The headline on the anonymous op-ed that has shaken Washington reads, “The Quiet Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
Quiet resistance. That’s exactly the problem.
As the New York Times essay spells out, the United States has an ignorant, reckless president whose senior officials struggle to curb his worst foreign-policy instincts. “His impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” writes the anonymous “senior Trump official.”
Those senior aides -- and cabinet members -- can probably prevent Trump from provoking a war. Yet, even short of war, the damage the president has already done and will do by 2020 is so severe that quiet resistance equals collusion. Unless the “adult” members of Trump’s foreign-policy team -- along with those he’s fired -- go public soon, preferably in unison, history will judge them as harshly as him.
Yet the so-called adults in the room who seek to counteract Trump’s preference for dictators over allies still refuse to challenge him openly. Almost Trump’s entire leadership team -- including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis -- have rushed to deny authorship of the New York Times essay and distance themselves from its critique. Ditto for the distancing from Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” which also recounts the frustrations of Trump’s national security team at his lack of knowledge and refusal to learn. The book claims Mattis told close associates that the president acted like “a fifth- or sixth-grader” -- a claim Mattis denies.
Morever, it’s no secret that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster opposed many Trumpian moves -- and that Trump treated them with contempt. Yet, having been ousted, they have kept silent about Trump’s narcissism and ignorance in dealing with foreign leaders. At the moving memorial service for Trump critic John McCain, speaker after speaker praised the senator’s principles in obvious contrast with the (unnamed) Trump, but that still hasn’t inspired a show of Republican backbone.
Of course, the anonymous author self-servingly argues that the quiet resisters can keep Trump’s “erratic behavior” in check and his “bad decisions contained to the West Wing.” And indeed, the president’s security officials and military commanders can probably restrain him from embroiling America in new wars. In large part that’s because Trump’s past “fire and fury” rage against Pyongyang, his past public threat to invade Venezuela, and his other warlike blustering may never have been serious. The president rages for effect but has an attention span so brief it’s hard to imagine him ordering the military into major combat.
Yet, even if war is prevented, the “quiet resistance” has been unable to halt the Trump foreign-policy wrecking ball beyond the West Wing, as he aids our adversaries and diminishes America’s standing in the world.
By now, most world leaders get it: This is a president who doesn’t understand the role or respect the office of a US president. They also grasp that he is so susceptible to flattery that any foreign thug can win him over with honeyed words.
Look no further than Trump’s current tweets to Kim Jong-un to see the consequence of ignorance. Just this week the president tweeted his thanks for Kim’s “unwavering faith in President Trump.”
Perhaps that faith grows from the fact that Kim was so easily able to bamboozle Trump at the Singapore summit, where the president signed on to a vague statement calling for “demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula.” Despite Trump’s claim that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, Pyongyang does not define that term to mean that it will eliminate all its nuclear weapons.
On the contrary, as any expert on North Korea will explain, the North Korean definition calls for the United States to withdraw its troops and nuclear protection from South Korea and endorse a peace treaty between North and South Korea, while Kim makes minimal concessions. At that point, Pyongyang hopes the world will accept it as a major nuclear power such as Pakistan.
Despite the fact that there has been virtually zero progress toward eliminating North Korea’s weapons, Trump appears blissfully ignorant of those differences, perhaps because Kim keeps up the effusive praise.
More and more foreign leaders also grasp that Trump doesn’t know how to behave with dignity. I just returned from India, where despite better US relations with Delhi, officials are aghast at a video of Trump mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a gathering of US governors in the White House. And then there were Trump’s insults to Germany’s Angela Merkel, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and other allies.
Meantime, more and more adversaries understand they can ignore the White House as it wrestles with internal turmoil. China is bucking US tariffs and speeding ahead with militarization of international sea lanes; Russia’s Vladimir Putin pockets Trump’s undercutting of NATO, while ignoring US requests to stabilize Syria. And rather than fold, Iran expands its hold on Syria and Iraq.
Still, Trump crows of foreign-policy successes while “the quiet resistance” stays silent, and those Trump has dumped mostly do likewise. This is the moment for McMaster and Tillerson and Mattis and any official who cares about American security to stand up, preferably together, and confirm what the anonymous sources have told us. And to keep up the critique until the public grasps the need for change in the Congress and White House.
Otherwise, the “quiet resistance” is just enabling Trump to remain Trump.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)