President Trump spent his first week in office living up to campaign promises. In a tsunami of executive orders and conversations with foreign leaders he did, as he said in his first weekly address, “hit the ground running.”
In his first week, Mr. Trump:
Not bad for one week’s work. Mr. Trump is quickly earning the reputation of a workaholic.
So far, pretty good. The uproar over the temporary ban on refugees from terrorist nations is so great (Chuckie Schumer broke down in tears) that it’s taking attention away from the other orders.
Some of the president’s decisions are worthy of dissection, because of his approach to the problems he seeks to solve.
His Obamacare order takes a rather odd approach. He ordered agencies such as the IRS to cease enforcement of burdens that affect people and the insurance market. He could have gone farther. Former president Obama had issued waivers of the Obamacare law through the same agencies that Mr. Trump now ordered to cease enforcement of burdens. Many, if not all, of those waivers were issued to benefit Obama’s labor union allies and have probably expired by now. Those that haven’t should have been rescinded by Mr. Trump’s order because they constituted legislation changing the law without congressional approval and were thus unconstitutional.
Mr. Trump’s order reorganizing the NSC is very interesting. He added Steve Bannon, his principal adviser, to the list of principals who attend the NSC’s top-level meetings. Bannon, a tough-minded conservative, has been derided and denounced by the media as, among other things, a racist and a white nationalist. People who have known Bannon for years have told me that none of these characterizations are true.
The NSC order also excludes from those meetings the director of National Intelligence (soon to be former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats) and Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for meetings on issues that aren’t in their areas of responsibility but doesn’t exclude CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Mr. Trump’s distrust of the intelligence community continues, but why exclude the DNI and not the CIA? It’s curious to say the least. It also bodes ill for Dunford’s continuation in his current job.
Mr. Trump’s refugee ban precludes refugees entering the United States from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 120 days in order to set up his “extreme vetting” program and thereafter limits the flow to 50,000 people per year. It incited the usual lawsuits alleging that it’s a ban only on Muslims. The lawsuits aren’t well-founded either constitutionally or statutorily. The law has, for years, provided that a president can order a ban on immigration from any nation or area. The injunctions of the ban affect only those people who are already here. Mr. Trump’s ban remains in force for all others.
Mr. Trump has said that he would assign priority to persecuted Christians from the Middle East, but that doesn’t make it a ban only on Muslims. All it means is that persecuted minorities (which Christians clearly are) will get to the front of the line when immigration resumes. Despite the criticism from foreign leaders Mr. Trump is, at least so far, sticking to his position. Iran has promised retaliation and has banned Americans from entry (which is a very good thing, given Iran’s penchant for taking American hostages and holding them for ransom).
In his meeting with Mrs. May, Mr. Trump has drifted from his position that NATO is obsolete. He assured her that we remain committed to NATO but didn’t say that he wouldn’t continue to press for more defense spending by its members. (Mrs. May, in their joint press conference, said that Trump had assured her that we are 100 percent committed to NATO.) Left open is the question of what actions he will take to reduce U.S. commitments to NATO if the members — as is almost certain — refuse to increase their spending on defense.
Mr. Trump’s conversation with Vladimir Putin is at least as important as the meeting with Mrs. May. They reportedly spoke for an hour and discussed cooperation in defeating ISIS. That may prove impossible for several reasons.
First, contrary to what Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) told the press after her meeting with Bashar Assad, it’s clearly not in America’s interest to leave Assad, a long-time terrorist supporter, in power. However, that is the one of the principal goals of Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria.
We also have no interest in strengthening Russia’s presence and power in the Middle East. Nor do we have any such interest in strengthening Iran’s. Iran is partnered with Russia, and together they now dominate the Syrian war. They will control the outcome.
Mr. Putin’s — and Iran’s — interests in Syria are, thus, almost completely contrary to ours. Our forces will only be able to operate against ISIS as long as they don’t conflict with those of Russia and Iran. They, in turn, have little interest in defeating ISIS as long as it doesn’t pose a real threat to Assad’s regime.
Mr. Trump’s promise to establish “safe zones” for refugees in Syria similarly depends on cooperation from Russia and Iran. That will come only on their terms. Iran may cooperate, at least in a limited way, because Shiite Iran would benefit from the destruction of Sunni ISIS.
In a month or so, when Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivers his plan to defeat ISIS, Mr. Trump will learn how dependent we are on the goodwill of the Russians and Iranians to make that plan work. If he hasn’t already, that plan should make clear to him that trusting Russia or Iran is impossible and comprehensively unwise.
When President Reagan said his approach to Gorbachev’s Russia was “trust but verify,” Russia was much weaker than it is now and Iran wasn’t the beneficiary of an American presidential deal that ensures it will soon be a nuclear power.
Times have changed and not for the better. Mr. Trump can’t trust either Russia or Iran, nor do we have the ability to verify what Iran’s nuclear weapon and missile programs are doing.
It is, as Mr. Trump has often said, better to talk with Mr. Putin than not. The president will have to find out for himself that what little common ground can be found doesn’t exist in the Middle East. We can only hope that Mr. Trump’s realization doesn’t come at too high a price.
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