Washington Watch: Profile in cowardice

There are many examples of the Great Dealmaker’s skittishness about facing the consequences of his actions.

June 7, 2017 22:13
4 minute read.
U.S. President Donald Trump looks towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while delivering an address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. . (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)


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US President Donald Trump didn’t actually wait until last Thursday, when he made the announcement that upset most world leaders, to decide to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. That was a hoax. He’d decided long ago. In fact he repeatedly vowed to withdraw throughout his campaign and even after his election.

He waited until Thursday because he didn’t have the courage to tell leaders of the G-7 industrialized nations, America’s NATO allies or even the pope to their face. Saying he would make a final decision after returning from his first presidential trip abroad was a ruse. He just didn’t have the guts – and probably the understanding of the issues – to face them. He knew how they’d react so he decided to make his announcement in the White House Rose Garden with a brass band and a handpicked audience of cheering loyalists and aides. No one who might disagree was invited.

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Even his daughter Ivanka stayed home.

I leave it to the experts to analyze the science that he trampled, mangled and misrepresented. This is about a spineless political leader.

For years Trump was saying and tweeting things like “Global warming is an expensive hoax!” and calling it “bullshit” and “nonsense.” At one point he even said it was a hoax created by the Chinese to weaken America.

But since he delivered his anti-Paris speech last week he won’t say whether he still thinks it is a hoax, and his aides pleaded ignorance on his views. So far he has refused to acknowledge that humans contribute to global warming.

He appointed a longtime denier of climate change and harsh foe of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to be that agency’s director. Naturally, Pruitt cheered Trump’s decision. He is an enthusiastic point man for the president’s campaign to roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change and curb industrial pollution.

Trump said he wanted to renegotiate the Paris pact but he wasn’t serious. None of the other 193 signatory nations is interested and he knows it. The leaders of our most important allies – Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Australia – and others publicly condemned Trump’s decision and made clear they have no intention of writing a weaker agreement.

John Kerry, the former secretary of state who negotiated the Paris deal, said it best: when Trump says he’ll renegotiate a better climate deal it’s “like OJ Simpson saying he’s going to go find the real killer.”

Israel remains committed to the Paris agreement and to its success, said Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spares no effort in sucking up to Trump, has called it an “important agreement” that recognizes the reality of global warming and “demands international discipline” to fulfill.

Jewish organizations blasted Trump’s decision “as a diplomatic and environmental disaster,” reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The Republican Jewish Coalition website is usually brimming with praise for Trump but had nothing about his speech about the Paris agreement as of early this week.

A Vatican official called Trump’s decision “a huge slap in the face” for Pope Francis and “a disaster for everyone.”

The pope had given Trump a signed copy of his “Laudato Si” encyclical on climate change that warns against those who “ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.”

Sounds like he had Trump in mind, but the president apparently didn’t get around to reading it.

Spite was another factor in Trump’s decision. It’s one more mark of his animosity toward Barack Obama, for whom the Paris Accord was a signature achievement.

Trump has demonstrated a visceral hatred for Obama for many years. He played a prominent role in the birther movement that said the nation’s first African-American president was unqualified for the office because wasn’t born in the United States and that he was a secret Muslim.

There are many other examples of the Great Dealmaker’s skittishness about facing the consequences of his actions.

He waited until late Thursday to sign a waiver saying he would not be keeping his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While in Israel last month he played coy, saying he hadn’t made a final decision when he already had, many months earlier. Moreover, he signed the waiver on Thursday because it would be overshadowed by his rejection of the Paris accords and it was Shavuot, so the Jewish reaction would be muted.

In his Rose Garden speech Trump said the Paris agreement was bad for all those coal miners he promised to help. Coal is a dying industry that Trump can’t resurrect, even by lifting restrictions on dumping pollutants in streams and rivers, and the reality is more people work at Whole Foods than in the entire coal industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If he really cared about those coal miners he wouldn’t be slashing their health care coverage, especially for so many people with preexisting conditions like black lung and other disabilities.

Trump didn’t even have the courage to fire FBI director James Comey in person, instead sending his driver to deliver a dismissal letter – but not before Comey got the news on television.

When Trump leaves office he will be remembered not for what he did but for what he undid. The real estate mogul’s legacy will not be for what he built but what he destroyed, starting with 70 years of American global leadership.

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