Trump’s Folly

Author: Gary Hart

Considerable historical research would be required to discover an American commander in chief less qualified to make judgments of war and peace than our current one.

We launched the nation under a general officer and in the 1950s had, as president, the former commander of military forces that won World War II in Europe.  In between, America has had presidents many of whom had performed some degree of military service or who, as in the remarkable experience of Abraham Lincoln, had undertook the arduous task of learning strategy and tactics.

There are, of course, no provisions in our Constitution that a president be prepared, either by experience or learning, to make massively important military decisions.  Perhaps the Founders simply assumed that candidates for the office would prepare themselves for that immensely consequently responsibility before assuming office.

Part of the responsibility of being commander in chief is the selection of men and women of considerable experience in national security affairs as advisors on such matters.

All this obviously comes to mind as we teeter like Humpty Dumpty on a wall regarding Iran.  We begin with a president so consumed with burning all aspects of the Obama administration to the ground and scattering its ashes to the four winds.  That includes such important achievements as confronting Iran with an eight-nation consortium demanding cessation of nuclear weapons production.

Typically, this unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement was heralded by the “art-of-the-deal-maker’s” promise to produce a much better agreement.  Don’t wait.

Having unilaterally withdrawn from the agreement, Trump now seems offended that Iran has resumed preliminary steps to create a nuclear arsenal.  What did he think would happen?

As history, for those who take the trouble to study it know, reveals, war is more often than not started by false information (Tonkin Gulf attack), bad intelligence (Iraq), or mistake (too numerous to mention).  Whether we will ever know the exact position of the U.S. drone in or near Iranian airspace remains to be seen.  But the commander in chief claims he was minutes away from a military response when, according to him, he learned there would be casualties.

What a surprising discovery.  That tends to happen when bullets fly and bombs drop.

Given the performance to date by this president, the decision to hesitate is taken by many to be a demonstration of startling (but rare) good judgment.  It doesn’t take much.

Predictably, speculation is rampant that cooler heads of senior commanders also outweighed the warhawk caucus in the administration.  Let’s hope.

Too many “liberals” in recent times have made the serious mistake that all generals want to go to war.  That has not been my considerable experience over several decades.  Most senior commanders, especially those experienced in combat, are cautious, thoughtful, and temperamentally sound.  It is more often political leaders, especially those with little or no military experience who see the armed forces as an instrument to demonstrate “strength”.

Thoughtful Americans can only hope, and possibly pray, that under the current commander in chief we avoid yet another endless conflict in a region little understood to satisfy the demands of those eager to punch someone in the nose.

War with Iran, or for that matter almost anyone else, would not be quick, inexpensive, bloodless, or necessarily successful.  Iran does not threaten our national security, unless it develops a nuclear arsenal thanks to Trump’s folly.  Even then, perhaps we will have a statesman as president who can restore us to a diplomatic agreement in everyone’s interest.

9 Responses to “Trump’s Folly”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    Correction second paragraph: “who had undertaken”… GH

  2. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Beyond simple agreement with your assessment of these particular aspects of “Trump’s Follies”, I was immediately inclined to reiterate this question that I saw posed yesterday by the author James Gleick when confronted with the echo of Trump by one of his strongest critics in the House:

    “Why isn’t Congress in emergency session to reestablish its war powers?”

    in response to @RepAdamSchiff

    “30 minutes before attack was launched, he asked about casualties.…”


    And now I just saw that Trump has since given Chuck Todd an interview on Meet The Press that will air tomorrow but in which Trump apparently claims that he had not given the order to strike and that no planes were in the air…

    … but does it matter if the interview contains statements like this?

    “I think I win the election easier, but I’m not sure I like having it,”
    Pres. Trump tells me [Chuck Todd] about House Dems pursuing impeachment #MTP

    I did not intend to take it there, Gary, but it’s sadly indicative of the tragic spectacle unfolding before our eyes and ears and, more importantly, the fundamental challenge before the Congress who should, by all reasonable standards, have acted more concretely by now…

    … or at the very least, I dearly hope that “they” have something concrete in mind to respond to the misleading, misguided, and malicious manipulation of the Office of the President that I fully expect we will witness on the upcoming anniversary of the declaration of the nation’s independence.

    For what it’s worth, I wish that all the opposing candidates would agree to a day of unity among themselves with simultaneous rallies around the country at which *anyone* with a sense of outrage at all that this administration and its GOP lackeys in the Congress have done thus far and risk doing (and “undoing”) in the time between now and the ultimate confrontation in November 2020… more than 16 months from now!

    At the very least, I wish that the leadership of the House were inclined to risk more “political capital” on the urgency of the moment…

  3. Michael Says:

    It could be that the thought of using military force frightens Trump. It must be more than a bit jarring for anyone with no military experience, no matter how educated and well-balanced emotionally, to suddenly be confronted with the reality of being at the pinnacle of a complex and massive military machine with global power and reach. Trump was not made for that kind of burden. He’s never taken responsibility for anything in his life. As Commander-in Chief, he has nowhere to hide if things go off the rails. Obviously, he’d have no problem throwing “his” generals under the bus, but in the end it would all come flying back at him. Especially worrying is that after more than two years, world leaders, friend and foe alike, know who Trump really is. They all see his tweets; many, from the “Prince of Whales” to Kim Jong Un, have met him personally. If Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers was indeed seen as a sign of strength by the Soviets in 1981, then Trump caving in the government shutdown after weeks of bluster – without gaining a thing – is surely seen as a sign of something else. Whether that is mental instability or cowardice, we don’t know. Every world leader will see it through the lens of his or her own culture. But I have the feeling that any confrontation, if it comes, will be the result of an adversary assuming Trump will back down. Imagine a new Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s the stuff of disaster movies.


    Senator Hart responds correctly to the news on Trump and the very sensible decision to do nothing that would lead to certain disaster.

    Trump had a rare moment of moderation and a television interview in which he actually seemed thoughtful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The article shows what all accept the very wrong know, military leaders in democratic countries, even often hawkish ones, or a description of their administrations, most such leaders are measured and cautious and slow to retaliate unnecessarily.

    Wesley Clarke was often a very mainstream commentator and could have gone further in politics, and perhaps should.

    We must be glad Trump got in touch with his inner Jimmy Carter, not with his outer George W. Bush!

  5. Edward Goldstick Says:

    I must admit that I am not at all reassured that Trump suddenly saw reason, but I am fairly confident that he is more worried about the risk to his reputation that a failed or open-ended military action would embody versus an empathetic concern for the welfare of Iranians on the ground whether officials or civilians… not to mention, sadly, concern for the soldiers, sailors, aviators, and Marines he would be commanding.

    Here’s the Big Question that troubles us all at the moment: is it better to attempt to put barriers in front of his recklessness that this party seems to be condoning in principle if not in complete reality at every turn, or is it better to avoid provoking him with concrete warnings and preemptive actions?

    The strange thing is that this sounds so much like the dilemmas experienced during the Cold War and now being relived across the globe. Who are our domestic “diplomats” in the negotiations with Trump & Co.? Is “detente” until the next election a better choice than principled confrontations whether targeting misguided policies or something more fundamental?

    Very strange, indeed.

  6. Paul G Says:


    “[W]ar is more often than not started by false information (Tonkin Gulf attack), bad intelligence (Iraq), or mistake (too numerous to mention) …”

  7. Brian McCarthy Says:


    I feel it’s unnecessary, maybe even counterproductive, for us “liberals” to refer to ourselves as liberals in quotes. The word has been hijacked and made out to mean everything to the left of Reagan, from moderate Republicans to actual socialists like Mr Sanders. I don’t think it’s helpful. It’s time to reclaim the word for those who actually know what it means. I think Winston Churchill, a famous conservative, but one-time liberal, may have actually given liberals their best definition:

    “Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle … Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference … Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.”

    One thing I enjoy telling Republicans is that, when Churchill, post PM years, met a new Labour MP in the elevator of the Palace of Westminster, he asked him what party he was from. “Labour” said the new MP. Churchill replied, “I’m a liberal. Always have been.” with a wink.

    Maybe a apocryphal story, but I choose to believe it.

    What’s all this have to do with your post? It’s that political labels are necessarily over-broad and do not always capture the idiosyncrasies of individuals. A “liberal” may be better versed in, and more qualified to speak on, issues of national security, than a right-wing candidate.


  8. Gary Hart Says:

    I concur with Brian on “liberals” with or without quotes. But the right has spent so much time and money devaluing its serious meaning that the quotes are sometimes useful to demonstrate to those who care that we get, and dismiss, the right-wing tirades. GH


    Brilliant comments from Brian and good response from our hosting wise owl.

    Churchill was a Liberal party member for twenty years, I am a member of its current version the Liberal Democrats. He was a half American, as well as a pro European, who, is highly regarded by most who realise his attitudes were of their era, rather as with Lincoln, he is dated but timeless, and a giant.

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