Trump Can’t Handle a War of Choice

He’s too polarizing and commands too little respect from critics to lead such an effort effectively.

Donald Trump walks down the steps of Marine One.
Tom Brenner / Reuters

America’s leaders would be unwise to start any war knowing that the country’s troops were undertrained or its weapons understocked. Just as surely, they would be unwise to allow a war of choice under President Donald Trump, who is too polarizing and commands too little respect from critics to lead such an effort effectively.

Trump supporters and critics disagree about many things. But both factions can see that domestic opposition to his leadership is intense, widespread, and stable. More than 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. Millions of his critics harbor deeper misgivings than they have about previous presidents, believing that Trump is an erratic, morally depraved vulgarian who lies so frequently that he cannot be trusted. Republicans complain that Democrats are so primed for contempt that they reflexively oppose whatever he does. Set aside the merits of Trump critiques. Notice only that they render him less able than many of his predecessors to unite the country, credibly speak for the public, or launch an offensive that a successor will agree to sustain.

Any war effort that Trump leads is likely to suffer as a result. Whether or not that is fair to Trump, it suggests that the United States should be more dovish during his tenure than it would be under a president regarded by more Americans as steady, moral, and trustworthy.

The wisdom of going to war is too often discussed without reference to the qualities of the commander in chief who would lead it. George H. W. Bush had significant foreign-policy experience, while his son lacked it. Perhaps that shaped their respective results. Trump entered office without foreign-policy experience or knowledge. And some of the most experienced people he hired have already left his administration.

In the aftermath of the Trump administration’s decision to kill Qassem Soleimani, Congress should try to stop the president from doing more to trigger an avoidable war. It should recognize Trump’s severe limitations and act on them by restoring to itself the power to declare war—or not declare war.