. They act as if there is not overwhelming evidence that Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on Biden. They criticize Democrats for not obtaining evidence that Trump kept from them — and then say no more evidence is needed to acquit him.
Both the Iranian and Ukrainian affairs reveal who Trump is and how he behaves. What’s dangerous about him is not that he’s a hawk — or a dove. He’s not a foreign policy realist or a principled noninterventionist. He’s not a Wilsonian or a Jacksonian. He has absolutely no sense of what he is trying to do in the world. He’s just a jumble of bad and selfish instincts.
He acts less as a president than as a gamer. He loves to push buttons to do amazing things with our military prowess and then move on to something else. He also decides that certain people (usually dictators) are his friends and that these personal feelings take precedence over long-established alliances with countries that share our values.
This incoherence may have one advantage for the rest of us: He seems to prefer the satisfactions of moving a joystick to the burdens of full-scale war. He wants to show his political base he’s a tough guy and an opponent of war at the same time. So, having taken out Soleimani, he used the opening that Iran’s limited retaliation offered to back off, at least for now.
His comments on Wednesday were classic Trump: a lot of tough-sounding words, self-congratulation over Soleimani’s death and condemnations of earlier administrations for not doing what he did.
He promised he would stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons without telling us how. He said he would impose new sanctions — even though the ones imposed so far haven’t achieved the results he seeks. He asked for help from the very allies he regularly scorns. “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he said, suddenly channeling St. Francis of Assisi rather than Genghis Khan.
What he did not do, and this is hopeful, was immediately threaten new military action. At least some around him seem to understand just how dangerous a situation Trump created.
His decision not to escalate immediately is good news, but it’s far from the end of the story. Our enemies have a serious, long-term strategy. Trump doesn’t. This weakens us. And the president’s erratic approach could yet blunder our country into war. At what point will his party take responsibility for this danger?