More Hysteria Over Another Syria Withdrawal

I must be the only person left who is not in a full-fledged panic over President Trump’s decision to pull out 50 to 150 US troops in northern Syria.  In fact, every news article on the issue that I came across dealt more with the “backlash” to the decision rather than the actual decision itself.

Of course the decision shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.  It’s very much in line with the Trump Doctrine.  Trump views foreign policy through a narrow lens of US national interest, an abhorrent concept to most of our media and political establishment.  Trump’s withdrawal of troops leaves northern Syria open to Turkish attack, which is…bad I guess, but I’m not sure what the alternative is.  We are allied with Kurdish groups that are categorized as terrorist groups by Turkey, our NATO ally.

I believe it was a good decision to withdraw, or at least a “not bad” decision, but it was, as usual with Trump, handled poorly. It came out of the blue when really he should have called in the relevant GOP senators and briefed them on his rationale so they would at least have understood his reasoning, even if they disagreed with it. Instead, they’re caught flatfooted. However I think at this point we know Trump just isn’t going to do that, so every few months he makes a unilateral decision that catches everyone by surprise, with no media or PR prep.

As for the decision itself, at some point we are going to have to realize that we are trapped in a military alliance with an Islamic authoritarian that we have very little foreign policy agreement with. This decision is a good example, while we have interests with the Kurds and interests with the Turks, and they both want to kill each other. I sympathize with the Kurds and admit they’ve gotten a raw deal historically, and if there was true justice in the world, they should have their own state.

However Turkey is in NATO. So that’s that. No one wants to deal with the consequences of that, and it gets brushed over in our public discourse, but it’s at the root with dealing with the Kurds. We can’t accept that if it were not for NATO, Turkey would be, if not an enemy, at least an adversery.  We really need to have a discussion about NATO.  In a post-cold war era, does it really make sense that we’re joined at the hip with an increasingly erratic Erdoğan?  Either the United States doesn’t belong in NATO or Turkey doesn’t.  I’d rather not wait until we’re dragged into a war not of our choosing to think about dealing with this.

 

 

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 and 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.”