Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
When Lyndon Johnson was the Democratic Senate Majority Leader he had a warm but not overly respectful relationship with the then House Republican Minority Leader Gerald Ford. He was reported to have said about Ford, among other things, that he was a very nice guy but he could not walk and chew gum at the same time. This insult of Ford was expressed by one of the consummate Senate tacticians and politicians about his House adversary. It meant to suggest that Ford, the GOP leader, was unable to handle more than one issue at a time. This is perhaps what is scary about Donald Trump as well for the nation and for the world as it enters a very difficult period both domestically and globally. The unknowns are very high and their resolution would appear daunting in the hands of even the most adept and experienced leader.
The “must pass” legislative matters constitute an awesome task: negotiating the debt ceiling extension, the budget bill, and Harvey disaster relief. Coupled with pledges to move on tax reform, the insistence to address the DACA immigration issue, and construction of the “wall”–which is probably dead at least for now–Congress could use a year not one or three months to finish its work. (This legislative laundry list does not even reflect the amount of time and energy that the President and various congressional committees will spend on the Russia investigation as well as the activity that will be generated once the Mueller team goes public with the results of its investigation and the concomitant backlash.)
Internationally, as the U.N. Security Council meets to consider additional sanctions against North Korea in light of its latest threatening nuclear test, the U.S. and its allies do not have many reasonable choices, despite all the bellicose rhetoric. U.S. relations with its allies do not suggest an overwhelming sense of mutual trust and respect. Russia and China are not overly assertive in their engagement with the Pyongyang regime. Japan is considering an increased military buildup and South Korea already is being accused of being too soft. While an actual confrontation is probably unlikely, the immaturity of Kim Jong-un and Trump’s lack of experience in Washington do not bode well for normalcy.
Terrorist attacks over the past months in Germany, Manchester, London, and Barcelona indicate that extremist groups are alive and well. The Syria linkage with Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and radical groups does not suggest that a calm sensible approach is now settling in over the Iraq-Syria borders. In fact, there are signs that the spill-over of the ISIS activity is being transferred to the Golan Heights in Syria.
The Gulf region is deceptively quiet both between Yemen and Saudi Arabia as well as the effect of the warming of the Qatar-Iran relationship and the anger increasing among the Saudis as well. These matters as well as the lack of any movement between Israel and the Palestinians are all likely to be part of the focus of speeches, meetings, and discussions during the forthcoming weeks at the U.N. General Assembly regular sessions.
Summer vacations are over, schools have begun, and Labor Day is here. It would be more encouraging if the action were in the hands of someone who could chew gum and walk at the same time.