Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, War Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He shared a number of his thoughts on war.

The American Civil War. Trump began the week with an interesting historical thesis: that Andrew Jackson, the Tennessee slaveholder who died sixteen years before shots were fired at Fort Sumter, could have negotiated a settlement that would have avoided the Civil War. (This was Trump's answer to his own question, "Why was there the Civil War," which he apparently regards as an open one.)

Historians were, to put it mildly, not impressed--not least because Trump seemed unaware that Jackson was long dead when the war started, but also because Jackson was an arch-unionist who threatened South Carolina proto-secessionists during the Nullification Crisis with summary execution. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump, who has settled on Jackson as a sort of historical mirror image, appears to be projecting onto Jackson his opinion of his own deal-making skills. As an example, Trump declared this week that the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the central issue of Middle Eastern politics since the state of Israel was established in the wake of the Second World War, was "frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years."

Trump followed up this pronouncement on the simplicity of peace in the Middle East by ducking a reporter's question about whether the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem--one of hundreds of seemingly minor yet extremely contentious problems that have made people other than Trump suspect that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was difficult.

Trump routinely announces that, because of his exceptional knowledge on a given subject, he alone can fix the world's problems--sometimes using precisely those words. But he has also recently taken to declarations that certain topics (e.g., health careNATO, or North Korea policy) are far more complicated than anyone--meaning Trump himself--had ever realized before that moment.

The Syrian Civil War. The 59 Tomahawk missiles that Trump fired to temporarily disrupt one of Syria's airbases were "after-dinner entertainment," intended in part to impress visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping, according to a speech given by Trump's commerce secretary Wilbur Ross this week. Ross added that "it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment." Perhaps not, but the missiles cost the United States about $80 million.

The missile "show," which did indeed neatly coincide with President Xi's dessert, was arguably the second-best dinner theater offered by Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club this season.

Why would a normal person care about these things?

  • Belief that you alone (or historical figures you identify with) can solve complicated problems is called pathological grandiosity, and it is not a sign of good mental health--or good judgment.
  • Military action is not dinner theater, and probably not a great diplomatic tool either.