Donald Trump has many, many international business interests -- ranging from high-end real estate complexes to branding deals in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Panama and other countries where the United States has sensitive diplomatic ties.
And then there are the ethical landmines. Both Trump and the Argentine president denied a report that Trump asked him for help with a long-stalled business project. Three days later, the development has been given the go-ahead. Not coincidence.
So this pertinent question was raised by Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush.
“If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest or because there’s a Trump casino around?” Painter added.
A Washington Post analysis of Trump filings indicate at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, and they present complex problems for U.S. military and diplomatic strategy.
And now, international Trump-branded properties are prime targets for terrorist attacks. A U.S. president should be able to respond based on the country's interests, not on his business interests nor umbrage at perceived disrespect. Can he separate the two? Look back to his reaction after Iranian sailors flipped the bird at American sailors:
“When Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water,” Trump said to raucous applause from his Pensacola rally audience.
We know he's thin-skinned. We know he lacks self-control. If ISIL blows up a building with his name on it, and taunts him about it, can we trust him to react thoughtfully and carefully?
In an Esquire interview this summer, John Noonan, a former national security adviser to Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, a man who served as a Air Force nuclear launch officer, thought not. (After Joe Scarborough said Trump wanted to know the point of having nuclear weapons if you couldn't use them, Noonan unleashed this tweetstorm.)
Noonan told Esquire to think of the world as a playground, where the U.S. stood up for smaller countries against bullies, backed by nuclear weapons. "That's what you call deterrence," he said.
"This is what I hear from Trump: that he wants to flip that equation and make the United States the bully. That is, We're big and we have nukes and we can use them to kill terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul. Stop us if you dare. It's how he's run his businesses for decades: I can do whatever I want. In the business world, it was shady and unethical. In the national-security world, it's downright dangerous."
He doesn't believe it's empty talk, either.
"Nuclear weapons are like an understanding between the athlete and the bully: You don't screw with me and I won't screw with you. It's a way for the two biggest kids on the block to communicate with each other in no uncertain terms. That Trump allegedly believes that nukes are solutions to low-intensity problems like ISIS and Al-Qaeda is raw, unfiltered insanity."
Meanwhile, Trump advisers insist maintaining his worldwide web of business interests is normal, and that the emotionally erratic president of the United States will make perfectly rational decisions.
So we can all relax now.