Trump’s Common Sense Realism

Have you read Richard Fernandez’s interesting article on President Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Obama nuclear deal? It is worthy of close reading.

Fernandez considers it likely that Trump’s repudiation of the Obama deal will, in fact, dial down tensions in the world’s most unstable region. The simple reason: Obama’s policies were making things worse:

The former administration’s policies ‘empowered Russia and Iran, produced ISIS, strengthened al-Qaeda and created the refugee crisis which became a strategic threat to Europe,’ according to one analyst from the BBC. These were astonishingly reinforced by the Obama nuclear deal, which not only guaranteed American nonaggression but also provided a source of money to pursue the Islamic Republic’s ambitions.

The billions frozen by the Carter Administration and kept frozen by every president since the Iran hostage crisis of the late 1970s are gone, sent by Obama to Tehran. And thanks to Obama, the lifting of sanctions has meant additional hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue for the mullahs.

Emboldened by Obama’s policies and those billions, the mullahs and their proxies have been fighting on two fronts in the region—in Yemen against Saudi Arabia and in Syria in support of the Assad regime. In addition, by means of Hezbollah, Iran dominates Lebanon and from Lebanon menaces Israel. All this costs real money.

Iran’s continued aggression requires the continued flow of their oil revenues. Put the squeeze on those revenues and cancel Obama’s decision to take U.S. military intervention off the table, as Trump has done, and suddenly everything changes. Fernandez argues that in the new situation the Iranians now find themselves overextended.

Amazingly, there is even grudging admission by David Brooks over at the New York Times that Trump might be on to something. In Donald Trump’s Lizard Wisdom,” Brooks writes:

There is growing reason to believe that Donald Trump understands the thug mind a whole lot better than the people who attended our prestigious Foreign Service academies[Re Iran] Maybe Trump is right to intuit that the only right response to a monster is to enclose it. Maybe he’s right that when you sense economic weakness in a potential threat, you hit it again.

Please don’t take this as an endorsement of the Trump foreign policy. I’d feel a lot better if Trump showed some awareness of the complexity of the systems he’s disrupting, and the possibly cataclysmic unintended consequences. But there is some lizard wisdom here.

“Some lizard wisdom” is backhanded praise, indeed. Actual praise would require a graciousness which we probably ought not to expect from Brooks at this point.

By allowing that Trump has some “lizard wisdom” (to say nothing of “dragon energy”) Brooks seems to be referring to the “three brains in one” model of the human brain. According to this model, the most primitive part of our brain is like the brain of reptiles and snakes. Wrapped around the reptilian brain is a part of our brain that is like the brain of dogs and cats, the mammalian brain. Wrapped around that part is the neocortex, the part of our brain that makes possible our higher mental functions.

But is lizard wisdom the correct way to understand Trump’s decision? Or is it common sense? If you provide an aggressor with vast sums of money and take military action off the table, what does common sense tell you is likely to ensue?

The American Founders certainly would say that the folly of Obama’s policies is self-evident and that Trump’s reversal of them is simply common sense realism. According to Thomas Reid, the philosopher who founded the formal philosophy of common sense realism and who got the Founders thinking in terms of common sense and self-evident truths, common sense is the human faculty that makes a person “capable of discovering what is true and what is false in matters that are self-evident.”

In thinking about and trying to understand common sense, it is difficult to improve on Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.”

Common sense, in its common and its uncommon degrees, is something very different from “lizard wisdom,” whatever that might be.  It seems clear that Trump has common sense in a degree well beyond the ordinary. That is something altogether more valuable than the ability of foreign policy “experts” to come up with rationalizations for the Obama policies which encouraged the mullahs’ aggression and raised the threat level for America.

Photo credit:  Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.