Although not a “believer”, in the traditional sense, I actually do believe in Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking", but not in the sense that you, Alan, describe it — either a bit of slight-of-hand one invokes hoping to magically make things better, or else nothing but a bluff — but in the sense that, if you’re going to get some seemingly impossible task done (like FDR’s task of turning around the economy, for example), you’re not going to bother even seriously trying if you keep thinking it can’t be done.
Trump’s different. He’s a bluffer. He doesn’t bother learning how to do something, he just figures he can get people to do things by the force of his own personality. Someone who just bullshits you doesn’t really believe in a positive anything.
But while I’m here, I also want to reiterate, and join Paul Waldman in disputing something I’ve been hearing on TV all week from Republicans, and even some news people who ought to know better:
Ask any conservative about what they objected to in former president Barack Obama’s foreign policy record, and the first words out of their mouth will be “RED LINE!”
They’ll tell you that Obama was weak and feckless, and that his unwillingness to attack Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s government after it used chemical weapons on civilians in 2013 sent a message to the world that the United States wouldn’t stand up for its principles or follow through on its threats.
Even after all these years, Trump still argues that line, even after revisiting his own tweets from back then, admonishing Obama not to give in to temptation and join the fight in Syria:
Donald J. Trump
The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.
7:13 AM - 5 Sep 2013
Donald Trump has a tendency to “misremember” things he’s said in the past, helped along by another of his tendencies, to just not listen or acknowledge when reminded of things he’s said before, such as:
In a May 2016 interview on MSNBC, Mr. Trump said the United States had “bigger problems than Assad.” He added, “I would have stayed out of Syria and wouldn’t have fought so much for Assad, against Assad.” …
“I think going in was a terrible, terrible mistake. Syria, we have to solve that problem because we are going to just keep fighting, fighting forever. I have a different view on Syria than everybody else,” he said during an interview with The New York Times.
And while Obama’s famous “RED LINE statement”, according to Trump, might have been "dumb", maybe because it set up public expectations of military action that would go unfulfilled, Waldman is right when he claims that Obama didn’t “back away”:
In December 2012, the Obama administration announced that it had intelligence demonstrating that Assad’s government was preparing to deploy chemical weapons. Obama said that any use of such weapons would constitute a “red line,” and “there will be consequences.”
The following August, Assad launched a chemical weapon attack on civilians, and the administration threatened to begin a bombing campaign. Obama then sought authorization from Congress for military action, but it quickly became clear he wouldn’t get it, including from Republicans. In the end, the administration partnered with Russia to negotiate a deal under which Syria would hand over chemical stockpiles for destruction.
The point of which is, every time some Republican — and also some pundit or reporter, for that matter — goes on TV to state as fact that President Obama drew a red line, then totally ignored it, they need to be reminded that, first of all, the people’s representatives in Congress turned down Obama's requests for military action in Syria back in 2013 — something which our present president agreed with Congress on back then — but that, nevertheless, Obama continued on to work with Russia, of all countries, to destroy Syria's chemical weaponry — which, by the way, actually amounts to not walking away.
And in retrospect, it may be just as well that Obama didn’t get his way in 2013, since winning that fight would probably have been just as impossible as it seemed at the time, and even fighting it would have only added more death and destruction to the chaos.
But now President Trump has his own chance to bluff his way through this problem in Syria, giving not only all of us a real-life opportunity to second-guess his decision, but also to see how he spins his results when the next election campaign rolls around.