The more dangerous America’s crackpot President becomes, the saner the world believes him to be. Just look back at the initial half of his first 100 days: the crazed tweeting, the lies, the fantasies and self-regard of this misogynist leader of the Western world appalled all of us. But the moment he went to war in Yemen, fired missiles at Syria and bombed Afghanistan, even the US media Trump had so ferociously condemned began to treat him with respect. And so did the rest of the world.
It’s one thing to have a lunatic in the White House who watches late night television and tweets all day. But when the same lunatic goes to war, it now emerges, he’s a safer bet for democracy, a strong President who stands up to tyrants (unless they happen to be Saudis, Turks or Egyptians) and who acts out of human emotion rather than cynicism.
How else can one account for the extraordinary report in The New York Times which recorded how Trump’s “anguish” at the film of dying Syrian babies had led him to abandon “isolationism”?
Americans like action, but have typically confused Trump’s infantile trigger finger with mature decision-making. What else is there to think when a normally sane US columnist like David Ignatius suddenly compares Trump to Harry Truman and praises his demented President for his “flexibility” and “pragmatism”?
This is preposterous. A madman who goofs off at something he doesn’t like on CNN is just plain wacky. A man of unsound mind who attacks three Muslim countries – two of which were included in his seven Muslim nation refugee ban – is a danger to the world. Yet the moment he fires 59 missiles at Syria after more than 60 civilians die in an apparent chemical attack which he blames on Assad – but none after far more are massacred by a Syrian suicide bomber – even Angela Merkel takes leave of her senses and praises Trump, along with the Matron of Downing Street, Signora Mogherini and sundry other potentates. Hasn’t someone cottoned on to the fact that Trump is now taking America into a shooting war?
Handing more power to the Pentagon – about the most perilous act of any US President – means that Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is now encouraging the head-chopping Saudis to bomb Yemen – adding even more American intelligence “assets” to this criminal enterprise — and encouraging the Gulf Arabs’ delusional idea that Iran wants to conquer the Arab world. “Everywhere you look,” Mattis told his Saudi hosts this month, “if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran.”
Is that the case with Egypt, then, now under Isis attack as its President “disappears” thousands of his own people? Is that the case in Turkey whose even more crazed President has now locked up tens of thousands of his own people while turning himself into a dictator-by-law?
Let’s just briefly take a look at Trump’s reaction to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dodgy referendum, which has given him a Caliph’s power over Turkey. A round-up of the latest figures from Turkey by the French newspaper Liberation show that there have been 47,000 arrests since last year’s attempted coup, 140,000 passports revoked, 120,000 men and women fired from their jobs (including 8,000 military officers, 5,000 academics, 4,000 judges and lawyers, 65 mayors and 2,000 journalists). One thousand two hundred schools and 15 universities have been closed down, 170 newspapers, television and radio stations shut.
And after the referendum which gave Erdogan a narrow (if very dubious) majority to legitimise these outrages, Trump called the Turkish President to congratulate him on his victory. Just as he continues to congratulate Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in his “battle” against “terror”, a war which al-Sisi – whose coup d’etat against Egypt’s first elected president originally brought him to power – appears to be losing. Al-Sisi, Trump enthused, would be someone “very close to him”.
We know that the US Special Forces raid on Yemen, in which Navy Seal William Owens died, killed more civilians than al-Qaeda members. We don’t know (or, I suspect, care) very much what the “mother of all bombs” did in the Nangahar province of Afghanistan. First it killed 60 Isis fighters. Then it killed 100 Isis fighters and not a single civilian – surely a first in US military history? But then, weirdly, nobody has been allowed to go to the site of this monster bomb’s explosion. Because civilians were indeed killed? Or because – and this is a fact – Isis survivors went on fighting American ground troops after the bombing?
Now Trump is sending a naval battle group to threaten North Korea, a past master at childish threats itself. Ye gods! And this is a man who is now “flexible” and “pragmatic”? It’s instructive to note that after its first edition, The New York Times changed its headline about Trump’s Syrian “anguish” to “Trump Upends His Own Foreign Policy”, still gifting him with a “foreign policy” (which doesn’t exist) while cutting out the “anguish”. I am told the first original edition headline read: “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First”. Intriguing. If that is correct, you can see how The New York Times slowly – far too slowly – realised it had itself started to fall in love with its shooting-from-the-hip President.
Now we await the battle for Korea, forgetting that earlier war which drowned the peninsula in blood, American and British as well as Korean and Chinese. Maybe Trump, in his vague, frightening way, has decided that Southeast Asia will be his real war. And there, of course, the comparison with Truman gets rather too close to home. For Truman only came in at the end of the Second World War, after Roosevelt’s death, and his crowning wartime achievement was also in Southeast Asia: the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Heaven spare us the next 100 days.
Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.