An Ignorance Driven National Policy

President Trump, in announcing his immigration and travel ban stated

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,”

He added,

“… it is obvious to anybody the hatred [of Muslims toward Americans] is beyond comprehension, …Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

More likely, rather than “we”, it was Mr Trump himself who had not figured out “what the hell is going on”. Mr Trump was projecting his own lack of knowledge onto the American people and government and also expressing an understanding of Islam which is contrary to the opinion of scholars of Islam and to respected literature on the subject of which there is a considerable volume. Karen Armstrong is one such scholar, but there are others.

Perhaps instead of investigation why Muslims hate American, he should rather investigate whether Muslims hate Americans.

Were Mr Trump a more contemplative man, he might ponder that the word Islam and the Arabic word salem, meaning peace, have the same etymology.

And, what sort of investigation does Mr Trump envision for finding out “what the hell is going on”? An analysis of Islam? They are already been done – many of them. What is necessary is for Mr Trump to acquaint himself with any of those.

Mr Trump has said that he ‘knows more about ISIS than the generals.” This is typical of Mr Trump’s disingenuous and hyperbolic boasts. Mr Trump knows nothing about ISIS. If he did, he would understand that the focus of ISIS’s enmity is not the far enemy of the West or the US, but the near enemy of apostate Arab governments, particularly the government in Baghdad which they regard as Shiite or Persian dominated. A genocide of the Shiite population of the Islamic world has been one of ISIS’s primary goals, although, at this stage they are fighting for their own survival. And they are not winning.

In fact, not all of ISIS’s fighters are religious fanatics. Providing ISIS with a fair amount of military expertise are military officers of the disbanded Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein who suddenly found themselves out of a job and without a salary and are fighting for the collapse of the present government in Baghdad.

Mr Trump inherited a situation from his predecessor in which ISIS had lost the major part of its territory in Iraq including Anbar Province including the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and the eastern half of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the city from which the ISIS Emir, Abu Bakr Baghdadi announced the establishment of the Islamic state. The land that they have occupied, upon which they depend for tax revenue, and oil revenues from captured oil wells, and whose population is subject to both taxations and extortion, has been reduced substantially

Mr Trump seems to view foreign policy in purely economic terms as consisting of trade agreements which he regards as financial deals negotiated by previous presidents rather than by the great deal maker now in office.

He speaks in purely economic terms of Nato of which it is doubtful that he understands its historical role in maintaining world stability since the end of the Second World War nor the doctrine of containment, formulated by George Kennan and instituted by President Truman, of which Nato is a part. The central issue for Mr Trump appears to be actuarily rather than strategic.

It was widely reported that Mr Trump presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a bill of $300 million during their meeting in Washington at the end of March, for what he felt of an amount that Germany owed Nato in back payments. This rather insulting behavior reflect Mr Trump’s understanding and focus and perception that international relations and ties to foreign governments are simple business deals. This behavior, like his phone conversation with the Austrian head of state, truculent, by the normal standards of diplomacy, probably provides a window into his previous business and financial transactions in which intimidation must have played a role

But neither Nato nor the doctrine of containment has faded into obsolescence. Mr Putin former KGB agent who bemoans the collapse of the Soviet empire, seem determined to restore Russia to the status of international power it enjoyed before the collapse of the Communist state and as a competitor to the US for global power and influence.

Mr Putin has challenged the world order, such as it is, led by the US, in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria.

The suggestion that Nato is obsolete is apparently tied to his understanding that Russia is now benign. having given up its communist label, and is now a potential market for American business as it has been for his own.

It is likely that trump sees US-Russian relations as a continuation of his business interests in Russia which he has pursued for well over a decade.

In consequence, there is presently no coherent foreign policy, other than a contraction of interest in the world, and it looks as though Mr Trump is unlikely to produce one for the duration of his administration. If Mr Trump’s foreign policy seems jerky and impulsive and to lack continuity, it is because Mr Trump himself lacked even the most basic knowledge of foreign policy upon entering office and foreign policy under Trump is essentially a learn-as-you-go process tempered by some around him, like General Mattis, and General McMaster who have been around longer and know more.

On April 6, the US has just launched some 59 Tomahawk cruise missile destroying around 20 Syrian jet aircraft and doing structural damage to the air base from which the US believes was the launching point by Syrian aircraft for the nerve gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun, located on the north-south artery connecting Hama and Aleppo.

Most foreign policy observers are applauding this limited, and proportionate, and largely symbolic military actions. This military attack is a sharp reversal of Mr Trump’s previous pronouncements in which he has express a comfortableness with Mr Assad remaining in power, and evidently viewing Assad as a counterweight to ISIS and potential allay, and ignoring Assad’s numerous human rights violations or the terrible consequences of the six year old civil war which has taken the lives of more than 400,000 people and generated 5 million refugees.

Also ignored is the simple fact that the Assad regime has never seriously challenged ISIS near its self proclaimed capital of al Raqqa in central Syria.

The Cruise missile attack appears to be a moment of sobriety emanated from the White House in that Trump listened to his experienced generals, Generals McMaster and Mattis in ordering a limited and proportionate response, the least severe of the several options presented to the President, but still a clear signal of the international community’s displeasure with the Syrian government’s massacre of civilians by banned chemical weapons, as well as Russian oversight of its client.

Whether this amounts to a turning point in the US’s trajectory toward Syria and Bashir al Assad, under Donald Trump, is not presently known, not even to Mr Trump evidently. But it is early in the Trump administration and Mr Trump seems to be shedding himself of the influence of Mr Bannon, who opposed the attack on the Syrian airbase. One may hope that Mr Trump’s encounters with reality are likely to engender and further distancing from Mr Bannon whose ideas of 80 year cycles of national catastrophe and recovery can well be describes as kooky and fringe. Bannon’s advocacy of the deconstruction of the administrative state, a phrase taken form the concept of a deep state of which Jean-Pierre Filiu has written in regard to Turkey and the Middle Easter states, is popular only with anarchists and Libertarians.

Alternately, deconstruction of the administrative state is only metaphysical verbosity really meaning nothing more than radical reduction of size and influence of government of which is conservative orthodoxy.

It is interesting to observe that what prompted this reversal in the thinking of Mr Trump was not the result of have given greater attention to a study of the Syrian war or having been carefully briefed  by his senior military leaders, but by images of the sick and dying which he witnessed on television, according to news accounts

Television is Mr Trump’s unique source of knowledge of international relations.

According to the Washington Post:

When President Trump began receiving his intelligence briefings in January, his team made a request: The president, they said, was a visual and auditory learner. Would the briefers please cut down on the number of words in the daily briefing book and instead use more graphics and pictures?

Similarly, after Trump entered office, his staff took President Barack Obama’s Syria contingency plans and broke the intelligence down into more-digestible bites, complete with photos, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the request.

There is considerable evidence that Mr Trump possesses limited reading skills, and by some accountings, a limited vocabulary, along with a limited attention span.

It is very unlikely that Trump was aware that there had been no terrorist attacks in the US perpetuated by immigrants deriving from any of the seven Muslim nations on his ban list though this information was readily available to anyone willing to exert the slightest effort into doing a search. Such a search would reveal that such information is opposite the bombastic messaging from Breitbart, Fox News, InfoWars and other right wing commentators whose xenophobic daily messages is probably the source of Mr Trump’s conceptualization.

It is also unlikely that Mr Trump understood that immigrants to this country, whether legal or illegal, commit less crime on average and have a lower incarceration rate than do American citizens. Thus, the immigrant community has the effect of diluting the crime rate in the US which, over all, has been in decline for the last two and a half decades contrary to what Mr Trump has said.

It certainly seems naïve to initiate such a complex and far-reaching travel ban directive just six days after assuming office, before the Attorney General was in place who would potentially have vetted the travel ban for its legal soundness, or before Homeland Security was given time to digest it, much less provide input. It appears to have received no review whatsoever by any relevant agency of the government and was probably the solitary product of Mr Trump and Mr Miller and Bannon.

Mr Trump has since been fairly candid in revealing his shock in discovering the complexity of the tasks and duties of the presidency and has expressed a nostalgia for his previous job of managing his own business which he said was ‘much easier”.

President Trump has now introduced new executive order of a modified travel ban, which has been temporarily blocked by federal judges in both Hawaii and Maryland.  In the new executive order, Iraq has been eliminated from the ban, no doubt because the American and Iraqi forces are engaged in a joint effort to retake Mosul from ISIS, and there must be a feeling somewhere in the cabinet that including Iraq in the travel ban is insulting to the people with whom there is an ongoing military effort.

There are other tweaks. Syrians are no longer singled out for a permanent or indefinite ban. Refugees who have already gained approval may enter without delay. And there are to be a 50,000 limit of immigrants admitted each year, down from 110,000 under Obama

Trump’s reaction to the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court appears to indicate that Mr Trump did not understand the nature of the tripartite American government and that the president does not have unchecked and unconstrained power. It seems a lot like Mr Trump was trying to bully the court. And in referring to the justices of the Ninth Circuit as “so-called” judges, he has displayed his usual extremely unpleasant reaction to anyone who crosses him, whether distinguished judges or anyone else.

Rather than asking the Department of Homeland Security, or any of the investigative agencies, for a review or vetting of the travel ban directive before attempting to implement it, he requested a review only after the executive order failed primarily with the intent of reinstituting it, and evidently in the expectation that DHS would produce a report favorable to that order.

That review was undertaken by DHS, but, however  reached a conclusion quite different from the justification which Mr Trump sought. Its central conclusion was that the country of origin is a poor indicator of who is likely to engage in a terrorist attack.

This report, by DHS, also contradicts Mr Trump’s claim during the political campaign that Mexican entering the US were, “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And”, in a reluctant concession to reality, “some, I assume, are good people.”

But the belief otherwise is the constant message blared from the xenophobic, Islamophobic right wing TV, radio, and online sources which Trump prefers to competent intelligence reports by US government agencies. He appears to be unaware of the considerable expertise of the career professions inside the State Department and other agencies who could competently inform him of the background circumstances relating to any of his proposed initiatives.

That factual verification ought to be the basis for trustworthy belief is an ideal to which Mr Trump certainly has no allegiance and has demonstrated such a lack of allegiance many times in his short presidential tenure and during his campaign for the presidency.

Mr Trump’s announcement that the US was sending a carrier strike group towards the Korean peninsula in response to a North Korean medium range missile test, when, in fact, the carrier group was thousands of miles away and sailing in the other direction could have resulted from a communications mistake within the Pentagon or elsewhere. But it might also have been the result of Mr Trump’s well known disregard for facts. This is a troubling possibility considering that misstatements of this kind maybe the kind of misunderstandings that can start a war.

Mr Trump happens to be an uninformed, not well-read, and a man largely untutored in either foreign policy or the domestic workings of government. He seems to know less about American government than a high school student who is in the midst of taking a civics class. As for any knowledge of the sciences, the study of which would have imposed on him a disciplined disposition to regard verification and evidence as the arbiter of truth and the only route to trustworthy belief, Mr Trump is completely uninitiated. He has mocked the scientific consensus on global warming by claiming it is a conspiracy invented by the Chinese for the purpose of undermining American economic growth – a view that reflects both his ignorance of science and his circumscribed experience as a businessman concerned only with matters of finance.

According to the New York Times (Mar 30, 2017):

Mr. Trump’s first budget proposes slashing $5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health and $900 million, or about 20 percent, from the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which runs basic research at the national laboratories. The Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by 31 percent.

Those actions have been taken without advice or guidance from scientists and engineers inside the White House. The few remaining policy advisers have ceased distributing daily memos on policy issues like climate change, machine-learning regulation, or the ethics of big data collection.

Aside from his plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31%, he has appointed as its head a man who has been its constant opponent and who does not even believe it should exist.

He has appointed for Secretary of Education a generous campaign contributor who does not believe in public sponsored education.

Mr Trump lacks the intellectual or academically trained, or otherwise trained, discipline to be able to distinguish reliable sources of information from those that are not. His accusation during the Republican primaries that Ted Cruz’s father was seen with Lee Harvey Oswald sometime before the latter assassinated President Kennedy evidently came from an article in the National Inquirer. And his claim that President Obama had had him wiretapped evidently derived from an editorial by right wing commentator Mark Levin of Mark Levin Show which Mr Trump had heard the evening before his tweet to that effect, and has since been repudiated even by Mr Levin himself.

All indications are that he reads very little and multiple sources tell us that he spends much of his time watching television news. Television news, Fox in particular, is his primary source of news, apparently, along with right wing radio and websites, such as Breitbart and InfoWars.

Mr Trump has his virtues, otherwise he would not be the President of the United States. His self- assurance and tenacity and feistiness have taken him to where he is. And this is often true of those who have had an effect on the course of history.

Still, one wonders how deep this self assurance runs since so many of his boast are hollow as well as false. That he is ‘thin-skinned’ and inclined to lash out with personal attacks at even minor criticism has often been mentioned and cannot be considered a sign of internal strength.

However that may be, Trump lacks the character qualities of sobriety and wisdom and self-discipline and respect for knowledge which are essential qualities in leading the American nation.

Leading the American nation means, ideally, of having gained the respect of Americans across a wide spectrum from the average blue collar worker to the class of intellectuals occupying faculty positons at America’s great universities, from small entrepreneurs on Main Street to the Wall street bankers, both men and women. Such a privileged person would need to have a wide ranging intellect and a panoramic angle of vision, an adherence to some version of personal ethics other than the constant pursuit of self-aggrandizement, a dignity of bearing, and a widely focused understanding of policy, both foreign and domestic, as well as the intellect so as to have the respect of the most thoughtful among us, and hopefully, some natural facility with articulate English.

Mr Trump more often talks like a street thug than an American president.

Mr Trump seems to want to remake the presidency in the image of his own family owned real estate business, where he was the patriarch and had absolute control of initiatives and had to answer to no one, and to remake the presidency in his own image.

His policies of lifting all restraints, environmental or otherwise, from the nation’s businesses with little regard to their effects on the environment and on people’s qualities of life, outside of the business community, reflect a narrowness and inability to see beyond his own narrowly focused experience. He has packed his cabinet with billionaires, mostly from Goldman Sacks whose life histories has been only to create wealth for themselves with little regard for the public good.

His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, though wealthy and a successful CEO of Exon Mobile, judging from his confirmation hearings, appears to know nothing about foreign policy.

Mr Trump is unable to distinguish trustworthy belief supported by evidence from fantasy.

All told, Donald Trump, an unrepentant ignorant uninformed man, could well be a greater danger to the US than any immigrant from a Muslim country. And policy determined by ignorance and prejudice will divert the skill and energy of the American people toward dealing with Donald Trump’s childish behavior and proposals and away from constructive pursuits.