Christopher Federico gave me permission to pass along something he wrote on the Book of Face, which I think is a really good distillation of why Trump is so bad at foreign policy. It also tracks nicely with some of Campos’ observations over the last few years.
One thing I’ve thought for a while is that one of the best ways of characterizing Trump is that he’s just a replacement-level seventy-something Fox News viewer. He does not have even the level of sophistication you’d find at the high end of the expertise/awareness distribution in the mass public, let alone a bona-fide member of the political elite like Obama, either Bush, or Clinton.
Like any other replacement-level Fox News junkie, he loves the symbolism of toughness, and it allows him to distinguish himself from negative reference groups/opponents on the domestic front. The problem is that the average old man parked in front of Fox for his daily mainline hit of resentment and identity politics doesn’t have to grapple with the real-world implications of performative toughness. But Trump eventually does, and he fails to grok those implications until he’s beaten over the head with them at the very last minute by one or two of the few non-yes-men he has left (e.g., Dunford, nameless Pentagon lawyers). And in Trump’s somewhat idiosyncratic case, this is compounded by the fact that he combines his penchant for performative toughness with an isolationist streak — and seems to have little consciousness of how the implications of those two things might conflict with one another.
The result is strategic incoherence: “’Trump is in a box of his own making,’ said Philip Gordon … ‘He has put in place policies — ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran — guaranteed to provoke an aggressive Iranian response, but he’s not prepared to respond aggressively in turn, and the Iranians know it.'”