By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM — We’re a long way from understanding the man who our American friends chose as their President, and just as long from being able to guess what he’ll do next.
It’s both drama and mystery.
WeÂ outsiders may lack some of the details about American politics. Americans who think they understand their country may object to our poking around and commenting. However, their President can affect us no less than them. Not only do we have a right to comment, but we bring to the task something lacking from most Americans, i.e., a distance and perspective, as well as a capacity to compare what is happening in Washington to our experiences elsewhere.
The picture is far from clear. It’s muddled by contrasts to comments during the campaign and what he has said and done in the first three months of his presidency.
That’s not surprising or unusual. Politicians cannot be held to what they say or promise when seeking election. However, Trump presents the additional problem of governmental inexperience and a manner of speaking and tweeting that differs from the political norm.
We have to go back to Calvin Coolidge to find a president who operated at Trump’s level of verbal skills or clarity. Trump scores especially low when compared to his predecessor.
He communicated well enough to win office. Yet his reach is generally to the less well educated. They have all the political rights as the rest of us, but we have the right to hope for more experience, and a greater capacity for nuance, subtlety, and moderation at the top of our world.
So far his actions have been more dramatic than measured. Many cheered his bombing of Syrian positions after the use of poison gas, but we can wonder about an advanced warning that allowed Syrians as well as Russians to get their people and equipment out of harm’s way.
We can wonder if all that is Trump’s way of being subtle, nuanced, and moderate.
The use of the great bomb made a lot of noise and killed quite a few, but an Afghan official has complained that the Taliban would have been a more appropriate target than ISIS.
Such reservations don’t end discussion, but they are legitimate caveats.
Both attacks, and Trump’s comments about North Korea don’t fit the America First theme of his election campaign.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that he is a little boy playing with toys, whose power and implications he may not understand. It didn’t add to his standing when he explained how he gave the final go-ahead about attacking Syria, in between the main course and chocolate cake while eating somewhere with some others.
The cartoonist of Ha’aretz portrayed the President enjoying a ride on his big bomb, while the people being targeted screaming “Mommy.”
Trump’s posture on Israel is no less confused than other issues. Palestinians are charging that he can’t be an honest broker because there are settler advocates in key positions. Israelis are concerned about his stated intentions to produce an international conference that will bring Israelis and Palestinians to an agreement. He may be better for us than Barack Obama and what often seemed like his wannabee attitude toward Muslims. However, many decades of pressure from others make us suspicious of yet another attempt, in this case given the man’s lack of political and governmental experience relevant to the Middle East or anywhere else.
Even more profound are the mysteries about Trump’s intentions and capacity with respect to North Korea. We can expect an attack against its nuclear facilities that will bring disaster on South Korea, Japan, and maybe even the West Coast of the US. Or a reliance on political pressure with the help of the Chinese. Trump’s comments produce expectations in both directions.
One of his latest comments, directed against the government of North Korea, was, “Gotta behave”
Which means he’s either invented a new mode of international relations, or that he’s gotta learn how it’s done.
The President is also causing problems for Americans, in appointing a head of the EPA who doesn’t accept the general consensus about global warming, and a Secretary of Education who doesn’t support public schools. Some Americans are cheering the return to pre-history, but others are wondering if they’ve chosen a combination of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders.
It isn’t easy moving against the person elected to a country’s top office. Not a few are pondering the impeachment option, linked to Trump’s tax payments, his conflicts of interest, those of people he is appointing to key administrative positions, and improprieties with respect to Russia during the campaign.
Impeachment is basically a political process, dependent on who has the votes in the House and Senate. It’ll take a while if it happens at all.
Meanwhile Israelis are pondering indications that the police and prosecutors will move against Sara and Bibi. Here the issues are gifts received, conflict of interest, violation of trust and misuse of public resources. Israel’s procedures are notoriously slow, and Bibi may fall to other political problems before he or his wife face the judges..
The Passover vacation has served to postpone any movement against Bibi, and there’ll be another pause for coming days commemorating the Holocaust, Memorial Day for soldiers and terror victims, then the celebration of Independence Day.
By then the holiday of Shavuot will only be a month distant, which isn’t enough time for Israel to make major decisions. And after Shavuot will come the heat of the summer, with the first family sure to find holiday venues more attractive than more days of questioning by the police.
Both Americans and Israelis must polish their capacities for uncertainty. The men at the top of both countries seem to get along with one another, despite sharp differences in experience and their capacities for artful expression. One or both may go down in a manner that supporters will describe as premature, and one or both may leave a mark for success on the field in which they are playing. But no one should feel anything close to certainty.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. He may be contacted via [email protected]
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