Trump’s unimpeachable foreign policy
For the past couple of years we’ve heard a drumbeat that President Trump is an idiot and a traitor, alienating key allies and caving to the Russians. Former special counsel Robert Meuller put the lie to that.
For the past couple of months, we’ve heard that Trump has endangered America’s national security through his challenges to Iran, his telephone call to the president of Ukraine, and his partial withdrawal of troops from Syria.
For the past several days we’ve been treated to Adm. William McKraven writing that the “republic is under attack” because the president does not agree with his and Gen. James Mattis’s “leave no Kurd behind” strategy. We’ve also endured William Taylor’s rambling third-hand impressions about Trump’s interchanges with Ukraine, which probably explains why Trump didn’t operate through “official channels” (i.e., Taylor, a top diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Kiev).
With all due respect to these current and former officials: nonsense.
Now, it may well be that the president neither takes his advisers’ advice, nor even reads their briefing books. He may not have a full grasp of the complexity of the issues. But it also may be true that during his business career he met more heads of state and personally negotiated more deals with foreign officials than any of the U.S. presidents (and certainly government bureaucrats) of the past 50 years.
The issues of Syria and the Kurds are complicated. Arguably, America has completed its mission and reduced the effectiveness of ISIS. That is a good reason for withdrawal. Staying will not disrupt Syria’s alliance with Russia; our bets on supporting rebels in Syrian regime change have all been bad; and we will not counter potential Iranian influence in Syria with troops. So why, exactly, do we want more Americans killed and what is the mission?
The Kurds have been helpful in the ISIS effort, and it has been mutually beneficial. The Kurds also were a useful counterbalance in the north of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, providing a political counterweight to the Sunni/Shiite-ascendancy struggle. But, as Henry Kissinger repeatedly emphasized, nations have allies (in this case, the Kurds in the struggle against ISIS), but not friends.
Trump is right. We do not owe the Kurds American lives in their battles with the Turks. And the Turks have a point that the Kurds have launched terrorist attacks against Turkey. And it is worth recalling that the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) reportedly destroyed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan natural gas pipeline through Georgia, essentially helping the Russians during Vladimir Putin’s 2008 attack, to defeat then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s strategy to give Europe an alternative source of natural gas other than Russia.
So, the Kurds certainly have played many sides against the middle and it’s unclear why both Mattis and McKraven want to sacrifice American lives in the Kurds’ struggle with a U.S. NATO ally.
Sensible foreign policy has been based upon the principle of not committing the military unless vital American interests are at stake and the mission is well-defined. My guess is that most Americans, when presented with a complete discussion of the situation in Syria and the Kurds, would agree with Trump — time to go.
On Ukraine, under Trump, the U.S. has provided serious defensive military aid. If Ukraine is such a vital issue for national security, why did President Obama cave to the Russians and provide virtually no military aid at all? If anybody endangered “national security” in Ukraine, you’d have to conclude it was Obama and former vice president Joe Biden, not Trump — the trumped-up (pun intended), rumor-based, case from mid-level bureaucrats such as Taylor notwithstanding.
Which brings us to NATO. Turkey is an important member of NATO, and to be positioned to fight them (as some retired generals and admirals appear to advocate), would be terrible foreign policy. The rest of NATO also raises the issue of allies and friends. Trump’s cranky, undiplomatic performance at his first NATO meeting led quickly to Europeans significantly increasing their contributions to NATO funding. It was followed by European Union representatives coming to Washington to engage in serious trade talks for the first time in a long time.
Trump may overuse the stick and appall diplomats, but that does not mean he is ineffective in advancing American interests. Also on the friends and allies axis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of shutting down nuclear power plants and becoming heavily dependent on Russian natural gas is a far greater threat to NATO than anything Trump has done. To the contrary, Trump’s U.S. energy policies allow the U.S. to offer Europe LNG to offset potential Russian political/energy blackmail.
On Iran, many of our European “allies” who are upset by Trump’s challenges to Iran also are involved in lucrative trade and energy deals with Iran. There are many more strategic examples of our “allies” looking after their own interests than this, but suffice it to say that a strong argument can be made that Trump is doing more to sustain and strengthen NATO than most of our European allies.
Foreign policy is complex and every situation needs to be coldly evaluated on the basis of U.S. vital interests. Trump has applied that principle as well as, or better than, his immediate predecessors. The national security arguments his critics make against him are weak and, although he often may appear to be ignorant and rude, the results — much like the U.S. stock market — are not bad at all.
There is no “foreign policy case” for removing Trump from the White House. Strike two for the Democrats.
Grady Means is a writer and formerly managed large global corporate strategy businesses. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @GradyMeans.
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