Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 3, 2017
In my world, effective leadership comes about by truly understanding the issues at hand, proving agile at receiving incoming information, caring about the people affected, and, as a result, being in a position to influence the outcome of events rather than having Life happen to you.
Our current trouble is that President Donald Trump seems to be none of the above. His impulsive reactions to situations that too often seem out of the blue leaves him wide open to counteraction or evasive action by friends and foes alike. His uncaring about anything but himself and his now-trite slogans do not add to understanding, agility or influence.
This week, the foreign front also celebrated the new year. In just a couple of days, the power of other countries to set the agenda, in effect, underline that the United States has lost international sway. None of these general world crises is particularly new, but my question is this: In each case, has Trump been effective at making us more safe, more secure, more influential in the outcome? Has he been an effective leader towards a goal, even if I disagree with the goal? Among the rekindled foreign issues:
NORTH KOREA: The New Year’s Day announcement by North Korea’s King Jong Un that now that he has a nuclear launch button on his desk, he would deign to talk with South Korea about supporting the coming Winter Olympics was news, of course. It was either a triumph for Trump’s tactics at squeezing North Korea to make concessions, or, as I find agreement with the New York Times’ David Sanger, Kim was driving a potential wedge between South Korea and the United States. In either case, it is Kim who seems to have the steering wheel here.
As Sanger found, Kim “perhaps sensing the simmering tension between President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae, called for an urgent dialogue between the two Koreas before the opening of the Winter Olympics in the South next month. . . Until now Kim has largely ignored Moon, whom the North Korean media has portrayed as a spineless lackey of the United States. But the dramatic shift in tone and policy, toward bilateral talks between the two Koreas, suggests that Kim sees an opportunity to develop and accentuate the split between Moon and Trump, betting that the United States will be unable to mount greater pressure on the North if it does not have South Korean acquiescence.”
Moon, who has insisted on a veto on any proposed American military action against North Korea, welcomed the offer. Then Kim and Trump exchanged tweets about whose nuclear weapon was better.
This is the best-thought-out issue on the foreign platter, and still, Trump seemed both surprised and in wonderment as to what it all means (“We will see,” Trump tweeted). I am unmoored both by a game of chicken with nuclear weapons and Trump’s leadership.
IRAN: As Iranians have been willing to take to the streets to protest economic and political policies of their government, President Trump decided to enter the fray by tweet that at once oversimply and probably worsen that government’s counterpunch against protesters. (Just incidentally, Trump sees anti-government protests in Iran as valid and positive, but not so much in Ferguson, Mo., or along the Washington Mall). The question here is not whether the protests will somehow turn the Iranian leadership on its behaviors, but whether the U.S. president is acting in a way that is effective?
Indeed, Trump’s online involvement in Iranian street protests comes as he may actually end the Iran nuclear deal that he detests so much, as well as at least tacitly encouraging Saudi efforts to confront Iran over ethnic and leadership issues in the Middle East. I would hope that Trump has anticipated the kind of response that he is drawing from Iran’s leadership, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, who blamed “enemies” of Iran for protests that have left more than 20 people dead.
It strikes me that this is a case of Trump sticking both to his anti-Iranian slogans and his insistence on sending provocative tweets. Unaddressed is why if he cares about “the great Iranian people,” he has barred them from entering the United States.
PAKISTAN: President Trump’s first act of the New Year was to attack Pakistan by tweet, an action that Pakistan has taken as an international insult, and portends a break with the United States. Trump slammed Pakistani leaders for “lies & deceit,” saying the country had played U.S. leaders for “fools,” by not doing enough to control Islamic militants. This is the case of something landing out of thin air, not that it isn’t true, but why now? As Politico noted, “It was not immediately clear why the president decided to comment on Pakistan, or whether it could signal a shift in U.S. policy regarding the Asian nation. As recently as October, President Trump was optimistic about Pakistan, saying the U.S. was being “respected again” following Pakistan’s compliance with a rescue operation” of an American hostage
The questions here: Do we know what we want as a country and is Trump being effective at getting it?
ISRAEL: The Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is emboldening the Israeli political right wing to move more quickly to block any formal Palestinian state, in effect helping to doom a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party is urging the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, extension of Israeli law into occupied territory, and stiff obstacles to any potential land-for-peace deal involving Jerusalem. Overall, of course, it is a bad idea for Israel, for Arabs who will not receive full rights, and for the Middle East, where anti-Israel fervor is the one theme all Arabs seem to find agreeable. Again, the question here, as in the case of military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, is whether the President thinks things through. Is this the way to establish American influence as a regional peace maker?
CHINA: Lastly, the New Year’s message from China’s Xi Jinping that “China has something to say” on international issues in 2018, promised that Beijing will be a “keeper of international order.” Besides addressing domestic issues Xi’s speech reflected assurances that China will be a powerful player on the international stage. If you look, you see China in actions and developments in Africa, across Asia, in the Middle East, and as holder of an increasing American governmental debt.
Again, the question: Does this reflect an effective American president? Is it making America Great?