Friday, May 12, 2023

Trump Taking a Cue from an Ex-President

At the Wednesday night televised town hall, Donald Trump was nothing if not Donald Trump. And

When asked who he thought would win the current war, he told his interviewer, CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins, “I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying. And I’ll have that done in 24 hours.”

When asked how he would stop the war in 24 hours he said “I’ll meet with Putin, I’ll meet with Zelensky, they both have strengths and they both have weaknesses and in 24 hours it will be done.”

Pressing him, Collins asked repeatedly, “But you won’t say you want Ukraine to win this war?” Trump ignored the question, saying “I want Europe to put up more money" ...

When asked whether he supported sending more weapons and aid to Ukraine (Washington has already allocated over $113 billion, and of that, has now sent nearly $37 billion in weapons as of this week) “We’re giving away so much equipment, we don’t have ammunition for ourselves right now,” he said. “We don’t have ammunition for ourselves we’re giving away so much.”

Having seen the ex-President give an unsurprising thumbs-up to Vladimir Putin, a couple of Republicans would have none of it. It was a rare show of  lack of cowardice among Republicans as

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called former President Donald Trump a “coward” and a “puppet of Putin” for refusing to say that Ukraine should win in its war against Russia....

“I think he's a coward and I think he's a puppet of Putin,” Christie, a Republican weighing a presidential run, told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I don't know why, to tell you the truth, but I can't figure it out, there's no other conclusion to come to."

In a phrase I've never uttered and may never do again- credit Chris Christie. Also, declared presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson, who decried Trump's remarks about Ukraine and Russia. Vying for the Profiles in Cowardice trophy, Nikki Haley, who has posed as the neocon's neocon, has as of this moment said nothing.

Understandably, none of the GOP presidential candidates directly addressed the most clever and least intriguing comment about the  war. Trump remarked "I’ll meet with Putin, I’ll meet with Zelensky, they both have strengths and they both have weaknesses and in 24 hours it will be done.”

Fifty-five years later, we heard much the same in that 

As more and more of the Nixon tapes are brought to light - underscoring what a suspicious, vengeful, plotting turn of mind the man possessed - I'm reminded of presidential candidate Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to get the United States out of the Vietnam War if elected in 1968.

It was at a private session with a half-dozen surprised and skeptical editors in the spring of his campaign that Nixon unveiled his get-out-of-the-war plan. Among these Midwest editors were those who had watched Mr. Nixon closely during the cold-war years. They viewed him as a basically hard-line communist-hater who, as president, could be counted on to take a "you can't trust the communists" line.

They could hardly believe their ears, therefore, when Nixon said that, upon becoming president, he would (1) arrange a summit meeting with the Soviet leaders to gain their help in ending the Vietnam War, and (2) seek to "de-Americanize" the Vietnam conflict. About the latter, an editor told me that Nixon clearly was indicating he had a plan to phase out US troop involvement in the war.

We know now, of course, that there never was a summit with the Soviets. Nor was any plan to "de-Americanize" the war a visible part of Nixon's approach to that conflict after he became president.

Indeed, in speeches and statements, Nixon continued to give the "hawks" in this country reason to believe he would carry on the war - perhaps even, as they hoped, stepping up our involvement. Not surprisingly, they fully backed him.

And yet here was Nixon, appearing to share with these Midwest editors a plan to get out of the war. I later heard that he continued to talk along this same line in "background" sessions with other liberal-minded editors during the months before the election. Behind the scenes, he was reaching out to the "doves."

My memory of this was jogged recently at a Monitor lunch, where Nixon's defense adviser in the '68 campaign, Melvin Laird, said flatly of a Nixon pre-election intention to gradually pull US troops out of the war: "He had no such plan."

Mr. Laird, who was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee back then and later was Nixon's secretary of defense, told us that the only Vietnam phase-down plan he knew about was one that was "being developed in the Pentagon." He said Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey heard about it and rejected the idea. "I think that Humphrey would have won if he had accepted and run with that plan," Laird said.

So what was Nixon up to with these "private" end-the-war disclosures? I think he was merely seeking to mute or tone down criticism of his candidacy among dovish-minded editors. And it was from these "off the record" briefings that a story began to circulate among those who wanted the US out of the war: that Nixon had a "secret plan" to bring the boys home. He doubtless was able to win some dove votes from those who felt Humphrey had been too closely tied to President Johnson's acceleration of the war.

The "secret plan" story got around and was a factor in the election. But it simply wasn't true. Nixon had been "playing a little politics." It was a good example of the devious, crafty Nixon at his best - or, more aptly, at his worst.

Richard Nixon, the tough-guy anti-Communist essentially promised "peace in our time" and was elected President in 1968, Yet, on his way to re-election, he increased the bombing of North Vietnam, increased American troop levels and was re-elected in 1972. Eventually, troop levels were wound down and a surrender was finally negotiated by the Administration- by America- in March of 1973. In a tragic, preventable, failure of the media and the political class, the end of the war was not portrayed as the national defeat it was.

Nixon had no plan but Donald Trump, also promising to end a war quickly, does. Similarly devious and crafty (albeit cruder), the ex- President claims "in 24 hours it will be done." It is his own "secret plan" because "within 24 hours," he asserted, "that war will be settled. It'll be over."

It probably wouldn't be over in only 24 hours. The Ukrainians will go on fighting, unsuccessfully, because it's their country and they're not going to give it up without doing all they can to stop the Russian advance.. But it will eventually be over with a Russian victory because as Trump subtly implies, he will be telling  Volodymyr Zelenskyy that we're done and- at best- giving him no further assistance.

It's a page from the Nixon playbook, though more than a half century later, updated for the 21st century. Promise an end to foreign entanglement without offering details.  Like Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope, a non-plan plan is difficult to attack. It worked once and Donald Trump is betting that it will again.


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