Friedman and Bruni

In “#You Ain’t No American, Bro” TMOW tells us that Donald Trump is doing real damage to America’s ability to lead a coalition, the only vehicle that can effectively address ISIS.  Mr. Bruni thinks he knows “What to Tell Donald Trump,” and he says the planet’s neediest billionaire is aiding our enemies by playing into their narrative.  Here’s TMOW:

Two weeks ago, I was in Kuwait participating in an I.M.F. seminar for Arab educators. For 30 minutes, we discussed the impact of technology trends on education in the Middle East. And then an Egyptian education official raised his hand and asked if he could ask me a personal question: “I heard Donald Trump say we need to close mosques in the United States,” he said with great sorrow. “Is that what we want our kids to learn?”

I tried to assure him that Trump would not be our next president — that America’s commitment to pluralism runs deep. But the encounter was a bracing reminder that what starts in Iowa shows up in Kuwait five minutes later. Trump, by alienating the Muslim world with his call for a ban on Muslims entering America, is acting as the Islamic State’s secret agent. ISIS wants every Muslim in America (and Europe) to feel alienated. If that happens, ISIS won’t need to recruit anyone. People will will just act on their own. ISIS and Islamic extremism are Muslim problems that can only be fixed by Muslims. Lumping all Muslims together as our enemies will only make that challenge harder.

But if Trump is wrong, is President Obama right? Partly. He’s right that the only way you can sustainably defeat ISIS is with a coalition. We need moderate Sunni Muslim forces to go house to house against ISIS in Iraq. We need Sunni spiritual leaders to go heart to heart and delegitimize the ISIS message everywhere. And we need Iran to make clear it supports an equitable power-sharing agreement in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites, so moderate Sunni Arabs will fight ISIS rather than seeing it as their shield against Iran.

What Obama also has right is that old saying: “If you’re in a poker game and you don’t know who the sucker is, it’s probably you.” That’s the game we’re in in Iraq and Syria. All our allies for a coalition to take down ISIS want what we want, but as their second choice.

Kurds are not going to die to liberate Mosul from ISIS in order to hand it over to a Shiite-led government in Baghdad; they’ll want to keep it. The Turks primarily want to block the Kurds. The Iranians want ISIS crushed, but worry that if moderate Sunnis take over its territory they could one day threaten Iran’s allies in Iraq and Syria. The Saudi government would like ISIS to disappear, but its priority right now is crushing Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. And with 1,000 Saudi youth having joined ISIS as fighters — and with Saudi Arabia leading the world in pro-ISIS tweets, according to a recent Brookings study — the Saudi government is wary about leading the anti-ISIS fight. The Russians pretend to fight ISIS, but they are really in Syria to protect Bashar al-Assad and defeat his moderate foes.

It’s not exactly the D-Day alliance. It’s a deck full of jokers, none of whose priority is defeating ISIS and replacing it with a multi-sectarian democracy in Iraq and Syria, which is our goal. And yet, I worry: These ISIS guys are smart and wicked. The longer they control territory, the more likely they’ll acquire something really scary, like a dirty bomb.

Sufficient U.S. ground forces could easily crush ISIS, but the morning after — when we try to put in place a decent local government to replace our troops — we’d face those mixed motives of all of our coalition partners. So what to do?

I’d do a bit more of everything: Apply more pressure on our Sunni allies to join the anti-ISIS fight with troops on the ground; call on the Saudis and other Sunnis to loudly delegitimize ISIS; deploy more U.S. and NATO Special Forces; make clear to Iran that we might have to put the nuclear deal on hold if Iran is not a more constructive partner in Iraq and Syria; and stress that while we know that the violent jihadists are a minority among Muslims, the notion that they’re a totally separate and distinct group is not true. ISIS ideology comes directly out of the most puritanical, anti-pluralistic Salafist school of Islam, which promotes a lot of hostility toward “the other” — Shiites, Jews, Hindus, Christians. Clearly, some people are taking permission and inspiration from this puritanical Islam to murder and sow mayhem. I can’t reform it, but a movement of Muslims must, because it is isolating their whole community.

There are some good signs. NPR reported Monday that “when a man wielding a knife stabbed three people at an East London subway stop on Saturday evening and shouted, ‘This is for Syria,’ as he was being handcuffed … an onlooker yelled, ‘You ain’t no Muslim, bruv!’ using slang akin to ‘bro.’ ‘You’re no Muslim. You ain’t no Muslim,’ he repeated.” The man who made the statement has not been identified, but the hashtag ‘#YouAintNoMuslimBruv’ began trending worldwide,” no doubt propelled by Muslims. That’s what we need more of.

As for Trump, well, he may be a deal maker, but he’s no poker player ready for the Middle East five-card stud sharks. His xenophobic rhetoric and unrealistic, infantile threats of massive bombing make up the kind of simplistic hand you’d play in “Go Fish” — not in this high-stakes game. Beyond playing into ISIS’s hand by denigrating the U.S. presidency and our democratic ideals, Trump is doing real damage to America’s ability to lead a coalition, the only vehicle that can effectively address this problem.

#You ain’t no American, bro.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

“You know how you make America great again?” Senator Lindsey Graham said on CNN Tuesday morning. “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”

Fine by me.

But before we give him that send-off, there’s a whole lot else we should tell him, not that he hears anything other than his own voice and the applause of people who mistake a trash-talking bully for a blunt-talking leader.

We should tell him that we’re on to him. We now fully realize that nothing he says — certainly not this dangerous claptrap about preventing all Muslims from entering the United States — is meant as an earnest proposal, as serious policy.

No, he’s just an addict whose drug of choice is attention, and he can’t get enough of it. He’s learned that if he presses the lever the right way, with the right provocation, out pops another hit of saturation media coverage, of all Trump all the time.

As the weeks and days go by, he has to press harder, escalating from the deportation of Mexicans to hallucinated street celebrations in Jersey City to the surveillance of mosques to this latest idiocy. What does he care if he’s likened to George Wallace, to Joseph McCarthy, even to Adolf Hitler? Those men aren’t even ranting anymore and they’re still talked about. Nowthat’s celebrity!

We should tell him how transparent and pathetic his nonstop, unsolicited boasts about polls and crowds have become. No matter the question, his answer is that he’s leading the pack. No matter the challenge, his response is that he got a standing ovation.

And so it went on Tuesday.

“Massive audience!” he bragged of the supporters who’d turned out for him the previous night. “Thousands of people inside, thousands of people outside — they couldn’t even get in!”

We should tell Trump that the man who constantly invokes his popularity is the one who worries that he’s unlovable. The man who refers incessantly to his riches is the one who frets that he’s worthless.

Is there a needier billionaire on the planet?

We should tell him that we, too, question the intensity of Barack Obama’s focus on the Islamic State and the terrorist threat, and that even on Sunday, when Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office, we didn’t see quite the passion that this moment demands or quite the strength that a fearful country craves.

But what Trump just did took pressure off the president by redirecting the conversation from his tentativeness to Trump’s insane overreach. We should tell him that, and we should add that he has practically collaborated with the enemy by playing into a narrative of Muslim persecution and a grand war between civilizations.

He has given the Islamic State and other barbarians a piece of propaganda as big as any of his resorts and as shimmering as any of his office towers.

We should tell him that by setting a standard of such outlandishness and a reference point of such divisiveness, he’s helping his Republican rivals, whose own recklessness doesn’t draw the scrutiny that it otherwise would. Nothing’s shocking in the context of Trump.

So Ted Cruz reacts to the San Bernardino massacre by visiting a firing range and promising such extensive bombing of the Middle East that he’ll find out “if sand can glow in the dark.” But are we reading about him as the second coming of Barry Goldwater? Not so much, because we’re reading about Trump as the second coming of the last century’s worst fascists.

We should tell him that even a huckster extraordinaire like him can’t sell himself as smart while acting so dumb. He’s going to bar Muslims only temporarily, he insisted — just until Congress figures out “what the hell is going on.”

But he also portrays members of Congress as nincompoops who can’t figure out how to tie their own shoelaces. So Trump’s temporary is forever, at least if we apply logic to his illogic.

What’s not forever: our surrender to his insidious grandstanding. Our obedient witness to it. We in the media should tell him that once he fades from this presidential race, is no longer a candidate for anything and there’s no urgency or compelling public interest in having him phone in to the morning news shows, he’s fired. Cut off.

It’s cold turkey, Trump. We don’t need the ratings, not when they come with the ravings. We should be — we must be — better than that.

And he will fade, probably starting now, because while there are scared Americans and petty Americans and moments when all of us lose our way, we’re not lost enough to keep indulging him. We’re nowhere near that far from greatness.


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