The Trump administration’s foreign-policy operation is at odds with itself. Key diplomatic positions remain unfilled or poorly filled, and every third day the president complains that he has been betrayed by some senior adviser or cabinet member. Good help is hard to find for Trump: Jim Mattis was “overrated,” Rex Tillerson was pushed out barely a year into the job, a chief of staff was canned after 192 days, a deputy national-security adviser was given the shoe after 300 days and another after 119 days, a national-security adviser served 24 days and resigned to face federal criminal charges, a White House communications director survived less than a week on the job, etc. As commanders in chief go, that performance has not been exactly commanding. His idea of strong leadership is using Twitter to issue ridiculous threats to arrest members of the House, including the speaker, on treason charges. Nancy Pelosi, like so many other political players, has backed Trump down simply by calling him. Nancy Pelosi may have an unfair advantage when it comes to poker faces, but nobody who is good at bluffing loses as much money in casinos as Donald Trump has.
“Trump will shake things up!” they said. And so he has, in the same sense that driving a 1985 Chevy Nova into oncoming traffic until you hit something will shake up your life. (True story.) But if you wish to supplant the reigning consensus in Washington, then you have to have something with which to replace it, and pique is not policy. The Trump administration cannot even get itself aligned with the Trump administration, and the great negotiator cannot even come to an agreement with the people who work for him. And that is on President Trump, not on the “deep state” or Democrats or the “swamp” or anybody else. In that sense, Trump’s fundamental problem is not that he has exerted too much influence over U.S. foreign policy, but too little. Those who angrily insist that it is the president and not those meddlesome bureaucrats who is in charge of foreign policy are begging the question. Who is in charge here? Donald Trump is supposed to be, but it is far from obvious that he is.