The truth matters.
Thinking about America’s “big picture” strategy, first I’m going to meander on about America’s War on Terror a bit and then pivot to the “little picture” homegrown “Trump problems”, which in the end are probably way more important to America than our regional strategy in the Mid-East.
President Trump did not cause America’s failures in the War on Terror. America’s foreign policy experts, on both sides of the aisle, have made plenty of disastrous strategic mistakes in America’s endless War on Terror, since 2001. Our extreme partisan Trump Hysterics United echo chamber in the media makes it difficult, for these foreign policy experts to concede this fact, but it’s the truth.
The people who did formulate and carry-out these policies that failed, came from both sides of the political aisle, in previous administrations. Some of them now are the loudest Trump critics, while at the same time refusing to admit their own policies failed. In the spirit of the season, it’s also only right to concede that they acted with good intentions to do what they believed was best for America.
Thinking back over my many angry and scathing blog posts about Obama administration decisions, made in the heady, High-On-Arab-Spring delusions days, that’s quite a big concession, considering how disgusted I was by their massive media “narrative-writing” efforts to sugarcoat American strategic blunders and their refusal to admit mistakes and failures. To this day, many of the loudest Trump critics, who underwrote failed Bush and Obama era foreign policy, still determinedly spin their failures as successes.
For many years, I’ve believed we should completely rethink our War on Terror, expand our focus to be more about regional stability and less about a myopic fixation on killing Islamic radical terrorists. By turning American interests into strictly destroying Al Qaeda, Inc. we’ve overlooked many other key American interests in the region and we’ve allowed ourselves to get stuck on repeating failed approaches, over and over and over.
Even more alarming, in our zeal to invest more in military options rather than other tools of American power, we’ve failed to weigh the real damage grinding down our military, decades of endless war has wrought on our military readiness. We’ve been so used to believing our military is invincible, that American policymakers too often grab for a military option, without even considering how that option might impact bigger picture American strategic issues.
It’s easy to get lost in Trump outrage spin cycles, just like many conservatives (myself included), often got lost in the Obama outrage spin cycles, but the real strategic issue America needs to deal with is we need a larger regional strategy that bolsters American national interests. That’s how I began thinking about the late General William Odom last night, even as my ire simmered at how President Trump went about handling his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The above video of General Odom is worth watching and thinking about.
America needs a new regional strategy to deal with the Mid-East and the umbrella of Sharia-inspired terrorists, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, regardless who is in the Oval Office.
There are many larger foreign policy strategic problems that might be fall-out from the “how” Trump operates, but in my view, the greatest problem remains, not just Trump, but our, by any means necessary, 2016 scorched earth SPIN information war, that has destabilized and corrupted both political parties and most especially the media, both FOX News and the mainstream media.
Trump might be an indiscriminate flamethrower, but he isn’t the only one intent on using SPIN info war guerrilla warfare. The constant no holds barred smear campaigns, character assassination attacks and orchestrated disinformation attacks on the American people provide an open information warfare battlefield for America’s adversaries to easily operate at fueling American divides, without ever having to deploy a single military unit to American soil.
The entire Syria mess has been so mired in spin lies, that it’s hard to figure out what is going on in Syria and what our mission even is in Syria.
I didn’t believe we should get involved in the Syrian hot mess, despite the ISIS threat, the larger humanitarian refugee crisis, or the “Assad the Butcher” arguments ( all of which had some validity). The “how” U.S. involvement would help advance U.S. national interests and how the lessons learned about problems from our previous regime change efforts would be avoided in a Syria intervention never made any sense to me.
After Russia took action in Syria to prop up Assad, the U.S. involvement chorus morphed into competing discordant parts. The arming “Syrian Moderates Rebels” delusions set the stage for more delusions about how removing ISIS from Raqqa was the key to destroying ISIS and somehow that would lead to stability in Syria, that removing ISIS was the key to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and then for good measure there was the larger strategic argument about how getting involved in Syria would help deter Russian and Iranian regional dominance.
None of the arguments ever made much sense to me, as part of a larger regional stability strategy… probably because I don’t think we ever had a big picture strategy. We have a bullet point presentation of talking points strategy. Islamist terrorist groups quickly relocate, regroup, rearm, and rebrand. Assad and the Russians had effectively broken the Syrian rebels. I wondered how we would deter Iranians in Syria when we hadn’t figured out how to deter the Iranian-backed militias in Baghdad from increasing their influence in the Baghdad government, which vast amounts of American money and thousands of precious American lives went into nursing into existence and bolstering.
How Trump went about this decision will likely lead to damage to America’s relationship with our allies and he does operate like a one-man wrecking ball to our international system, which many of his supporters will cheer on, just like they cheered on his “GOP Insurgency”, asserting the GOP deserved to be burned to the ground.
The problem with Trump, the touted “Builder” is he seems particularly uninterested in the most important part of any building, whether a Trump Tower or a new political movement. He prefers to stay ensconced in his ivory tower mean tweeting his “enemies, than he does in building a solid foundation for his new GOP or his MAGA effort.
I remember the conservative fainting couch reactions to President Obama’s clashes with the generals, because I spent a good deal of time blogging while prostrate on my own fainting couch. I’m trying not to get too worked up about Trump’s impulsive Syria decision, although the difference seems, to me at least, that Obama was prone to foot-dragging and kicking the can down the road, rather than making tough decisions. Trump, on the other hand, makes impulsive decisions based on “his gut”…
In my view, President Trump prefers being the one-man show in his MAGA circular firing squad. He takes aim at people in his own administration, America’s intelligence agencies, the FBI, Congressional Republicans, the media and now – General Mattis. His ammo is low-grade, scattershot mean tweets and petty name-calling. His attacks on General Mattis will likely lead to dissension within the top levels of the Pentagon and his “playing his own team against each other antics ” could create some dangerous confusion and distrust at the highest levels of the American chain of command.
That’s way more worrying to me than whether we pull out of Syria. He was tweeting late last night:
@of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!
He’s trusting his good friend, Erdogan, and today he’s on a twitter rant, taking wild pot shots at his assorted “enemies” (Americans whom he thinks have personally wronged him). What he isn’t doing is studying policy or strategy or working on a better big picture strategy for America in the ME, after we pull out of Syria and he isn’t working to build any sort of foundation of support for his domestic agenda.
It’s hard to envision any sort of regional ME strategy developing in an administration where the POTUS gets more energized waging war against his own cabinet than he does reading anything about foreign policy. His strategic depth really is his simplistic “killing ISIS family members to scare ISIS fighters into submission plan”, which he doubled-down on during the 2016 primary. He believes that was a brilliant strategy, so expecting him to grasp a larger regional strategy is hopeless… Trump also isn’t going to hire the best people and seems to struggle keeping any competent people. He isn’t going to do anything other than foment more chaos and be an endless, one-man show circular firing squad.
You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but often some unexpected things grow from manure piles. When I was a kid, in the summer time we used to sit on the flat roof of our rabbit coop, which was 3 or so feet high. Often we’d eat watermelon slices perched there and spit the seeds toward the nearby pile of rabbit manure. Many summers, that manure pile was covered with robust watermelon plants that sent out long runners, which produced lots of watermelons.
Perhaps, we should all be trying to spit out as many good policy seeds toward the Trump manure pile and hope some sprout and grow…
14 responses to “Trump the Builder & our Syria Policy”
I’ve yet to read this post LB, yet – actually I landed here to … well you know.
Anyway. What I want to do posting on this post before reading it is this – no matter our individual view on any of this tempest de jour my respect for your’s and my general admiration for the hows and whys you’ve come to be doing to what you’re doing remain unchanged. My regard in all that truly is matteriferous [remember in this Christmas Season LB, me being a Arkansas hillbilly if I type something a Pennsylvania quaker questions “Is that really a word?” – well yes actually that is a word]
Is that all of the other stuff is superfluous [now on that supposed word I’ve had issues but it’s hard to argue with the OED].
Merry Christmas my Friend and Colleague
Okay LB I’ve read it and now I’m eagerly open to suggestions of which, specific, former US President, Chaos Donny ought emulate based on that President’s real and lasting success.
Jimmy Carter’s September ’78 bringing together of the African piece of the Sunni-aligned bit that brought Peace (such as it is even unto today) to the Sinai springs to mind but then a mere thirteen months later Mecca blows up followed pretty short thereafter by the US embassy becoming something of a problem.
There was FDR of course since all he had to do was to get the Arabs out from under the Nazi sway. Reagan maybe by doing his alleged “Arms for Hostages” – Bush I for not going ahead and rolling into Baghdad and Bush II because he did – Truman for setting up the Agency that set up the Shahnate which, proved later to be somewhat problematic.
The Eisenhower Doctrine which, some have accused Obama screwing up because after his Middle East “Apology Tour” on the advice of his Middle East “experts” for all intents and purposes got kicked into a higher gear.
Sometime some US President lost his train of thought where “consulting with the allies” was concerned and the Suez Crisis erupted. Kennedy comes along and Oman, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria gets onto the maps some US children are first hearing about in Social Studies.
Now I know I’m leaving somebody out … oh yeah LBJ.
Good thing for his Middle East legacy I guess was him only having to manufacture a couple of US Navy ship’s navigators figuring out where the Gulf of Tonkin was.
I just watched the video you led your post with.
I was wrong not to do so from the beginning.
I am listening to the links you posted just now. Btw, interestingly enough, Gen. Odom penned another book, with a co-author, that it seems appropriate to mention in this situation: https://www.amazon.com/Americas-Inadvertent-Empire-Yale-Nota/dp/0300107714/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1545704799&sr=8-1&keywords=America%27s+inadvertent+empire
Gen. Odom found himself rather alone among the policy elite in his opinions on the War On Terror
I commiserate with the fellow.
Brave guy for all he tried to call attention to. Or not, sometimes bravery can be mistaken for simply trying to, for a person in his position, trying to call attention to which were either balls or strikes.
It came down to, I’m figuring for him, him being … or feeling, that when it came right down to it, he personally, was responsible … or felt the weight anyway .. of having the duty of answering for the fellows he shared so much with.
Different these days as I understand it – few in Washington DC share much of anything.
Just hitting your Syria posts in order for me to be able to save links. My computer is unavailable for awhile thus only a laptop owned be “somebody else” can I utilize pending my return. just got permission to create a word document and so here I am.
Thanks JK, I did see that and of course, I believe plans for a pull-out in Syria have been in discussions for a long time, BUT the agreed upon framework for that call with Erdogan is where Trump went off the rails from what his administration and America’s allies believed was where we were at.
This article is a Trump face-saving effort, just like Bolton’s headed to Israel to calm ruffled feathers there.
The issue is how Trump talked to Erdogan and did a complete 180 on what his top national security advisers believed was going to be the American position in that call.
So, I think this Erdogan call is a repeat of Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where Trump, who reveres these “strongmen”, got sucked in and played (flipped).
Trump came out of that Helsinki meeting all puffed-up and enamored with being Putin’s best bro. He had agreed to have the FBI work with the GRU to interrogate Americans.
Trump’s giveaway line on how much he was played by Putin is:
“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.
For Trump, Putin = STRONG and Trump worships STRONG.
Immediately, the WH started distancing the WH policy from Trump’s blunder and Trump talked his way back from that agreement.
He was easily flipped by Putin. Erdogan did the same exact thing. That’s why Kim Jong Un and Putin quickly offered to have more one-on-one talks with Trump again.
Trump is still talking his way back to his administration’s original script before the Erdogan call, his administration is on a full-court effort to calm the ruffled feathers of our allies and the WH PR effort is to pretend Trump didn’t go off-script and wasn’t flipped by Erdogan. Trump yesterday had moved from Syria pull-out to now “no timeline”.
Even though Trump backpedals from these blunders, it’s aiding our adversaries by throwing all of our alliances with our allies into chaos constantly.
Trump loves to brag about how he knows strategy better than the generals and how you have to use the element of surprise. The problem is Trump loves these one-on-one meetings, where he’s the big dealmaker and he cuts deals with American adversaries, while his own top advisers are left in the dark. Trump’s use of the element of surprise throws Trump’s own national security team into chaos, while he’s cut secret deals schmoozing with the strongmen he so admires.
From watching Trump, it seems he believes he is “cutting great deals for America” and has no real awareness that he has thrown his own top national security team under the bus and made America’s allies distrust America.
Trump has thrown his administration under the bus on domestic policy, many times too, where they believe, based on meetings and policies Trump has agreed to, that these are Trump’s policies. Yet Trump will go out in public and do a complete 180.
There should be no illusions how he operates. Often, it’s based on some garbage he saw on FOX News or some call to some other yahoo outside the administration.
That think tank link you posted, I recognize 3 of the names, Jim Hanson, David Reiboi and Nick Short, as big Trump Twitter Spin Commandos. I read through a bit of this report on the Khashoggi case though, because that information on Turkey’s info-ops is fascinating and I want to read through the whole thing. However, the thing I will keep in mind is this think tank is run by some big Trump SPIN Info War Commandos.
I think my prediction of the outcome of Trump’s meeting with Putin still holds up pretty well:
The President of the United States let his own top national security advisers and America’s allies know about his agreement with Erdogan via a tweet. That’s the truth.
I’m forced to bookmark this post LB, no way can I do justice to a response away from my links (recent history) and, no small taters, a regular/normal keyboard. I would venture this though, however the “proper way” might have been, having Erdogan being the only guy in that neighbourhood ‘acceptable” to deal with was gonna be … oh I guess I’ll settle on, problematic.
It occurred LB, yes the FP piece “might be” seen as an apologia but this link (apologies if already dropped it on LBDs) was posted back in, I think, March:
Well May looks like.
Thanks, JK. I don’t remember reading this and it is an interesting read.
Still friends though shant we remain?
(And – You’ll forgive my Webster for my allowing that ‘u’ to slip in “our” neighborhood? … Sometimes is more difficult than othertimes … like that silly word preceding I just typed … I mean; whoever uses words like ‘shant”?
Damned foreign keyboards.
Oh well. We just does as we can.