Looking back on 2018 and ahead to 2019 for President Trump, it appears his presidency has transitioned to a new phase.
The Generals who were supposed to give President Trump their guidance, the benefit of their experience, and their wisdom are all gone. Former national security advisor Gen. Flynn is headed to jail, a victim of the Mueller probe. Gen. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff who was supposed to bring order to the White House staff as the “adult in the room” has been fired. Gen. Mattis, the universally-respected Secretary of Defense has resigned, publicly citing policy differences with the president.
Observers looked to such advisors to prevent the governmentally- and diplomatically- inexperienced president from making mistakes. But President Trump did not like having “handlers.” His new chief of staff, Mike Mulvaney, will reportedly operate under the principle of letting Trump be Trump.
The President has said that his “gut” is better than anybody else’s brain. So he is doing without advice. A whole slew of other White House staffers have apparently been replaced by yes-men.
After a telephone conversation with the president of Turkey, who reportedly warned that American advisors embedded with the Kurds in Syria would be at risk from his planned attacks and who asked why the 2000 troops were there since ISIS has been defeated, President Trump announced that he would pull all of our troops out of Syria. He consulted with none of his advisors and no one in the military. That action prompted Gen. Mattis’s letter of resignation, with its condemnation of Trump’s dismissal of international agreements.
President Trump then announced that he would cut the American presence in Afghanistan by half, bringing home 7,000 troops.
These decisions have provoked widespread criticism from all sides, including military experts. But the president’s critics have been so busy demonizing him that they overlook the fact that during the election, he was the peace candidate. He vowed to stop America’s habit of spending so much blood and money in police actions overseas that do not really involve American interests. I believe Democrats have expressed the same concerns, so I don’t understand why they aren’t giving him credit.
His actions, though, are risky. Has he just betrayed our Kurdish allies in Syria, leaving them vulnerable to the Turks? Will our abandoning Syria lead to an ISIS comeback? Will this mean an increased Russian presence and the victory in the civil war of the bloody Syrian president Assad? As for Afghanistan, the existing troops are surely not appreciating losing half their number, if it comes to a fight. And will this withdrawal lead to the Taliban taking over the country again? Would that mean all of the Americans who gave their lives in the war in Afghanistan died in vain?
Meanwhile, President Trump had a face-off with Congress, insisting on $5 billion to build his promised wall along the Mexican border; otherwise, he would refuse to sign a spending bill and let the government shut down. In the negotiations, his handlers at the time seem to have moved the wall funding off the table, with the president’s agreement. But then Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and others on the right attacked him for caving on the issue, whereupon President Trump insisted on the $5 billion after all. Now the government is shut down. Again, the President seems to be backing down from the $5 billion number. But the government remains shut down.
Other problems loom before him. The stock market has nosedived. The recently-booming economy now seems vulnerable. Trump’s trade war with China and uncertainty about the administration’s policies are said to be a factor. He has threatened firing the Fed director, which has added to the nervousness in the financial sector, which is jumpy anyway at any appearance of instability.
Then there is the Mueller investigation, which could drop at any time. The way Mueller has gone after the people around the president, it would be surprising if he escaped unscathed.
Also, the Republicans have lost the House of Representatives. This lame-duck congress would probably be President Trump’s last chance to get any kind of funding for his wall. It has passed a resolution to that effect, but it needs 60 votes for a filibuster-proof approval in the Senate.
On Christmas Eve, President Trump took solace by sending out a flood of tweets complaining about all of his grievances. One, though, was rather poignant: “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House.”
The president was by himself (his family was out of town), but he is also increasingly isolated in the exercise of his office.
But now Trump can be Trump. Do you think this will mean an increasingly impulsive, erratic, and chaotic administration? Or do you have high hopes for Trump unbound?
Illustration by tiburi via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons