Trump’s blatant ignorance of the world has caused mayhem in the Middle East. The most threatening case for Trump’s impeachment has come from Ukraine.
You have to sympathise with the Kurds. Next year will be the centenary of the Treaty of Sevres, when they were promised a Kurdish State of their own, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War. It didn’t of course happen. They were let down, resulting in 30 million Kurds inhabiting a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Armenia, each country determined to crush the Kurdish nationalist dream.
They were let down again this month when President Donald Trump chose on a whim to withdraw 1,000 US troops from north eastern Syria, where they had ensured the safety of the Kurdish fighters from attack by Turkey. These are the same fighters who fought alongside their American partners against ISIS, losing more than 11,000 of their brethren in the process. Trump’s decision is a total betrayal of his Kurdish allies, sadly not uncommon for him. It predictably triggered an immediate Turkish invasion against the Kurds, bombing even women and children, and has revolted even his Republican allies in Congress, calling it “crazy” and “a bloodstain in the annals of American history”.
Trump’s blatant ignorance of the world has caused mayhem in the Middle East, yet all he can tweet is “I hope they all do great, we are 7000 miles away”. There appears to be no limit to his stunning incompetence, yet he describes himself as a “stable genius” with “great and unmatched wisdom”. Any playwright creating such a fictional character would immediately be consigned to the incredulity bin. But somehow Donald Trump, who accepts no limit on his power and considers any criticism a form of treason, became President of the greatest country on earth. Voters were warned in 2016 that if they voted for an incompetent “reality TV star” they would get an incompetent “reality TV President”. And so they have.
Listen to what Brett McGurk, a former presidential envoy says about his former boss. “Donald Trump makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call. There’s a similar defect at the core of US foreign policies across the board: maximalist objectives for a minimalist President combined with no process to assess facts, develop options, or prepare contingencies”. This is a terrifying indictment on a President with a finger on the nuclear button.
Trump’s irrational action in Syria has also handed Russia yet another huge gift. Unable to believe his luck, President Putin is now the dominant power-broker in the region. Trump’s persistent deference to Putin is causing even Republican politicians extreme concern. Echoes of the Steele “Trump-Russia dossier” are re-surfacing, with allegations of collusion and blackmail. Although these allegations were taken seriously at the time by the US intelligence community, the subsequent Mueller Report contained only passing references to some of the dossier’s allegations, with little mention of the more sensational claims, pushing the word “impeachment” into the background. Nevertheless, as Nancy Pelosi, Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives said at a press conference following the explosive meeting with Donald Trump last week, “All roads lead to Putin”.
Suddenly, however, the most threatening case for Trump’s impeachment has come not from Mueller but from Ukraine. Evidence is mounting that he did order military aid to Ukraine to be held up and ask the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenski, to investigate a political rival, which is not only a violation of federal election law, but also probably counts as a Constitutional abuse of power. Attempts by the White House to stonewall the Democrat-led inquiry that has imperilled Trump’s presidency and ensnared much of his inner circle, are crumbling. One by one, Trump administration career diplomats and senior officials are queuing to offer a cascade of revelations, the latest being Bill Taylor, the hugely experienced acting US ambassador to Ukraine. He told the congressional committee on Tuesday that Trump’s efforts were focused solely on getting Ukraine’s President to announce investigations that would damage Joe Biden, Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 presidential elections.
It is also alleged that there are many damning documents relating to Ukraine. The White House has had only limited success at blocking the release of these, hoping to use the power of the office to muzzle current and former diplomats. But even this success is quickly evaporating. According to one official it was the “clownishly corrupt effort by the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to act on behalf of the President”, which was more than many people could bear. In a fit of panic, the Administration has rejected Democratic subpoenas or requests for documents at the Office of Management and Budget, the State Department, the Defence Department and the office of Vice President Mike Pence. The Democrats have responded by confirming that such refusals will be considered an obstruction of Congress and may be added to the impeachment charges brought against the President.
Public opinion is moving in favour of Trump’s impeachment. The share of Americans who say that Congress should let Trump complete his term of office has dipped to 39%, from 50% in July, a significant minority. Among demographic groups, Trump’s strengths and weaknesses on impeachment match the familiar contours of his standing on other matters. For example, 52% of suburbanites favour impeachment, while 52% of rural residents oppose it. Two thirds of those under the age of 35 back an impeachment inquiry, while 50% of those between the age of 50 and 64 oppose it. Eighty per cent of African Americans and 70% of Hispanics support an enquiry, while fewer than 50% of whites do. Women back an enquiry by a 2-to-1 margin, while men are split. The higher educated group of white women are firmly in favour of impeachment, while white men without college degrees, consistently Trump’s strongest group, say the opposite, with a huge majority believing he should remain in office.
The Democrats are treading cautiously towards Trump’s impeachment. With a majority in the House of Representatives, where the initial inquiry is currently taking place, the Democrats are assured of victory. In the Senate, the trial chamber, the majority of the 100 members are Republican, Trump’s own party, and are unlikely to vote for impeachment. The likelihood of success is therefore doubtful.
Because of this, a substantial element of the Democratic Party is wrestling with the politics of trying to remove President Trump by impeachment or by election next year. While, from the legal point of view, the case for impeaching Trump may well have become difficult to resist, politically it could be self-defeating. They should, however, go with the impeachment option for one simple reason: Donald Trump is currently likely to be re-elected. Why?
Americans always vote with their wallets, and in a little noticed report last week, the respected American business and financial services group, Moody’s, predicted that President Trump is on his way to an easy win in 2020. Moody’s based its prediction on how consumers feel about their own financial situation. They did this by examining three different economic models which have successfully predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1980, with only one exception. Unless there are any unusual financial events between now and the election, the models predict that the President’s Electoral College victory could even surpass Trump’s stunning 2016 win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The simple conclusion to this compelling analysis is that the Democrats should proceed with haste at impeaching Trump. Opinion is moving in their favour. An increasing number of Republicans are getting fed-up with Trump’s erratic behaviour and once the point is reached when they judge their re-election chances are diminishing, they will act in self-interest. Even Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader in the Senate, a normally stalwart defender of Trump, has confirmed that he would indeed hold a trial in the Senate possibly before Christmas. Many Republican Senators are spinelessly concerned only with their own electoral prospects, but if sufficient numbers feel insecure, and only 20 need to change their minds and vote for impeachment, Trump will be found guilty and removed from office. The next few weeks are crucial for President Donald Trump.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat to Moscow and worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998.