When Trump announced the military strikes on Syria last Friday, he promised to respond with “all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic.” Given that we don’t currently have a secretary of state, the job of announcing the economic response was left to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. On Face the Nation, she said that sanctions against Russian companies behind the equipment related to Assad’s alleged chemical weapons attack would be announced yesterday. Then this happened:
President Trump on Monday put the brakes on a preliminary plan to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia, walking back a Sunday announcement by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley that the Kremlin had swiftly denounced as “international economic raiding.”
According to the report in the Washington Post, Haley learned her lesson about getting out ahead of the president when, early in her tenure, she gave a speech at the United Nations in which she affirmed the Obama administration’s policy on Russian sanctions in response to their incursion into Ukraine, which angered Trump. Now she talks to the president directly before making public announcements. So it seems that from one day to the next, Trump changed his mind about additional Russian sanctions and threw Haley under the bus.
That story calls to mind another recent report in the Washington Post.
President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration’s plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.
The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies — part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.
“We’ll match their numbers,” Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.”
The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials — far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.
The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia…
Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. “There were curse words,” the official said, “a lot of curse words.”
There will be those who interpret these incidents as an example of Vladimir Putin pulling the president’s chain. That might very well be the case. But we don’t know that for sure. What we do know is that this president has no idea of what he’s doing from one day to the next and therefore, neither do any of his staff or Cabinet members. There are members of Congress who have learned that from things like Trump’s back and forth on negotiating a DACA deal. World leaders should also be getting the picture when it comes to things like Trump’s position on North Korea or his trade policies. Everything is at the whim of a 71 year-old man with the impulse control of a two year-old.