Donald, Bibi embarrass their two nations

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — He seemed to be getting better. But now we’re seeing the same old Donald, dueling with a man who may even be crazier.

The good signs were that he might be able to deal with Democrats in Congress.

And his speech to the UN was professional in the sense that he read what was before him in a way that seemed rehearsed with a minimum of linguistic flubs and extemporaneous Trumpisms . It had its forceful elements toward North Korea and Iran, as well as an implied denunciation of Barack Obama for having conceded way too much. However, it was also balanced with an asserted priority of diplomacy over force.

He was fair to praise a dramatic rise in the stock market. It began to climb with his election, and is up about 16 percent since then. Unemployment has remained below 5 percent, and has dipped by a couple of tenths since the election.

Trump’s established critics found much to fault, pretty much as any analyst can pull apart a politician’s comments and find that they do not measure up to something or other.

His threat to totally destroy North Korea put him in the league with Iranian leaders who threaten the same for Israel.

He was off script at a later appearance with African delegates to the UN. He talked about an African country that does not exist (Nambia), and expressed a bizarre view about the world’s poorest and most aid-dependent region,”I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich.”

Campaign promises about a wall along the Mexican border, a remake of Obamacare, and the initiation of a peace process for Israel and Palestine seem to be going nowhere.

So far, the summary of Trump’s presidency is international embarrassment for his boorish personal style, and no visible accomplishments domestically. However, Trump and his supporters, especially those who see benefit in a minimum of government, are not recording his work to date as a disappointment. There’s also support, here and in the US, for his outspoken support of Israel.

So far he has avoided anything close to the disasters produced by George W. Bush and continued by Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the flaccid agreement that Obama produced with Iran.

Polls show a stability or even an increase in Trump’s popular support. It’s still not great, at 43 percent. But it’s better than it was at 35 percent.

The disaster in Iraq points to a greater American problem than naive Presidents. Something is wrong with the aggregate of military, diplomatic, and intelligence assets that could not persuade the White House about the likely risks of destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein. Any knowledge of the complex and fragile nature of Iraq’s society should have foreseen something like the disaster that has produced more than a million deaths, at least twice as many external refugees not only suffering themselves but causing problems elsewhere, and who knows how many displaced within Iraq.

The toll associated with George W. Bush qualifies for the label of Holocaust. That which may come from a Trump adventure against North Korea may be worse. A surgical strike against that mad country’s military challenges the record of the US military. Huge casualties would be likely in South Korea and Japan, and maybe the US.

A knowledge of Afghan history should have kept US boots out of that country.

It’s hard to find anything positive coming from the outlay of what may be trillions in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus thousands of US dead.

Responsibility for the Syrian disaster is more difficult to identify. Especially notable in the work of Barack Obama, however, was a speech that included both forceful threat and appeasement. It justified comparison with Chamberlain at Munich.

We should hope that whoever is advising, and trying to control Donald Trump will consider China’s possible responses to whatever he does with respect to North Korea. They should remember what a primitive Chinese military did to Douglas MacArthur and the US Army in the 1950s, when Americans thought of themselves as the world’s primary power.

Now China could punish the US without lifting a military finger. It holds $1.24 trillion of US Government debt, enough leverage to make Americans suffer.

Reports are that Trump’s advisers have urged him to avoid confrontations with the North Korean leader, but we–and presumably Kim Jun-un–have seen clips of presidential insults and threats.

His rants against peaceful protests by Black athletes provoke concern about the borders between patriotism and racism.

Judicial and Congressional inquiries into Trump and associates remain active. There seems to be much worth investigating with respect to Russian involvement in the election, and a continuing mixture of business and government. However, there is no sign that activists thinking of impeachment are anywhere close to enough support in Congress. And unless the Democrats move away from the leftist appeal of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton’s fascination with politically correct, they probably won’t get enough additional seats in the Senate elections of 2018 to make impeachment a possibility.

Israelis watching the problems of the Netanyahu family had best be careful about emphasizing the corruption of Trump et al.

In the Donald-Bibi comparison, it’s hard to say who is following who. Each claims admiration for the other. Their recent speeches at the UN could have come from the same word processor.

Iran was the common denominator, with both heads of government threatening dire consequences for continued bad behavior.

At home, Bibi is on thinner ice, due to procedures of removal that are much simpler. It only takes the likelihood of a negative vote by Likud Knesset members or coalition colleagues to force a resignation.

It’s likely that the threats Bibi expressed in the UN are closer to being realized than Donald’s. Israel has already battered Iranian-allied fighters close to its border with Syria, and shipments of munitions to Hezbollah. Further action of that sort are within the routines of the IDF, and less likely to produce an apocalypse, than what Donald has threatened with respect to North Korea.

Donald’s rants may help him with supporters in Congress and the public, but the professionals among Israel’s police and prosecutors likely to determine Bibi’s fate may not pause due to an uptick in regional tensions.

Both will be examined and assessed by historians. And in both cases, the conclusions reached depend as much on the analysts as on the subjects.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

 

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