The Crisis in Washington is Intensifying
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
President Trump’s disrespectful handling of the key Administration national security members is destined to produce results which will not be constructive; resignations or firings. Given Trump’s modus operandi it is inevitable that disagreements ultimately will not be able to be kept under wraps and will explode causing one or more key figures to depart in the national security/foreign policy fields. Regardless of the causes, the circumstances, or the initiatives, one or more of the group–Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, or Chief of Staff Kelly—are likely to be gone by the end of the year. Such a scenario could well precipitate consequences, none of which will be good for the United States.
Without analyzing any specific issues before this group and its extended support staff, America’s role in the world already has been negatively impacted by Trump’s erratic behavior. Policy objectives are destined to suffer even more severe consequences if Trump’s team of advisers undergoes a major shakeup. At the appointment as well as at the staff level, replacements will be found. Even the most committed and patriotic Americans, however, will be more and more reluctant to accept positions working for a President who is both personally and substantively so unpredictable and irrational. At State alone there remain large numbers of vacancies unfilled. While there certainly are large numbers of military brass waiting for upgrades and promotions, high quality appointees are less likely to step forward given the current environment.
Considering the number of current global issues, it would seem natural for the President to secure common goals and approaches with his key decision makers. The Secretary of Defense cannot speak differently than the President about the future of the Iran Agreement; the Secretary of State and the President cannot have a major dispute as to whether the U.S. ought to be pursuing a negotiating policy with North Korea; and future U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia or Venezuela cannot be debated by the Administration in the newspaper or with tweets.
Beyond the regional issues, U.S. relations with Russia—the campaign spying issue aside—in Syria, in the Balkans, and in Eastern Europe are hardly inconsequential firestorms. Similarly, America’s relations with its European allies are also in flux. Angela Merkel is building a Government which will be weaker now after the electoral success of the AfD; Prime Minister Theresa May in Britain suffered an embarrassing experience at her Conservative Party convention last week leaving her with only a tenuous hold on her office; and the European Union is not relieving the pressure on Britain after its Brexit vote.
As if this situation were not distracting enough, Trump’s response and continuing attack on Senator Bob Corker—the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—following Corker’s announcement not to seek another term has only further unnerved and distracted attention from what should be their mutual consideration of foreign policy issues. Permitting political scoring and personal animus to control the conversation demonstrates only further evidence of the President’s distraction from vital national security issues.
The departure of the Secretary of HHS for misuse of government airplanes and struggling to pass a tax bill will be child’s play compared to the type of global crises in which the U.S. could find itself. Conducting international relations without any savvy players could make for catastrophic results.