Friday, January 17, 2020


A newly published excerpt from A Very Stable Genius, the forthcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol Loennig and Philip Rucker, is inspiring a lot of discussion. You should read the excerpt even if you've read the most talked-about passage, which takes place in a disastrous foreign policy learning session set up for the ill-informed president at the Pentagon. Trump addresses the military officers who, in an act of futility, have tried to explain the nature of our global alliances and the history of our recent wars:
Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called “locker room talk,” this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. “How does the commander in chief say that?” one thought. “What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?”
The point of the excerpt isn't that Trump is ignorant. We knew that. It's that he's ignorant and doesn't feel the need either to be less ignorant or to trust better-informed and more experienced people to sweat the details. We know that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush came to the White House with large knowledge gaps, many of which were never really filled in. But they didn't seem to resent the knowledgeable -- they hired people who at least knew their subject areas and took advantage of that knowledge. (Some of those people had horrible judgment, but that's another story.)

Trump seems to spend the entire briefing waiting for a chance to inject the two or three drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar foreign policy ideas he's picked up in his seven decades on Earth. Idea #1: We're getting ripped off by our allies.
Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection.

“We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.”
Idea #2: Take the oil.
Trump questioned why the United States couldn’t get some oil as payment for the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. “We spent $7 trillion; they’re ripping us off,” Trump boomed. “Where is the f---ing oil?”
Idea #3: The world is divided into winners and losers, and guess which one Trump is.
Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a “loser war.” That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief’s commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.

“You’re all losers,” Trump said. “You don’t know how to win anymore.”
Our system anticipates that someone with very little expertise in this area will be empowered to tell people who know much more how they should pursue their jobs. It doesn't anticipate that the commander in chief will resent being taught things and will refuse to delegate detailed thinking to experts if he or she doesn't want to absorb the details. But that's Trump -- he's developed a genius-level understanding of everything, effortlessly, or so he tells everyone (including himself).


In response to the "dopes and babies" rant, Atrios writes:
I know that one "excuse" for Trump coverage is that he spews so much shit every day that no one thing can stick.... But some things are objectitudinal and nonpartisany and SUPPORTING THE TROOPS is one of them (whether or not it should be). If Obummer had said something like this, literally every single New York Times article about anything having to do with Obummer and the military would, by its 4th paragraph, inject something like "The president's relationship with the military has been strained after his comments..." and any time he was within 250 miles of a military base they would go interview a bunch of TROOPS so they could say how MAD MAD MAD they were at the guy. And those assignments wouldn't require Republicans pretending to be mad about it. They would just become part of the normal background. Obummer hates the military, the military hates Obummer.

But ... everyone's gonna put on their shocked faces for a day and then coverage will return to normal. And that's not normal.
Well, actually, it is normal. Trump is a Republican. Both conservatives and the mainstream media agree that a Republican can't insult the troops, by definition. Only Democrats (and people to the left of the Democrats) can insult the troops.

This is part of a larger problem that's plagued us over the past forty years. The world of politics has been incapable of reacting with sufficient outrage to Iran-contra, George W. Bush's post-9/11 toadying to the Saudis and Iraq War debacle, and Trump's Putin bootlicking because, performatively, Reagan, W, and Trump were all military-lovers and flag-wavers. The conventional wisdom is that right-wingers are correct: The telltale sign of disloyalty to America is insufficient jingoism. If you're a Republican, you're never a menace to America, even if you're actively doing it harm.

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