In “However Much Trump Spends on Arms, We Can’t Bomb Ebola” Mr. Kristof says a bigger military isn’t a substitute for diplomacy, foreign aid and good will. Ms. Collins, in “The Three Donald Trumps Speak,” says the key to understanding our president is to realize there are several versions. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
Before he became defense secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis once pleaded with Congress to invest more in State Department diplomacy.
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition,” he explained. Alas, President Trump took him literally, but not seriously.
The administration plans a $54 billion increase in military spending, financed in part by a 37 percent cut in the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
That reflects a misunderstanding about the world — that security is assured only when we’re blowing things up. It’s sometimes true that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, as Chairman Mao said, but it also emerges from diplomacy, foreign aid and carefully cultivated good will.
Military power is especially limited when threats come from new directions. More than four times as many Americans now die each year from opioids as have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars combined, but warships can’t defeat drug traffickers. To beat traffickers, we need diplomacy and the good will of countries like Mexico and Afghanistan.
And we certainly can’t bomb Ebola or climate change.
Even before Trump’s election, we underfunded diplomacy and aid. Consider that the New York City police alone employ more than twice as many uniformed officers as the State Department has Foreign Service officers.
The military is one of the strongest advocates for nonmilitary investments — because generals know that they need diplomacy and aid to buttress their hard power. That’s why 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter pleading with Congress to fund the State Department and foreign aid.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates used to lament that the military had more musicians in its marching bands than the State Department had diplomats. As I do the numbers, that statement is no longer true, but it does reflect the continuing reality that Congress feeds the Pentagon while starving the State Department.
“Two brigades in the armed forces equal our entire diplomatic corps,” noted Nicholas Burns, a former senior diplomat who now teaches at Harvard. Burns said that he agrees with Trump that the military should get more funding but emphasized that slashing diplomacy and foreign aid will make it more difficult to address crucial transnational challenges, from drugs to crime to immigration.
“If you so dramatically underfund the State Department, you defeat the Trump agenda,” he said.
One of the biggest security threats the world faced in recent years was Ebola — and the next pandemic may be much worse — and the only effective response was to work with other countries to tackle the problems collectively.
That’s also true of terrorism. The RAND Corporation examined how 648 terrorist groups ended between 1968 and 2006. Most were absorbed by the political process or defeated by police work; only 7 percent were crushed by military force.
On balance, terrorists are probably less threatened by drones overhead than by girls with books. That’s why extremists shot Malala, threw acid in the faces of Afghan schoolgirls and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Terrorists understand what most threatens them, but I’m not sure we do.
The U.S. just lost a Navy SEAL in Yemen, and it’s useful to compare Yemen with its neighbor Oman. Until 1970, Oman was more backward than Yemen, for Oman banned radio as the work of the devil, locked the gates to the capital at night and offered no education for girls and almost none for boys. Then a new sultan took over and focused on education, of girls as well as boys, and Oman is now a boring, peaceful place, while Yemen floundered — and is torn apart by terrorism and civil war.
One can’t help wondering: If U.S. aid programs had invested in education in Yemen, might we have reduced today’s terrorism and violence? One study found that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country halves the risk of civil war.
Education is no panacea, but it is a bargain: For the cost of deploying one soldier abroad for a year, we can start about 40 schools.
I’m focusing on security interests here, but let’s also note that humanitarian aid is a matter of our values as well as of our interests. Do we really want to cut humanitarian aid just as hunger crises are spreading in Africa and the Middle East, threatening 20 million people with starvation?
Our security is advanced not just by being scary, but also by winning friends. President Trump will face a crisis — maybe with North Korea, maybe with China, maybe with some new pandemic — and he will need not just a robust military but also the cooperation of friendly nations.
Tanks can’t help when our president antagonizes Mexico, or hangs up on the Australian prime minister. Or when immigration officials detain and humiliate to tears a beloved 70-year-old Australian children’s author on her 117th visit to America.
“In that moment, I loathed America,” Mem Fox, the author, wrote. That’s one way nations lose their soft power and undermine their own national security.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Dear Advice Lady: Everybody is saying how reasonable President Trump sounded in his big speech to Congress, but it made me crazy! I was yelling at the TV the whole time. If he bothers me this much when he’s trying to be statesmanlike, how am I going to make it through four years?
— Sincerely, Can’t Stand Trump
Dear Can’t Stand Trump: Prioritize. If everything he says makes you start howling, your loved ones are going to stop paying attention to you. Or lock you in the attic.
— Advice Lady
C.S.T.: The stock market is booming after that speech! Just because they didn’t have to haul him off in a straitjacket! There’s such a thing as setting the bar too low.
A.L.: The key to understanding our president is to realize there are three versions. Unscripted Trump is the one who obsesses about crowd size and expresses complete astonishment that constructing a national health care plan is hard. That’s the one we worry will start a nuclear war.
C.S.T.: So the Dow went up 300 points because Unscripted didn’t show up to address Congress?
A.L.: Yep. The second version is Reasonable Chatting Trump. R.C.T. is the one who had pre-speech gatherings with journalists in which he mused about passing immigration law reform and making the Dreamers legal. Everyone was very excited until it became clear this had no relation to anything he was actually planning to say in public.
If you ever have an opportunity to sit down with the president for a private conversation, let me warn you: He’s going to be totally open to all your suggestions, nod frequently and leave you with the impression that you’ve scored a huge breakthrough. But he will not remember a thing that you discussed. In fact, he’ll have forgotten everything the minute you said it.
C.S.T.: Then he walked in front of Congress and became Version 3?
A.L.: Yes, the guy with the teleprompter. We will call him Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, or SNORT.
C.S.T.: When he started off with a call for unity against anti-Semitism, I threw my sock at the screen. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked him about attacks on Jewish institutions and he just quoted his Electoral College numbers.
A.L.: True, we don’t normally expect to have to educate our new presidents in how to express disapproval of anti-Semitism. But just be glad he seems to have absorbed the lesson.
C.S.T.: Only when he has a teleprompter.
A.L.: If you want to find something to throw your footwear at, take a closer look at those brief remarks condemning “hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” Trump began with a nod to Black History Month, then decried threats against Jewish community centers and vandalism against Jewish cemeteries “as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City.”
You’d think there’d be a little more attention to the “shooting,” which was in fact the murder of a tech worker from India that is being investigated as a hate crime.
C.S.T.: It wasn’t even in Kansas City! It was in Olathe, Kan.!
A.L.: O.K., that’s a tad over-obsessive.
The shooting involved two young men who had come to the United States as college students, liked it here and stayed legally. The gunman apparently thought they were Iranian and demanded to know what they were doing in this country. One was left dead and the other injured. A bystander who tried to intervene was wounded. The president never personally commented on it before the speech, where it got nine words.
If you suspect Donald Trump doesn’t want to call attention to the violent emotions he may be stirring up with his rants against immigrants and people from certain Muslim-majority nations, feel free.
C.S.T.: And what about his rants about the inner cities? I hate it when he acts as if every place with black people is a death zone. But you can’t just say, “Stop picking on Chicago’s murder rate.”
A.L.: Try yelling: “Yes! Crack down on gun sales to gangs!” He finds it upsetting when anybody suggests the problem with gun violence is guns.
C.S.T.: I think I could definitely do that.
A.L.: You could also try giving Trump a thumbs-up whenever he says something you agree with. It’ll make you feel fair-minded, and if he ever found out, it would confuse the heck out of him.
C.S.T.: There is nothing I agree with.
A.L.: What about lots of infrastructure spending?
C.S.T.: He’ll spend it on the wrong things.
A.L.: You really are tough.
C.S.T.: In an hourlong speech, the only thing he said about the environment was that he wanted to “invest in women’s health and to promote clean air and clean water.”
A.L.: Well, that was SNORT reading. Reasonable Chatting Trump is crazy about the environment. He’s even worried about climate change. Just ask him, before he forgets. And Donald the Unscripted thinks environmentalism is an evil plot by the same people who bussed millions of unregistered noncitizens to the polls to dilute his election triumph.
Take your pick. They’ll all be around for the next four years.