President Donald Trump would “probably be a dictator by now” if it weren’t for the checks and balances contained within the U.S. political system, according to a conservative foreign policy expert.
Max Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Politico in an interview published Monday: “The good news story of the first year of the Trump presidency is that there are checks and balances.”
“Trump as a personality type is probably no different from a Mussolini, a Peron, a Chavez. And if you were operating in Argentina or Italy, he would probably be a dictator by now. But luckily, he’s not operating in those countries,” he said.
Trump has often been accused of having dictatorial tendencies. Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, has openly called the president “an authoritarian.” Terence Szuplat, a foreign policy speechwriter for former President Barack Obama, said in November Trump has “sought to emulate”authoritarians, demagogues and dictators in his responses to terror attacks.
Meanwhile Trump has praised some of the most authoritarian leaders in the world, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to China’s Xi Jinping to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rodrigo Duterte, the leader of the Philippines. Autocrats and dictators the world over have adopted Trump’s rhetoric against the media, dismissing reports that paint them in a negative light as fake news.
Boot offered a scathing critique of Trump’s approach to foreign affairs thus far, describing the president as “incredibly erratic and unpredictable”––adjectives often ascribed to Kim Jong Un, a leader who’s dominated America’s attention in 2017 and who the president frequently refers to as “Rocket Man.”
Being nice to Rocket Man hasn't worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won't fail.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
In his first year in office, the president has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” and warned it would be “totally destroyed” if it forced the U.S. to defend itself or its allies. The president’s bellicose rhetoric toward Kim’s regime has received widespread criticism, as many experts say it exacerbates the tensions with the rogue state and increases the likelihood it will be provoked into an act of war.
Boot seems to agree with those in the foreign policy community who feel Trump’s remarks toward North Korea are over the top and potentially dangerous. The reclusive nation’s military is nowhere near as strong as America’s, but it is still a nuclear power and is widely seen as a significant threat to other countries in East Asia––especially South Korea and Japan––and the surrounding region.
“It’s impossible to imagine any other president going before the U.N. General Assembly and referring to the dictator of North Korea as ‘Rocket Man,’ or issuing this series of blustery threats, which, frankly, are terrifying, and are raising the risk of a needless war,” Boot said.
Boot said there was a chance that Trump would launch a preemptive strike against North Korea, but he feels “the greater chance of war with North Korea is accidental.” In other words, between the large-scale military exercises the U.S. conducts with South Korea near the Korean Peninsula and the president’s belligerent rhetoric, Boot thinks there is a good chance North Korea could misread America’s intentions and launch a limited strike in panic. In this scenario, Boot said: “Trump decides to respond. He issues tweets saying he’s going to end Kim Jong Un. They decide that this is all-out war.”
Eliot Cohen, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration who also participated in the Politico interview, appeared to agree with Boot’s assessment of the precarious situation Trump has created with North Korea. “[Trump] has an adolescent male fascination with the military,” Cohen said. “He really lacks empathy… If you tell him Seoul is going to be devastated, I don’t think he’s going to be horror-struck by that because I don’t think he can really sort of place himself in that position.”
But Boot also contended Trump has “in many ways” been more destructive domestically than he has abroad: “[Trump is] undermining the rule of law. He’s obstructing justice. He’s lending the support of the presidency to monsters like Roy Moore. He is exacerbating race relations. He is engaging in the most blatant xenophobia, racism and general bigotry that we have seen from the White House.”
On the brightside, Trump hasn’t started World War III yet, Cohen said, so perhaps he deserves at least some credit.