Friday, February 3, 2017

Almost everything Trump does seems wrong: sometimes embarrassing, sometimes dangerous, sometimes just plain stupid. Where are the adults?

 A notable exception was the introduction of his Supreme Court nominee.   Somehow an adult snuck in and managed that one -- and wrote Trump's speech. which he read without embellishments.   I'm not talking about Judge Gorsuch's position on issues, but on how things are managed and whether there is competence beginning to develop in Trump and his staff.

Trump's hand was evident in the lead-up, where he tried to make it seem like the countdown to announcing the winner of his Miss Universe pageant -- or the firing of an Apprentice.   So there was apprehension about what was coming.  But the actual show turned out to be quite dignified.  Trump was subdued and appropriate.  Without any history or context, any stranger looking in might have thought he "looked presidential."

But that's it in toto on the positive side.  Unfortunately, almost nothing else has gone well.   Trump is still tweeting -- threatening to cut off federal aid to sanctuary cities and now to  UC Berkeley for cancelling the scheduled speech of a right-wing provocateur.   The truth is that opposing protest groups have escalated their verbal rhetoric to a level that authorities feared violent outbreaks and made the decision to cancel.  The speaker was the guy who declares that "hate speech is free speech" and  encourages college kids to embrace the Alt-Right as a kind of defiant act against restraint.

Trump has managed to alienate the leaders of several of our allies, the latest being Australia's Prime Minister Turnbull.  According to leaks,  in a phone call with Turnbull,Trump blasted the ongoing plan that Australia and the U.S. have been working on for us to resettle 1,250 refugees of the large group stranded in Australia.   Trump called it "the worst deal ever," and accused Turnbull of trying to send more "Boston bombers" into the U.S.   Then he told him that this was the worst phone call of the four he had had with world leaders that day, and he ended the call nearly 30 minutes earlier than planned.

The next morning, Senator John McCain called the Australian ambassador to the U.S. to try to clean up Trump's mess with the Prime Minister.    McCain asked the ambassador to convey to the Australian people the "unwavering support for the U.S.-Australia alliance."

In all, Trump has provoked at least three diplomatic incidents already this week.   Australia, plus a testy phone call with the Mexican president, in which Trump referred to "bad hombres" and, according to one report, said we might have to send our troops over the bordert to deal with them.   Then there was his NS adviser, Gen. Flynn, who took aim at Iran, echoed by Trump in a twitter, saying that we had "put Iran on notice."   Not very diplomatic language for what is not clearly the violation of the nuclear treaty that Flynn and Trump claim it is.

Of course, the chaos created worldwide by his atrociously mismanaged and misconceived ban on Muslims takes the cake for ineptness and rashness.   First, not consulting with experts at State, Homeland Security, Justice or anyone else, apparently, except his inner circle of Bannon and Flynn, Trump just dumped this on the nation's airport security forces -- without advance notice or help in understanding how they should handle the people already en route with valid visas.

Trump still seems to be operating on his campaign strategy:   get everybody upset about one thing, and then dump another one to push that one aside -- and just keep the chaos coming and keep everybody reacting to something new and forgetting yesterday.  It's a hell of a way to run a railroad, as we said in simpler times.

Yesterday's train wreck was Trump's first effort at a covert counterterrorism attack  The planning had been done over time by the Obama people, but it had to be delayed for operational reasons.  So the new Trump team made the final decision to put the plan into effect.  According to Reuter's news reports, almost everything went wrong. 

It was a Navy Seal Team 6 operation to capture intelligence from an Al Qaeda data and communications center in Yemen.   It turned out to be a much more heavily defended base than anticipated, and the Seal Team met heavy gunfire.   Apparently the delay had resulted in loss of the surprise element so crucial in this type operation.  Two Osprey aircraft were sent in to rescue team members, and one of the Ospreys sustained engine damage and had to be destroyed to avoid capture.

One Seal team member was killed and several others wounded.   At least 10 civilians were killed, including one eight year old girl, who was the daughter of Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awaki, who was killed by a drone strike in 2011.   No word yet whether the intelligence data collected was valuable;   but no prisoners were taken who might have given intelligence, as hoped;   and very little on the ground surveillance was possible.

Reuter's said that U.S. military officials had told them that "Trump approved his first covert counterintelligence operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."   Ordinarily, at least his National Security Adviser, the top military chief, and intelligence people would have been in the room participating in the decision.   We do not know if that was true -- or if Trump was operating with his diminished "principles committee," with Bannon but not the others.

This was not a good beginning as Commander in Chief.   Of course, such decisions are often made without sufficient information, only the best you have at the time.   But this was not some crisis, trying to rescue someone or prevent an attack.   There was no time pressure to act without sufficient information.

Thursday morning was no exception to the strategy pattern of "quick . . . do something else to grab the headlines."   This one goes in the embarrassing category.    Trump was scheduled to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast, a long tradition.  He seemed no better briefed on appropriate behavior for this event than he had been for the Al Smith Dinner last year.

Admittedly, I'm only reading anecdotal reports from Reuters and Huffington Post, and it's possible that he said something positive or even prayerful that they didn't report.   But, as we know thus far, Trump spent time telling the group:  "When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it.  Don't worry about it.   They're tough.  We have to be tough.  It's time we're gonna be a little tough, folks.  We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually.   It's not gonna happen anymore." 

Then he launched into his schtick belittling Arnold Schwarzeneger's plunging ratings as the replacement host of "The Apprentice."   He asked the crowd to "pray for Arnold, for the ratings."    He seemed to think he was doing a roast, not a prayer breakfast, even throwing in a "to hell with it" in another comment during his remarks . . . at the Prayer Breakfast with religious leaders from all faiths.

We also know that Trump and daughter Ivanka made a trip to Dover Air Base to meet with the family of the Navy Seal officer whose body was being returned to the U.S.   Let's hope that what he said to these grieving people was more appropriate.   Ivanka is probably the best one to help him with this.


PS:  A later account from  the Washington Post gave a transcript of Trump's speech at the Prayer Breakfast.   Of course, it was written for him, and the remarks I quoted above were his own extemperaneous ad libs.   The speech itself was pretty standard and appropriate, albeit with some appeals to right wing issues.   So let's give Trump's speech writer a C and Trump himself a D.    Not an F, because he can do, and has done, much worse.

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