Americans hopefully will enjoy their winter holidays but after the events that transpired in Washington last week, no one can predict what the holiday week will produce. This is especially true given the fact that President Trump is stuck at the White House and not playing golf at Mar-a-Lago. Meanwhile, the Congress is returning to Washington on Wednesday once more to engage the President in whether and/or when to reopen the federal government; at least one third of which was furloughed last Friday night on the eve of Christmas. The real crisis which the nation faces, however, is not the standoff over the government shutdown which will eventually be resolved, but whether the President—now that he is not able to party with all his friends in Palm Beach—will use this holiday to play Scrooge with the American people and the entire world.
In fact, the Government shutdown was not the most upsetting news coming out of the Trump White House last week, rather it was the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and to begin drawing down U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The policy decisions themselves raise numerous geo-political questions and problems, however the real challenge is to comprehend how these decisions were made or not made. Even more critical is the fact that Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned over this issue and the lack of process. What does his departure portend for U.S. national security policy?
Leaving aside all the personal and psychological fears that this move foreshadows, there are specific global issues that Mattis’s departure should trigger for most Americans. Trump apparently believes in a solitary approach to decision-making; not a process. He clearly cannot abide advisers who question or challenge his decisions. The President heeds only advice, apparently, from those who have no vulnerability—Jared, Ivanka, etc.—or those who are total sycophants. Internationally, it appears as well that he only heeds advise from authoritarian rulers after whom he seeks to model himself. (Thus as the reports suggest, Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria after an extended telephone conversation with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s president for life is certainly not the most objective or disinterested person in evaluating what ought to be the position of the U.S. in its support for the Kurdish forces in Turkey.)
The challenge this holiday season is to consider what an unconstrained President might consider doing next. Should North Korea challenge the South militarily, who is there to persuade Trump that there are ways to address with issue without nuking aggressive moves by the “Little Rocket Man”. If Iran moves aggressively into formalizing a corridor for its forces through Syria, can Israel expect U.S. moves to prevent this threat from being formalized. If Russia moves its forces into the Ukraine and the Crimea as they have desired since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, what type of response from Trump is imaginable against Putin to such an invasion. Secretary Mattis’s departure clearly signals that all security decisions now are going to be made by a leader who has jettisoned all contrary minded advisers.
This brief list is only the tip of the iceberg of world-wide challenges which the U.S. might encounter in the days and weeks ahead. The looming economic crisis, the Democratic take-over of the House and the ensuing investigations, as well as the Mueller investigations may eventually be seen as small potatoes when compared to scary global confrontations.
Domestically, America faces the gravest governing challenge since the Civil War. Internationally, America faces the most serious potential confrontations the likes of which have not been seen since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.