Two big stories in the news right now are the fact that ISIS is facing defeat in its two main strongholds and speculation about Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin tomorrow. See if you can detect the connection between reporting on them.
First of all, when it comes to ISIS, the Trump administration seems to be facing a problem in putting out their plan to defeat the terrorist organization.
Coalition air strikes have increased under Trump, rising from an average of roughly 440 a month in the last six months of 2016 to just under 800 a month now, as coalition forces have liberated most of Mosul in Iraq, and breached ISIS’ Syrian capital of Raqqa. But the lower numbers of high-value targets killed points to the deadly success of the strategy built by the Obama White House.
Trump’s changes to the campaign so far have been tactical—namely, giving the military more autonomy to strike, including special operators. But the effectiveness of the current Obama-era strategy of attacking ISIS via local forces together with allies calls into question whether there’s a need for more dramatic revision.
That’s presented a dilemma for those working on the Trump anti-ISIS strategy and slowed its public unveiling, U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast. The White House has asked defense officials to come up with new ideas to help brand the Trump campaign as different from its predecessor, according to two U.S. officials and one senior administration official.
So the strategy of Trump’s predecessor for fighting ISIS continues to be successful, but the White House needs some new ideas to brand what this president is doing so that it looks different.
When it comes to preparing Trump for his meeting with Putin, his aides are running into a different kind of challenge.
“There’s a fair amount of nervousness in the White House and at the State Department about this meeting and how they manage it because they see a lot of potential risks,” said Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine who has worked for the National Security Council and the State Department. “There is this gray cloud for the president of the investigations about collusion, so any kind of a deal is going to get the micro-scrutiny of, ‘Is this a giveaway to the Russians?’”
Mr. Trump himself is not troubled by the meeting. He has told aides he is more annoyed by the prospect of being scolded by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other leaders for pulling out of the Paris climate accords and for his hard line on immigration.
On this one, Trump is more worried about getting a scolding from Angela Merkel that he is in continuing to get played by his buddy Vladimir Putin.
When it comes to content, these two stories have nothing in common. But do you see the thread that binds them? I thought immediately of how Tim O’Brien, Trump biographer, recently suggested that this president isn’t “strategically driven.”
“I think there’s usually two ways of understanding what motivates what he does: Either self-preservation or self-aggrandizement,” O’Brien said.
Whether it’s White House aides or pundits, people can analyze Trump’s actions and prescribe what he will/should do. But in the end, it all comes down to something very simple: everything with this president is about either self-preservation or self-aggrandizement. Viewing him through any other lens is not only a fool’s errand, it will lead you astray. That is just one of many reasons why he is unfit for any kind of public service, much less the presidency.