I come not to praise resurgent neoconservative power but to bury Donald Trump’s lurching approach to foreign policy. For many of us who had grown weary of both Republican and Democratic hawkishness, the last Presidential election represented a risky choice or a dismal choice. Hillary Clinton was a (liberal) hawk of such proportions that she had been endorsed by prominent neoconservatives. Donald Trump on the other hand…
Amidst the bombast and the braggadocio, there was a break with the Washington consensus on foreign policy. Trump criticized the Iraq war. He railed against NATO’s usefulness and America’s outsized role in it. He seemed perfectly fine with letting Russia deal with the Syria problem. Yes, he advocated a get-tough stance on ISIS. But it seemed that he really advocated disengagement in situations where America could not do any obvious good.
Though how to trust such an unprincipled man in the first place. If I had believed that candidate Trump would really disengage from the Middle East, I might have considered voting for him. But I didn’t believe him. And his other words on immigration and Islam were so toxic that I didn’t feel I had a choice. So, I held my nose and voted for the liberal hawk, Hillary Clinton. Something about the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t.
Meet the new neocon same as the old neocon
Now-President Trump has bombed Syria in response to chemical attacks. He followed it up by dropping a MOAB on Afghanistan. These actions should put the lie to anyone who naively believed his incoherent ramblings on the campaign trail. To wit, Damon Linker, in The Week, writes:
For the first time since Reagan’s victory in 1980, it looked possible that neoconservatives would exercise no discernable influence on the formulation of a Republican president’s foreign policy — a fate, in political terms, worse than death.
No one should be surprised — or perhaps even overly disappointed — that it lasted barely 12 weeks. Trump’s ignorance and temperamental recklessness made the prospect of him undertaking significant strategic changes hugely risky — for the United States, for the West, and for the world. And anyway, the resulting Trump-inspired turbulence on the international scene likely would have ended up discrediting the case for military restraint going forward.
Everyone loves a good bombing
Even those who voted for Trump on foreign policy grounds are starting to see the obviousness of the truth. Scott McConnell, founding editor of TAC, wrote in Vox that he’s starting to question his vote.
I voted for Trump for antiwar reasons. But President Trump’s precipitous military strike on a Syrian airbase makes me and others doubt whether the prudent non-interventionist thoughts he expressed in the campaign mean what we hoped they did.
It could also signal that Trump’s skepticism about intervention, which rested on the shallowest intellectual foundation to begin with, could evaporate very quickly in the face of rising poll numbers (the American people like their military!) and the pleasures of a strange new respect garnered from the likes of Elliot Abrams and Fareed Zakaria. The Trump White House has been hammered unmercifully by the establishment for treating Putin as a non-enemy… how it must feel like relief when the pounding abates somewhat.
I certainly didn’t vote for the foreign policy preferences of Jared and Ivanka, or a policy driven by whatever images on TV happened to move the president. The Syrian strike and the administration’s words to justify it significantly weaken the case for believing Trump will actually improve things.
McConnell wrote the Vox article before President Trump ordered the MOAB to be dropped on Afghanistan. I don’t have to strain too hard to wonder what he thinks of President Trump’s foreign policy now.
It strains credulity to think that the USA could do anything about the atrocities committed by Bashar Assad. One bombing doesn’t do much even in the short-term. And an actual campaign to ‘liberate’ these benighted regions doesn’t do any good, long-term. (See Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya). Our men and women in uniform are good at stopping real enemies but they cannot rebuild nations. We cannot impose Democracy, Freedom and the American Way(r).
President Trump would do well to heed the lessons which the establishment has not learned from America’s misadventures since 9/11.