The Trump Doctrine

At times I feel like the only person in the country not emotionally invested in the likely death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed, apparently, in quite the gruesome manner in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Instanbul, Turkey.  OK I get it, terrible story, but why exactly does this require a diplomatic response from the United States?  The US government doesn’t get involved in every foreign Coca-Cola employee in the third world who gets dragged away by a death squad.  And the death of a dissident to a despotic regime isn’t exactly breaking news.  It’s fair to say that this happens every day somewhere in the world, without the accompanying MSM hysterics.

The answer of course, is that he was employed as a journalist at The Washington Post, and in an age in which the West has abandoned religion, a new priestly caste has emerged, the MSM journalist.  That’s why the MSM has turned a minor story into a US foreign policy crisis.  This has already occupied the breaking news and top story for a week, and the new rule is if Eugene Robinson and the table at the MSNBC set are outraged, then everyone has to be.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood and someone who was a friend of Osama Bin Ladin, who mourned his death.  You really need to make a much stronger case to me on why his death shouldn’t be cheered, rather than causing spasms of outrage.  If there is a reason for outrage in this story, its how such a person got a green card in the first place?  Let’s investigate that.

Trump’s initial instincts on this seem to have been correct, dismissing it as not that big a deal, before the media blew it up into THE STORY of the week.  No doubt the view that this is THE STORY reflected the view of many of Trump’s advisors.  After all, doesn’t everyone seem to accept the judgement of the Post and other news outlets as to what is news, and what is major news?  It is interesting though that Trump’s default position is quite different from what the current White House line is…

Over at the Lion of the Blogosphere a few months ago, Lion did a post describing the “Trump Doctrine.

“If there is a Trump doctrine, it is that we have to accept foreign countries the way they are, and not turn them into copies of Western democracies. Russia has never had a democratic government like the United States, but the Trump doctrine is that we can still be friends instead of trying to sabotage their government for not being exactly like America or Germany.”

As a working definition, it’s not a bad one.  And why shouldn’t he define it?  It’s not as if Presidential “doctrines” are released as a White Paper or press release.  They are discovered by observing the administration in action.  Most famously the “Bush Doctrine” was ham-handedly used by Charlie Gibson in a rather famous gotcha interview with Sarah Palin in which she described the Bush Doctrine, just not the way Charlie Gibson wanted.  However the actual author (or discoverer) of the Bush Doctrine, the late Charles Krauthammer, defended Palin’s take.

But I had been thinking of this for a while.  Back in 2014, I had started, but never finished, a draft of a post called, “Realpolitik,” to describe what I thought should be the style and direction of US foreign policy.  Inspired, of all people, by neo-con former Wall Street Journal columnist and current New York Times official Never-Trumper Bret Stephens, in a column he wrote for the WSJ called, Relearning Republican Foreign Policy.  With the line, “A policeman is not a priest,” Stephens made the case for a muscular foreign policy without the moralizing and messaging of either George Bush’s freedom agenda or Obama’s “reputation of a faithless friend and feckless foe.”  This line, though, is the killer:

“Someday, maybe, a Republican will be in the White House again. If that’s to happen, Americans will need some reassurance that the GOP knows how to steer a straight course between the temptations of Barack Obama’s strategic timidity and George W. Bush’s idealistic excess.“

In probably the greatest Monkey’s Paw wish of all time, Stephen’s got exactly what he asked for in this 2014 op-ed with the election of President Donald Trump.

Stephens must be exhausted from all of his spinning around and changing positions, since in this week’s NYT post, Khashoggi’s Killing Isn’t a Blunder. It’s a Crime, Stephens is back to his neo-con roots, ready to lead a new moralistic crusade against the Saudi’s.

It’s actually fair to say that a more moralistic foreign policy has a time in place.  It was integral to Reagan’s policy initiatives in fighting the Cold War, but Reagan didn’t shy away with allying with some less than savory folk in order to oppose what he saw as the graeter evil: the Soviet Union.  But we are in a different time and place, and our foreign policy challenges are totally different than the bi-polar cold war steady state which occupied US foreign policy for decades.

In the current era it seems clear to me that not every struggle around the world is our struggle, and not every fight all over the world is our fight.  We have limited resources, not just of military might or money, but time and attention.  Time wasted on this Khashoggi matter is time not spent on other foreign policy issues like trade, or domestic ones, like immigration.  And no outcome in running down every Saudi royal guard is likely to benefit US foreign policy in the slightest.

Trump’s instincts, the “Trump Doctrine,” are Realpolitik; a foreign policy based on US national interests and practical benefits rather than ideology or faux outrage.  If the GOP picks this up as a foreign policy template, that’s yet another Trump “win.”

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The Costs of the Arab Spring

In a general sense, the main stream media has done an extremely poor job of covering the President, so intent as they

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiati...

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiations, Mubarak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel look at their watches to see if it is officially sunset; during Ramadan, Muslims fast until sunset. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) We won’t see this gang together again

are in protecting him that we seldom get good interview questions from the usual crew of White House reporters.  The Pimp with a Limp asked better questions than the usual gang of NBC, CBS, and ABC boot lickers, however during Obama’s interview with Telemundo the President was actually asked a serious and pertinent question:

Jose Diaz Balart – Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

President Obama:  I don’t think that we would consider then an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.  They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.  They were democratically elected.  I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.

Obama seemed to be caught off guard because it was a really good question, and he hasn’t gotten many of those lately.  Practically speaking, the Arab Spring only seems to subtract from the list of US allies, it doesn’t add to them.  Any Arab country that has any sort of free and fair elections are going to vote in Islamist regimes since, as the Pew polls demonstrate, that is what the people want.  So in the case of Arab countries, Democracy = Islamist governments.  I assumed that the administration had a strategy for that, since they supported the Arab Spring. But it seemed that their “smart diplomacy” was based mostly on the supposed healing force of Obama’s personality.

Of course this isn’t just Obama’s foreign party debacle.  Both parties share the blame in this, including king of the neo cons himself; George W. Bush.  Bush delivered a speech in May that outlined how he thought America should conduct itself in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Some in both parties in Washington look at the risks inherent in democratic change—particularly in the Middle East and North Africa—and find the dangers too great. America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.

But in the long run, this foreign policy approach is not realistic. It is not within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable. Oppressive governments distrust the diffusion of choice and power, choking off the best source of national prosperity and success.

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies—internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

And that’s why ultimately we didn’t have much choice other than to be more or less supportive of the Arab Spring.  We supported dictators and other strongmen during the cold war because we needed allies against the Soviets, so in the great game of superpower politics, it made sense.  We also supported Mubarak specifically to maintain the Egyptian Israeli peace; the one US “victory” in Arab/Israeli relations.  However it was a peace dependent on US troops in the Sinai, lots of money to both Israel and Egypt, and of course, supporting an Egyptian dictator.  With the dictator gone, the string that is holding the fragile peace together is slowly unraveling.

So the Arab Spring, which started last year and is still causing waves, including the current civil war in Syria, left us with little choice but to support it, although so far we’ve done it in such a ham handed way that we’ve caused ourselves a great deal of damage.  We supported Mubarak… supported him, supported him….and yer out!  To any other ally of the US, it looked as if we had betrayed our chosen ally based on the impulses of a mob.  We owed Mubarak something, and rotting in a jail cell doesn’t highlight the benefits of being a US ally.

Although the administration screwed up royally with its handling of Egypt, I’m not guilt free myself.  I supported democracy for the Middle East.  And I supported elections in Egypt, although I didn’t support forcing Mubarak to step down.  What I would have wanted, as a US reaction, was to support free and fair elections… in the future.  To at least give time for some more moderate parties to organize and to provide US support for them.  The only organized opposition to Mubarak was the Muslim Brotherhood, so no surprise they end up as the big winners.

Even crazier was our policy towards Libya.  The West had spent years trying to bring Gaddafi to heel, and after seeing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi decided to make nice with the West.  He paid compensation for Lockerbie, and turned over his WMD’s to the UN.  In other words, he became the very model of a modern Middle Eastern dictator, transforming his rogue state to one that was coming in out of the cold.  The “Libyan Terrorist” was no more.  So when the Arab Spring hit Libya, Obama decided to declare war.  Or rather, the UK and France decided to declare war and Obama quickly changed course to join in.

So wherever the Arab Spring arose, the US was there to lend support. Except of course in the two countries where the Arab Spring could have removed avowed enemies of the US:  Iran and Syria.  During Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 Obama went out of his way to ignore the protesters, concentrating on his policy of wooing the Mullahs, who eventually crushed the protesters.

Although one of the many phony reasons for our involvement in Libya was to prevent a civilian massacre, in Syria the death toll is already at 27,000 during the 10 month civil war and rising.

27,000 dead.

So on the Middle East scorecard, we’ve supported the mob in overthrowing governments that were either our allies or in countries where we had no US national security interests.  Egypt was an ally of the US, and we paid billions to it for decades to keep the peace between it and Israel.  Libya, after years of being a rogue terrorist state, finally “came in from the cold” and was rejoining the international community.  Now, the Israeli-Egypt Peace treaty is ade facto corpse, and Marty McFly’s feared Libyan terrorists have once again been freed to drive around the world in VW vans with RPG’s.  Our main adversaries, the Mullahs in Iran and the Bathist dictatorship in Syria, still rule.    I could hardly have sat down and devised a worse outcome of the Arab Spring for the United States.  Meanwhile, the author of this foreign policy disaster, President Obama, is just starting to figure out what a mess he’s caused.

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The Demands to Praise Obama

I like to participate on several political internet forums to debate politics.  A pointless pursuit you say?  Correct!  It is mostly a waste of time, and as the old meme goes…

However I don’t think of it as any sort of productive time, it’s more a relaxing hobby.  I do occasionally like to engage in a battle of the wits with political opponents.  At best, it feeds my ego that I’m the smartest guy on the internet, and at worst, it helps me hone my arguments and think about various angles to issues that I may not have thought of previously.

So not a total waste…

And occasionally it brings up some good ideas that I can expand on and write about.  Case in point, a long time internet debater of the lefty persuasion challenged me to say something good about Obama.  It’s not the first time she has made this demand, and during the Bush years, she constantly demanded that I criticize the Bush administration.  Easily done of course, but in the tradition of internet debates, it made no difference since a week later she would make the same challenge again, purposefully forgetting last week’s list; hyperlinks notwithstanding.  It was the Chinese meal of internet debates.

Although I can’t understand the psychological need for having her candidate validated by an opponent, since I didn’t feel the need to get her approval for any that I supported, I don’t mind taking advantage of it.  Has President Obama done some good things for the country?

The answer of course is an extremely qualified yes.

To elaborate, I need to go back to the expectations I had of him as President.  I fully expected President Obama to go full bore with a lefty agenda on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts.  However I wasn’t worried about domestic policy so much.  A wise Congress, counting its pennies, would bring the new President’s lofty spending agenda down to earth.

Clearly I miscalculated.

Throughout my lifetime Democratic Presidents even with a Democratic Congress had to fight tooth and nail for their priorities, so I was totally unprepared for a Congress that basically threw the checkbook at the President, telling him to have a blast.  On the domestic and spending front, Obama confirmed every hysterical fear the right had on Obama’s spending, both in dollar amount and actions.  The GM bailout could have gone in many different directions, but the President chose a path that included violating the law and getting an equity interest in the company; in other words, government ownership of the company; the very definition of socialism.

And I didn’t even mention the failed economic policy or Obamacare!

So when it comes to domestic policy, we did get the President that Hannity and Rush promised, but how about foreign policy?

Things didn’t start out great in that department either.

The administration let us know that Democrats were back in charge of the ship of state when President Obama went on his infamous apology tour, traveling from Europe to Latin America informing the world that America was sorry for being America.  Then, the administration added a real policy change to that by cancelling our missile defense shield in Europe.  And then there was Obama’s back and forth on an Afghanistan policy.  The Administration initially came out with a policy in March 2009 that emphasized counterterrorism as the primary military strategy, and then panicked when he found out the troop commitment that was required from his handpicked General to make this policy work.  This led to a political squabble within the White House that lasted months, with the White House pretending it had never decided on a military strategy in March of that year.  It took until December  for the President to finally unveil his new and improved Afghanistan Policy during a speech at West Point, which was a political contrivance that traded an increase in troops with a promise to withdraw by a date certain.  I’ll leave it to Obama supporters to decide if the administration kept its promise on that “date certain”.

So the first year of the Obama Presidency left a great deal for Republicans to criticize.

But there were some decisions that the President made the right call on, even if they were not particularly big decisions.  Obama supporters particularly turn to two decisions of the President to burnish his alpha credentials. The first came up early in his administration with the kidnapping of the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates.  For any other President this would have been a minor footnote in the Presidential record.  However for President Obama’s sycophants, this was considered a major military victory.  President Obama authorized force to be used if the Captain’s life appeared to be in imminent danger.  Well, of course his life was in danger, and Seal snipers took out the pirates and rescued the Captain.  A feel good story if there ever was one, but considering that the Defense Department had twice tried to get the President’s authorization for the use of force,  (Really, the President had to sleep on this?) it doesn’t seem that the White House really got engaged until they got tired of dodging the Pentagon’s phone calls.  If the Pirates had been a bit more threatening earlier in the conflict, this story could have gone in a different direction.  However to an Obama supporter, this was equivalent to Obama personally storming the beaches at Normandy.

The other was of course, the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  The news of UBL’s death was probably the best news for Americans in the War on Terror in the past decade.  It was an extremely satisfying victory and on the first anniversary of his death, it still tastes pretty sweet.  But that’s not good enough for administration sycophants, who seem to think the decision to kill Bin Laden was the most difficult Presidential decision of the past century.  To me, as far as Presidential decisions go, it was the most obvious no-brainer of Presidential decisions in the past century.  I mean really, there would even be an option of not trying to kill or capture him?  Instead, the supposedly decisive Obama had to “sleep on it” before he could give the go order.  With all of the sleeping Obama requires to make a decision, he’s probably the most well rested President in history.  Yet Obama and his supporters continue to act as if only Obama could have pulled this feat off, never mind the SEALS who actually carried out the mission, and who it’s now being reported that they are a bit unhappy with the Commander In Chief’s grandstanding on the Bin Laden issue.  In fact, Obama as much as said that if Mitt Romney had been President, he wouldn’t have given the kill order.  Of course, without the intelligence derived by techniques the President vehemently opposed, there probably would have been no trail to follow that lead to that compound in Abottabad.

Way to not spike that football!

Interestingly, the same people who hit the roof over “Mission Accomplished” seem to have no issue with the President’s manipulation of this issue for his re-election campaign.

But… in spite of the President’s foreign and national security flaws, he has been aggressive in the War on Terror, even though he won’t use the term himself.  The President has, for the most part, had to jettison most of his academic left baggage when it comes to national security since he became President.  Not only has he double downed on killing terrorists, he’s embraced almost all of the President Bush GWOT policies.  Considering the differences between Obama and Bush, they’ve achieved a remarkable consensus on how to fight the war.

Why did he change so much as to accept and use almost all of the policies that he ran against?  That will probably be left to future historians to figure out, but I suspect his first national security briefing was a real eye opener, forcing Obama to reconsider dismantling the policies he had campaigned against.  There’s nothing like a nice load of crap in your pants to make you reconsider your assumptions.  Going against a lifetime of habit of thought couldn’t have been an easy one, but the country is much safer because he was able to make that leap.  So for that, thank you Mr. President, for helping to keep the country safe!