Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2017

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Reckless behavior is not presidential

Maybe it will all turn out OK. If it does, put me down as promising to applaud.

But my fellow Americans, whatever mix of motives led us to create an Electoral College majority for Donald Trump to become president — and overlook his lack of preparation, his record of indecent personal behavior, his madcap midnight tweeting, his casual lying about issues like “millions” of people casting illegal votes in this election, the purveying of fake news by his national security adviser, his readiness to appoint climate change deniers without even getting a single briefing from the world’s greatest climate scientists in the government he’ll soon lead, and his cavalier dismissal of the CIA’s conclusions about Russian hacking of our election — have no doubt about one thing: We as a country have just done something incredibly reckless.

There is actually something “prehistoric” about the Cabinet that Trump is putting together. It is totally dominated by people who have spent their adult lives drilling for, or advocating for, fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal.

You would never know that what has actually made America great is our ability to attract the world’s smartest and most energetic immigrants and our ability “to develop technology and to nurture our human capital” — not just drill for coal and oil, remarked Edward Goldberg, who teaches at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and is the author of “The Joint Ventured Nation: Why America Needs a New Foreign Policy.”

Don’t misunderstand me: It is excusable to raise questions about climate change. But it is inexcusable not to sit down with our own government experts at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a briefing before you appoint flagrant climate deniers with no scientific background to every senior environmental position.

It is excusable to question if Russia really hacked our election. But it is inexcusable to dismiss the possibility without first getting a briefing from the CIA, some of whose agents risked their lives for that intelligence.

That is reckless behavior — totally unbecoming a president, a professional or just a serious adult.

It’s not that all of Trump’s goals are wrongheaded or crazy. If he can unlock barriers to innovation, infrastructure investment and entrepreneurship, that will be a very good thing. And I am not against working more closely with Russia on global issues or getting more tough-minded on trade with China.

But growth that is heedless of environmental impacts, collaboration with Russia that is heedless of Vladimir Putin’s malevolence, and greater aggressiveness toward China that is heedless of the carefully crafted security balance among the U.S., China and Taiwan — which has produced prosperity and stability in Asia for over four decades — is reckless.

For an administration that lost the popular vote by such a large margin to suddenly take the country to such extreme positions on energy, environment and foreign policy — unbalanced inside by any moderate voices — is asking for trouble, and it will produce a backlash.

Already, some Republican lawmakers who love our country more than they fear Trump’s tweets — such as Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain — are insisting Russia’s apparent cyberhacking to help Trump win election be investigated by Congress. If Congress affirms what the intelligence community believes — that Russia intervened in our democratic process — that is an act of war. And it calls for the severest economic sanctions.

At the same time, Trump’s readiness to dismiss the entire intelligence community because its conclusions contradict his instincts and interests could really haunt him down the road.

Let’s imagine that in six months the CIA concludes that North Korea is about to perfect a nuclear missile that can reach our West Coast and President Trump orders a pre-emptive strike, one that unleashes a lot of instability in Asia. And then the next day Trump and his national security adviser, Mike Flynn, the purveyor of fake news about Hillary Clinton, defend themselves by saying, “We acted on the ‘high confidence’ assessment of the CIA.” Who’s going to believe them after they just trashed the CIA?

Finally, Trump has demonstrated a breathtaking naiveté toward Putin. Putin wanted Trump to win because he thinks Trump will be a chaos president who will weaken America’s influence in the world by weakening its commitment to liberal values and will weaken America’s ability to lead a Western coalition to confront Putin’s aggression in Europe. Putin is out to erode democracy wherever he can. Trump needs to send Putin a blunt message today: “I am not your chump.”

As Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond noted in an essay on Atlantic.com, “The most urgent foreign-policy question now is how America will respond to the mounting threat that Putin’s Russia poses to freedom and its most important anchor, the Western alliance. Nothing will more profoundly shape the kind of world we live in than how the Trump administration responds to that challenge.”

Thomas Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.

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