Trump’s actions reveal an ‘unreliable partner’

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision against military strikes may have prevented open military conflict with Iran, but it also showed him anew to be an unpredictable, unreliable, partner at home and abroad.

Trump won his job partly on his claims to be a great dealmaker. But the celebrity businessman-turned-president’s negotiating style — repeatedly pushing toward a brink only to pull back at the moment of action — leaves the U.S. lurching from crisis to crisis. On trade tariffs, immigration raids and now the standoff with Iran, his course reversals confound allies as well as adversaries, and his own party in Congress.

As fallout from Trump’s actions reverberated around the globe on Monday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East in search of a coalition of allies against Iran, the president offered a fresh round of equivocation, defending his decision not to attack Iran even while issuing new threats.

“I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us. A lot of restraint. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future, but I felt that we want to give him this chance,” Trump said.

“We would love to be able to negotiate a deal if they want to. If they don’t want to that’s fine too.”

His backing off on military strikes that were about to be launched in retaliation for the shootdown of an unmanned U.S. drone was just one of several recent tactical shifts by the White House on significant issues. Over the weekend, Trump changed course over immigration raids that had stoked fear among people and families living in the country illegally. He postponed steep tariffs he had announced on Mexico earlier this month, giving immigration talks more time.

The Iran standoff, however, is perhaps the most dangerous, as the two countries escalate rhetoric and actions that raise concerns in Congress and the world at large that Iran and the U.S. could stumble into broad military conflict.

When lawmakers asked the president last week how he would be making his decision on Iran, he responded, “My gut.”

While that decision not to order military strikes appears to have calmed tensions with Iran, at least somewhat, Trump’s messages leave uncertainty about next steps.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a newly elected freshman who served as an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.

“I’m glad that he changed his mind about the strike, made the right decision, but he made it in the worst possible way,” Malinowski said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think anyone has any clue what our policy is.”

GOP defense hawks, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the former vice president’s daughter, warn against Trump’s approach, too. She told a radio host that “weakness is provocative” when it comes to confronting Iran and other adversaries.

Other Republicans say Trump is merely keeping his options open as he pushes Iran to negotiate. That’s different, they say, from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who drew a red line against Syria, but then wavered against taking military action.

Ohio GOP Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Monday that Trump’s style is more like one you’d see from a litigator trying to get an outcome in talks. “It sort of sends a signal to Iran that if you continue, do expect a military response,” he said.

Trump’s shifting tactics have drawn mostly silence from U.S. allies across the globe, who have declined to publicly assess the president’s decision making or his ”maximum pressure” campaign that is using economic sanctions in an effort to force Iran to the negotiating table over nuclear issues.

The tensions with Iran come amid deepening divisions between the United States and its European allies over foreign policy and trade, with the allies appearing to talk past each other on a matter that all view as a crucial security issue.

While European leaders have been careful not to criticize Trump’s actions, they’re also cool toward U.S. talk of building a global coalition against Iran.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told ZDF television over the weekend, “The strategy of maximum pressure can’t be the right one, because one of the consequences is that we are all talking about how serious the situation is, and that there is a danger of war.”

Germany, France and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned last year as he tries to cut a new accord that would further curtail Iran’s nuclear capability.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend of the president, has welcomed Trump’s tough line toward Iran, including last year’s U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal. But the Israeli leader has said little in public during the recent crisis, apparently wary of being seen as pushing the U.S. toward war.

Yoel Guzansky, a former adviser on Iran policy in the prime minister’s office and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the administration’s decision against a strike essentially sent Iran the message that “if you don’t kill Americans you can do whatever you want in the Gulf.”

But Tzachi Hanegbi, a Cabinet minister close to Netanyahu, played down Trump’s last-minute decision to call off last week’s airstrike.

“The real big story is that the American policy toward Iran, which has changed to our delight in the last two, three years, is a policy that completely serves the world’s and Israel’s interests, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he told Israeli public radio on Sunday.

That’s a sentiment shared by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are also supportive of Trump’s tough talk on Iran. The Gulf allies have not commented on Trump’s about-face. Indeed, they have been reluctant to publicly criticize him over any of his policies.

Danielle Pletka, a senior vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Trump has made his decisions all about himself, and that means some allies will stick with him while others will have concerns. “That would be the case if he bombed Iran or if he didn’t bomb Iran.”

“For Donald Trump, he’s damned if he’s does, damned if he doesn’t,” she said by phone from a security conference in Hamburg. “He’s so personalized everything in terms of Donald Trump.”

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Associated Press writers Shahar Golan in Jersualem, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin and Deb Riechmann and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Are stupid actions of youth fatal political mistakes?

Indiscretions from more than 30 years ago threaten the entire leadership of Virginia’s state government.

Gov. Ralph Northam (above) was 24 in 1984 when he dressed up in blackface as Michael Jackson and won a dance contest in San Antonio with his excellent “moonwalk” routine. He was a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, where his “personal page” in the 1984 yearbook showed a photo of one white student in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

After the news broke and large groups of both Democrats and Republicans yelled for him to “resign,” the other two top office holders ran into issues:

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax became a target of a claim that he sexually molested a young woman in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in 1984.  Like Northam, he was also 24.

Mark Herring revealed he did a dance number as a rapper in 1984 at the University of Virginia.  He was 19. He feared the same website, founded by a Trump supporter and a former staff member of two right-wing sites The DailyCaller and Breitbart News, was ready to expose that juicy piece of piece of information.

But no such information came from that website about involvement of Virginia Republican Majority leader Thomas K. Norment when we learned he was the top editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that featured photo of students in blackface and racial slurs throughout.

That news came from The New York Times:

As a senior at Virginia Military Institute, then an all-male college that was sometimes called “the West Point of the South,’’ Mr. Norment was managing editor of the 1968 edition of the Bomb yearbook. That edition included students in blackface and slurs aimed at African-Americans, Asians and Jews, according to a copy viewed by The New York Times.

The first three revelations appeared to be part of a plan to selectively release information about the top three Democrats in Virginia government.  We might wonder if the plan was to release the damaging info on Gov. Northam with the hope he would immediately resign, putting Fairfax into the governorship to he could then pull out to and put Herring into the job.

If Henning hit the streets, the Virginia’s line of selection would put the Speaker of the House, an appointed Republican chosen by lot after the last state elections left the House tied between the GOP and Democrats.

Might have been a good plan but Northam spoiled it by refusing to step down immediately and seems determined to hold on to his job.  Fairfax seems to be in more trouble now after a second woman came forward to say he molested her back while he and she were students at Duke University in 2000.

Foreplay or sex?

Of the three, Fairfax is the only one accused of a crime but has not been charged from other claimed event.  Just last year, a nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, came under fire after a woman said he tried to rape her in a party while in high school.  Like Fairfax, a second women came forward with a similar claim.  He was not charged and now sits on the Supreme Court.

Republicans who defended Kavanaugh, saying it was a clear case of “she said, he said” with no hard evidence, now want Fairfax’s head.  Democrats demanded Kavanaugh be denied a seat on the court but now demand Fairfax resign.

“It’s unrealistic to expect politicians to have lived perfect lives — the general public doesn’t expect that, and they are much more forgiving than the Twitter outrage mob,” says Democratic strategist Elisabeth Smith.

As a student at The University of Virginia in the latter half of the 1960s, I saw racism exhibited by some white fellow students.  Blackface routines were often part of frat parties and other events.

As Herring, then 19, admitted in his the blackface performance as a rapper, he obviously felt it was something to do.  That was more than 30 years later and a different generation.  Have they learned to do better?  Perhaps not.

A more lingering question here is how much difference youthful indiscretions should be on someone’s career decades later.  As a teenager who wrestled in the backseat of my 1957 Ford back in the early 1960s, I struck out some times with young girls but also succeeded several other times.

Only one, I remember, did not start the exercise with “no.”  The ground rules back then considered “no” a potential “maybe” that might change with a little more attempted seduction.  When a young woman said “no” definitely enough, I backed off and those whose “no’s” changed for “maybe” and then “yes ” never cried rape afterwards.

Am I ashamed of my behavior now.  Of course.  I hope I’ve learned over the years and with the changes in attitudes but remember that my introduction to sex came at the attentions of a woman 11 years older than me when I was 15.  “No,” was not a word that either of I used during out months long relationship.

An interesting sidelight to the “MeeToo” revelations came from a woman I’ve known since high school and who I dated during my time as a young reporter in Roanoke, VA, for the first five years of my journalism career.  We had lunch a few months ago during the height of the “MeeToo” period and she noted that we never had sex.

Her question of “why not?” caught me by surprise.

“You said ‘no’ and I felt you meant it,” I responded.

“I don’t think I did,” she replied.  “We petted a lot and felt each other up.  I was ready to lose my virginity. It could have been to you.”

“I was also in love with you and I was little scared of you,” I said.  “I slept with other girls during that time but I wasn’t in love with them.”

“Too bad,” she said. “You might have enjoyed what followed.”

A little over a year later, I proposed to a woman.”  That proposal was: “You’re what!”

We all make mistakes, particularly when we were young.  A Virginia State trooper avoided charging me with racing and getting away from him.  I would have had a felony on my record.

I’ve broken laws over the years but have, fortunately, never been charged or arrested for anything. I managed to hold security clearances from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy as an alcoholic, but that never turned up in their investigations.

Since I have no intention of ever serving in political office, I can freely admit my past crimes and misdemeanors.  For someone like me, who gives a damn.

But should people be giving such a damn about actions by an elected official committed during he or her youth?  Is Ralph Northam a racist?  Nothing in his years of public service or as an outstanding pediatrician show a reason to think so. Mark Herring?  Same excellent record.

Justin Fairfax?  Sexual assault and rape are serious crimes. He has never been charged with either and some could say the claims coming out now could be questionable.  Further investigation should be made but it is the backbone of the American judicial system that anyone charged with a crime should be considered “innocent until proven guilty without a shadow of reasonable doubt.”

The same, of course, should applied to president Donald Trump but let’s also remember that he has been convicted of some violations:  Racial blackballing at his properties, using undocumented immigrants on his projects, thousands of judicial judgments on unpaid bills to his vendors and questionable actions by his now-closed real estate “university,” where he signed a consent decree.

A check of such or similar violations found no such actions against Ralph Northam, Mark Herring or Justin Fairfax.

Those shouting the loudest for resignations appear to be putting politics above justice.  Seems that happens a lot.

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