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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Trump's Weak Knowledge


Daniel Lippman at Politico:
Trump’s desire to call world leaders at awkward hours is just one of many previously unreported diplomatic faux-pas President Trump has made since assuming the office, which go beyond telephone etiquette to include misconceptions, mispronunciations and awkward meetings. Sometimes the foibles have been contained within the White House. In one case, Trump, while studying a briefer’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as “nipple” and laughingly referred to Bhutan as “button,” according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.
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Trump’s apparent ignorance about world affairs, geography and leaders has also repeatedly emerged in internal staff meetings. Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 2017 White House visit, Trump asked his national security aides whether the Indian leader would be bringing along his wife. Staffers explained that Modi has long been estranged from his wife. “Ah, I think I can set him up with somebody,” Trump joked, according to two people briefed on the meeting. It was in that same meeting that Trump appeared confused by Nepal and Bhutan, which lie sandwiched between India and China.

“He didn’t know what those were. He thought it was all part of India,” said one person familiar with the meeting. “He was like, ‘What is this stuff in between and these other countries?’”
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Trump at times also betrays an ignorance of regional history and rivalries. During his meeting with Abe at Mar-A-Lago in April this year, Trump repeatedly praised Chinese strongman Xi Jingping, according to a former NSC official from a prior administration.

“Everyone was cringing because Japan and China are rivals and the Japanese and the Chinese are nervous about the president tilting too far towards the other side,” that person said. A White House official said Trump explained to Abe that his relationship with Xi would be useful in dealing with North Korea and insisted it “wasn’t considered a negative” by the Japanese side.

At times Trump has done more than make ignorant slips: The Washington Post reported in January that he sometimes puts on an Indian accent and imitates the way Modi speaks. And in an infamous Oval Office remark in January that sparked a global furor, Trump branded several African nations along with Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries.”