Trump Almost Always Folds

From trade deals to gun control and immigration to military deployments, the president has a consistent pattern: Talk a big game, then back down.

President Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal should not have come as a surprise. He’d spent years railing against the plan—“the worst deal ever,” he dubbed it—and had promised to rip it up. And yet up to the moment when the president made the final call, there was still some suspense about what he would say.

Giuliani’s Bark Won’t Put Off the Mueller Investigation

Although the former mayor says that he is acting as Donald Trump’s outside legal counsel, it’s increasingly clear that his main role is that of attack dog. His principal assignment: to bloody Mueller, and, if possible, disable him.

.. During his sitdown with Ingraham, Giuliani extended this argument, arguing that for “the same reason they can’t indict him, they can’t issue a subpoena to him.”

These statements raise an obvious question: If Mueller really has nothing on Trump, and if, in any case, he is barred from bringing an indictment or issuing a Presidential subpoena, why are the President and his attorneys so concerned about the investigation?

.. As the Republican congressman Trey Gowdy remarked to Trump’s former lead attorney, John Dowd, after he called on Mueller to wrap it up, “If you have an innocent client … act like it.”

the special counsel’s team has proceeded methodically for the past twelve months on at least five distinct but connected fronts:

  1. Russian trolling and voter-targeting on social-media platforms;
  2. the hacking and release of Democratic e-mails;
  3. direct contacts between members of the Trump campaign and individuals connected to the Russian government;
  4. Trump’s business dealings with people and entities connected to Russia; and
  5. possible obstruction of justice.

.. Strictly speaking, that is a separate probe. But nobody on Trump’s team doubts that if and when Cohen decides to coöperate with the prosecutors, Mueller’s investigators will be all ears.

.. as early as last fall, Mueller’s team demanded information from some of the companies that hired the Trump fixer as a consultant after the election. This suggests that the investigation is running many months ahead of the media, and also, perhaps, ahead of the White House’s knowledge of its activities.

.. we know, courtesy of a leak to the Times by Trump’s lawyers, is that Mueller wants to pose at least forty-nine questions to the President himself. Despite Trump’s constant refrain that there was no collusion with Russia, many of these questions also relate directly to what happened before the 2016 election.

.. “During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?” and

“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

.. if Mueller found evidence of a serious crime involving the President, and he believed it should be prosecuted in an ordinary court of law, he could go to Rosenstein, who in this case would be the acting Attorney General—and the ultimate decision would fall on Rosenstein’s shoulders.

.. Most people in Washington don’t expect Mueller to bring criminal charges against Trump. If he doesn’t, and Trump doesn’t fire him before he completes his investigation, the key issue—whether or not to impeach Trump—may well be left to Congress. And since Congress operates in the court of public opinion, this would ultimately be a political decision.

That, of course, is another reason that Trump brought in Giuliani—to stick up for him and his family in public, even if that involves defending the indefensible

.. we can rest assured that they won’t be put off by Giuliani’s bluster.

The Missiles of August

In reality, the Cuban missile crisis was the kind of scenario many of us feared could follow the election of Donald Trump: An inexperienced president gets elected on promises of toughness and flagrant lies, makes a series of bad decisions that provoke escalation from our foes, at which point political considerations make him feel he can’t back down, and suddenly we’re staring at nuclear war.

.. That’s basically the sequence of events that gave us the Cuban crisis, as Ben Schwarz pointed out in a revisionist Atlantic essay in 2013. Kennedy was elected after attacking Richard Nixon over a supposed “missile gap” with Russia that did not exist. He proceeded to fulfill his promise to Make America Tough Again with a series of poorly planned, Mafia-entangled, occasionally ludicrous attempts to unseat Fidel Castro, culminating in the Bay of Pigs disaster. At the same time, he went ahead with a plan to place Jupiter missiles in Turkey, a provocative gesture that made the Soviets suspect that we were looking for opportunities for a nuclear first strike.

.. When Khrushchev responded to this aggression and incompetence with the missiles-to-Cuba scheme, Kennedy decided that while the missiles did not place the United States in greater military danger (a nuke is a nuke whether fired from Havana, Russia or a submarine off the U.S. coast), they created an unacceptable political problem for his presidential credibility. Thus the escalation that followed — the quarantine, the invasion threat, the nuclear brinksmanship.

.. “success” required giving the Russians the strategic concession they had originally sought. The Jupiters were removed as well, but on a delayed timetable to allow the Kennedy White House to deceive about the crisis’ resolution. Meanwhile, American efforts to overthrow Castro diminished, and his regime endures today.

.. The weapons’ purpose is blackmail and self-protection, with no Cold War grand strategy involved. The U.S. military seems more likely to be a restraining force in this crisis than a hawkish one.

.. Meanwhile Trump himself is far more publicly unmastered and privately ignorant than J.F.K. But in fairness, Trump also has confined his real bellicosity to Twitter, without ordering any Kennedy-esque military misadventures or escalations yet.

.. My sense is that he would gladly — nay, eagerly — take a version of the deal that Kennedy ultimately struck: a bargain that looked better publicly for the U.S. than in secret, that allowed him to claim success even if the reality were different.

..  the concessions we would have to make to Pyongyang are unlikely to be kept secret.

..  can see the price of letting a U.S. president save too much face.

.. So it’s more likely that if we avert war, it will be because Trump is fundamentally a bluffer, who will issue threats on Twitter but won’t overrule his advisers if they tell him not to give an order that will leave hundreds of thousands dead.

Unfortunately, the bluster and incompetence will also probably make any deal worse than it otherwise might be.

But that’s the nature of the Trump presidency: You root for the least-bad outcome, knowing that the best one is probably already out of reach.

Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life

The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.

From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea.

.. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over.

.. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.

.. So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats — and rarely delivered on any.

When he was in business, Reuters found,

  • he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984.
  • Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

..In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster.

  • In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing.
  •  During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator,
  • move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,
  • make Mexico pay for a border wall and
  • initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada.
  • After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded.
  • He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

.. The secretary of state seems to have been telling Americans — and the world — to ignore the rhetoric, not of the North Korean dictator, but of his own boss, the president of the United States. It is probably what Trump’s associates have done for him all his life. They know that the guiding mantra for him has been not the art of the deal, but the art of the bluff.

Luck Runs Out for a Leader of ‘Brexit’ Campaign

On Thursday, the anger at Mr. Johnson was palpable, replacing last week’s anger at Prime Minister David Cameron for calling the referendum in the first place. The sense that Mr. Johnson had presided over the Brexit campaign without a plan for what to do if it won — and then walked away without cleaning up his mess — was particularly enraging.

“He’s like a general who marches his army to the sound of guns and the moment he sees the battleground abandons it,” Michael Heseltine, a Tory politician, told the BBC. “I have never seen anything like it. He ripped the Tory party apart. He has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life.”

.. With his air of disarrayed befuddlement, his crazy coiffure, his idiosyncratically imaginative P.G. Wodehousian locution, his habit of slipping into Latin and Greek, his foot-in-the-mouth self-deprecation and his obvious delight in himself, he oozes a charm rarely seen in politicians.

He cycles to work and carries his things in a backpack. He looks as if he’s slept in his clothes and just gotten out of bed. He has the privileged demeanor of an old Etonian (he went to school there), but a Bill Clintonesque way with crowds and an appeal that transcends class.

.. It was a boring assignment, but Mr. Johnson found a way of livening it: He made things up. His great talent was to take tiny grains of information in reports and proposals, repackage them as official European policy and present them as part of a broad narrative about Brussels’s risibility. His stories were full of wrong-sized condoms, fishermen forced to wear hairnets and international disputes over cheese policy.

While his stories became increasingly influential in the euroskeptic wing of the Conservative Party and in many ways set the tone for the British papers’ coverage of Europe ever since, Mr. Johnson tends to treat his approach as great fun.

.. “We had eight frustrating years where we’d ask detailed policy questions, and what we’d get back in response was bluster and grandiose claims,” said Joanne McCartney, a Labour Assembly member who is now deputy mayor. “If he didn’t know the answer to the question, which was a regular occurrence, he’d use bluster and wit to avoid answering.”

.. Mr. Johnson tried his normal humorous approach. Asked, for instance, about his assertion that the European Union has a law saying that balloons cannot be blown up by children under 8 (it doesn’t), he deflected the question, saying, “In my household, only children under 8 are allowed to blow up balloons.”