President Donald Trump’s defenders routinely say that, while they may not like his style, they like his policies. Presumably they include in his style that he lies all the time and that he makes decisions based on nothing more than what his gut tells him in the moment. Even though it is hard to see how this style leads to wise decisions or sound leadership, that is what his defenders say.
Now, however, he has led us into a situation in the Middle East where the result is going to be something between a more unstable region and an all-out shooting war. His lie-all-the-time and off-the-cuff decision making approach is not going to work.
Of course, President Trump lies all the time. He lies about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He lies about the weather on inauguration day. He lies about massive voter fraud that kept him from winning the popular vote. He lies about his father being born in Germany. He lies about the parents of Korean War veterans thanking him for bringing remains home from Korea (Do the math. The war ended almost 70 years ago; are the parents of anyone who fought in it still alive?) Windmills cause cancer? Ted Cruz’s father helped plan the Kennedy assassination? The Washington Post keeps a running tally of lies and misleading statements. They are up to over 15,000 since he took office.
Many of his lies are harmless. That he lies so easily and routinely says something unsettling about his character. At the same time, if he wants to keep saying that his father was born in Germany instead of the Bronx, who cares?
By now, of course, we just accept that President Trump lies constantly. After three years, we can usually just roll our eyes and say, “There he goes again.”
Except now we can’t. It is no longer relatively harmless, eye-rolling entertainment. It’s war. He is stomping around, leading us to the brink of war with Iran, based on things that may or may not be true. He says we had to assassinate someone to stop an imminent threat of attack. Is that true? Or is there just an imminent impeachment trial? He says the guy we killed was responsible for killing hundreds of Americans. Some people who are not chronic liars are saying maybe that’s true. I am way beyond the point where I could believe something just because our president says it.
This is not the way things should work. I really want to believe that my president tells the truth. In the past I would have assumed that what our president said was the truth. Because we have a president who has trouble telling the truth, we are now in the position of being asked to follow him into war when we can’t believe what he says.
Even were he honest, I can’t trust Mr. Trump, because he doesn’t know enough to competently either lead us into war or help us avoid one.
The Middle East is a complicated place. There are over a dozen countries, three major religions, multiple sects within those religions, and different ethnicities. There are centuries of grievances, and some that are new. Some are settled, some are not. There are competing economic interests and different factions within countries and religions. There are webs of alliances based on all of these factors. Some people have spent their entire lives learning enough about the Middle East to have a basis for wise decisions. President Trump is not one of them.
I, of course, cannot look inside his head to see what he knows. But look at what we can see. No matter how smart he is, he was not born with the knowledge necessary. He never studied it in school. There is no indication that he reads. Whenever another gossipy book about the White House comes out there are denials about specific claims (nobody called the president a moron, the president does not use the N-word regularly, etc.). There is never a denial of a prominent claim in all those books: the president does not listen, nor does he read his briefing papers.
It is true that a president cannot know everything. Every president relies upon those around him. During the campaign Mr. Trump insisted that he had the best people and implied that he would rely upon them.
This is hogwash for two reasons. First, he doesn’t have the best people. His Secretary of Defense was a lobbyist for a defense contractor. Nobody around him is especially skilled in Middle East affairs.
It is irrelevant how much the people around him know. He doesn’t listen to them anyway. He has said as much. He routinely says he knows more about ISIS than the generals. He routinely denigrates expertise and instead relies upon his gut and professed common sense. He knows that he wrote “The Art of the Deal.” He knows that all he has to do is take those principles, apply them to a situation he does not understand, and somehow things will work out and everybody will do what he wants them to do.
Seriously? Does he really think that he can solve as difficult a problem as bringing stability to the Middle East on the basis of his gut? Would anybody allow their barber to perform major surgery on the assumption that, once he got the patient opened up, good old fashioned common sense would tell him what to do? Would anybody get on an airplane piloted by someone who relied totally on her gut to tell her what to do next? There is a reason people in trouble get a lawyer instead of being defended by their bus driver, who has plenty of common sense.
So here we are. We are dancing on the verge of war with Iran, led by a president we can’t trust to tell the truth. There is no indication that he knows enough to make wise decisions. Instead, he flounders about with no thought to the future, doing whatever his gut tells him at the moment.
Time to buckle the seat belts. We’re in for a bumpy ride.