- - Monday, April 3, 2017

When a president shoots himself in the foot, the entire country suffers a self-inflicted wound.

We all suffered the wound back in Bill Clinton’s administration, when America lost two years of leadership to the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The Trump administration today is starting to resemble those Clinton years, with Congress tied up with distractions instead of doing the people’s business.

Famously impulsive and distractible, the impact of President Trump’s personal foibles and flaws is exaggerated by a staff wholly lacking in government experience. According to some observers, this confluence of factors resulted in the embarrassing display of incompetence that was the “Repeal and Replace” health care debacle.

Other, more cynical Washington watchers see it differently. They detect deliberate strategy, not incompetence, behind Trump’s apparently self-inflicted wounds.

Take the Russian investigation. The executive branch of government should be as motivated as Congress to uncover - or put to rest - questions about Russian attempts to influence U.S. and other democratic elections around the world. But instead of cooperating, Trump changed the subject by tweeting a bogus accusation of Obama and wiretapping. The wiretap tweet led to a bipartisan Congressional investigation, which was then clumsily undermined by the Nunes affair. Each “impulsive” or “bungled” step further entangled the press and social media in pointless political kerfuffle.

If they are strategies, Trump’s techniques of deflection and diversion have been pretty effective so far. Congressional and media resources are busily engaged with them. In the meantime, the press has inadequately attended to serious, difficult issues, such as foreign policy.

Let’s take a look at some of what is happening in the world – beginning with Iran and Islamism, those high priorities of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Iran’s partnership with Russia in the ongoing destruction of Syria has gained the Islamist state another foothold in the Middle East. Iran already influences Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah. Iran also supports the Houthi rebellion against the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey are at high risk for Islamism, too, leaving Israel and Greece as the only Western allies in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

Slowly, and with little or no public discussion or understanding of the long view, the U.S. military is becoming more active in the Middle East. According to the NY Times, the United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen in March of this year than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul. American officials recently said they would send an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, nearly doubling the total there.

Are these moves positive? Are they in America’s interest? Iraq, Syria and Yemen are failed states that are breeding grounds for terrorist groups. What will happen after the shooting stops? What is the long-term plan?

We need to understand the state of play. When President Trump is indeed acting to fulfill his promise to eradicate ISIS and defeat Islamist terrorism, that is something we should be reporting about and talking about. That is something we can support.

What are the objectives for the expanded use of military force? Where are we going, and how will we get there?

The president works for us; we can get behind him when we know where he is leading.

The world is a dangerous place, and the U.S. can ill afford distractions and lack of focus in the Oval Office.

The president owes the American people a plan.

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