A boss and mentor that played an important part in my life (he retired from the Marine Corps as a Colonel and had two tours in Vietnam) had a saying that is applies to Donald Trump's speech at the UN yesterday (Tuesday)–"If it feels really good it is probably wrong." Trump stood up at the UN and teed off on North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. His supporters and even some pundits who have been lukewarm on the matter of the Trump Presidency praised this as the best speech of his Presidency. It was a home run in their view.
I fully understand the emotional satisfaction that comes with telling a despicable soul what you really think. You peel off their skin; a verbal flaying. While that may feel good in the moment, it rarely accomplishes anything other than to make matters worse.
Years ago my wife and I shared a home in Argentina with a baker and his wife and family. The wife, a lady named Anna was an extremely difficult, selfish person. I did not know how my friend, the baker, could put up with her nonsense. One morning they emerged from their bedroom and announced that they were going to separate and would divorce. I was young and stupid. Rather than just nod and hold my tongue I spoke up. I said, "I'm sorry to hear this but I understand why. Anna, you are a very demanding, unfeeling person."
Boy, did that feel good. I got to tell her exactly what I thought. What happened next was totally unexpected. They both, husband and wife, became immediately angry with me and decided to not separate. They stayed together for two more years and then separated. But my careless intervention where I spoke what I thought was the truth ended up keeping them together when they should have gone their separate ways.
That's essentially what Donald Trump did yesterday. He spoke from the gut without thinking through the consequences.
His threat to wipe out North Korea reminded me of Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the podium at the UN. Great theater but makes one thing that the shoe banger is crazy. There is no acceptable military option in North Korea. But Trump is not the only one spouting such madness. We've heard the same delusional threats from SecDef Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster. I learned a long time ago that you do not make threats you are not will to carry out. In fact, I'm a firm believer in the sucker punch. Why tell someone what you are going to do and how you are going to do it? That stuff only works in Hollywood.
Remember this clip from Billy Jack?
That is a feel good moment. Not realistic but leaves the audience cheering. Trump and his team are not talking about kicking Rocket Man upside his face. They are talking about dropping bombs, possibly tactical nukes, that could trigger a broader nuclear exchange. The risk of killing a billion people is real. To even entertain such an option is, in my view, insane.
Venezuela? Why even give them attention? What Trump and his advisors fail to grasp is that putting the United States in the forefront of the public pressure to change the government in Venezuela, we then become the excuse that Venezuela's Maduro can use to justify his own failures and retain support to hang on to power. Just look at how effective our threats and denouncements of Cuba have been over the years. We gave Castro an external enemy that he used effectively to rally public support for his government. Getting rid of Maduro should be done quietly with no U.S. finger prints.
Finally, Trump's tirade on Iran is just flat out wrong and rife with irony. Trump said:
Trump confronted Iran's destabilizing behavior in the Middle East, leaving open the possibility that the U.S. will unilaterally pull out of the multinational nuclear deal with the country — which he deemed an "embarrassment" — and made an appeal to the Iranian people to stand against their government and seize their future.
Trump said its government "must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors."
"The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country, with a rich history and culture, into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos," he said.
The only country that is conducting illegal military operations and failing to respect the "sovereign rights" of a country is the United States. We have military personnel on the ground in Syria and are carrying out airstrikes without any legal right. Iran is not the country supporting terrorism. That "honor" belongs to Saudi Arabia, whose hands are covered with buckets of blood in that regard.
While Trump's speech is resonating with his base, it does not reflect a world view or set of policies that will serve the interests of the United States. In some respects, Trump reminds me of Lyndon Johnson. Trump, like Johnson, has a vision for fixing America at home. But that plan will be destroyed because of his foreign policy craziness. Just as Vietnam destroyed the Johnson Presidency, the foreign policy reflected in Trump's UN speech carries the same risk of destroying his Presidency.