By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Going by the words of the sage, the first opinion that is formed of a leader’s intelligence is based on the quality of men he has around him. When they are competent and loyal, he can always be considered wise, because he has been able to recognize their competence and to keep them loyal. But when they are otherwise, the ruler is always open to adverse criticism; because his first mistake has been in the choice of his subordinates.
Yet, beyond this common premise, difference in practical approaches may lead to contrast and sometimes “oppositional-occurrences”. If not, how can we describe a situation where things went wrong almost immediately between President Donald Trump and some senior military personnels in his government to the extent of visible tensions in the way each of the parties position themselves in the debate?
What shall we call a situation where ex-appointees announced to the world that the most powerful President in the whole world is allergic to reading long notes? That there is something deeply troubling about Trump’s relationship to reason, his disdain for fact, and his lack for curiosity about any new information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country? How did the promise of smooth civil-military relations between the President and his military appointees devolve into acrimony, backbiting, and bewilderment?
Finding answers to this absurdity is the purpose of this piece.
Adding context to this discourse, Max Boot, a columnist with The Washington Post, in a piece published by the Foreign Affairs Journals, dated April 6, 2020, and captioned; A Few Good Men, Trump, the Generals, and the Corrosion of Civil-Military Relations, among other things, told a story of political interplays in the white house documented in four new books. Two are journalistic accounts: Trump and His Generals, a fair and comprehensive overview of Trump’s foreign policy by the journalist and think tanker Peter Bergen, and A Very Stable Genius, a work of first-rate news coverage and valuable insight by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, reporters at The Washington Post.
The other two books are memoirs. Holding the Line, by Guy Snodgrass, a retired U.S. Navy officer who served as Mattis’s Pentagon speechwriter, gives the impression of being hastily cobbled together and includes more interoffice politics than most readers will want to know. But it provides a few nuggets that have not been reported elsewhere. The accounts inter alia, noted that the only thing more alien to Trump than Mattis’s military ethos is the former secretary of defense’s love of reading. Call Sign Chaos was largely finished before Mattis joined the administration, but it reads as if J. Mattis is covertly addressing the president when he writes, “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.” Trump is, of course, notorious for not reading long briefing papers, much less books.
By contrast, all the generals, the report added, who served at the top of the Trump administration were voracious readers, and it came as a shock to them to deal with a president so intellectually incurious and certain that he already knew everything-even though, Rucker and Leonnig report that Trump didn’t even know that India shares a 2,000-mile border with China. Trump became disenchanted by McMaster because the national security adviser was too professional, trying to cram him with too much information.
While this piece in my views provides too short a space to explain and understand the above interplays, especially on a personality like Donald Trump, it is spaced enough to afford tentative answers to a key question; what is the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on the political and socioeconomic well beings of Americans?
To answer this question, it is important to recognize first that since his assumption of office on January 20, 2017, when he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, succeeding Barack Obama, Donald Trump has done a great deal of good for the country more particularly in the areas of economic development and job creation.
Within this space, he created over 4 million jobs; More Americans are now employed than ever recorded before in history, created more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs since election, Manufacturing jobs growing at the fastest rate in more than three decades, Economic growth last quarter hit 4.2 percent, Women’s unemployment recently reached the lowest rate in 65 years, almost 3.9 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps since the election, helped win U.S. bid for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Despite these achievements, the United States, through Trump’s asymmetrical policies-boardering on foreign policies, hazy discourse on competition with other world powers, has become characterized as a nation daily confronted with both open and cold threats of wars, and its leadership decisions reputed as one often always arrived at without good judgement.
Take as an illustration, apart from the failure of the G-7 foreign ministers to reach agreement on a joint statement because the U.S. delegation insisted on calling the novel coronavirus the “Wuhan virus,”, Trumps’s decision to draw battle lines without ‘provocateur from any quarter, and his going into ‘pointless renegotiation’ of the global trading system-a development that made foreign governments to believe that the United States was willing to abandon the established norms of trade policy, supports this claim. It was in the news that his administration was recently blamed for featuring a pitched battle between the so-called globalists (represented by Gary Cohn, the then Director of the National Economic Council), and the nationalists (represented by the Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro). And in the mid 2018, the leading globalists left the administration.
Besides, President Trump was fundamentally described by a notable organization as a leader with a highly distorted view of international trade and international negotiation. Viewing trade as a zero-sum, win-lose game, he stresses one time deals over ongoing relationships, enjoy the leverage created by tariffs and release on brink man ship, and public threat over diplomacy. The President had said that he likes tariffs (‘trade wars are good and easy to win) and that he wants more of them (I am a tariff man). Trump also went so far as to impose tariff on steel aluminum import from Canada, something that even the domestic industry and labour unions opposed. Over the last 30 years, the US steel and aluminum industry has transformed to become North American industries with raw steel and aluminum flowing freely back and front between Canadians and the US plants.
Take the U.S.-China relations as another example; going by history, the relationship took a promising turn in November 1999 when they agreed on the terms for China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation. China’s entry, member’s opinned, will greatly increase its economic links, based on a framework of set rules, with the United States and other member countries. This will lead to mutually beneficial relationships.
Presently, the United States is in the midst of the most consequential rethinking of its foreign policy.
Very recently, Chad P. Bown and Douglas A. Irwin, reported how Trump threatened to leave the WTO, something previous administrations did not do. He says the agreement is rigid against the United States. The administration denounces the WTO when the organization finds US practice in violation of trade rules but largely ignores the equally many cases that it wins. Although the WTOs dispute settlement system needs reforms; it has worked well to defuse trade conflicts since it was established over two decades ago.
His attack on the WTO, they argued, goes beyond rhetoric. The administration blocked appointments to the WTO appellate body which issue judgement on trade disputes. The dispute settlement system is not perfect. But rather than make constructive proposals for how to improve it, something Canada and others are doing, The United States is disengaged. The Trump administration may end up destroying the old system without having drafted a blue print for its successor.
Effective U.S. strategy in this domain, a report suggested, will require not just reducing the risk of unintentional conflict but also deterring intentional conflict. Beijing cannot be allowed to use the threat of force to pursue a fait accompli in territorial disputes. Yet managing this risk does not require U.S. military primacy within the region. As the former Trump administration defense official Elbridge Colby has argued, “deterrence without dominance—even against a very great and fearsome opponent—is possible.”
The world needs to keep these lessons in mind as the world reflects on President Trump’s leadership intelligence.
Utomi, Lagos, Nigeria.