It could be the case that Trump, as lazy as he is, needs ten minute lectures from foreign leaders (thanks, Xi!?) to figure out that stuff is really complicated. Health care is complicated, dealing with North Korea is complicated, tax reform is complicated, NATO has someone become un-obsolete.*
* Honest question: once something is obsolete, can it become not obsolete? Seems to stretch the concept of obsolete to the breaking point, but maybe I am wrong.
“Obviously, most presidents aren’t nuclear scientists,” she said. “What is important is that the White House provide a disciplined process for the experts to present their views, which are often differing. The president’s role as the chief executive and decision maker is to listen to, question and probe the expert recommendations, then apply informed judgment to the decision.” (from NYT link above, thanks Peter Baker)
Is this what is happening? Does this describe how McMaster's process is working? That Trump is probing the experts? Or it could be that Trump just listens to ever talked to him most recently. Perhaps Trump is so unfixed in most of his ideas (his racism is far more grounded/foundational than his beliefs about particular places, just as his notion of fairness--exploitation--is pretty firm) about policies that he listens to the most recent person.
The question is: how do we test these competing theories of Trumpian policy reversal? As others have hinted, my guess is that when he runs into something tough, a policy failure, that has been advocated by the moderates,** he will turn on them and find an alternative voice.
** We are so desperate for reasonable people that folks who would otherwise be seen as hard right or hawkish or whatever are viewed as moderates because they are not Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, or Stephanie Mercer (ok, her name is Rebecah, but I had to play with the #notallSteves theme).For me, I am pretty convinced that Trump is not learning but reacting. Nothing I have seen thus far convinces me that he develops improved understandings that lead to new ideas, more thoughtful consideration and all the rest. And I worry greatly that he is easily played by advisers and by foreign leaders. Maybe Putin will want to meet with him soon to un-do Xi's persuasion.
Oh, and I worry about process still. For instance, the big-ass bomb (I prefer that nomenclature to MOAB) seems to indicate that Trump has delegated a heap of authority to those in the military, "my military" he calls it. This may be an excellent way to avoid the usual civilian-military tensions that are inherent in democratic control over the armed forces.... by ceding control of the armed forces to the military. Not a fan, am I. But that is a topic for another blog post.
So, the key is to watch Trump and figure out if any of these lessons stick for more than just a little while. Otherwise, they are like the typical magical spell which have short lifespans and then, poof, NATO is obsolete again. Again, my confirmation bias is probably showing, but I am still ruthlessly pessimistic about Trump as President, and the tweets about North Korea are confirming that my confirmation bias may not be a bad way to go. I actually do hope I am wrong.