Saturday, April 30, 2016

Trump's Foreign Policy - It's Certainly Incoherent, but is it Wrong?

Asking the right questions,
offering the wrong answers
Virtually all other nations make decisions about international relations, alliances and belligerency based on a pragmatic sense of what is best for them.  They don't have the economic or military luxury to make unnecessary enemies or get involved in foreign conflicts that do not concern them directly, and may be, due to multiple factions and outside proxies, utterly unwinnable. The United States, of course, is different. With a globally dominant military and the largest economy in the world, American foreign policy can be made with a less narrow vision. And I think it's fair to say that, as the dominant world power, the US DOES have a responsibility to take on roles and missions that improve peace and stability throughout the world.

As president, Donald Trump proposes that we more closely examine the assumptions and claims around our foreign policy goals, to make certain that we are acting primarily - or perhaps in his vision exclusively - in our own best interest. Now, he has a very narrow understanding of what constitutes US interest, based substantially on extracting payments from our allies and forcing our adversaries to back down in the face of our belligerent threats, but being willing to consider these policies in terms of costs, benefits, realistic goals and historic understanding of the limits of military intervention is precisely what we should be doing more of.

I am one who believes there is a time and a place for humanitarian military intervention (Rwanda, Srebrinica, Misrata, Goma), and if the rest of the world won't do it then yes, we absolutely should. But other than in those rather unusual cases, American foreign policy and American interests should be at least fairly tightly aligned. ISIS, for example, is a regional problem. They are fighting in the civil war in Syria, and they are fighting a related insurgency in Iraq. They are a product of horrifically bad governance in the regional nations and a centuries-old sectarian dispute. They are a very serious problem in Riyadh, Tehran, Ankara and certainly Damascus, but they really are not a threat or a challenge to Washington. Those nations that have an immediate, local interest in resisting ISIS also have modern, powerful militaries, and are to the region what the US is to the globe. I can see NO reason why the US should be involved in that fight at all - if the Saudis and the Turks and the Iraqis and the Syrians can't be bothered to fight that battle, the US should recognize the hopelessness and pointlessness of her own involvement.

Look. American intervention in the Persian Gulf and North Africa has been an unmitigated disaster for a quarter century at least. Proposing that we change directions, espousing a different approach than Bush, Obama, Clinton, Biden and Sanders to varying degrees have taken since Gulf War I is not automatically wrong. There's certainly a lot of conflicting messages and outright cluelessness in Trump's positions, but this is a conversation we've GOT to start having. WHY are American troops still in Afghanistan? WHY should we escalate into Iraq AGAIN? Should we continue to risk a war with China over some uninhabited rocks in the China sea? Would we REALLY go to war against Russia over Latvia?

A peaceful, prosperous planet is in America's interest. To the extent that regional conflicts threaten that (do they REALLY?) then it's in America's interest to tamp them down, not inflame them. Islamic terrorism IS a problem - but it's almost universally a problem in Muslim nations. It's a series of unwinnable conflicts we don't have to fight - and a very good rule of thumb is that any war that isn't necessary is a war that shouldn't be fought.

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