|Drawing by Jim Morin, May 16, for the Miami Herald, via.|
I wish I was kidding: The Times's David Sanger, writing today about that bizarre interview he and Haberman conducted with Trump in March:
To Mr. Trump, the Iran deal was not only misguided, but also badly negotiated. “They should’ve walked,” he said of Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiating team. Mr. Trump said he would have left the negotiating room, doubled down on sanctions, and never agreed to give back billions of dollars, money that belonged to Iran and was frozen in American financial institutions.
But when pressed, he struggled to name any part of the deal he would have walked out of the negotiations to alter. With some prompting, he finally settled on a common critique: that after 15 years, Iran will be free to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium again, in any quantity.Make that "with a lot of prompting". And a great deal more prompting afterwards that didn't yield anything they could use for their article.
I didn't really notice it at the time, because in the first place it was obvious to me that he didn't know anything whatsoever about what was in the JCPOA with Iran or how it worked but simply kept denouncing it as bad because that sounded right to him and his audiences, but Sanger was working in the interview to make Trump sound not like an idiot. Now he tells us, after the election, it was fixed so the average reader wouldn't notice how ignorant Trump actually is. I don't think Sanger realizes that himself.
In the front-page article (as opposed to the transcript) he and Haberman wrote up on the session, it's not until paragraph 28 that they acknowledge
Mr. Trump seemed less comfortable on some topics than others.and only in the last grafs (32-34) that they get down to saying anything that reveals how uncomfortable he in fact was, in such an arch and cutesy way that you could be forgiven for not noticing, and then they give Trump the last word:
In criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, he expressed particular outrage at how the roughly $150 billion released to Iran (by his estimate; the number is in dispute) was being spent. “Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States?” he said.
Told that sanctions under United States law still bar most American companies from doing business with Iran, he said: “So, how stupid is that? We give them the money and we now say, ‘Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,’ right?”
But Mr. Trump, who has been pushed to demonstrate a basic command of international affairs, insisted that voters should not doubt his foreign policy fluency. “I do know my subject,” he said.The ignorance in the middle paragraph is of course matched by the ignorance of everybody opposed to the treaty, who continued to be unaware of the continued US sanctions for months, and perhaps still are.
But if you look at the transcript, you can see Sanger virtually putting the words in Trump's mouth for the only specific view he was able to elicit. And it's clear that Sanger is feeding him information he's never heard before throughout; he's learning more from the experience than Sanger (or, more pertinently, the readers of The Times). And which he feels free to treat as a rumor when it disagrees with some idiocy he's heard from the propaganda mills or invented on the spur of the moment.
As we discuss the issue of "normalizing" Trump, it's instructive to look back and see how much this was done months ago.
From the transcript, session 1:
The Iran Deal
SANGER: You have told us a lot about what your leverage would be over China in trade. Tell us on Iran: I know that you’ve said that you think that the Iran deal was an extremely bad deal. I’d be interested to know what your goals would be in renegotiating it. What your leverage would be and what you would renegotiate, what parts of the agreement.
TRUMP: Sure. It’s not just that it’s a bad deal, David. It’s a deal that could’ve been so much better just if they’d walked a couple of times. They negotiated so badly. They were being mocked, they were being scorned, they were being harassed, our negotiators, including Kerry, back in Iran, by the various representatives and the leaders of Iran at the highest level. And they never walked. They should’ve walked, doubled up the sanctions, and made a good deal. Gotten the prisoners out long before, not just after they gave the $150 billion [that was the Republican/Aipac/Likud propaganda number, the correct amount was around $55 billion, of which very little would actually go to Iran]. They should’ve never given the money back. There were so many things that were done, they were so, the negotiation was, and I think deals are fine, I think they’re good, not bad. But, you gotta make good deals, not bad deals. This deal was a disaster.
SANGER: So, it’s a deal you would inherit if you were elected, so what I’m trying to get at is, what would you insist on. Are the restrictions on nuclear not long enough, are the missile restrictions not strong enough?
TRUMP: Certainly the deal is not long enough. Because at the end of the deal they’re going to have great nuclear capability. So certainly the deal isn’t long enough. I would never have given them back the $150 billion under any circumstances. I would’ve never allowed that to happen. They are, they are now rich, and did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States? They’re buying planes, they’re buying everything, they’re buying from everybody but the United States. I would never have made the deal.
SANGER: Our law prevents us from selling to them, sir.
TRUMP: Uh, excuse me?
SANGER: Our law prevents us from selling any planes or, we still have sanctions in the U.S. that would prevent the U.S. from being able to sell that equipment.
TRUMP: So, how stupid is that? We give them the money, and we now say, “Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,” right? So how stupid is that? In itself, what you just said, which is correct by the way, but would they now go and buy, you know, they bought 118 approximately, 118 Airbus planes. They didn’t buy Boeing planes, O.K.? We give them the money, and we say you can’t spend it in the United States, and create wealth and jobs in the United States. And on top of it, they didn’t, they in theory, I guess, cannot do that, you know, based on what I’ve understood. They can’t do that. It’s hard to believe. We gave them $150 billion and they can’t spend it in our country.
SANGER: So you would lift the domestic sanctions so they could buy American goods?
TRUMP: Well, I wouldn’t have given them back the money. So I wouldn’t be in that position. I would never have given them back the – that would never be a part of the negotiation. I would have never, ever given it to them, and I would’ve made a better deal than they made, without the money, and I would’ve made a better deal.
SANGER: And to stop the missile launches they’ve been doing?
TRUMP: Well, it’s ridiculous, I mean, now they’re doing missile launches, and they’re buying missiles from Russia, and they’re doing things that nobody thought were, you know, even permissible or in the deal, and they’re doing them.
HABERMAN: Mr. Trump, one thing you didn’t talk about –
TRUMP: That deal was one of the most incompetent deals of any kind I’ve ever seen [though he's plainly just revealed that he's never seen it or read anything about what it contains].
HABERMAN: One thing you talked about at Aipac –In that first call, it's obvious by his response that he's hearing all this information from Sanger for the first time. After Trump had his lunch or whatever had interrupted the interview, Trump himself brought up Iran in an even odder way:
TRUMP: ...But Iran is the No. 1 trading partner, but we should have had something in that document that was signed having to do with North Korea as the No. 1 trading partner and as somebody with a certain power because of that. A very substantial power over North Korea.
SANGER: Mr. Trump with all due respect, I think it’s China that’s the No. 1 trading partner with North Korea.
TRUMP: I’ve heard that certainly, but I’ve also heard from other sources that it’s Iran.
SANGER: Iran is a major arms exchanger with...
TRUMP: Well that is true but I’ve heard it both ways. They are certainly major arms exchangers, which in itself is terrible that we would make a deal with somebody that’s a major arms exchanger with North Korea.