Viewpoint: Incompetence bigger danger to America than malevolent policies


President Donald Trump congratulates Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a parent-teacher conference listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Feb. 14 in Washington.

Kenny Phipps

Paul Krugman, an op-ed contributor to the New York Times, recently posited that “incompetence can indeed temper malevolence” in regards to the Donald Trump administration’s obvious lack of political proficiency.

His argument, that a lack of political know-how can slow or stop President Trump and those around him from damaging the country, is comforting to those worried about the Trumpian agenda. However, if historical precedent is at all relevant in this situation — and it is always relevant — this is not going to be the case. Incompetence can indeed be worse than malevolence.

To support this claim, one only has to look back a decade or so, to the fiasco that occurred after the Iraqi invasion of 2003. After the successful usurpation of Saddam Hussein, the American military personnel were essentially heroes to the Iraqi people. The tyrannical dictator’s overthrow was heralded as the important victory that it was. However, almost immediately, the United States made mistakes, which can be described as demonstrative of complete incompetence, that led to the infamous power vacuum the news talks so much about.

The political party of Hussein, the Ba’ath party, was outlawed by the occupying American military. This action, at first thought, seems like the right move. However, every single public servant in Iraq was forced to be a member of the Ba’ath party because the dictatorship would not allow any oppositional parties to exist. This included everyone from the menial government employees all the way up to the head of the regime itself.

This prohibition on the Ba’ath party from serving in government left Iraq with no experienced personnel to run the country. Soon after this, the U.S. dissolved the Iraqi military, forcing thousands of armed, angry soldiers underground overnight. These glaring mistakes, which were lobbied against by those in the George W. Bush administration that had any working knowledge of the region, led to sectarian violence and factionalism that persist in Iraq to this day.

This is what is worrisome about Trump and his agenda. Incompetence causes problems in almost every aspect of life. This effect is only increased at the highest levels of governance, which require depth of knowledge and cooperation among politicians and experts to navigate efficiently.

Take Trump’s recent call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for just one example of lacking competence. Trump incorrectly asserted facts about the refugee policy and agreement between Australia and the United States, got upset when (rightly) corrected and jeopardized a longstanding, important and trusted allyship, leaving members of Congress like Sen. John McCain to attempt to pick up the slack. The U.S.-Australian relationship has never been called into question, but Trump’s sheer incompetence accomplished the impossible.

This article is not meant to be comforting to liberal readers, who might wrongfully assume that the Trump administration’s ineptness somehow justifies their beliefs. However, the blatant inability of President Trump to perform nearly every facet of his new position is troubling. The malevolence of Trump and his cohorts can be debated or explained away; their incompetence cannot.