Monday, March 26, 2018

HEIDI FISKE | Is Trump Seeking War?

John R. Bolton, President Trump's
National Security Advisor-Designate
(The following Guest Post was written by Heidi Fiske:)

Pundits right and left fear that John Bolton as National Security Advisor could cause us to stumble into war.

But what if it isn’t stumbling? What if Trump is actively seeking to take us into war?

There are three reasons why this is possible, if not likely. I number them below.

But let’s begin with the background. Before the Bolton appointment, Trump had been priming the war pump in several ways.

First, 60 percent of the top diplomats in the State Department left under Secretary Rex Tillerson, reducing our ability to negotiate, or gain support from allies. To this day there is no ambassador to South Korea. The top U.S. official there, since January 2017, is chargé d’affaires Mark Knapper.

Next, Trump fired Tillerson, who urged keeping the Iran nuclear deal in place and who advocated talking with North Korea, to be replaced by Mike Pompeo. As head of the CIA, Pompeo was the only Trump cabinet member to argue for decertifying the Iran nuclear deal. Not only could that in itself lead to war, but it should make North Korea discount any promise Trump might make in talks with Kim.

Finally, the cherry on the top, is Bolton. He has argued for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea (“The legal case for striking North Korea first,” The Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2018); bombing Iran (“To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran,” The New York Times, March 26, 2015), and to this day he supports our having started the Iraq War, which many others regard as the greatest strategic mistake in our recent history. Bolton will start his new job just as the final jockeying about conditions for the Trump/Kim talks are being worked out – talks whose only purpose, he has said, is to prove that talks don’t work, thus clearing the way for military action. He will also start just about the same time as the Iran nuclear deal needs to be recertified on May 12.

Could his new personnel choices herald that Trump is actively seeking to go to war? Consider these three things:
  1. Trump’s tactic throughout his campaign and Presidency has been to drive unpleasant news off the front pages by creating a new ruckus. When he was taking heat over his stance on the healthcare bill and response to the hurricanes, for instance, he started the stink over football players kneeling during the national anthem. Now multiple amatory scandals, and the Mueller investigation, dominate the news. Very few things could top these in importance or reader appeal. War, however, could drive both off the front pages.
  2. Trump has good reason to think he’s Teflon. The tax legislation, tariffs, and removal of financial protections could all hurt him with his base – but they haven’t much yet. While an exhaustive January poll by Morning Consult found his approval down among all voting blocs, his support is still well over 40 percent among whites, military personnel and households, private sector workers, all Christians, southerners, retirees, those earning over $50,000, men, all adults, and well over 70 percent among Republicans as a whole, and Republican men and women separately. And his approval is still 87 percent among those who voted for him in 2016.
  3. Trump surely remembers the record of another ever-less-popular President, George W. Bush. In May 2004, during the runup to his re-election, a CBS News poll found that Bush’s negative rating was 65 percent, and that, from January 2004, “majorities of the public have consistently said the U.S. is off on the wrong track.” Yet he was re-elected: Why? Here is a stunning statistic: No wartime President has ever failed to win re-election.
So let’s suppose for a moment that Trump wants to go to war. What’s to stop him? Congress, you might think. Not so fast: The 1973 War Powers Resolution gives the President 60 days to deploy troops before war must be declared by Congress. And obviously after those 60 days we could be in such a morass that there would be no turning back.

Anything else? Two other possible events might dial back the White House Bellicosity Meter:
Bolton doesn't need Senate approval, but he might not get a security clearance before he is scheduled to start work in April.

Pompeo might not be confirmed by the Senate – highly unlikely, while the President retains high ratings with his base. And who knows whom Trump would nominate next?

Thus this observer concludes that there is at least a 50-50 chance that we are on our way to a new war, or wars. The President’s personnel choices are not the cause. They are more likely the result of his desire for war.