“This is not normal.”
How many times have you heard or read that line from cable news personalities and WaPo or Gray Lady headlines? I’ve lost count. Pretty much any time the name of President Donald Trump is invoked, whatever it is that he’s doing or simply proposing is immediately declared to be either a disaster or yet another subversive attempt to destroy America from within. This takes place even on subjects where the speaker or author previously held the same position that Trump does now.
And this pattern holds true on the foreign policy front as well as domestic issues. Take, for example, the White House response to the ongoing protests in Iran. Everyone seems to have an opinion of how to handle the situation, with few agreeing on any specifics other than the idea that the President must surely be botching it. At Politico, Richard Goldberg and Dennis Ross argue that Trump needs to be more like Reagan, juggling sanctions with support for Barack Obama’s nuclear deal. CNN fretted that Trump was risking the progress Barack Obama made with that arrangement. And NBC News was just chock full of advice about what the President should be doing.
Man, this president must be really screwing up, huh? Well… perhaps not. Our friend Andrew Malcolm, in his latest column for McClatchy, suggests that the old way of doing things really wasn’t working out very well and perhaps Trump is showing some promise in this area.
Trump’s firm stance on Iran’s global export of terrorism and his sober conduct toward Iran’s mullahs with the unnoticed absence, for instance, of offensive name-calling tweets go willfully unnoticed because such respect does not fit the favored anti-Trump narrative.
So, too does his mutual decision with South Korea’s president to suspend possibly provocative joint military exercises ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics there. Or Trump’s instantly-implemented vow to crush ISIS quickly, no longer an organized fighting force…
These and other actions demonstrating freshened resolve abroad suggest when it comes to foreign policy, friends and foes alike would do well to note that Trump follows words with action.
This brings us back to the whole concept of This Is Not Normal. I’ll grant you that Trump’s rather unique brand of Twitter diplomacy is entirely new, but was the old “normal” really working out all that well? As Andrew points out, Barack Obama’s muted response to the Iranian protests of 2009 didn’t exactly pay off in spades. And the gifts he showered on the Iranian regime in the form of the nuclear deal weren’t really repaid with kindness.
It’s also worth noting that Trump seems to have a two-tier approach in place. Similar to a Penn and Teller act of diversion, while Trump is blasting away on social media and drawing all sorts of attention, there’s another diplomatic front being worked in the background. I speculated last week that Vice President Pence might be employing his experience with the Iranian situation to good effect and he seems to have taken on at least part of that burden. He’s already done a Voice of America interview, broadcast in Farsi, letting the Iranian protesters know where we stand. It’s a delicate balancing act, reminding them that the American cavalry isn’t about to ride over the sand dunes and take down their opressors, but also letting them know that if they seize control of their own futures and choose a more democratic path, America will be there to greet them with open arms. He also published an op-ed in the WaPo letting our allies around the world know where we stand.
Is this going to work? Too soon to tell, but how much worse could it be than the old normal? We might even be seeing something similar with North Korea. Trump has been hitting Kim Jong-un with both barrels on Twitter, leading most of the media to suggest he’s a dangerous maniac armed with nuclear weapons. But now the two Koreas are sitting down to talk and they’ve even finalized plans for the North to participate in the Olympic games. It’s easy enough to read that as an attempt to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, but wasn’t the original objective to shift the status quo and establish an air of calm and stability on a (preferably non-nuclear) Korean Peninsula?
We’re not there yet. Honestly, we’re not really even close. But yet again, how well was the “old normal” working out after decades of failed policies dating back to the reign of Kim Il-sung? Now we’re apparently trying something… different. And even if it hasn’t delivered a complete success yet, it also hasn’t failed. Perhaps, rather than bolstering a non-stop narrative about the President’s “mental stability” we should simply give him a chance to try to dig us out of these foreign policy quagmires. If he fails, you can always go back to the preferred narrative and blame him.