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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.

If you prefer to get straight to the big picture, read the book.

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.


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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.

Oh, hell. Just read the damn book.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/35980364@N04/31607887384/”>mccauleys-corner</a> Flickr via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
Putin:Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/45909111@N00/9817146255/”>Gwydion M. Williams</a> Flickr via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
protest: Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/126497846@N03/46815696351/”>hillels</a> Flickr via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
soldier:  Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/152139242@N07/47928990378/”>Katzencie ♡</a> Flickr via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
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The Man Who Lost Egypt, Libya, Iraq, etc.

In the aftermath of WWII, the world stood, jaws agape and watched China taken by a notoriously hated band of overbearing Communists.  This while an ally of the most powerful force on the planet (with tons and tons of war material left from war production that could have aided them), fled to a small island and lost their country.  Worse, in the next war, these same Communists made life miserable for our troops in Korea.  A fading echo of that day is the charge against Truman for being the man who “lost China.”  At the time, his losing China and getting in over his head in Korea, got Truman ousted in favor of a man who understood the realities of the world.

The day after that election the rehabilitation of Truman began.  It continued, buoyed by his folksy charm and longevity and through exceedingly kind historians.   The pillar that would probably be his permanent image makeover was the David McCoullough work, Truman.

But the fact is, that through the latter years of his tenure, Harry was in over his head.

Fast forward to the present administration.  They have the historical advantage of two cautionary tales, Truman and Chamberlain.  By being more assertive than Truman AND by not being a complete rube, a la Chamberlain (the Munich Accords) Obama could have coasted through all 8 years by having a credible threat of American might in his pocket. But he did exactly the opposite.

First, he went on an apology tour.  By denigrating his country, however honorable he thought the message,  all he inspired was contempt. Predictably, the world snickered behind its collective hand and realized immediately that as long as this guy was around, America could be played.

He then, after ignoring Al Maliki for months on end, and doing nothing about a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq, sent Joe Biden over to try to create one, with just over thirty days left before the deadline.  Just picking Biden for the job twigged our friends and enemies alike that we were not serious.  We were LEAVING.  So Obama declared victory (you can’t declare them, they have to be earned) and yanked us out precipitously. This virtually assured us that the 4000 or so of our guys who died over there died for nothing. And things would get worse in Iraq; more in a bit.

Meantime, in Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, forces that had been impotent for decades found themselves in a world where they could at least try to seize power and nothing would stop them.

Libya:
In February of 2011, following the lead of Tunisia and rumblings in Syria, elements of Al Qaeda in North Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood (both Muslim terms for excrement) and a smattering of regular Libyans rose up to depose Qaddafi.  The two choices available to the US were 1) Support Qaddafi. This was not tempting despite the fact that he had handed over his chemical weapons and nuke research, was kissing the west’s asses and making oil deals or 2) Do nothing and play power broker later.  Obama/Jarrett chose…

…You guessed it.  Door number three!  We’ll sit on our hands and see if a short-term political advantage opens up.  Such an opening wasn’t forthcoming.  So it was on to door number four – lead from behind and help the little people of the “people’s revolution,” not knowing who we were helping.  Actually, the administration probably did know, if they were listening to the intelligence community.  But they were happy to lend credence to the uncivilized excrement to cover their own early fecklessness.  Anyway, with ill-informed people calling for Qaddafi’s ouster, Obama facilitated just that by neutering the Libyan forces and letting our REAL enemies take charge of more than half the country.  He compounded this error by, in keeping with his apology tour philosophy, insisting on a “small footprint” in Libya.  So small in fact, that Hilary denied the diplomatic functionaries in that hell hole the requisite security to assure their survival.  One needs NO HINDSIGHT to know this.  There is a paper trail.  Libya was lost. Obama’s incompetence is the reason.

Egypt

In the meantime, Cairo really heated up.  Inspired by their ally’s success in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood turned up the temperature in Egypt.  What does the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight do?  Why not, double down! This time in a show of feckless naiveté or mercenary political cynicism, Obama nakedly sided with the MB. We threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus.

Let’s tease this out a bit.

Truman, our standing lesson to all presidents since, came to DC through the careful handling of more than nefarious political hacks back in Missouri.  As a local political operative he learned how to schmooze. In congress he learned how to wheel and deal over a game of poker.  It wasn’t hard to get what you wanted from someone on a stroll around Key West, especially since they came there for a deal to begin with.  But on the world stage, requiring nuance and a certain level of acceptance of things “un-American”…despite the labors of his advisors, Harry was not equipped.  How could he help this Chiang fellow, by golly, he just didn’t like him very much.

Mubarak has always been seen in the West as barely tolerable.  He was politically tough. His kind of tough, in a barely civilized Middle East was seen by many as a necessary evil. He kept the policies of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.  

Let’s see…why is that important? Well, it was Sadat that turned his back on the Soviets and towards the West.  He made major capital improvements in Egypt.  He achieved, defended and enforced a peace deal with Israel and ignored the Muslim Brotherhood’s calls for the primacy of the Religion of Silly and backward policies.  When the MB had him killed, they thought they’d have more power and this young Mubarak would be their face man.  They were wrong.  Mubarak, correctly, crushed the angry zealots and kept them under his boot for 40 years.  

Yeah, cruel, I know.  Anyway, the Left in the West made occasional noise about Mubarak’s tactics from time to time, but never had a suggestion as to how to treat the slime we now see running roughshod through Libya, Syria, Iraq and all over Africa without using strong-arm tactics.  You see, the slime controls its people with the use of tactics worse than Mubarak’s and breathtakingly stupid promises dug up in the Koran to keep their movement going.  Compared to them, Mubarak is the humanitarian of the century – and a bloody Einstein.

And so, ignorant of history, Obama opted for gaining two or three days of good polls with his political base and let Egypt slide into the hands of people who would like to run Egypt the way ISIS runs Northern Iraq.  But there was hope.  Despite this administration’s incompetence, the Egyptian citizens quickly realized that the MB was not the answer to Egypt’s needs and dumped them.  Did our State Department recognize the opportunity and throw in with the more moderate group who took out the MB?  With el-Sisi?  No.  That would have lost a point or two in the polls among the Occupy Wall Street daisies.

So a few weeks ago, when the seeds of this blog started to take shape, we stood by like the ugly chick at the dance and watched el-Sisi make not only one, but two head-to-head state visits to Putin’s Russia.  The easiest and most important ally to maintain in an important region was giving up on us and turning toward a man who doesn’t think the Cold War is over.   El-Sisi will receive weapons and advise on how Russia does things.  And Putin is the power broker in that region now.  If Egypt hadn’t gone over, Putin’s position would have been fluid, at best.  Further, we see an Egypt that isn’t going to consult with us before making its own military moves in North Africa; in itself, not an offense.  But it is the clearest demonstration of the diminishing cache the U.S. has left in the world.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, the most uncivilized, backward bunch of psychotic religious rubes are racing around Iraq in our tanks and troop carriers, with buckets of money and firing our weapons at civilians and military alike while Obama dithers.  Here’s a little scoop for you…He’s known about the merry band of lunatics for years.  So, our guys died for nothing.  The bad guys knew Obama was leaving.

So, until the history books re-romanticize the image of this president, but forever among those who respect real history, Obama will be the man who lost influence in Syria, stood helplessly as countries in Africa fell victim to Al Qaeda, blew opportunities in Iran, and lost Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and –  most needlessly – Egypt.  Through their towering incompetence and political opportunism (a la Mussolini) this administration has done untold damage all over the world and throughout the domestic body politic. But losing Egypt after throwing away the gains of two wars will be seen as the foreign policy humdinger.

A middle school child would have better heeded the lessons from Chamberlain/Truman than this president has.

Note:  Before publishing this essay, A tentative, murky, half-measure plan was announced by the administration to deal with ISIS, now the wealthiest terrorist group in history.  It’s going to take more than knocking out mortar tubes and individuals to end this bunch.  Stay tuned.