President Trump is on the path to lose the Great Game in the Middle East. Putin has flown to Syria to bolster Russia’s centuries-long interests in the area, China is taking notes, the Pentagon and our allies are in shock, Americans are choosing tribal affiliations and, apparently, the Iraqis are taking their revenge. Trump has poked his finger into the beehive, and now he has lots of problems. Complex problems. In this post, we’ll look at one challenge the President may not be able to overcome.
One of the biggest problems Trump faces while dealing with Iran is his almost total lack of credibility. Not many people believe what he says. And Trump has given us good reason to disbelieve his claims. For one thing, what he claims to be true is often false. Various estimates put the number of lies he has told since taking office somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000. He also habitually denies having said things that were recorded while he was saying them. Does he inspire the kind of trust he will need to get the support of the American public and our allies in this situation?
Credibility can vary from from subject to subject, context to context, but there are some markers we can use to identify the times when a source is credible. Some of those markers are anathema to Trump because they run counter to the gangster/tough guy image he likes to project. For example, gaining credibility with an audience requires an effort to find commonalities with the audience by talking about common experiences and shared values. This is a problem for Trump. His experiences are exclusive to a particular lifestyle, and he appears to have no values other than those that help him market his product: himself.
Respect for your audience is also crucial. To bring people to your side, you must make it clear that you can hear them and their concerns. A credible person will try to start where the audience is and then move the audience to a new and more accurate point of view about a position or claim. Alas, our president doesn’t seem to respect much other than the almighty dollar.
I think there’s a straight line connecting Trump’s personality problems with Trump’s credibility problems. Beyond that, the persuasion techniques he uses are at about grade-school level at best. In a foreign policy situation like this one, what’s needed is a clear summation of the reasons why action is required, why it is required now, and why we can’t find a way to get along with our adversaries without resorting to “might makes right.”
It is now becoming clear that General Soleimani—a man highly regarded by some Iranians—was a ruthless killer, but this was not known to most Americans, and the administration did nothing to educate the public about this dangerous man. Has taking him out created more problems than there were before?
Another error was the President’s failure to include appropriate people in the decision-making process. Real estate developers may be able to shoot from the hip and make unilateral decisions on the fly, but the world is much more complex than the real estate market. In the meantime, we’ll get more politics of