Friday 23 June 2017

President blames media for everything that's wrong in White House

'Could he actually not be aware that there is no solution yet to be mooted that would make both Israel and the Palestinians
'Could he actually not be aware that there is no solution yet to be mooted that would make both Israel and the Palestinians "happy"?' Photo: AP

Janet Daley

It's time to stop laughing. The hilarity died for me weeks ago, but there are still some among us who regard the Orange Person in the White House as priceless comic material.

Understandable though this may be, the whole situation is now too dangerous for levity. At his joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Donald Trump effectively undid decades of agreed US policy on the Middle East with remarks that made it clear he knew nothing at all about the problems of the region. His statement on a potentially-incendiary global flashpoint was absurd.

Asked if he now favoured a two-state or a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he threw out his reflections with the know-nothing insouciance of a man not even aware of the extent to which he is out of his depth. Incredibly, this is what he actually said: "I'm looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like best."

Could he actually not be aware that there is no solution yet to be mooted that would make both Israel and the Palestinians "happy"? Neither of the parties, let alone both of them at once, "like" any proposal made thus far by any peace-negotiation process. US presidents are not expected to say: "You guys sort it out between yourselves and I'll accept whatever makes you happy."

The Israel-Palestine conflict was not really at the top of Mr Trump's mind. What he was more concerned about was the forced departure of his head of national security, Michael Flynn, who had been removed from office after a breathtakingly short tenure.

So obsessed was the president with this matter he made observations about it in response to utterly unconnected questions on Israeli settlements or Iranian sanctions. And those spontaneous observations directly contradicted the official White House position on the Flynn imbroglio. The hapless administration press spokesman, Sean Spicer (who is still funny), had endlessly reiterated the mantra at a press briefing only the day before: Mr Flynn had to go, not because of any legal impropriety in his conversation with the Russian ambassador but because he had lost the trust of the president by deceiving Vice President Mike Pence over the content of that conversation.

Have you got that? He had to go because he had lost the president's trust. How exactly does that fit with Mr Trump's comments at the joint press conference with Mr Netanyahu where he described Mr Flynn as "a wonderful man" who had been "treated very, very unfairly by the media" (or "the fake media", as he later called it).

Which is it? Did Mike Flynn have to go because the president could no longer trust him to tell the truth, or was he hounded out of office unnecessarily by the vicious media?

To get to the point which he was to reiterate endlessly in his memorable solo press conference the next day: that those media outlets (in Trump's Twitter terminology, "the failing 'New York Times' and 'Washington Post'") had been fed "illegal" leaks by conspiring security services which were determined to undermine the Trump presidency.

And, if they had, then that is the big story here, Mr Trump claimed over and over again: not his shambolic White House, but a plot by Washington insiders and the intelligence agencies to undermine a democratically elected president.

The press briefing with Mr Netanyahu - however dramatic it may have been in actual foreign policy consequences - turned out to be just a warm-up act for the spectacular event that came 24 hours later. As we saw - those of us who watched goggle-eyed through that entire 75-minute performance - the second press conference was almost beyond belief. It was certainly the most shocking public display of unhinged, out-of-control, buffoonish aggression by a US president in living memory.

There are two equally alarming possibilities: either his relentless outpouring of accusation, self-contradiction and on-the-hoof pronouncements does reflect his view of reality, or it was an almost hysterically defensive fusillade to bolster his own confidence in the face of a string of unexpected setbacks.

The most serious of the concerns about his presidency is the one he would not deal with for the longest time - whether members of his election team were in touch with Russian officials during the campaign. He threw out vague accusations about the Russian connection story being a "ruse", a sham designed by Hillary Clinton's people to conceal the mistakes they made in her campaign and he finally replied that "nobody I know of" had held conversations with Russian agents.

Nobody he knows of? There is enough deniability there to cover a number of eventualities. Mr Trump and his apologists are trying to create a diversion to draw attention from the chaos of his White House by insisting the real outrage is "illegal leaking" from the security services. Under ordinary circumstances, this is an argument with which I would have some sympathy. I believe in the sanctity of the democratic process with every fibre of my being. But these are not ordinary circumstances. Enough said.

Irish Independent

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