The United States on the World Stage: Slow-Motion Train Wreck
7 October 2019
The Slow-Motion Train Wreck.
Today's foreign affairs headline reflects, in microcosm, our status as the "world super power." We are no longer that, of course. We are an international train wreck. Specifically, what your are about to read is why I put chapter 16 in Street Politics: It Ain't Your Daddy's GOP Anymore. More generally, realities like what you'll see below are why I wrote the book.
Let me preface by saying that precious few who read this will come away with the intended message. The reason for that is simple. Folks who read political/social commentary tend to lean in one strong direction or another. In today's childish political environment that mostly equates to the two camps of I-LOVE-EVERYTHING-ABOUT-TRUMP (ILEAT) or TRUMP-IS-THE-ANTICHRIST (TITA). Both camps are brain damaged and rarely capable of real discourse.
The ILEAT believes that POTUS is a genius. No matter how stupid or immature his comments or tweets, they are convinced the gaffes are really signs of an underlying genius that only ILEAT members have the gift to understand. They believe he authored the tax reduction and actually "cured" us of Obamacare. He did neither. They believe that a wall, because he told them so, was going to solve out illegal immigration problem. It won't. But don't tell ILEAT that.
This cadre also believes that Donald Trump really is the greatest dealmaker of all time. A dealmaker he may be (there is doubt about who actually negotiated his deals in civilian life) but that hasn't served him well so far in his international dealings and that is what we will discuss here.
And let's face it, 1600 words is nothing. But for the average voter right now it's considered a tough slog.
Look at North Korea, Hong Kong, Europe, China, Iran. They are taking advantage of Trump's overtures to gain legitimacy. In the case of North Korea and Iran it is ONLY in Trump's talk of making deals with them that they have even the pretense of legitimacy. But... in order to make the "beautiful, beautiful" deals the Donald claims are on the horizon, he needs people on the other side who want to make a deal. So far, none of them do, so they string him along with hints of deals and short, meaningless "negotiations".
On the TITA side you have the idiots who think everything wrong with the US, especially foreign affairs, is the fault of Donald J. Trump. This is even more absurd than the former group.
Whether you agree with Trump's approach or not (I don't) there is one truth that can only be denied by the most credulous and ignorant: He is at least trying to move us back onto the world stage and regain some power and prestige.
Generations of politicians before him, both legislative and executive, have slowly ground away our position in the world mostly through a combination of incompetence, cowardice and cruelty. I'll explain how that is still true today. Trump's immediate predecessor actually took sides AGAINST America's interests from his infamous apology tour through his standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the mullahs, against his own people, to guarantee Iran nuclear weapons by 2024.
Trump may be flailing from scheme to scheme, but he is at least trying. I will also credit him thusly: I think much of what we have seen of our policies throughout the Middle East are the result of advice going to Trump from advisors who have no greater concept of success there than he has.
So, with all that said, why write the article at all?
Someone has to say it.
One other caveat: This is not intended as an argument for or against new adventures in foreign lands. It is a critique of our existing ones.
So let's dive in.
The morning headlines announced Trump's reversal of his December reversal of his previous announcement that we were leaving Northern Syria. Back in December, when he first blurted out that we were leaving the region it became immediately clear that he was acting on impulse and had not sought the advice of the Pentagon or the Joint Chiefs. When they had a collective conniption, Trump quickly said we would stay to protect the Kurds (loyal allies) from Turkey's clear intention to wipe them out. This morning? Meh...not so much.
From Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan we can now add Syria to the list of places where we wasted American and foreign lives for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. In most cases, we have then left those who fought by our side to be broken by the enemy, as is now the case with the Kurds.
The poor, pathetic Kurds. Three times in three decades we sought their support in our ham-handed dealings in Iraq, and now Syria. Three times they took our side asking that we be there for them, if not to help them gain the independence they sought, then at least to keep them from being overrun by their enemies. And now, again, we have failed them.
Remember, it was Bashir al-Assad, emboldened by Barack Obama's fecklessness, who decided to break from his father's harsh but pragmatic style and start to crush his opponents overtly. Obama's repeated lack of response (no law said he had to respond) left a power vacuum too tempting for Russia to resist. Assad had made too many domestic enemies. Seducing him was a cakewalk for Putin.
In regaining a foothold in the Mediterranean not enjoyed since the 70's, Russia made a cold calculation to let ISIS run free in northern Syria. Their presence there and in Northern Iraq, on real estate we paid for with blood - more than once - was icing on the cake for both Putin and Assad. They knew our position in Iraq was severely diminished thanks to Obama's intentional destruction of the previous Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Even the sorry, corrupt government in Iraq at the time knew Obama didn't care how many American lives were lost there when he sent Joe "Duh" Biden to "renegotiate" (SOFA) less than a month before it expired.
This set the stage for Iran to become the dominant force over the area we had fought for.
With the US busy in Iraq, Assad could continue to gas villages sympathetic to his internal enemies. If we moved against Syria, we would be the aggressors, on paper anyway.
This Christmas, let your family and friends know just how cool you really are!
Po River Furiture
And the situation didn't improve with age. Obama played paddy cake with ISIS and Putin for the final years of his presidency. His obsequious use of the term ISIL (even ISIS didn't use the self-aggrandizing term for themselves anymore) throughout made it even more distasteful to watch.
The Trump administration reinvigorated W's limited war practice to just barely rid Iraq and part of Syria of ISIS. Now, with the help of Turkey, ISIS is reconstituting as we speak.
The only locals who actually fought effectively through all this were the Kurds.
And so we come full circle. This is the same Turkey who will roll right past our people in the region and try to stomp the remaining Kurdish forces there into a fine paste. The Donald is making tough noises about this, "I'll wreck your economy" and such. But that is for domestic consumption. If Turkey respected Trump they wouldn't be sheltering ISIS or pushing into Syria to kill Kurds. They are doing both.
This post isn't about whether we should involve ourselves in these places. That ship has sailed. The fact is, under an endless succession of post-Vietnam yes-men, we ARE there. We have once again wasted American lives and not pushed the contest to an advantageous outcome.
The few reading this who understand how the world actually works, get it. But the others?...
To the TITAs among you: Did Trump's predecessors do any better? While I disagree with his approach to our present situation, I would contend POTUS is doing as well or better than any of his predecessors since WWII. That's a REALLY LOW goddamn bar.
To the ILEATs; However we feel about Iraq (I don't think we needed to go there) what of our actions since? All those Americans killed and injured taking territory - in the case of some cities, more than once. Did they do it so Iran could take control of two thirds of the fucking country? And the guys who fought ISIS, was that so the nut bags could take cover in Turkey and come back later? How do we sum this up? Was it all just a fucking gesture? Do we now get to "harrumph" everyone and walk away having accomplished nothing, or worse leaving the field to a happier, healthier enemy (Iran)?
I’ll answer all those questions for you. No, Trump's predecessors have done no better. They were all gullible enough to think limited war is a good idea. (Some jerkoff in the last 20 or so years came up with the term asymmetrical warfare as a synonym for limited war. It sounds so POWER POINT!) And yes, we are going to treat the sacrifices, both ours and those of our enemies, as a vapid gesture and we are going to walk away.
Thank you TITAs and ILEATs. Thanks to all who think war is good or bad based on who is president at the time. And of course, thanks to the governing class. Because of you, we WILL do this all again after we finally absent ourselves from Afghanistan and Iraq. That's because many reading this are hopping mad right now – not at the situation, but at me - and you are incapable of learning.
All the other foreign debacles I mentioned at the outset will play out just as well. Some of that will be Trump's fault. But his predecessors teed all of it up, especially in the cases of China and North Korea.