Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.
And that person is Donald Trump.
How screwed up is that?
Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?
Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.
Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.
.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”
But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”
“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.
Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?
I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)
W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.
Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.
But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”
David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
“If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”
Rudy Giuliani started Tuesday in the manner Americans have come to expect of the president’s lawyer: He attacked former FBI director James Comey by tweeting a cartoon image of Bashful from Disney’s “Snow White.”
Giuliani deleted the tweet, and anyway, it’s not clear why he chose Bashful.
Giuliani, asked by the New York Daily News to explain himself, said, “I don’t think I said nobody signed it.” Completing the reversal, he said “of course” Trump signed it: “How could you send it but nobody signed it?”
.. The “fool” has been a dramatic fixture at least since Shakespeare scribbled, and Giuliani is the fool for our time. Occasionally he speaks accidental truths, but mostly he plays the clown.
.. “Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message,” an alarmed Giuliani tweeted a few weeks ago, calling Twitter “card-carrying anti-Trumpers.” In fact, Giuliani had accidentally sabotaged his own tweet with a punctuation error — “G-20.In” — that automatically created a hyperlink to an Indian Web address. A clever observer quickly bought the domain and created a page that said “Donald Trump is a traitor.” Giuliani’s errant accusation was all the funnier because he’s also Trump’s “cybersecurity adviser.”
.. The former New York mayor, 74, has long been a loose cannon, asserting that there had not been any “successful Islamic terrorist attacks” during the George W. Bush administration, saying Trump’s travel ban was a legal way to do a “Muslim ban,” and predicting a “pretty big surprise” right before Comey reopened the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Alternately ill-informed and indiscreet, he’s just the guy you’d want as your lawyer.
.. Giuliani began as Trump’s lawyer in the spring by comparing FBI agents to “stormtroopers” and later claiming a law-enforcement informant was a “spy.”
.. He said he would charge special counsel Robert Mueller’s office “with a lance” to defend Ivanka Trump, but Jared Kushner is “disposable.”
.. He said Trump couldn’t be indicted as president even if he “shot” Comey.
.. He undermined months of Trump’s “no collusion” claims by proclaiming instead that “collusion is not a crime.”
He defended Trump on NBC’s “Meet the Press” by saying “truth isn’t truth.”
He admitted publicly that the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was held “for the purpose of getting information about Clinton,” upending the official line that it was about adoption.
He suggested guilt when he told the Daily Beast “this was not a big crime” because “nobody got killed, nobody got robbed.”
And, days ago, he raised the possibility that associate Roger Stone gave Trump advance notice that WikiLeaks would release emails about Clinton stolen by Russia, saying “if” Stone had, “it’s not a crime.”
Clearly, some Giuliani dopiness is an effort to divulge damaging information gently. But he often makes matters worse.
.. Giuliani announced that Trump reimbursed Cohen for hush money to a porn actress. But he seemed baffled when told Cohen had claimed it was his own money: “He did?” Retreating, Giuliani said Trump wasn’t told about the payments, “but even if he was told, he wouldn’t have remembered it.” Further backpedaling, Giuliani said, “I’m not an expert on the facts” and issued a written statement “to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days.”
A similar mop-up came after Giuliani volunteered on TV that there had been a second meeting between Trump associates and Russians. Hours later, he said the just-referenced meeting “never happened.”
On Sunday, Giuliani was back to truth-isn’t-truth, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “unless you’re God . . . you will never know what the truth is” from Cohen. And Giuliani told Fox News’s Chris Wallace that Mueller would interview Trump “over my dead body — but you know, I could be dead.”
Perish the thought! We need Giuliani’s entertainment. But when he dies, there should be a memorable scene when he goes before the One Who Knows Truth.
“I didn’t lie,” Giuliani will say, “but even if I did, it wasn’t a crime to be Dopey.”
Comments:.. Trump is the anti-King Midas.
.. I’m sorry, but this column is mistaken. Giuliani is playing out his assigned role precisely as intended. Self-contradictions, deliberate falsehoods, apparent “misstatements,” bizarre tweets — all external hallmarks of Rudy’s boss, and Rudy’s a talented understudy. The purpose behind all this playacting is to distract and confuse, and it works. Trump continues to operate on the principle that the longer he can keep people shocked, off-balance, outraged, distracted, and confused, the longer he can rake in ill-gotten gains from his real aim: fleecing the American public. Giuliani has been recruited to assist in the Dept. of Misdirection.
The only fool thing Giuliani has done is to place the slightest reliance on Trump’s promise of whatever payback The Gilded Don has dangled in exchange for Rudy’s excellent diversionary stunts. A substantial group of construction subcontractors have learned, to their lasting pain and sorrow, what Trump’s promises are worth... I agree. Fortunately, Giuliani has no power or authority so people just ignore his inane pronouncements. In the words of Jimmy Breslin, “Rudy Guiliani is a small man in search of a balcony.”.. I think you’re giving them both more credit than they deserve. IMHO Trump is just a bully and Giuliani really is just a fool. But hey, there’s every chance you’re right, I’m just not sure they are smart enough to be so devious... Trump, Giuliani, and Gingrich: The Three Wives Men.. Oh god another moron who thinks he is a stable genius. Surely Rudy’s third divorce is having an affect on him. And getting kicked out of his law firm for disgracing them with his idiocy, and having another exwife asking for more money, just has Rudy rattled. Please somebody remove this blight on the Constitution from our eyes and ears... I find it amazing that anyone would even have this man appear in front of any camera. If one lived in NYC when he was Mayor (as I did) you would know the truth about him.He was a Mayor whose interest was to clean up the parks by moving all the homeless out of them with nowhere to go. Put them in the streets with no plan.Did nothing for NYC education, nothing for housing, nothing for women’s or Gay rights and on and on.The final straw was this America’s Mayor standing in front of Grace Mansion and telling the world he was divorcing his then wife (Donna Hanover) to marry his mistress. Never telling her in person.What kind of man is this? He is exactly the clown you see today licking the boots of a President who like Rudy is a man without scruples and who lies on TV then is brought back to reality with proof that he spouts these lies and thinks he will get away with them. Todays world has everything recorded. Mr Giuliani please go back to your senior home and take your meds... Could it be that Rudy is really a secret double agent who actually works for Mueller? Every time he opens his mouth, Rudy digs the hole deeper for Trump... Very nicely done. The most puzzling thing about Giuliani is that he doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize that he looks foolish and he apparently doesn’t have anyone close to him who he trusts to tell him that he looks foolish either. He has chosen a very difficult role: mouthpiece for an habitually lying, narcissistic degenerate. Very few people could take that role and emerge with any dignity. In fact, most people with dignity would not take that role. Guliani will not be remembered as the Mayor of New York City during 9/11 nor as the U.S. Attorney who once tried to clean up Wall Street. He will be remembered as Trump’s tool, and as this piece says, as a fool.
.. Mr. Rudolph Guiliani is second only to the TRumpster himself in making the TRumpster look guilty as sin.
In 1947, “Mr. X” wrote an extremely influential article, for Foreign Affairs, advocating a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union’s expansionist tendencies. Its author turned out to be the diplomat George Kennan, who was then the second-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. And, in 1996, Random House published “Primary Colors,” a thinly disguised roman à clef about Bill Clinton, by “Anonymous.” Less consequential than Kennan’s contribution, the novel nonetheless created a great deal of speculation about who its author was; it turned out to be the political journalist Joe Klein.
.. By nightfall on Wednesday, there were reports that White House officials were engaged in a frantic search for the culprit.
.. “scrutiny focused on a half-dozen names.”
.. the piece merely adds to what we already know about Trump’s character and the struggle of people around him to control his destructive tendencies.
.. it was reported that the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the national-security adviser at the time—James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and H. R. McMaster—had privately agreed to avoid being out of Washington at the same time.
.. There have been numerous reports about how Don McGahn, the outgoing White House counsel, tried to talk Trump out of firing James Comey and Jeff Sessions.
.. The real importance of the Op-Ed is that it corroborates these reports, provides a window into the mind-set of people who continue to work for Trump, and also reveals some intriguing details. “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president,”
.. Really? “Early whispers within the cabinet” of invoking the Constitution to oust the President? If this is true, it is information of enormous consequence, and leads to a series of further questions. Who was involved in these discussions, and how far did the whispers go?
.. The suggestion that at least some members of the Cabinet have talked about invoking these powers is new and shocking. But what does it mean to say that the whisperers didn’t want to precipitate a crisis? After all, the rest of the article makes clear that the crisis already exists and is deadly serious.
.. The head of state of the most powerful country in the world is someone whose own subordinates and appointees regard as unmoored, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous.
.. “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality,” the Op-Ed says. “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. . . . Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
.. “I have no respect for someone who would say these things—of whose truth I have no doubt—in an anonymous oped, rather than in a public resignation letter copied to the House Judiciary Committee.”
.. He or she has enflamed the paranoia of the president and empowered the president’s willfulness.”
.. These are legitimate concerns, but the larger one is that we have a menacing dingbat in the White House, and nobody with the requisite authority seems willing to do anything about it, other than to try to manage the situation on an ad-hoc, day-to-day basis. Perhaps this could be seen as a “Trump containment” strategy, but it falls well short of the systematic containment strategy that Kennan advocated, and, in any case, the Trumpkins, unlike the early Cold War strategists, are not necessarily dealing with a rational actor. Something more is surely needed.
President Trump so alarmed his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, during a discussion last January of the nuclear standoff with North Korea that an exasperated Mr. Mattis told colleagues “the president acted like — and had the understanding of — a ‘fifth or sixth grader.’”
At another moment, Mr. Trump’s aides became so worried about his judgment that Gary D. Cohn, then the chief economic adviser, took a letter from the president’s Oval Office desk authorizing the withdrawal of the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Mr. Trump, who had planned to sign the letter, never realized it was missing.
.. book by Bob Woodward that depicts the Trump White House as a byzantine, treacherous, often out-of-control operation — “crazytown,” in the words of the chief of staff, John F. Kelly — hostage to the whims of an impulsive, ill-informed and undisciplined president.
.. The White House, in a statement, dismissed “Fear” as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
.. Mr. Woodward portrays Mr. Mattis as frequently derisive of the commander in chief, rattled by his judgment, and willing to slow-walk orders from him that he viewed as reckless.
.. Mr. Trump questioned Mr. Mattis about why the United States keeps a military presence on the Korean Peninsula. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mr. Mattis responded, according to Mr. Woodward.
.. In April 2017, after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria launched a chemical attack on his own people, Mr. Trump called Mr. Mattis and told him that he wanted the United States to assassinate Mr. Assad. “Let’s go in,” the president said, adding a string of expletives.
The defense secretary hung up and told one of his aides: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” At his direction, the Pentagon prepared options for an airstrike on Syrian military positions, which Mr. Trump later ordered.
.. another layer to a recurring theme in the Trump White House: frustrated aides who sometimes resort to extraordinary measures to thwart the president’s decisions — a phenomenon the author describes as “an administrative coup d’état.” In addition to Mr. Mattis and Mr. Cohn, he recounts the tribulations of Mr. Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus, whose tensions with Mr. Trump have been reported elsewhere.
.. Mr. Cohn, Mr. Woodward said, told a colleague he had removed the letter about the Korea free trade agreement to protect national security. Later, when the president ordered a similar letter authorizing the departure of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Cohn and other aides plotted how to prevent him from going ahead with a move they feared would be deeply destabilizing.
.. Last January, Mr. Woodward writes, Mr. Dowd staged a practice session in the White House residence to dramatize the pressures Mr. Trump would face in a session with Mr. Mueller. The president stumbled repeatedly, contradicting himself and lying, before he exploded in anger.
.. Mr. Woodward told Mr. Trump he interviewed many White House officials outside their offices, and gathered extensive documentation. “It’s a tough look at the world and the administration and you,” he told Mr. Trump.
“Right,” the president replied. “Well, I assume that means it’s going to be a negative book.”