Sometimes I get sick of saying it, but just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…
Donald Trump’s continual cabinet reshuffling—otherwise the stuff of reality-TV drama—has become genuinely frightening. Like so many Russian matryoshki or nesting dolls, the president has been removing one war hawk after another, only to reveal yet more extreme versions of the same creature. And rumor has it that such personnel moves have yet to reach their end point.
In just the last few weeks, President Trump has fired his secretary of state and national-security adviser, while nominating two fanatical replacements: CIA Director Mike Pompeo and former UN ambassador John Bolton. The “old” team, Rex Tillerson and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, were flawed choices from the start, but Pompeo and Bolton seem like an instant formula for a war—or two or three of them. (And keep in mind that we’re already actively fighting at least seven wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa.)
Tillerson gutted the State Department and, had he stuck around, might have gone down as one of the worst secretaries of state ever to walk the halls of Foggy Bottom. Still, the former ExxonMobil CEO does seem to have tried to restrain Trump’s more extreme positions on the Paris climate accords and the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. In addition, as his infamous “moron” comment suggests, he evidently wasn’t cowed by our bully in chief.
Lt. Gen. McMaster was no prince either. He helped craft a National Defense Strategy that all but declared a new Cold War on Russia and China. He was also to the right of reasonable on Iran and North Korea. Nevertheless, he is an intelligent man with genuine academic bona fides. I’ve met the guy and, even though we disagree on almost everything, he’s certainly preferable to a zealot like Bolton. McMaster thinks critically and wasn’t always reflexively pro-war. However, Trump, a man who likes his information in tiny doses (and preferably on Fox News), reportedly found H.R.’s detailed briefings insufferable. And McMaster’s recent suggestion that Russia played an “incontrovertible” role in the 2016 US election evidently didn’t help him one bit either.