From a social media marketing point of view, people tell me that I should stick to either environmental issues or perhaps start another blog on geo-politics and yet another one on the impact that digitalization, automation and robotics will have on the world. The problem is that all of these, and other issues, are deeply related and are affecting the world we live and do business in. For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to focus on the environment and specifically the role that cities are playing to move the issue forward but this week I find myself drawn back to the disaster that is the Trump administration.
Jim Mattis presented his resignation as Secretary of Defense last week reportedly because he felt that Donald Trump’s ill advised decision to withdraw american troops from Syria was the “last straw”. His resignation letter, which is available here, goes deeper than that and questions this President’s commitment to the United State’s “comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships” and safeguarding the world from Russia and China who’s “strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours”.
The specific outcome of withdrawing from Syria will be to leave the Syrian Kurds at the mercy of Turkey who sees them as a threat to continuing Turkish rule over its Kurdish minority in the eastern part of the country. The Syrian Kurds call their country Rojava meaning “West” in Kurdish and value democracy, gender equality, religious freedom and the protection of the natural environment. The Kurds have been instrumental in defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and deserve the gratitude and assistance of the United States rather than abandonment.
The larger picture of a President who is out of sync with his own military and foreign policy appointees and appears to get his facts from Fox News rather than from the American State Department and intelligence services is even more concerning. The fact that Russia will take advantage of an American withdrawal to further its links with the Assad regime in Syria adds fuel to the suspicion that Mr. Trump seems to put Russia’s interests before that of the United States.
Even more concerning is the continuing exit of people of stature from the Trump administration. Mattis’ departure is the third of the three former Military leaders who had been working in the Trump administration. John Kelly is also leaving at the end of the year. Kelly was also a Marine General and served the president as Chief of Staff for the last 16 months to bring some sort of order to the day to day operation of the White House. The third was General Herbert McMaster who served as national Security Advisor for four months after another General, Michael Flynn, had to resign after being caught lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.
As a democrat and firm believer that a country’s military should be firmly under civilian control, the presence of military officers in staff positions would normally have struck me as concerning. In the Trump administration, however, I found their presence re-assuring as regardless of their politics, they all have unblemished careers as smart, well educated public servants who would put the country’s interest first.
With Kelly and Mattis out, as well as other clearly principled people like Nikki Haley who has been the ambassador to the United Nations, it is not clear if there are any people left in the administration who will push back against Trump’s worst instincts. Irving Janis coined the term Groupthink back in the 1970s to describe how groups of intelligent men and women could sometimes make terrible decisions by losing their ability to ask tough questions and push back on bad ideas.
Back in September, the New York Times published an anonymous piece from a “Senior official in the Trump Administration” who explained that a number of people in the administration felt the best way to serve their country was “to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office”. Nobody besides the editors of the Times knows who wrote the piece but I for one hope that he or she is still there!