I stumbled across a Podesta email obtained by Wikileaks that is dated February 2016 and provides an amusing perspective on why the NeoCons and foreign policy establishment embodied by the likes of Mac Boot were so wrong about Donald Trump. It is especially delicious to read the disastrously wrong prognostications of Max Boot and Benn Steil three years into the Trump Presidency.
The story starts on 26 February 2016 when Been Steil sends an email containing a Weekly Standard article on Trump's policies that he co-authored with uber NeoCon, Max Boot, to former North Carolina Senator, Erskine Bowles, who is closely tied to the Clintons. Bowles in turn sends the article to Clinton Campaign chair, John Podesta with the succinct message–"worth reading."
Let's dig in to the Boot/Steil piece. They start with this dig:
Following his primary victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, Donald Trump has established himself as the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He has done so offering grandiose slogans — He'll Make America Great Again (MAGA)! He'll have us win so much we'll get bored with winning!
Leave it to these two chuckleheads to fail to grasp Trump's sense of humor (i.e., getting bored with winning) and to understand that Trump was serious about MAGA.
Nevertheless, with the populist billionaire continuing to ride high, it is important to take him seriously as a potential occupant of the Oval Office. What would a President Trump do, and what would be the likely consequences of his actions?
Start with trade policy, the area that, along with immigration, seems to exercise him the most. One of America's greatest accomplishments in the early postwar era was the creation of a rules-based international trade regime. The aim was to prevent a recurrence of the trade wars of the early 1930s, which spread the Great Depression globally and helped fuel the rise of both fascist and Communist movements around the world.
I give Boot and Steil credit for defining the system as "rules based" as opposed to "free trade based." President Trump has proven beyond any doubt that the United States had tied itself to lopsided trade agreements that hurt American workers. But Boot and Steil, steeped in the orthodoxy of 1948, failed to grasp this truth and concluded that Trump's views were "crazy."
He has pledged to slap an illegal 35 percent tariff on U.S. automakers that manufacture vehicles in Mexico. If Mexico refuses to accept his as-yet unspecified demands to change the terms of the North America Free Trade Agreement, he has pledged that "we will break it." Such a trade war with America's third-largest trade partner would raise prices and kill jobs on both sides of the border, no doubt prompting new waves of the illegal immigration that Trump has pledged to end.
As for the recently concluded 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, not yet ratified by Congress, Trump has condemned it. He argues that TPP will benefit "big corporations in America" and China, which is doubly bizarre. Companies with over 500 employees account for half of U.S. employment and two-thirds of U.S. exports. Does Trump then seek trade deals in which mom-and-pop shops will somehow drive exports? As for China, it is not part of the deal and has in fact signaled "countermeasures" to offset the impact of its exclusion.
Trump has pledged to brand China a currency manipulator for pushing down its currency as a means of gaining trade advantages. In retaliation Trump has threatened a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods — which will surely open a second front in the trade war, this time with America's second-largest trading partner. Yet even ignoring that the International Monetary Fund declared China's currency "fairly valued" last May, its central bank has lately been intervening to push its currency up — not down. China's foreign currency reserves have fallen $760 billion from their 2014 peak and $300 billion in just the past three months. At this rate of decline, it will actually face a dangerous shortage of reserves by the spring. To start a trade war with China while it is helping, rather than hurting, U.S. exporters is not only reckless but crazed.
Four years later we know the answers on this point–Trump was not reckless and understood the dynamics of foreign trade better than Boot and Steil. Too bad they lack the integrity to admit they were wrong about Trump. Trump, unlike many politicians, did exactly what he promised to do. I find that damn refreshing.
Next up on the Boot/Steil list of complaints, immigration:
On immigration, Trump has famously called for the roundup and deportation of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. He claims he can accomplish this in 18 months. According to the center-right American Action Forum, this would actually take about 20 years to accomplish and cost U.S. taxpayers between $400 billion and $600 billion. The impact on the U.S. economy would be considerably larger: Gross domestic product would fall by nearly $1.6 trillion, not only because of enforcement costs but because of the disruptive impact of removing 11 million people from the workforce. Industries such as agriculture that rely on immigrant labor would be hardest hit: Farm income would decline; food prices would increase. Businesses in urban areas, where many immigrants live and work, also would suffer from a sharp fall in customers, while consumers would suffer an increase in the cost of everyday services.
Boot and Steil really fell flat on their faces in predicting outcomes here. While Trump did not fully anticipate how the Judiciary would be weaponized to try to thwart his efforts to enforce the law–let me repeat that, enforce the law–he has succeeded in staunching the flow of hordes of illegal immigrants and is moving aggressively to expel illegal, undocumented aliens. Once again, Trump was very up front about his plans and, in large measure has succeeded.
Trump has yet to get Mexico to "pay for the wall." We can give Boot and Steil credit for getting that right. But then they go off the rails:
Trump assures us Mexico can afford the wall, whose cost would amount to 3 percent of its annual GDP ($1.2 trillion), . . . It is a safe bet that no Mexican government could possibly give in to his demands and, if it did, it would not stay in power for long.
Guess what? Trump convinced the Mexican Government using the threat of tariffs to stand up a human wall, i.e. employ the Mexican Army, to stop the flood of immigrants. That policy is paying off and, despite the prediction that the Mexican President would not last, he remains in power and continues to cooperate with the Trump Administration in turning back undocumented immigrants.
It is the foreign policy front that really sets the NeoCon teeth on edge.
Instead of trying to end the Syrian civil war, he suggests we should "make something with Russia" — that is, support its military intervention in Syria. This is of a piece with his admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, whom he has praised as a real "leader, unlike what we have in this country."
One problem with this is that only 10 percent of Russia's munitions in Syria are directed at America's enemy, ISIS. The other 90 percent are being dropped on moderate opposition groups supported by the United States. Putin's objective is to shore up the Bashar al-Assad regime in cooperation with Assad's backers in Iran. But as long as Assad continues to commit war crimes against the majority Sunni population, ISIS and other extremist Sunni groups, such as the Nusra Front, will continue to attract support from Sunnis.
Wrong again boys. Really wrong. Syria, with the help of Russia, Iran and the United States is close to destroying completely the rebels, who are predominantly radical Sunnis. Syria's Assad is welcoming former non-sectarian rebels back into society, and the NeoCon dream of taking out Assad is in tatters.
The Boot/Steil rant on Trump's Syria policy proposals provided an early clue of the ultimate NeoCon and Deep State strategy to paint Trump as a puppet of Putin. Trump's instincts of working with Russia to defeat the Islamic extremists was sound then and remains a sane policy today. While it undercuts Trump's desire to weaken Iran's regional influence, the Trump policy in Syria has succeeded in helping reverse the growth of ISIS.
Boot and Steil were alarmed by Trump's hyperbole in telling how he would deal with terrorists:
There is also the troubling fact that Russia is aiding and abetting Assad's war crimes — troubling to everyone but Donald Trump. He has pledged to commit war crimes of his own by going "beyond waterboarding" in his treatment of captured terrorist suspects, even if brutal interrogation techniques don't elicit any new information. . . .
If Trump were to order the U.S. military to act as he suggests, the likely result would be a crisis in civil-military relations. Many military personnel would refuse to carry out orders so blatantly at odds with the laws of war; soldiers know that they could face prosecution under a future administration.
Trump's campaign style was built on his experience as an entertainer. He understood how the torture fantasies popularized by the TV show, 24, and by authors like Vince Flynn resonated with a majority of Americans keen on striking back at those who killed so many of our citizens on 9-11 in 2001.
Yet Trump the President has been much calmer and much more reluctant to use force. The killing of Iran's IRGC Chief, Solemani, had its roots in the Obama Administration. Trump faced enormous pressure from NeoCon sympathizers in his Administration (John Bolton is but one example) to go to war to Iran. But Trump also understood that the American people are tired after 19 years of terrorist wars that have more in common with a carnival whack-a-mole game. Despite Trump's hyperbole, he has been very cautious in using military force. He's killed far fewer terrorist with drone strikes than Obama did during his first three years in office.
Boot and Steil conclude their rant with this dire prediction:
The radical changes that Trump proposes are all the more dangerous because he is so singularly ill-equipped to manage the resulting turmoil. This is a candidate, after all, who doesn't know the difference between the Kurds and the Quds Force or have any idea what the "nuclear triad" is. Nor has Trump so far made good on his pledge to attract "top top people" to help him run things; he has still not unveiled a campaign foreign policy team in spite of months of pledges to do so. In any case, advisers cannot make up for a president's ignorance and prejudice; presidents always get conflicting advice, and it is their job, and their job alone, to make the most difficult judgment calls in the world.
Wrong again boys. Wrong again. Trump's successes on the foreign policy front have exposed the NeoCon doctrine as wrongheaded and destructive for America's true interests. Putting pressure on Europe to take more responsibility for their own defense does not weaken America, it strengthens us.
I was a Trump skeptic three years ago. But for all of his faults and bombast, he has shown he has a better grasp on what truly makes America great. We are not great because of what we say, we are made great by what we do. So far, Trump is delivering in spades.