America’s allies quickly discovered, as we did, that Trump the President is exactly the same as Trump the man: an untrustworthy ignorant braggart without the sophistication, knowledge or temperament to participate in matters of state.
The idea that any head of state would defer to his judgment as “leader of the free world” is laughable. And yet the country he leads, by virtue of the size of its economy, its traditional values and its military might, is the indispensable player in any world crisis. And there you have the conundrum faced by the world today, brought sharply into focus by the crisis with North Korea.
Imagine the nightmare being lived by the leaders of South Korea and Japan, whose populations face annihilation should Trump make an impetuous move. Imagine the nightmare of waking up to find the ally on which they have bet their existence, the most reliable of countries, the nation built on checks and balances, now led by a fickle buffoon whose capricious whims go unchecked by the institutions of government or established practices of our political culture. A man uninterested in the collective wisdom and experience of the tens of thousands of foreign policy professionals employed by his government. A man utterly convinced of his ability to manage the crisis single-handedly in the only way he knows: dangerous bluff and bluster unleashed via Twitter that escalates, as opposed to diffuses, the risk of conflict.
The crisis is of course a political gift to Trump. The instinct of the nation is to forget the niceties of the constitution and rally around the President when facing a significant threat from abroad.
But there is something greater at stake here. Over ten million people inhabit Seoul. Nine million people inhabit Tokyo. They must not be treated as pawns in a celebrity feud. History will never forgive the Secretaries of State and Defense if they don’t force the President to change course, or lose their jobs in the attempt. If Congress stands by without asserting its authority, it will create a stain on our democracy that can never be erased.