Did you have any idea what Trump was going to say about Afghanistan before he said it?
I confess that I did not. This is a guy who’s been so fluid (to put it mildly) about issues that he could have announced anything and I wouldn’t have been surprised. He could have committed 500,000 troops. He could have withdrawn everybody. He could have invited the Taliban to Camp David. Or anything in between.
I give Trump and his regime (especially Kelly) credit for keeping his decision more or less secret, until the New York Times revealed on Monday morning that Trump was “expected to raise troop levels,” by at least “several thousand.” Trump confirmed this during his speech.
What I can’t figure out is why he thinks an additional 4,000 troops is going to do anything in Afghanistan, “the graveyard of empires.” He excoriated Obama for not winning in Afghanistan, after Obama (like George W. before him) found Afghanistan a tough nut to crack. Now, Trump’s finding out that winning wars is like healthcare or taxes: harder than he thought.
We already know what historians will say:
WORST PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY
Donald J. Trump. Failed at everything, moved the country closer to civil war, sexual pervert, pathological liar, idiot, wrecked our reputation around the world
Meanwhile: Behind the scenes, I guarantee you senior officials, including in the Cabinet and in the Congress, are sounding each other out, discretely, about what to do when and if Trump is ousted, and what are the best means for hastening that day. We always see this kind of palace intrigue in tottering regimes. Franz von Papen, who served as Hitler’s Vice-Chancellor, and later as his ambassador to Turkey during the closing days of the Second World War, reports in his Memoirs how, in 1943, as Germany’s prospects for victory fast receded, he was approached “by…two National Socialists of long standing,” the chief of police of Berlin and the local government head in Potsdam. “They…disclosed to me the plans of a small group…who had made up their minds to remove Hitler.” The plot ultimately came to nothing, but that this meeting happened, at such a high level, shows how even supporters of leaders can turn sour when the perception fades that the leader is wise and powerful, and is replaced by the fear that he is leading the nation to disaster.
That twin perception now is growing in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. as everybody sees Trump’s incompetence and instability. Private conversations are being conducted among guarantees of absolute candor and secrecy. At the very least, the following individuals are involved:
- White House Chief-of-Staff Gen. Kelly
- Vice President Pence
- Secretary of State Tillerson
- Senate Majority Leader McConnell
- House Speaker Ryan
- Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford
- Defense Secretary Mattis
Each will have his responsibilities in whatever happens. The military chiefs will, of course, have to ensure the continuity of the nation’s defenses, as well as demonstrate the Pentagon’s loyalty to the Constitution and a replacement government. The Cabinet members will have to decide to invoke the 25th Amendment; in addition, Tillerson must reassure foreign governments that our treaties and policies remain intact. Pence, as the presumptive heir, will take a more discrete role, but has to be kept onboard. The Congressional leaders also will be involved in invoking the 25th Amendment, and will have to keep their respective houses informed. (I do not think the Democratic leaders, Pelosi and Schumer, are involved, although they are surely aware of the rumblings.)
These conversations may come to nothing, as they did with von Papen and his friends, but readers should suffer no doubts that they are occurring. What is interesting is that Trump also knows they are occurring. For a man already inclined to paranoia, this must put him into full-fledged frenzy. But what can he do? And with all this, Mueller: tick tick tick. The most interesting role is that of Kelly. On the one hand, he has to serve the president and help create an environment in which Trump can carry out his policies (however incoherent they are). On the other hand, he must keep the Constitution in mind, and understand that his most profound loyalty—especially as a military man—is not to Trump but to America.