In the same way the hard of hearing can still follow the gist of a speech by watching an expert in sign language interpret the opening and shutting of a political leader’s mouth, given the widespread international varied reactions President Trump’s recent prognostications on Iran, I am offering an interpreter’s guide to his speeches.
First the key features of a typical speech. Many of the listeners clearly have misunderstood and assumed that President Trump means the same thing as other lesser mortals would mean using the same words and phrases.
Remember “I keep my promises!” Only a Trump newby would think those words actually meant he was always going to do what he said. Mr Trump doesn’t “do adverbs” very often in speeches. Words like “occasionally” are not a typical feature. A Trump promise is like ….well….. like a marriage vow before a storm comes over the horizon. “I promise to love honour and obey”. I suspect that in his mind he meant it but he is describing an instant in time. For a man of action things can change – even from tweet to tweet. Promises?? Three wives and a host of what the President seems to imagine to be small minded self-claimed mistresses turning up unexpectedly and we might begin to understand the limitations of a Trump promise.
Fortunately we now have the supporting evidence from the fate of many of his campaign pledges. Who can forget the repeated slogan of intent to lock Hillary up? Who was going to build a beautiful wall and get Mexico to pay for it? Who was going to release his tax returns…shortly? Who was going to show that President Obama was born in Africa? Who was going to come up with a magnificent improvement to the tax system and in particular one which was targeted not at the rich but mainly at the middle class? Who was going to replace Obama-care with a scheme that gave much better coverage and would produce real benefits to the needy? Whose budget claimed that reducing the tax would be fine yet which resulted not just in a failure to balance but to set a new record of deficit? Surely these were insights into the moment of Mr Trump’s mind – and most certainly not to be taken seriously.
The next striking feature of his speech making is the contrast between his delivery of pre-prepared speeches such as the all important Iran announcement which appears carefully crafted (presumably by speech-writers) and his own free-wheeling repetitive style of recycling favourite phases, together with his poorly spelled, illogically constructed and error-ridden tweets. Curiously, since analyses of Trump’s key voting support show the biggest identifiable supporting sector was essentially drawn from poorly educated white males, Mr Trump’s famous limitations with the English language may well turn out to be entirely appropriate. Why use words that the illiterate might not follow? Why bother to read if your main supporters wont see the ideas repeated on Fox? And if it comes to that, with so few words at your disposal, if you have the money, why bother to write when you can pay someone to do it for you?
Did you note that the now conscience-stricken ghost writer (Tony Schwartz) of Trump’s famously ghost written book “The Art of the Deal” pointed out that the reason why Mr Trump needed a ghost writer was that Trump himself only had an effective vocabulary of about 200 words? Assuming he is right in his estimate as Tony Schwartz put it, “with a vocabulary of 200 words Mr Trump has the smallest vocabulary of any person who has ever run for any kind of office, much less president …” A series of analyses conducted at Carnegie Mellon University was applied to Trump’s speeches. Those investigations found him scoring poorly in matters of grammar and eloquence
Several unkind critics have at least allowed that such a small vocabulary is not proof that the President is a complete ignoramus, even if, as Ian Warden in his Canberra Times article on that topic put it, this leaves the impression that Mr Trump is on the same level as a talking budgerigar. I have just had the thought that perhaps to Mr Trump the equivalent of a budgie smuggler is his brain snuggled under a toupee.
More seriously there is a question whether or not Mr Trump actually needs to understand the implications of his own speeches. Lesser mortals can do that for themselves. Mr Trump seems to expect us to focus on his own current assessments of progress with little or no required understanding of downstream consequences of announced policy. Try the following check-list of reflections…
It is relatively well accepted that terrorism emerges when a strong force eg the might of the US military is brought to bear on much weaker forces. The disenchanted losing population realizing conventional warfare is ineffective naturally turn to symbolic acts of terror. For example, the recent unwise crushing of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq led to a measurable three fold increase of terrorist acts and is generally agreed to have given rise to ISIS. Crushing ISIS (who have now emerged as a significant force in Afghanistan) may appear to have worked in Syria but I would have thought that bombing the towns in which ISIS were sheltering guarantees many future year’s trouble from the bombed and displaced families of justifiably enraged civilians. On the other hand if the grand plan does indeed require spending obscene sums of money on weapons surely those weapons become more necessary if current policy produces a constant supply of future enemies.
Mr Trump is however apparently pursuing a more convoluted and even confused policy presumably providing jobs for the military into the distant future when he has the US combine with Saudi Arabia, the Kurdish rebels and Turkey to oppose ISIS and the Iranian forces in Syria while at the same time opposing the Assad regime and (by proxy) the Russian forces.
Since the two major Kurdish rebel groups have actually born the brunt of the war against ISIS, arming the rebels was probably inevitable, but there is catch because the other main ally Turkey who is also the major destination for fleeing civilian refugees is also engaged in a proxy war with the Kurds. The Turkish President is highly offended by US military assistance to the Kurdish groups while at the same time his government is trying to subdue the PKK. The confusion deepens when it is realized that Russia is committed to the defence of its Mediterranean base on the Syrian coast and Russia is dependent on Assad as an ally safeguarding its rights to the Mediterranean naval base. The reason they turn to Assad is that, like it or not Assad is the most popular single choice of the various voting factions in the country.
President Trump has chosen to remain transfixed on the Kurdish victory over ISIS and is attempting to take personal credit. Unfortunately the disturbances in Syria continue and there is no sign that the US allies are serious about restoring the ruined cities and towns. Although UN observers claim that the US coalition has killed at least as many civilians as the Assad regime, the Trump edict to refuse to accept the refugees has increased the tensions and should guarantee the probability that at least some of the refugees will turn against the US.
Trump’s foreign policy via his tweets and speeches is a great act and a great gift to the late night comedy shows. As one presenter famously put it. The President is “a gift that keeps on giving”. Mr Trump behaves (or surely, given his own assessment of his intelligence), pretends to behave as if he honestly doesn’t understand the history of the area. He doesn’t appear to understand that the Kurds now occupy an area in Syria which used to be part of Ottoman Empire until the Western powers redrew the boundaries after World War One and convincingly seems oblivious that the Turkish President is highly offended that the US appears to be supporting the Kurds in what the Turks see as a disputed area. Mr Trump clearly likes to appear not to have realized that chemical warfare was introduced to the disputed territories by both the US and Russia, or that some of the illegal weapons like cluster bombs, fuel air explosives, white phosphorus and chlorine were financed and/ or supplied by the US for Saudi Arabia to use both in Yemen and Syria.
Nor did the President seem to want to come across as knowing that until quite recently the appalling prisons in Syria not only provided the setting for torture and murder but were also accepted destinations for the US tactic of rendition which enabled the Bush regime to deal to unwanted Iraqi prisoners. It is not clear whether Mr Trump’s righteous indignation about Assad’s Syrian prisons and his Presidential fury about chemical weapons was intended to be seen as naive ignorance or alternately cynical hypocrisy.
Much of Europe and the pro-Russian bloc see Mr Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear treaty with Iran and replace it with strong sanctions as wrong at almost every level. If it is indeed intended to make the people of Iran suffer, surely someone has told the President that for years they have become very resentful as a response to their treatment at the hands of the super-powers. (Read an historical summary of the history of Iran since 1900 and you will see why I make that assertion!) Their oil and uranium deposits have been exploited particularly by the United States, Russia and Britain. Their political rights have been cynically subverted each time they tried to retain a fair share of their own minerals and it is widely accepted that, even quite recently, democratically elected governments in Iran have been replaced to fit the interests of the UK and America. But here is the Trump pay-out for the deal. Forget the people of Iran…to Trump they are just Muslims. America has been the winner in Iran for years particularly with oil and under this American president this should continue.
Even a cursory familiarity with the more serious commentators on Iran should have showed the US President that when it had been introduced, the current Treaty was better supported by the more liberal sector of the Iranian public. The more hard-line religious pro-nuclear leadership had resisted the treaty on the grounds that given the recent history and past arbitrary interference by the US, the US led Treaty was not to be trusted. That the US under Trump was able to overturn the treaty when Iran had been attempting to follow its restrictions has now provided the evidence the hardliners had been predicting and this is expected to make the general public less willing to cooperate with the US. The Iranians were already smarting under what they considered to be unacceptable restrictions on their trade and the rial had lost value substantially as a consequence. It seems clear to most of the international community that infuriating the Iranians by announcing a list of new restrictions can only create more enmity and make a return to a nuclear programme more likely. To the Trump mind, the protestors will be crushed in order that American will become great!
It will not have escaped the attention of the wider Iranian populace that their most disliked near neighbour of Israel has been permitted the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Middle East by courtesy of the US nor that their enemy by proxy of Saudi Arabia enjoys enormous US support for its powerful military.
The mounting irritation on the part of the European nations and the UK in response to what they see as Trump’s unwarranted abandonment of the treaty is at least understandable. His decision to become the self appointed economic policeman for the treaty partners’ trade arrangements under the US abandonment of the treaty creates the inevitable impression that Mr Trump is deciding for others (and against their economic interests ) as to what their attitude to Iran should be. To impose further tariffs and impose sanctions on any nations or any non-US companies to do the same is already creating outrage.
The French are already insisting that the US has no right to determine their arrangements with Iran particularly given that the French President had made the French position very clear about the unacceptable consequences of the Trump proposal. Similar protests have come from the UK and from European representative in Brussels.
What seems obvious to most commentators is that the abandonment of a treaty which appears to edge a nation towards abandoning nuclear weapon aspirations is very bad timing when at the same time North Korea is being told to abandon its own weapons development programme. It is highly likely that the risk to North Korea is that their negotiators will give evidence that the example of Iran shows any future agreement with the US is just as likely to be abandoned on a whim at some future date. This is hardly likely to assist the successful conclusion to the upcoming Singapore conference.
Fortunately Mr Trump can see the world differently and has made it perfectly clear that none of that trivia will deter the judges from realizing he was right all the time and grant him his long awaited Nobel Peace Prize. That, in his mind at least, will show Obama.