• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trump’s First Big Test: a Crisis for All of Us

The current crisis in Syria provides Donald Trump with his first genuine test as president and commander-in-chief.  On the basis of his first fifteen months in the White House, there is no reason to believe that he is equipped to manage a complex geopolitical and military situation that involves a failed Arab state as well as the military and political interests of many non-Arab states such as Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Israel in addition to the United States.

The delayed response to Syria’s unconscionable use of chemical weapons against its own people indicates that the U.S. national security bureaucracy as well as such key European allies as the UK, France, and Germany are trying to constrain the president and to limit the damage of greater U.S. involvement.

There is reason to believe that Trump lacks the cognitive ability to deal rationally, let alone successfully, with the complex Syrian situation.  Trump’s chaotic Twitter outbursts have already warned of “nice and new and ‘smart’” weapons; his handling of numerous personnel challenges in the White House; his constant contradictions on issues both foreign and domestic; his fixation with the presidency of Barack Obama and his presidential rival Hillary Clinton offer a pattern of bizarre and impulsive decision making. His bombastic threats over the past year have been a particular worry.

The Syrian situation requires serious cognitive capabilities.  The president must analyze and absorb large amounts of factual material, but Trump prefers to shoot from the hip without the benefit of background briefings.  His angry and implosive manner will complicate the necessity for calm and reasoned discussion of sensitive political and military matters.  His cavalier attitude toward the use of military force points to a reckless and aggressive manner that belies the seriousness of the crisis in the Middle East. He considers himself a “stable genius,” but repeatedly displays limited cognitive capabilities.

Trump’s manic behavior suggests that the White House and the United States would benefit from having key advisors around him who would be able to govern and moderate his behavior.  We’ve been told that the so-called “adults” in the room have performed that function, although I remain skeptical.  In the past month, in any event, we have lost two of those “adults” (Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster) and their replacements (CIA director Mike Pompeo and John Bolton) appear just as impetuous and authoritarian as the president himself.  Trump’s numerous references to himself as the only one “who can fix it” point to the difficulty of counseling an authoritarian president.

The stress of the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller adds to the danger of the current situation because President Trump may view the use of military force as buying time in a worsening domestic atmosphere. The fact that he views the Mueller investigation as “an attack on America” also points to his authoritarian style.

Any discussion of the Syrian situation involves a debate over the use of lethal military weaponry against a target where Russian and Iranian forces are deployed.  There are few military plans that survive the first round of fighting, but the Syrian situation is particularly complicated in view of the presence of foreign air and air defense forces.

We were lucky in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis because President John F. Kennedy was open to the use of diplomatic tools to solve the crisis, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was strong enough to reverse himself and withdraw strategic forces that shouldn’t have been deployed in the first place.  Ultimately, each side did an effective job of assessing the intentions and capabilities of its adversary, which is a fundamental issue in any foreign policy crisis.

There is no reason to believe that Donald Trump is capable of making such assessments, and the presence of too many military advisers and a dearth of diplomatic advisers only complicates the situation.  President Kennedy had the advantage of a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Llewellyn Thompson, to provide wise counsel and to give Russia the time and space to make a deliberative decision.

President Trump must rely on John Bolton and a hollowed out Department of State that is no position to contribute to a measured and realistic assessment of the problem.  Of course, Donald Trump prides himself on not needing intelligence briefings or even intelligent advisers.

Over the past year or so, President Trump has displayed that he has virtually no capability to assess his adversaries at home or abroad.  His grandiosity and his indifference to the concerns of others are obstacles to effective decision making.  The Syrian crisis is already testing the mettle of his entire national security team.  There is genuine reason for concern.

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His forthcoming book is American Carnage: Donald Trump’s War on Intelligence” (City Lights Publishers, 2019).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
Ralph Nader
What and Who Gave Us Trump?
Ramzy Baroud
Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance
Tom Engelhardt
Living in a Nation of Political Narcissists
Binoy Kampmark
Challenging Orthodoxies: Alabama’s Anti-Abortion Law
Thomas Klikauer
Why Reactionaries Won in Australia
John Steppling
A New Volkisch Mythos
Cathy Breen
So Many Wars: Remembering Friends in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey 
Chuck Collins
Ending the Generational Abuse of Student Debt
Robert J. Burrowes
Understanding NATO, Ending War
Nyla Ali Khan
Dilution of “Kashmiriyat” and Regional Nationalism
May 22, 2019
T.J. Coles
Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services
Thomas Knapp
A US War on Iran Would be Evil, Stupid, and Self-Damaging
Johnny Hazard
Down in Juárez
Mark Ashwill
Albright & Powell to Speak at Major International Education Conference: What Were They Thinking?
Binoy Kampmark
The Victory of Small Visions: Morrison Retains Power in Australia
Laura Flanders
Can It Happen Here?
Dean Baker
The Money in the Trump/Kushner Middle East Peace Plan
Manuel Perez-Rocha – Jen Moore
How Mining Companies Use Excessive Legal Powers to Gamble with Latin American Lives
George Ochenski
Playing Politics With Coal Plants
Ted Rall
Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat
May 21, 2019
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Locked in a Cold War Time Warp
Roger Harris
Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire
Patrick Cockburn
Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes
Robert Hunziker
Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming
Lance Olsen
Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine
Dean Baker
Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality
Jan Oberg
Trump’s Iran Trap
David D’Amato
What is Anarchism?
Nicky Reid
Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge
Elliot Sperber
Springtime in New York
May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail