With the 2016 presidential race well under way, foreign policy “strategies” get tossed about, but so far no candidate has offered a clear policy or worse demonstrated a clear understanding of the threats facing America. While the GOP candidates jostle to outdo each other on sounding tough, Hillary offers more of the Obama failed policies and Sanders doesn’t even have a foreign policy.
My frustration with the foreign policy “experts” centers squarely on the cherry-picking of events, intelligence and “expertise” to bolster domestic partisan political views rather than dealing with what General Mike Flynn referred to as it’s time to “get real”. In order to “get real” it’s way past time to look at American foreign policy actions and then assess how those actions actually fared in achieving the strategic objectives. Another big problem rests with the experts themselves, whose careers and reputations become intricately linked to the policies, leading to myopic clinging to bad policies or policies that worked in the short term, but also instigated large scale, long-term blowback.
For instance, President Reagan armed the mujahadin in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union and thwart Soviet expansion. Certainly, the Soviets were thwarted, but those radical mujahadin evolved into Al Qaeda. Too many Republicans try to ignore or gloss over that nexus of arming radical Salafist nuts, to later find those weapons and training used against the US. The Clinton administration spent the 1990s trying to minimize and trivialize the threat Al Qaeda posed, preferring to turn a blind eye to increasing radicalization and targeting of Western and US interests around the world.
In Bosnia the Clinton administration embarked on choosing a side in a bloody civil war and chose to arm Bosnian Muslim radicals, while the Western press propagandized the combatants, turning some into saints and some into evil incarnate. No clear US national security interest ever surfaced for US intervention, just a lot of feel good humanitarian claptrap. Atrocities were committed by not only the Serbs, but by the Bosnian Muslims too. In the intervening years, arming and aiding the Bosnian Muslims has allowed radical Islamists and Iran to use Bosnia as a European training ground and smuggling corridor into Europe. John Smith, wrote a piece on this yesterday, “Clinton’s Bosnia Adventure Goes South”. John Schindler, at the XX Committee blog, had a piece on this a few weeks ago. Schindler has researched the Bosnia misadventure extensively, penned a book on the subject, but he also offers many free links to information at his blog: “Operation CUT: Bosnia versus the Islamic State”.
After 9/11, the US embarked on a “war on terror”, which took several strategic paths, but none of them achieved a decisive defeat of “terror” or defeat of the Islamist terrorists waging that war. Throughout the GWB years, adminsitration officials endlessly announced the death of Al Qaeda #2 or #3 or “high-ranking”, all to no avail, because this decapitation strategy doesn’t work to degrade or defeat Islamist terrorist organizations. John McCreary’s Nightwatch printed a very insightful comment on this approach 11/7/13.
“It also highlights a degenerative leadership pattern resulting from the US program of leadership decapitation. First, there is always someone waiting for the chance to be leader. Second, the new leaders are less experienced and wise than the men they replace. Third, the new generation of leaders is more extreme and theologically rigid than its predecessors. Finally, the new leaders tend to be unknown to intelligence relative to their predecessors. Decapitation is not a permanent solution to an insurgency or an uprising.”
The Obama administration continues this decapitation strategy, without any positive strategic outcome.
President Obama decided to try a novel and extremely foolhardy approach to extract the US from the stuck military occupations of the Bush administration. Yes, partisan politics aside, the ouster of Saddam Hussein was a strategic mistake. It destabilized the region even more and emboldened Iran. Enter President Obama and he compounds the errors with catastrophic blunders – announcing a withdrawal date before he even got troops on the ground in Afghanistan for his ballyhooed surge, that never materialized. The Taliban hunkered down to wait us out and they sit poised now to seize control of Afghanistan after we leave. In Iraq, Obama decided to pull out too and created a power vacuum, which the Islamic State capitalized on setting up a pseudo-state.
From the minute the glorious Arab Spring hit the news, an endless cycle of feel-good, fairy tale “democratic” beliefs replaced sound, hard-nosed strategic analysis. In Egypt, the US supported the ouster of a staunch US ally, all to champion the Muslim Brotherhood, which US officials, from the President to his intelligence gurus James Clapper and John Brennan, to his clueless Secretary of State, with her MB affiliated top aide by her side, proclaimed as a mostly “secular” organization. Of course, that was a lie, mayhem in Egypt ensued and the Egyptian military restored some semblance of order, albeit within an autocratic military regime state structure. In the process of tossing aside Mubarak, US credibility plummeted, because now all leaders in that region know the US can not be trusted. In that strategic blunder, President Obama cavalierly created an existential threat to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the region. Israel had to rethink it’s entire national security strategy when the Sinai security framework disappeared.
Moving on, the Obama administration and many GOP leaders, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham jumped onto the Arab Spring bandwagon too. Libya became another strategic disaster – the US displaced a strongman dictator, who had been cooperating with US anti-terrorism efforts, all to support some imaginary moderate rebel “freedom-fighters”. That these rebels turned out to be Al-Qaeda-affiliated and Islamist radicals should surprise no one, because here again the intelligence contained these facts, but politicians chose to believe the myths. In the case of Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received updates of unvetted information from her long-time friend, Sidney Blumenthal, who was promoting his own business interests and her own privately-funded intelligence operative, Tyler Drumheller.
Who was the US arming in Libya? And where did the US send those weapons it was gathering up at Benghazi? Well, the likely answers are radical Islamists (you know, the types who are ideological bedfellows of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State). The action then moved to Syria, where the Obama administration and many Republicans decided it was in US national interest to oust a dictator and create another power vacuum. The balanced weighing of vetted intelligence again fell to the “experts” outside of the US intelligence apparatus. In Syria, the Obama administration, many top Republicans, neocon pundits and the media all relied on one young woman as the fount of knowledge on the Syrian rebels – one Elizabeth O’Bagy. How this one young woman became the go-to definitive source that both Secretary of State, John Kerry and GOP leader, John McCain relied on defies reason. How did this one young woman become THE source the US government was relying on???
In Syria, more of the same, the Obama administration had the CIA arming “moderate” Syrian rebels, although all of these rebels are Islamists and none of them indicates a willingness to respect ethnic and religious minorities, but these are the “moderates” the Obama administration chose to back.
GOP candidates like Rubio, still tout the neocon talking points and the one that irks me the most is the charge that if only Obama had intervened sooner in Syria civil war, then things would be different. Why in the hell and by what reasoning is it in US national interests to jump into the middle of a civil war in a country that is not of vital national security interest to the US? This same humanitarian argument is the same one President Clinton used in Bosnia.
And here’s where we are at – none of the candidates on either side wants to actually sit down and objectively assess the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to US foreign policy. Every strategy comes with unforeseen, unpredictable blowback and consequences. Ignoring these unpleasant realities, to prop up partisan, not quite strategic talking points, leaves us falling further and further afield of comprehending the reality on the ground and of being able to choose a better path forward. We are lost in the land of false narratives, faux experts and fallacious reasoning. Surveying the 2016 field, as far as the eye can see, it’s very unlikely any of the 2016 candidates will be able to cut through the crap and as JK advised, “learn to be a crow and seek the golden nuggets” from the pile. The 2016 field appears to be all magpies and mockingbirds – no crows in sight.