If all we knew about Trump’s presidency was the manner in which he withdrew American forces from northern Syria, that would be enough for us all to know that something was terribly amiss. But there are two possible ways of interpreting what’s wrong.
The national security experts – along with many Republicans and Democrats in the Congress – seem to be unanimous in saying that Trump’s way of disengaging from that territory has done major long-term damage to American national interests and that the disastrous consequences of his reckless action were both preventable and entirely predictable.
Just what this extraordinarily appalling course of action signifies depends on whether Trump knew what he was doing, or didn’t.
If Trump failed to understand the consequences, we should be alarmed about that – especially because his actions went against the counsel of his national security advisers and his generals. If Trump thought he knew better than anyone, if he failed to understand what any reasonable 8-year old would understand – especially if so advised by people who understood the dynamics of the situation – that would show Trump to be a dangerous man to have in charge of America’s conduct in the world.
(And what are we to make of the way that he’s tried to close the barn door after the horses have run out – things like making threats against Turkey after he’d given their attack a green light, like sending his vice president and secretary of state to try to undo what has already been done? That might suggest that he really failed to anticipate all that he was unleashing. But maybe it was just because he didn’t anticipate how outraged so many Republicans in Congress would be about all the damage Trump had done to American interests and reputation.)
If Trump didn’t understand what he was doing, it raises a question of competence at so fundamental a level that the language of the 25th Amendment would have to come to our minds. That’s where the Constitution makes provision for the circumstance where “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Trump’s disability, if that’s what’s involved, is not like Woodrow Wilson’s, bedridden after his terrible stroke in 1919. But it is, if anything, more dangerous. This kind of reckless and heedless action by the American commander-in-chief – if that is what it is, in a dangerous world, in an age of nuclear weapons – imperils us all.
But then there’s the possibility that – when Trump inflicted this disaster on America (and our ally in the area) – he knew exactly what he was doing, and he achieved his purposes.
Consider who is helped and who is hurt by Trump’s apparent “blunder.”
The consensus in the national security world is that those who have been strengthened by Trump’s seeming “blunder” in Syria include the Assad regime that rules Syria, the Russian regime that saved Assad and now have him as their client, the Iranians who also helped prop up Assad in the Syrian civil war, and ISIS – hundreds of whose terrorists were held prisoner but have escaped in the chaos Trump’s rash action predictably unleashed.
All these “winners” are enemies of the United States, while the big losers are the United States, and its Kurdish allies, who were so instrumental in helping us defeat ISIS.
(Abandoned by the United States, and predictably facing genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Turkish forces, our erstwhile allies – the Kurds – were compelled to throw themselves into the arms of the Russians and their Syrian clients.)
After witnessing how we’ve thrown our friends to the wolves, who will risk siding with the U.S.? This is damage to our national interest that even congressional Republicans have lamented could take decades to repair.
Trump came to power under such banners as “America First” and “Make America Great Again.” But the pattern of his actions in the world has a consistency about it that is hard to ignore: he has repeatedly diminished American standing and influence in the world, and has equally consistently strengthened Putin’s Russia.
So if Trump did know what he was doing, if it was not a blunder, this – shift of power from the U.S. to our major world enemy – would seem to be the purpose served.
In this Syrian debacle, Trump has made Putin a dominant – perhaps the dominant – power broker in the Middle East, a region that has been central to American interests for generations.
(And it should be noted that every element of Trump’s Ukraine scandal serves Russian interests:
• Pushing a conspiracy theory that takes Russia off the hook for attacking our elections.
• Undermining the Ukrainian government that seeks to repel Russian domination.
• Getting Trump – the Russian choice in 2016 – reelected in 2020.)
Two possibilities: If Trump hasn’t shown himself so incompetent as to be ripe for the 25th Amendment, the alternative would seem to be a betrayal of the nation so profound as to justify impeachment, even if there were no other reason.