by Gary Sick
I have been reading Bob Woodward’s Fear, an episodic account of the first year or so of the Trump magic caravan. I also read Fire and Fury, an earlier and surprisingly well done account of the first months of the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.
Both of these books describe a president who proudly knows nothing about how and why a government functions. He only understands an organization that runs the way he ran (and runs) his own family business. He measures success by profit—money coming in—and by personal “wins.” He is utterly impervious to facts or arguments that contradict the world view that he formed while a playboy in New York decades ago. A trade imbalance, to him, is a loss of revenue. The fact that it might provide concrete benefits to the wider economy is simply wrong. No one can convince him otherwise.
These two books describe a procession of smart, capable people trying to make the US government run more or less normally. They argue with the commander-in-chief, they slow walk his orders, they hide documents from him, they ignore his orders. Since he is not accustomed to such tactics and is not particularly systematic in his thinking, he often doesn’t notice or forgets.
But the real—and alarming—message in these two books is that Trump, while careless and ill-informed about every aspect of government, ultimately comes back to his few fundamental convictions: governing is a business, it’s all about profit, and he is the sole stable genius who knows how to make it work. As time goes on, he eliminates those who disagree with him and forces himself on the system. He is, after all, the elected president of the United States with a panoply of powers that have accumulated over the decades. He forces the system to conform to his own unique perspective.
He is winning.
This week, for the first time, he issued a major foreign policy statement in his own, unexpurgated, words. No one else in the White House could—or ever would—have written such a document. Clearly he dictated it personally, and it was published as: Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia—not the statement of the U.S. Government, but the statement of Donald J. Trump.
He won. They could not stop him. He is dictating major foreign policy decisions, and this one offers a glimpse into his mind and decision-making process that is unobstructed. There has never been anything like it in the history of this nation.
Did Mohammed bin Salman authorize the brutal killing of a journalist who had become a critic of his actions? “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
So what is the position of the U.S. government? Well, “the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.. . . They (the Saudis) have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.. . . Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels — so important for the world.”
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a profitable enterprise and the kingdom is a key player in our strategy, with Israel, to isolate and bring down the government of Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees that the crown prince should be given a pass. Case closed.
Mohammed bin Salman, you can commit murder most foul, but keep the orders coming. A businessman doesn’t offend a good customer.
Trump does not conceal his thinking. We have a clear picture of U.S. Middle East policy. We have put our policy in the hands of a single individual, an authoritarian ruler of an oil-rich Persian Gulf nation who buys large quantities of U.S. military equipment.
We have done this before. In the 1970s our man was the shah of Iran.
How did that work out?
Gary Sick, a scholar at Columbia University, served on the National Security Council under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis.