USA Politics: Trump is Everything Republicans Said Obama Was – commentary

Trump is Everything Republicans Said Obama Was

They called Obama an inexperienced, self-serving celebrity. Then their party chose Trump.

Tom Nichols | The Washington Post

Remember when Republicans feared the bungling diplomacy of a vain, inexperienced president and vowed to stop him before he destroyed our security?

In 2014, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) warned that President Barack Obama was “inflexibly clinging to campaign promises”. If the novice president expected Congress to “stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said a year later, he and his party had two words for Obama: “Hell no!”    

“Our allies don’t trust us; our enemies don’t fear us; and the world doesn’t know where America stands,” went a 2015 presidential campaign ad for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).     

And one Republican foreign policy analyst even wrote that negotiations — with Iran, not North Korea — have “become humiliating, not least because our diplomatic body language is telegraphing an eagerness for a deal — any deal — with such clumsy obviousness that only the dumbest opponent could fail to notice it.”

I’m fairly sure I’m quoting that last critique correctly because I wrote it, back in early 2015.

I remain deeply skeptical about the way the Iran deal was negotiated. But compared with the unconscionable mess that President Trump just left behind at his Singapore “summit” with Kim Jong Un, Obama’s long and arduous discussions with Iran look like Metternich convening the Congress of Vienna.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Trump met for the first time on June 12. Here are key moments from the summit in Singapore. (The Washington Post):

When it comes to foreign affairs — when it comes to everything, really — Trump is weighed down by inexperience, bedeviled by vanity and hobbled by impulsiveness. He’s a celebrity playing at president.

He’s everything, in other words, that Republicans feared Obama would be.

Going all the way back to the 2008 presidential race, Republicans were certain that Obama would be more attuned to the needs of America’s worst enemies than willing to discuss the shared interests of America’s best friends; this captures the destructive arc of Trump’s actions from the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec to the spectacle in Singapore.

Republicans were scathing about Obama’s immense and obvious self-regard. But Trump has shown himself to be beyond any of the GOP’s worst nightmares about his predecessor. A political narcissist transfixed by his own image and utterly addicted to television coverage, Trump is unwilling to be briefed, incapable of being educated and has now blundered into a summit with a monster in exactly the way Republicans were once certain Obama would do if a camera were pointed at him.

Trump supporters will object here and argue that Obama was as bad as they think he was — and on the Iran deal, they have a point. Whatever one thinks of it now, how we got there was a lesson in bad diplomacy, with Obama quietly, desperately mortgaging American interests all over the globe to reach a grand bargain with Iran.

The difference is that Obama was pursuing a strategy. It might have been the wrong strategy, but it was a purposeful approach directed toward a major administration objective.

Indeed, his critics — me among them — might argue that Obama was so completely focused on the execution of his overarching vision that he made avoidable mistakes and lost sight of the escalating diplomatic costs.

Trump, by contrast, has approached North Korea exactly as Republicans once feared Obama would:

Without a strategy, driven by TV coverage, interested only in the short-term ego boost of a photo op that does more harm than good.

Who gets the better end of the deal, after all, when a two-bit dictator poses side by side with the putative leader of the free world?

Obama’s critics screeched about pallets of cash being delivered to Iran — I didn’t like it, either — but that seems a masterstroke of diplomacy compared with Trump declaring the inhabitants of North Korea’s gulags “the great winners” of the summit and halting U.S. “war games” with South Korea because, as he bafflingly explained Tuesday, it will save us “a tremendous amount of money” and because they’re “provocative”, besides.

Until now, American presidents refused to adopt the nomenclature of our enemies, referring to such operations as “joint exercises”, not war games. It’s exactly the kind of ignorant mistake that Republicans were certain Obama would make, starting from his first day in office.

Trump talking to Kim, some Republicans will retort, is no worse than Obama going to a ballgame with Raúl Castro. But that comparison is merely sullen whataboutism. Unlike the Iran deal, I think Obama was right to normalize relations with Cuba, not least because the moral double-think of isolating Cuba while trading with China was a ridiculous game that even our allies refused to play after the Cold War.

The Cuban embargo had achieved its purpose, which was to increase the costs of empire to the former Soviet Union and make the Cold War unbearably expensive. Once the Soviet hammer and sickle was lowered for the last time, America’s Cuba policy had accomplished its mission.

A lot of Republicans, however, still appalled at Obama’s awkward handshake with a Cuban leader, seem to have no such unease about Trump fawning over the “talented” North Korean dictator who he says is “funny”, “smart” and really “loves his country”.

Kim loves it so much, apparently, that he allegedly had his half brother killed in public with a chemical weapon and held comatose American Otto Warmbier hostage, sending him home only when he could no longer be saved. Throughout the pageantry in Singapore, Trump played it all down.

It is tiresome to have to keep noting that Obama would’ve been impeached for far less.

But it’s important to ask Republicans now:

If Trump is everything you said Obama would be, what will you do about it? Some Republicans have insisted that any deal with North Korea be ratified by Congress.

Good luck with that, since Trump, like Obama, has a pen and a phone and won’t hesitate to use them.

They might consider, instead, what they’d do differently if they had a chance to stop a second Obama, one who embodies everything they ever feared in foreign policy, in mid-catastrophe.

They have that chance now. The only question is whether they’ll take it or again succumb to blind partisanship.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On June 19, 2018 at 10:08 am

    C.E.O.s Think the Kim Meeting Was a Bad Deal for Trump

    A lot happened on June 12.

    President Trump met with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore, an event that has come under intense scrutiny.

    Later that day, a federal judge approved AT&T’s deal to buy Time Warner, a decision that could give rise to a wave of huge media mergers.

    Mr Trump’s meeting with Mr. Kim, in particular — complete with its choreographed handshake — was historic.

    But while the American president gushed about what the pair had achieved during the talks, commentators have questioned whether the summit meeting will come to much for America.

    On the same day, top business leaders attended the Yale C.E.O. Summit at the New York Public Library, hosted by Jeff Sonnenfeld, the Yale School of Management’s senior associate dean for leadership studies.

    So what did they think about all the news?

    “While the C.E.O.s were very pleased with the present course of the economy, they were very concerned about the geopolitical positioning,” Mr. Sonnenfeld said in a statement. “In particular, they believe that the U.S.A. is already being outmaneuvered in the North Korean negotiations.”

    The event was off the record. But DealBook has the results of a survey of 107 attendees at the event.

    Here are the highlights:

    On the Trump-Kim meeting
    • 69-percent thought that the meeting was overrated, because of a lack of clear targets and outcomes.

    • The biggest winner of the summit meeting? Nearly 60-percent said Mr. Kim.

    • The biggest losers? Roughly 28-percent thought Mr. Trump; 27-percent thought leaders of the Group of 7.

    On the AT&T-Time Warner verdict:

    • 80-percent of survey participants agreed with the decision.

    • About 60-percent thought that the Justice Department had tried to block the deal for political, not legal, reasons.

    EDITORS’ PICKS:

    • Roughly 79-percent expected the decision to spur a flurry of M. & A. [Mergers and Acquisitions]

    On activist investors:

    • 90-percent of respondents said that activist shareholder campaigns often unfairly smear management teams. (Of course, these are C.E.O.s, so that’s not too surprising.)

    • About 72-percent thought that activist investors lead to excessive short-termism in financial thinking. (See above.)

    And their views on the 2020 presidential race:

    • 30-percent backed Joe Biden; 19-percent supported John Kasich, the former Ohio governor; and 15-percent endorsed Howard Schultz, who recently stepped down as Starbucks’s executive chairman.

    • Just 7-percent thought that Mr. Trump should get a second term.

    Our columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and his Times colleagues help you make sense of major business and policy headlines — and the power-brokers who shape them. Get the DealBook newsletter.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 19, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    ‘Cult’ or Not, Trump’s Grasp on the Republican Party Is Stronger Than Ever

    An action-packed week in domestic and global politics shows how the president has remade the GOP.

    David A Graham | The Atlantic

    The last week has been one of the most consequential in the Trump presidency.

    From foreign affairs to the economy, domestic policy to law enforcement, the volume of important developments has been even higher than the standard, already overwhelming flow of news during this administration.

    That includes the fractious G7 meeting in Canada; President Trump’s summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un; increasing attention to the separation of families at the southern border; consequential primary-election results in Virginia and South Carolina; the release of a Justice Department Inspector General’s report into the Hillary Clinton email investigation; and, finally, the jailing on Friday of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

    What unites these moments is that nearly every case shows fresh evidence of how Donald Trump has consolidated his grasp on the Republican Party.

    While not every Republican official or voter agrees with him on all or every case, these events show how dissenters are marginalized and Trump’s vision reigns supreme.

    Take each of these episodes in order, beginning with the G7 and North Korea.

    The GOP spent the Barack Obama years protesting that the president was busy turning his back on America’s allies — remember the fracas when Obama dared to even relocate a bust of Winston Churchill? — and naively conferring with America’s nemeses, especially Iran?

    Obama was assailed as a traitor at worst and a bumbling fool at best for bowing to foreign dignitaries and even a robot.

    Some of these critiques are more valid than others, but regardless, nearly all of them apply to Trump this week.

    At the G7, he deepened a rift with top U.S.A. allies by refusing to budge on tariffs he’s levied on them. As he left the summit, he opted not to sign a joint communique because he was offended that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would stand up for his country.

    Trump then flew to Singapore, where he held a one-on-one summit with Kim with no serious pre-conditions and beamed as they shook hands.

    To see how Republicans’ tack has shifted, look no further than this old tweet from Trump’s current director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, mocking the idea that Obama might shake hands with Kim:

    Trump also saluted a North Korean officer and has repeatedly shrugged at North Korea’s long record of human-rights abuses.

    There are valid reasons for meeting with Kim this way, despite the propaganda boost that Kim receives from it, as my colleague Peter Beinart has written.

    Yet in the course of the summit, Trump made a major concession — pulling back on joint military exercises with South Korea — while receiving almost nothing in return, beyond a vague promise from Kim to denuclearize, coming with no timetable and no process for verification. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was pressed on these matters, he called the questions “insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous.”

    Trump’s decisions, from tariffs to U.S.A. allies to North Korea, are not only a wholesale reversal of GOP foreign policy since the Eisenhower era, but they also align closely with the prevailing Republican critique of Obama.

    The anti-Trump conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote this week:

    The whole design of this is offensive. The President pees in the punch bowl of the G7, insists the Russians come back into the organization, then flies off to Singapore to make kissy face with a man who routinely murders his own people.

    Had Barack Obama done that, Republicans would be demanding his impeachment.

    Erickson is RIGHT. For the most part, however, Republicans have remained circumspect about Trump, praising the summit as a contribution to world peace, averting their eyes from Trump’s kowtowing to Kim, muting their criticism of the G7 blow-up and the protectionism that caused it.

    One rare exception is Bob Corker of Tennessee, the retiring U.S. senator who veers between harsh critiques and high praise of Trump. At the moment, he’s in a critique cycle, and suggested an amendment that would allow Congress to override Trump’s tariffs.

    On the domestic-policy front, there’s also been little serious pushback from congressional Republicans on the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.

    Instead, they have for the most part adopted the White House’s easily disproved claim that the policy, imposed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May, is somehow the result of laws passed by Democrats.

    There’s good reason for all this acquiescence. The greatest danger to congressional Republicans of challenging Trump is not a tongue-lashing from Lindsey Graham — it’s incurring the wrath of the president himself.

    Primary results in Virginia and South Carolina show just how powerfully the president has remade his party at the electoral level.

    In South Carolina, Trump offered a late endorsement to Kate Arrington, who challenged Representative Mark Sanford in a GOP primary. Arrington won.

    Sanford is, by any coherent definition of the term, far more conservative than Trump, but he dared to criticize the president, and in doing so angered the Republican base in a state that has repeatedly elected him, even after his extramarital affair in 2009 when he served as South Carolina’s governor.

    In an unusual disconnect, Trump remains largely unpopular with the country as a whole, but extremely popular with the Republican base.

    Individual candidates, however, will get the message:

    Allegiance to Trump seems to matter above all else, and criticizing Trump seems a sure way to lose primaries. They are probably right to reach that conclusion.

    One lesson from Democrats in the 2014 and especially 2010 midterm elections is that congressional candidates cannot successfully win by trying to run away from a president of their own party. Running away from Trump will likely be equally futile, so why bother?

    Politico reported this week that even Mueller-friendly Republicans are growing impatient with his probe, and in an interview with the Washington Examiner published on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “What I think about the Mueller investigation is, they ought to wrap it up. It’s gone on seemingly forever and I don’t know how much more they think they can find out.”

    NONSENSE, by the standards of special-counsel investigations, Mueller’s probe is not especially protracted; moreover, it has been highly productive, already securing five guilty pleas and multiple additional indictments.

    As if to debunk McConnell’s point that there’s nothing more to learn, Mueller on Friday convinced a federal judge to jail Manafort for tampering with witnesses in the case.

    The facts aren’t really what’s at dispute over Mueller, though. The turn on Mueller, along with the support for Trump’s broader agenda, is really about Republicans closing ranks as the president solidifies his hold on the GOP.

    Earlier this week, Corker accused his party of becoming “cult-like” about the president.

    In an interview with Fox News, Donald Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s a cult, it’s because they like what my father is doing.”

    THAT IS ONE WAY TO PUT IT.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 20, 2018 at 1:27 am

    The Republicans also said that they would make Obama a One-Term President

    Therefore, I hope they make it stick for Traitor Trump ….

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