It’s one thing for the President not to know a lot about an issue. It’s another thing to know nothing about an issue. And it’s another thing altogether to be as bone-dumb and ignorant as Trump.
Over at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison flags down our President-Elect–and cherish the remaining days of that still-distancing hyphenate–making word-like sounds about Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
“I will say this about Iran, they’re looking to go into Saudi Arabia. they want the oil. They want the money. They want a lot of other things having to do. They took over Yemen. You look at that border with Yemen, between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. That is one big border, and they’re looking to do a number in Yemen, and I think they want it to go. That’s phase one, to go into Saudi Arabia, and, frankly, the Saudis don’t survive without us. And the question is, at what point do we get involved, and how much will Saudi Arabia pay us to save them? Because that’s ultimately what’s going to happen. We made a true — we made a power power out of Iran. We made a power out of Iran with the deal.”
So, I’m on this email list with a group of friends. I know, we’re pretty old-fashioned. We’ve been doing this ridiculous list-serv thing for almost 15 years now. There are 18 people on it, not one of whom is involved in policy or politics in any professional way, and to a man, they all know more about this issue than the President-Elect.
I play fantasy football with a different group, nine other dudes, only one of whom is involved in policy or politics in a professional way, and I guarantee that to a man they all know more about this issue than the President-Elect.
Surely, if you did one of those hideously patronizing and unfunny Lenotype “Man on the Street” things, you’d find a bunch of people who haven’t even heard of Yemen, and maybe some who were slightly-though-ill-informed might say that Iran had taken over Yemen. But even that, I’d doubt. They might think that what was happening over there was Iran’s fault, or that it had something to do with oil, but very few would say Iran “took over” Yemen. And even if some of them did believe that–inaccurately believe that, I barely have to say–not a single one of them is about to be President.
And not a single one would say “we made a power power out of Iran”, but that goes without saying.
It’s almost ludicrous to break down what is wrong in what he said, although Larison does God’s work in trying to do so, calling it a “thoroughly misinformed and foolish series of statements.” Thoroughly, comprehensively, completely, entirely, etc. By no stretch did Iran “take over” Yemen. At most they have aided the Houthis in a proxy war, but the Houthis certainly don’t take marching orders from Tehran.
But let’s try to break down this line of thinking, if you can call it that, which you can’t, even further. Before he says that Iran has taken over Yemen, he states that they’re looking to go into Saudi Arabia. There’s no doubt, of course, that Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter rivals, but there is no indication that they want to get into a shooting war with the Sauds, much less invade them. So why would they? Becuase, as Trump continues, “they’re looking to do a number in Yemen”, and says of the “big border” between Iran and Saudi Arabia that “they want it to go.”
So forget that he literally just said the Iranians had already taken over Yemen- now they want to invade Saudi Arabia (!) for the pleasure of wiping out the border with Yemen (?) to further take over Yemen, because, that seems like a fun thing to do?
Needless to say, this is crackpot. And honestly, when I started breaking this down, I had a twinge of thought along the “why bother?” lines, like I was punching down, like I was breaking apart a comment left on a random blog. But then, I remembered, with that juddering terror that grips all of us probably a dozen times a day, that this incredibly ignorant buffoon is about to be President.
And that’s where it is dangerous. I wrote about the Iran/Saudi rivalry vis a vis the election a few months ago, pointing out just how complex and dangerous the world is. I wrote that I didn’t think Hillary could understand it all, or that Obama did either. I don’t expect that. I do expect a basic understanding of simple facts, and we don’t even have that. We have a President who doesn’t care to learn anything.
This isn’t simple ignorance either. This comes from the very few basic things that drive him: Iran bad, Iran deal worse, people should pay us for our protection. That was the basis for this diagnosis. The Iran deal made them a “power power”, remember? Even though the factual basis for Trump’s meanderings (that they are helping the Houthis) came before the deal, and that the country has, from an Iranian perspective, gone in a bad direction since then, it was still the deal that made them a power power. Because he knows the deal was bad, and so everything flows achronologically from there.
And his one other belief is that the US should run a protection racket.
“Well, I would want to help Saudi Arabia. I would want to protect Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is going to have to help us economically. They were making, before the oil went down, now they’re making half, but they were making a billion dollars a day.” He added that such action against Iran would depend “on what the deal is, I would have to do that. I would defend certain groups of people over there.”
There’s a kernel of interesting thought here: we can’t afford to police the world. But looking at the world as a series of deals isn’t even immoral. It’s idiotic. It turns the US into a mercenary nation, which is inherently destabilizing, not to mention undemocratic because it turns the military into, essentially, a private militia to be bargained over. (Taking it to its logical extreme, could Sheldon Adelson rent the Air Force out for a few days to wipe out Palestine?)
Trump’s skewered ideas of American power are terrifying. His basic ignorance of everything outside of that is horrifying. And as much as anything, it is deeply embarassing. That the American president can spout such ignorant, ill-informed nonsense, not out of any ideology, but because he can’t be bothered to learn, is incredible. How quickly our nation has turned into something entirely different.