Thursday, September 12, 2019


This is classic Trump: Tear up a deal with great fanfare, denounce it as the worst deal ever made, then, after a long period of denunciation, make moves to replace it with ... essentially the same deal.
President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal....

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions.... In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future.
John Bolton opposed this move, but now he's gone, so Trump can make moves toward a headline-grabbing photo op with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Nobel, here we come!

Except they won't give Trump a Nobel Peace Prize for, in effect, replacing the furniture he broke. They might give a Nobel to Emmanuel Macron for setting this in motion. That's going to tick Trump off.

But then he gets to complain about being cheated out of a Nobel. The base will love that!


For years we've been told that Donald Trump has no fixed ideology, and we should expect him to tack to the center, or even to the left, if he thinks it will win him more adulation and votes. On domestic issues, that's always wrong. He won't give us a real infrastructure program because Democrats would actually like one -- Chuck Schumer would praise him and vote for the bill. Trump can't have that. His base wants liberal tears. (Not to mention the fact that Mitch McConnell will never sign off on a real infrastructure program because it would send the signal that government can do good things.) The same is true on guns -- I see that we're back to arguing that the president's position on gun regulations is unclear, but he won't agree to new gun laws because his base demands that he continue owning the libs on this issue.

However, on foreign policy, he actually has some leeway. Here's why: Sometime in George W. Bush's second term, it became clear that even the GOP electorate was turning against the Iraq War. In the Obama/Tea Party years, Republicans pretended that they'd never liked Bush or the war. Ron Paul and then Rand Paul had begun forging a viable alternate Republicanism that made room for skepticism about war. This strain of conservatism had always existed, but in the decades-long Reaganite backlash to Those Damn Hippies and their anti-war tendencies, it had been pushed to the margins. To be a good Republican, you had to love war because -- again -- liberal tears.

But in recent years, Democrats and liberals have become less reflexively anti-military. Sure, we hated the Iraq War, but we supported other interventions. We like the troops. And now we're more bellicose toward countries such as Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Syria than the Republican president is.

And now one of Fox's top hosts, Tucker Carlson, preaches (however cynically) a Paulite foreign policy. This week he proclaimed that John Bolton is "a man of the left." And he's one of the people President Trump clearly turns to on foreign policy.

I don't think the Trump base has a consistent foreign policy worldview. I think they'd still cheer on a Reagan/Bush demonization campaign aimed at a swarthy foreign foe. But they're also embracing Carlson's skepticism about war and intervention. Meanwhile, Democrats are against stupid wars, but not against intervention altogether.

So there's no clear course of action that Trump must avoid because it will please Democrats and liberals. He can drop bombs and he can make deals. If he drops bombs, the base will think he's a macho man. If he makes deals, the base will think he's the alpha male of dealmaking.

That gives him a surprising amount of leeway -- so expect a lot of (inept) dealmaking.

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