Vetting and Flipping
The growing stand-off between the President and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee over the appointment of Navy Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson to head the Veterans Administration underscores again two serious operational problems in the Trump Administration. First, the President persists in appointing people to Cabinet or White House positions while failing to properly vet them. Second, President Trump continues to think nothing of changing his position on people and policies sometimes within hours, making it virtually impossible for anyone to know for how long any statement made by the President will remain in place.
Admiral Jackson may well have been a fine White House physician for three Presidents, but he lacks any professional experience or qualifications required to lead the second largest agency of the Federal Government. In addition, as is becoming readily apparent from all the information that has been leaked by White House or Congressional sources, Jackson’s conduct– at least during his years in the White House–exhibited personal behavior and managerial flaws which even a minimum amount of vetting would have exposed.
The fact that the President has flipped-flopped on his support for Jackson three or four times in less than a day is unacceptable and embarrassing. While the President is fascinated and fixated on military brass, Jackson clearly is unqualified to lead the Veterans Administration. (Trump’s similar flipping on Russia sanctions ten days ago so embarrassed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley that she probably came very close to quitting.)
Trump in Syria
General Joseph L. Votel, the commander of U.S. military Central Command (CENTCOM), appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee at the end of March. Senator Lindsay Graham requested him to comment about U.S. policy in Syria. Specifically, he was asked whether it was U.S. policy to topple President Assad. The General in charge with conducting U.S. policy in the region replied that he did not “…know that that’s our particular policy at this particular point. Our focus remains on the defeat of ISIS.” Implicit in this exchange was that even those in command of U.S. forces do not have a sense of what their mission is in Syria. Several days later America attacked Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.
Next Germany Comes Calling
President Trump’s meetings with the leaders of two of America’s major allies in one week could constitute a dramatic, foreign policy moment. The pomp and circumstance of the Macron meetings will be followed on Friday with business like sessions with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Their lack of warm chemistry will probably make it harder for Merkel to make more progress than did Macron on Syria or the JCPOA deal with Iran; nevertheless, the Chancellor will undoubtedly give it her all.
The President clearly revels in being the focal point in the multilateral discussions that are continuing between now and his May 12 deadline. The problem for the P5+1 is that if any modifications are to be made, a negotiating process with Iran must commence immediately; assuming Russia and China even agree. Clearly, Trump believes he can string everyone along until the last moment and then expect the entire world to respond to his decision. Perhaps, Angela Merkel will be able to move the President to be constructive and not merely conduct global diplomacy as if it were a New York City real estate deal.