Who Is Minding the Toddler-In-Chief?

Yesterday the president of the United States went on a bit of a Twitter rampage. Here’s what he tweeted about foreign policy:

The timing of that last one might tell us something about how Trump is forming his foreign policy.

In light of all of that, I thought it might be helpful to go back to the article by Susan Glasser that I referenced yesterday. She wrote it prior to these Tweets, but it provides some important context for what is going on. Beyond the shock of the four leaders from Latin American countries, she summarized with this:

Over the course of the year, I have often heard top foreign officials express their alarm in hair-raising terms rarely used in international diplomacy—let alone about the president of the United States. Seasoned diplomats who have seen Trump up close throw around words like “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.”…

So what the hell is going on? I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse. The president is not playing the leadership role the rest of the world has come to expect from the United States, and the consequences are piling up. Still, it is also true that the world hasn’t exactly melted down—yet—as a consequence, leading some to conclude that Trump is merely a sort of cartoonishly incompetent front man, a Twitter demagogue whose nuclear-tinged rhetoric and predilection for cozying up to dictators should be discounted in favor of rational analysis of the far more sober-minded, far less radical policies actually put in place by his team.

Glasser refers to the people who discount Trump’s tirades in favor of the “rational analysis” of his team as “the Reassurers.”

Never mind the shadow of the Russia investigation looming over the presidency, or the president’s lavish praise of autocrats and public attacks on longtime U.S. allies. In fact, the view that Trump himself is essentially irrelevant is now advanced privately by some key members of his own team—another extraordinary commentary on an extraordinary presidency.

Think about that for a moment. The Reassurers would have us dismiss that the current POTUS is “terrifying,” “incompetent,” and “dangerous” because he is irrelevant, and the people who really matter are the ones who have chosen to work for him—those who are tasked with making sure he doesn’t do something really stupid and dangerous. That’s the best spin they can come up with for our current situation.

But as Glasser goes on to point out, it’s even worse than that.

By the fall, it was clear to those who had hoped it might be otherwise: The grownups might be in the room with Trump, but they couldn’t always deliver. “I invested in McMaster,” said the European official, “but I see in retrospect he is scared to come out and oppose some of the views of Trump…

“The bigger miscalculation on the part of the allies was this sense that, however off base Trump might be on some of our policy positions, the ‘axis of adults’ will always see us through,” says Julianne Smith, the former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who now heads the transatlantic program at the Center for a New American Security. Summing up a year of contacts with worried European allies, she adds, “The axis of adults, it turns out, are mere mortals, and no, they don’t have superpowers. And that I think has been a rude awakening for a lot of our allies around the world.”…

From the start, Tillerson had worked closely alongside Mattis to present a united front when it came to policy disputes at the White House. Mattis told a longtime colleague in the winter that he and Tillerson planned to meet every week to stay aligned. But that caused more disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”

If the “axis of adults” are involved in a death struggle with each other, one has to wonder who is minding the toddler-in-chief. That is where the tweet above from Matthew Gertz comes into play. The guy in charge is taking his cues from Fox News rather than his national security team. Apparently VP Pence and Trump’s Cabinet (those who could exercise their rights under the 25th Amendment) are willing to tolerate that. Right now, they are the only ones with the power to do anything about this situation. It is time to start asking them if they have a red line beyond which they would exercise their constitutional duties to protect this country.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .