The great Jewish philosopher Julius Marx famously said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
Groucho could be defining the Trump administration’s foreign policy, if it even has one.
The president himself is inconsistent, erratic, uninformed and often contradicting himself and his aides. Like when he told his secretary of state he was “wasting” his time trying to talk to the North Koreans, and then not even letting Rex Tillerson know that he agreed, apparently on the spur of the moment, to meet personally with Kim Jung Un.
At least seven voices speak for the United States just regarding Israel. Ambassador David Friedman, his own embassy and State Department spokespersons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, first son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump himself often have differing policies at different times on different topics like aid, refugees, settlements, Jerusalem and peace. In an administration that is notoriously chaotic and leaking like a sieve, the real number may be higher.
The president seems enamored to hurling insults at friends and foes alike. He may have stopped calling Kim “rocket man,” at least for now, but there have been no apologies for calling African countries “shitholes.” The only one immune seems to be Vladimir Putin. When the Russian president suggested Jews were probably responsible for any meddling in the 2016 election, Trump was silent, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) called him on it.
Putin’s “outrageous comment fans the flames of bigotry and hatred,” she said, and Trump’s failure to “condemn” the Russian president’s anti-Semitism tells us he “either agrees with Putin or lacks the backbone to stand up to him.”
I think we know the answer to that one. Putin may be the only world leader Trump hasn’t insulted.
Trump’s aides have a message for all the other world leaders and policy makers: Ignore him. Like the batty old uncle locked away in the attic with his cable TV and smartphone, they are telling people to ignore Trump’s rants and raves and tweets.
When Trump went to Munich recently for a conference on global security, his aides “advised jittery allies to generally ignore the president’s tweets,” reported the Washington Post.
The secretary of state several times refused to deny having called his president “a f****** idiot.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said all those nasty tweets and name calling are just Trump being “funny.” Mnuchin, who is Jewish, also saw nothing wrong when Trump described neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites at a Charlottesville rally as “fine people.”
Privately, Mnuchin was quoted calling Trump an “idiot” in Michael Wolff’s book about the Trump White House, Fire and Fury. Chief of staff Reince Priebus was said to use the same descriptive. Recently resigned economic advisor Gary Cohn said he was “dumb as shit,” and National Security Advisor R. R. McMaster said he was a “dope,” Wolff wrote.
The most damning indictment of all — at least until the Mueller investigation concludes — comes from Trump’s own lawyers. They think he’s such a incorrigible liar they don’t want him to testify before the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Instead they’re looking for escape routes from written questions (answer to be prepared for the president) to an off-the-record interview not under oath to refusal to meet at all.
Trump denies there is chaos in his White House, “only great energy.” As Groucho would say, Horse Feathers.