Temperament and character count.
America was fixated last week on President Donald Trump's performance at the annual UN General Assembly in New York and the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. In both cases, the president and the judge displayed temperament and character flaws that normally would be disqualifying for high office. But this is America described by Washington Post's David Ignatius as "living under a volcano."
As many Americans were riveted on these spectacles, more serious discussions were taking place in Tehran and the Regional Security Conference among Russia, China, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Did anyone in the United States take note of this conference and its focus on countering terrorism and resolving the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan? The answer is no.
To unintended laughter and ridicule, Trump boasted to the world and its leaders that his accomplishments were greater than any of his predecessors'. Depending how one defines accomplishments, Trump might be right. He rejected global American leadership for making America great again and America first policies -- whatever they mean. He has criticized America's closest allies and embraced its adversaries, even defending Vladimir Putin for interfering in America's elections while accusing China of the same.
Under the former reality TV host, America has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Paris Climate accord; the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; and embarked on trade wars with China and other U.S. partners. These surely are a record for any president, capped by a round of cynical and dismissive laughter in New York by many UNGA participants -- the first and only time an American president has been so treated by that body.
Meanwhile, under huge emotional pressure to defend his reputation against allegations of sexual assault dating back 36 years, Kavanaugh's testimony was tear filled and often inarticulate, claiming a "left wing" conspiracy to bring him down. While having no opinion about Kavanaugh's legal fitness to serve on the high court, his temperament and presentation were troubling. If confirmed to the high court, in future cases, would Kavanaugh's emotions and use of politicized arguments be disqualifying in assuring objectivity in reaching balanced decisions?
Indeed, at times, the judge seemed transported 3 1/2 decades into the past, as if he were a teenager struggling to answer charges of misbehavior leveled by his school teachers at Georgetown Prep. Despite the agonizing emotional strain of these destructive allegations, the judge displayed anything but grace under pressure.
In terms of analyzing foreign and national security policy, a lack of knowledge and understanding has accompanied and in part caused American failures. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are among the most notable. This absence of knowledge and understanding likewise applies at home and even to these hearings.
It might sound trivial. But one data point in the judge's past has been ignored. Perhaps the FBI investigation will correct this failure.
At Yale, Kavanaugh was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, occasionally known as the "Drunken Dekes." I speak firsthand. Many decades ago, I had been a Deke.
On most campuses, Dekes had a reputation both as an elite fraternity and for its parties. This of course was well known before Kavanaugh joined. But I did enjoy one or two Deke parties in New Haven and I doubt that much had changed.
Perhaps the FBI will question some of the judge's Yale fraternity brothers under oath. It is possible that the entirely contradictory descriptions of the judge's character and conduct would be repeated. It is also possible that more dispositive information could be obtained to support or reject these allegations of misconduct.
America is increasingly less a respected country and, today, tragically more a TV reality show. Given the potentially explosive crises abroad, whether in Syria or the South China Sea or economically at home regarding unaffordable and growing debt now exceeding $20 trillion, the temperament and character of the president are not reassuring. And the Senate hearings to confirm Kavanaugh make one wonder if America can any longer govern itself, much less lead the world.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.