On Thursday, Donald Trump made perhaps the most offensive, ignorant, and anti-American statement of his brief and tumultuous presidency.
Speaking at a press conference in Bedminster, N.J., Trump expressed gratitude to President Vladimir Putin of Russian for expelling more than 750 officials from the US Embassy in Moscow.
“I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” said Trump, “and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. . . . We’ll save a lot of money.”
Where does one begin with this?
First of all, Trump’s formulation is wrong. US diplomats will be returning home, but they’re not going to be fired. They will remain on the State Department payroll.
Second, Trump — the president of the United States — is thanking Putin for taking actions that are detrimental to American interests. Moscow’s actions will make it harder for US diplomats to gather information and intelligence and will negatively impact how policy makers in Washington understand what is happening in Russia. Most of those let go will be the local Russian staff, who work in the US Embassy in Moscow. This could negatively affect travel between the two countries and potentially commercial relations. That’s bad for America and is yet further evidence that Trump has no idea what role diplomacy plays in international affairs. It is even more compelling evidence of Trump’s bizarre and disturbing inability ever to say a critical word about Putin.
Finally, Trump’s words are an extraordinary insult to the Foreign Service. Instead of having their back, he literally took the side of a foreign rival, one who directly and perniciously interfered in our presidential election. How should the officials serving overseas feel about what the president said about them? Morale is already bad enough at the State Department. These comments will only make things worse.
Perhaps worst of all, the one person who should be pleased by Trump’s comments is Putin. Now he knows that Trump will make him pay no price for undermining US interests. He’ll receive the president’s congratulations and gratitude.
But if there’s one thing we know about Trump it’s that every time you think he’s hit rock bottom . . . just give it a few hours. On Friday morning Trump, who over the past week has already dangerously ratcheted up the bellicose rhetoric on North Korea, went even further and tweeted this:
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
This is as clear a threat of military force against North Korea as we have seen in recent memory. And what’s most disturbing is that it’s almost certainly mindless bluster. Is Trump really prepared to launch a military strike against North Korea if they “act unwisely” (whatever that actually means)? Is the US military prepared for such an assault? Will US allies in the region, particularly South Korea, support such a move?
War with North Korea could unleash a catastrophic series of events on the Korean Peninsula including, but not limited to, the use of a nuclear weapon against South Korea or Japan and even, perhaps, US territories in the Pacific. At the very least, a conventional response by North Korea to a US attack could kill hundreds of thousands of people in the region. To say this is dangerous, ill-advised rhetoric is to understate things to an extraordinary degree.
And what if Pyongyang believes Trump’s rhetoric and decides to act preemptively?
All of this is yet one more reminder that the greatest threat to America, and to global peace and stability, is Trump. A thin-skinned, unhinged, blustering, ill-informed, Putin-acolyte is in charge of US diplomacy, the military, and its nuclear arsenal. He is acting in ways that increase the potential for war, strengthen America’s rivals, and undercut US interests.
If only there were a legislative body — not paralyzed by political cowardice — that could step in and do something about it. Trump is walking America down the primrose path — is anyone in Congress going to speak up?Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.