Maureen Dowd: ‘Two chubby brats with short fuses and long missiles is a dangerous situation’

Podcast: World View talks to the New York Times’ columnist about Trump’s presidency

U.S. President Donald Trump has said that North Korea 'will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen' if it threatened the United States again.


Maureen Dowd, whose political column for The New York Times is syndicated every Monday in The Irish Times, talked to foreign editor Chris Dooley about the dangers of the Trump presidency on our weekly foreign affairs podcast, World View.

The following excerpt is lightly edited for clarity.

Chris Dooley: We had fair warning of the kind of president Donald Trump was going to be. But how would you characterise his first eight or nine months? Has it gone according to your expectations?

Maureen Dowd: Well I think we knew it would be utter chaos. We just didn’t realise that it would be utter, utter, utter chaos! I mean, it’s beyond anything in history. I would say it’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened in American political history. It’s hard to even describe.

You know, a lot of people in Washington are very frightened about Trump. They’re very frightened about him stumbling into some Twitter war with North Korea. When you go to parties in Washington now, people are scared. You know, it’s a very strange atmosphere. I was telling someone, in the old days during the Cold War, everyone would be scared that the generals would have a coup when there was a peacenik president. Now everyone wants the generals to have a coup (laughs). Because they think that General Mattis and General Kelly and General McMaster seem a lot more grounded than President Trump.

CD: You mentioned North Korea. We’re all worried about North Korea. We would be worried anyway, given the behaviour of the regime there. But you actually had a column recently with the headline “Will the blowhard blow us up?” Do you think he actually might?

MD: When you’re dealing with a case of two kinds of chubby brats from dynasties who have short fuses and long missiles, that’s a dangerous situation.

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I mean, I wrote about W (former president George W Bush) and the Iraq War for eight years, and to me that was the worst foreign policy mistake in American history, the Iraq War and how we got into it and how it was waged with such tragic results for America.

I think we got into that war because, you know, the Bush family bete noir was to be called a wimp, and (former US vice-president) Dick Cheney and (former US secretary of defence) Donald Rumsfeld sort of persuaded W that we had to go into Iraq by playing on that idea of manliness, that America had to be a hyper power and we couldn’t let them get away with this and we had to kick someone’s butt.

So I’ve seen that idea of a hyper-masculine kind of taunting get us into the worst war that we’ve ever had. That war is now longer than all our other wars put together.

So that can happen, because when you get in the White House a lot of gremlins come out, a lot of insecurities. You can be a completely different person than you seem to be before you got that job. At a time when you should be very confident and feel affirmed, you can feel insecure, and you know you can have people playing on that idea that “you’re not a real man if you let this person get away with that”. So it can be very dangerous.

CD: It’s hard to read Trump. Sometimes he comes across as real macho man, and then he’ll tweet his admiration for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. You’ve actually met him quite a few times. Is there a real Donald Trump? How would you characterise him?

MD: I think he thinks he’s a master of psychology. In fact, in one of his business books he talked about Jung, and, you know, how he comes up with these nicknames for people, as he did in the Republican primary, that are very thought-out and psychologically damaging.

So I think he’s trying out different things on the North Korean leader. He’s trying to out-crazy him. And then he was trying to flatter him and say, “oh he’s behaving very well now he listened to us and didn’t launch a missile”, but then he went ahead and did! So now (General James) Mattis is threatening annihilation.

So I think they’re throwing a lot of things against the wall, because, what can actually work? He was trying flattery with the Chinese leader. He had them down at Mar-A-Lago and was trying to flatter him and help him with North Korea. So I think Donald Trump thinks he’s a master of psychology. Even though he himself is very easily manipulated on the basis of his ego.

CD: Where do you think his instinct would lie, say in terms of the North Korean crisis? Will his instinct be on the macho side, let’s get in there and take him on, or do you think he’s a guy who pulls back at the last moment?

MD: Well, that’s what I think is hard to tell, because W, before he became president, said he didn’t want to do nation-building and he wanted a humble foreign policy. He was sort of a guy who got along with both sides of the aisle. And then 911 terrified him and changed him. And Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were able to manipulate him and his presidency became the opposite of what he had promised, so I just don’t think you can tell.

For instance, over the decades whenever I interview Donald Trump, he had a very non-interventionist attitude. He was very down on the Iraq War and the way it was being waged, and he thought we were involved in too many of these foreign wars, and we should be focused on ourselves. But now he’s in a different game, and his ego and his face and his manliness are all wrapped up in it, so it’s just hard to tell how people are going to behave once they are president.

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