Archive for the ‘Iraq War’ category

Leading From Behind, II

September 5, 2017

America’s two major political parties have spent the last decade identifying issues which their supporters held sacred and then blaming their political opponents for supposed transgressions, regardless of what was best for our Country. One of the best examples might be Republican’s claims that President Obama was weak on foreign policy and specialized in “leading from behind”. Evidence abounded, Republicans claimed. Look at the Middle East, North Korea, and Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Hmmm.

Hypocrisy overflowed with each criticism of President Obama. It was on Republican President George W Bush watch that Iraq was invaded and occupied and when Afghanistan’s police mission morphed into nation building. And, it was a Republican controlled Congress which refused to vote any authorization for Middle East military action while the world watched Syria melt down.

So, today we have a Republican President and a Republican controlled Congress. What type of global leadership does America present now?

The first statement that can be made is that when foreign affairs is measured in “tweets”, American is in a leading position.

The second statement might be President Trump believes in “strategy-free” foreign affairs. This second statement enables the President to speak sharply about a subject and then undercut his emphasis with a completely unrelated comment whose consequence is to negate any positive effect his first statement might produce. Witness the call for China to help reign in North Korea one moment and then threatening to punish China with trade restrictions.

The President, of course, is trying to have it both ways (delight his supporters with tough talk towards both North Korea and China while blindly thinking tough talk is enough or that China could care the least about North Korean threats towards the US).

The third statement might be the “proof is in the pudding”. Has President Trump succeeded at anything domestically or in foreign policy? Has President Trump or Congress lined up global leaders behind any Trump policies, especially any aimed at making the global community economically stronger and more secure?

Do world leaders think better of President Trump than his predecessor former President Obama?

The world is a very complicated place and the days of US overwhelming economic and military superiority versus the rest of the world is over. Nuclear weapons lie in many different countries’ hands. Developed Countries are wealthy by historic standards. Further, the national interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Europe are not aligned other than to think the US already has too much and they have too little. Hmmm.

President Obama left a legacy which President Trump has worked to negate. President Obama comprehended global events as complicated and complex, and requiring thoughtful, integrated US response.  The Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership were two worthwhile and potentially useful initiatives which worked on real issues while building trust and partnership.

So President Trump’s attacking or walking away from policies which could help bind nations together (or at least keep them from drifting further apart), seems a bit short sighted.

I wonder if President Trump’s “tweet driven” style could be seen as “Leading From Behind, II”.  Do you think it is as thoughtful as former President Obama’s foreign policies?

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Trump’s Syria

April 5, 2017

How many people do you know, besides yourself, who wished they could take back something they may have said in haste? Plenty I bet. Former President Obama is surely one of them too. His unfortunate “red line” warning is a good example.

Former President Obama was quite on the mark when he expressed outrage that anyone, and in particular, the Syrian Government would use chemical warfare, and use these outlawed weapons on its own people. Obama’s issuing of a warning he could not enforce was at its best like pulling for an inside straight. There was no way the treat would alter the behavior of a regime fighting for its life. At it worst, Obama’s red line reinforced the impression that the US would not act in any decisive manner to end the Syrian insurrection.

A lot has happened since the former President’s ill fated words. Russia’s entry into the conflict seems to have tilted power back into the Syrian Government’s hands. While needless deaths have continued, there seems to have been every indication that the civil war was heading to a conclusion. And then yesterday, Syria used chemical weapons again.

Pictures of the aftermath are horrific. Shown are defenseless civilians, including children, reacting to the painful and life threatening effects of these weapons (believed to be sarin gas). In what had already been documented as a war against humanity, a new outrageous chapter was opened.

President Trump now has the spotlight on him. What will the President do?

President Trump, in a pattern which seems genuinely him, immediately blamed someone else, this time President Obama. If President Trump really believes these words, America and Americans are really in trouble.

Lest we not forget, in another place on the globe, North Korea has continued to act provocatively on President Trump’s watch and other than words, the President has done nothing. Now President Trump has two failed States acting up and both apparently uninterested in making any deal with the great deal maker.

Syria sits in the middle of the Middle East. The invasion and occupation of Iraq opened Pandora’s Box, destabilizing the entire region. Thinking that an outside force, especial a non-Muslim force, can put Humpty Dumpty together again is wishful thinking.

North Korea, which lies snuggly against China’s northeast border, represents a different but equally dangerous challenge. Like President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Kim Jung Un is all about how to keep himself in power, and like Syria, North Korea cares little about the well being of its citizens. President Trump has said “all options are on the table” in response to North Korean provocations (striking the US west coast with a nuclear weapon). Does that sound like a red line?

Whether President Trump likes it or not, his Administration now owns North Korea and Syria. What ever goes right or wrong in either regime will be like fly paper. The great deal maker will not be able to get it off his hands.

The Jacksonian Revolt, Is That What’s Really Happening In Washington-Land

March 21, 2017

There are some bizarre events taking place in the nation’s capital. The President is tweeting (bizarre enough on its own) outrageous charges about President Obama which impugn the office and are completely baseless, and the President refuses to admit his mistake. The Senate is itching to confirm a new conservative Supreme Court Justice as if it were a long overdue (thanks to obstructionist Democrats) even though the Republican majority refused 12 months ago to consider Merritt Garland. And in Senate hearings, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI had open investigations focused on possible collusion between Russian operatives and members of President Trump’s campaign staff. Most Republicans dismissed the implications and instead wanted to talk about who might have leaked this information earlier.

How can grown intelligent people act this way?

“Foreign Policy” is carrying an article by Walter Russel Mead titled The Jacksonian Revolt. Mead lays out various US foreign policies (Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian) and their points of emphasis. Broadly, Hamiltonian and Wilsonian have dominated foreign policy thinking since World War II while Jeffersonian and Jacksonian have taken a back seat. Now the prospect that President Trump might be a 21st century Jacksonian is getting people’s attention.

What’s so wrong with Jacksonian foreign policy?

Both Jefferson and Jackson sought a low profile for the US. They believed this posture would be the least costly and the least likely to entangle the US in foreign wars. America first, so to speak.

Hamilton thought the US needed a sturdy presence around the world in order to fend off other countries who might interfere with foreign commerce. Neither school of thought sought conflict and both thought their strategy was superior.

Since the Second World War, US (Hamiltonian) foreign policy sought to build alliances globally and through economic development stabilize foreign actors who might be prone to war otherwise. Wilsonian believers tended to emphasize human rights and rule of law as key components of US foreign policy. With one off exception of Korea and Vietnam, the world has been relatively free of war (regional ones but no world wars) until the Gulf War I.
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and a coalition of western countries combined to over turn the invasion and expelled Iraqi forces.

In 2003, for reason still unclear, George W Bush’s Administration felt compelled to once again invade Iraq and in doing so, opened Pandora’s box. There are no mitigating explanations for what will be recorded in history as a tragic foreign policy failure but happen it did. Seventy years of broad based foreign policy support began to erode and 19 century world views once again seemed credible.

Mead speculates that Jacksonian Americans saw nothing good about US foreign policy but were more concerned (and felt personally threatened) by a changing US population demographic. Immigration was a direct threat, one cleverly encouraged by Democrats, thought the typical Jacksonian American. Donald Trump was their Andrew Jackson, and had come at not a moment too soon.

Mead’s concerns are strictly foreign policy and domestic policy and its attendant politics are secondary it seems. Mead does not support isolationism, but warns that future efforts on world order must consider to a greater degree the needs of other nations to feel their identities are respected (I think he is saying a little less Wilsonian flavor).

What Mead does not say is also important. Jacksonian Americans are still a minority. The coalition which elected President Trump and who have precipitated the US foreign policy rethink are far from a single mind on future steps. Libertarians and Neoconservatives feel free to plot new courses for the US.

America is not living in the age of sailing ships or horse drawn artillery as Jackson knew it. America is living whether we like it or not in the age of nuclear weapons, missile technology, and cyber warfare. Jeffersonian or Jacksonian foreign policies are incompatible with America’s best interests.

A rethink of Hamiltonian and Wilsonian foreign policy principles is probably necessary but with a President who seems unable (or unwilling) to value truthfulness, the prospects of more neoconservative policies (like invading Iraq) present a greater threat to our way of life.

Insight Into Next Four Years?

December 29, 2016

President-elect Trump and many elected representatives in Congress have risen from their seats to denounce the US decision not to veto a 14-0 UN Security Counsel vote. The vote which condemned Israel’s current practice of building in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. President-elect Trump tweeted today that things would be different after January 20th. Hmmm.

A characteristic of recent GOP Congresses and George W Bush’s Administration has been their preference to see all issues as single component issues. Complex systems invariably gave way to much easier to communicate “black or white” perspectives. So, as the President-elect sees it, Israel is our best friend in the Middle East and America should be steadfast in recognizing that. Hmmm.

President-elect Trump has spoken out many times about the mistake the Iraq War was. I wonder whether the President-elect remembers that Israel was very vocal about Iraq regime change and urged the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein. From that and a host of other preconceived notions, America got the Iraq War and the huge failure in foreign policy it represents.

There are many other complex, systems specific issues that Congress will come across. In fact the number of single factor issues is vanishingly small. Healthcare (including Medicare and Medicaid), Roe v Wade, racial and gender discrimination, religious freedom, reducing poverty, and education to name a few.

Republican stated position have been simplistic and untested. Repeal and replace is easy to articulate, but to date, there have been no fiscally sound replacement proposals which do not put healthcare out of reach for millions of Americans. With the American public fairly evenly split on abortion, actions to severely restrict abortion access will have consequences. Like many other Republican advocacies, abortion restriction impacts the poor and poverty stricken the hardest. As a consequence, breaking the poverty cycle will become orders of magnitude harder. And so on.

So, the apparent rush to assuage Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hurt feelings completely overlooks the complexities of the Middle East, not to mention the unthinkable outcome of a single State, apartheid-like solution which Netanyahu seems heading towards.

One should not lose sight of the Arab convoluted situation. The Palestinians are dependent upon deep pockets in other Arab countries. Without this money, Hamas, Hezbollah, or even the Palestinian Government’s daily business could not exist long. The PLO’s resistance to negotiation can not be a stand along decision and must reflect outside demands. The Palestinian-Israeli situation is a complex issue.

Inherently a master deal maker must consider competing issues. For the President-elect, deal making is a highly developed skill. The issue that may escape the President-elect and for sure the GOP controlled Congress is what might follow an Israeli-Palestinian one State peace. What will a united Middle East (with all its oil) possessing nuclear capability do for national aspiration?

The next Administration’s Middle East policy needs to be complex enough that it foresees a pathway to Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Or, will this policy simply be standing by America’s friend?

Islamist Terrorist On Obama’s Watch

June 18, 2016

I saw this summary on Facebook.  The summary lists 10 incidents where someone of Muslim faith murdered someone who was not a Muslim.  Sadly there was a total of 91 who lost their lives.  The Facebook implications was that President Obama, in some way, has been complicit in enabling needless American deaths.  Hmmm.

During this same period, hand guns have taken the lives of over 180,000, traffic accidents another 180,000, and deaths from slips and falls accounted for another 180,000 or so.

President Obama has not done much on these preventable deaths either.  I wonder what he has been doing with his time?

It is mind boggling that so many people connect these terrorist inspired random acts with a specific Obama Administration policy (or lack there of) and seem to say, “if only the President had done this or that, these acts would not have taken place”.  I wonder what those anti-terror policies would look like?

One might jump to the conclusion that the policies must be aimed at Muslims.  On the other hand, each of these incidents involved the use of guns.  Hmmm.  I wonder whether these anti-Obama fans who circulate these posts are thinking about a sharp curtailment on the availability of guns?

I think not.

For common sense purposes, one must keep in mind the low number of deaths, the lack of any connectivity between them, and  the lack of prior indicators which might have predicted the incident each provoked.  In comparison to other gun related deaths, traffic deaths and home related accidental deaths, these 91 don’t even make the radar screen.

Oh, and one more point.  If these sad, senseless deaths of 91 Americans justify a political statement, then I wonder what type of statement the 3000 or so Americans who lost their lives on George W Bush’s watch on 9/11?

McWho’s Last Ride?

June 17, 2016

Arizona Senator John McCain lashed out yesterday in what only can be characterized as an attempt to convince Arizona voters that the GOP and McCain are still relevant. In a mind boggling mental exercise, McCain connect President Obama to the senseless killings in Orlando’s Pulse night club. McCain blamed ISIS and in turn President Obama for allowing ISIS to form. Hmmm.

McCain and other neoconservatives have previously claimed ISIS is a direct result of the US’ early withdrawal from Iraq. The reasoning goes that when the US ceased combat operations in 2009 a power vacuum was created, and voila, ISIS came to life. Hmmm.

This analysis, while creative, is devoid of any serious consideration. Forget for a moment that there would have been no ISIS on Sadaam Hussein’s watch. Which President invaded and occupied Iraq?  Shame on  GOP former President George W Bush.

Also forget that the Bush Administration negotiated withdrawal terms and declined to agree to US remaining because Iraqi President Malaki wanted “status of forces” terms unacceptable to the US. In other words, withdrawing from Iraq was a deed of the Bush Administration before Obama became President.

And while one is at it, let’s forget about al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all the off-shoots in central and northern Africa. And if extremism is the name of the game, then let’s not overlook Hezbollah and Hamas, who although Shiites still evoke radicalism. In short, extremism in the name of Islam has had no shortage of sources.

McCain’s comments are even more bizarre considering the questionable direct connection of terrorists inspiration and the crime.  McCain’s comments are not helpful in any way.

There is already just as much speculation that the killer was mentally unstable, a woman beater, and possibly unsure of his own sexual orientation which in turn conflicted with his religious training.

If McCain wanted to comment in relevant manner, he might have commented on why military style, high ammunition capacity, weapons are so easily available to anyone.

McCain is caught in a tight reelection race. The sun could be setting on what might be otherwise describe as a distinguished career. With statements like this recent one, McCain is treading on the potential of becoming McWho.

When Small Thinkers Lead The GOP

June 6, 2016

Over the weekend, presumptive GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump stirred up another hornets nest. Trump called for Judge Gonzalo Curriel, who is presiding over the “Trump University” fraud trial, to recuse himself. Asked why, Trump said because he was Mexican and with Trump’s promises to build a wall between the US and Mexico, Trump felt the Judge was not being “fair”. Hmmm.

Defendants call for Judges to recuse themselves all the time. So what’s the big deal?

Most defendants call for recusals within the trappings of courts and legal procedures, not the spotlight of television interviews. But, the choice of venues is not the main issue.

Trump’s already well established prejudices against Mexicans (and probably Hispanics in general) and Muslims make his statements against Judge Curriel not news. Trump was just being Trump.

The real news is the spotlight which is now showing how small and “not ready for prime time” that GOP House and Senate leaders really are.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is narrowly focused upon maintaining GOP control of the Senate and will make whatever deals and concessions necessary to build large enough coalition of loyal voting Republicans. As a consequence, the GOP is willing to panders to a diverse collections of factions and themes, like the NRA (guns without restrictions), evangelicals (forcing their views on others), tax cuts (which benefit the wealthy who do not need the cuts), neoconservatives (who brought us the Iraq invasion and occupation), and privatization of Social Security and Medicare (safety net for senior citizens).

House Speaker Paul Ryan while less obvious in his deference to these groups, never the less has found it necessary to also pander albeit in a more thoughtful way. Ryan speaks of building a strong economy but proposes solutions, including repealing Obamacare, which could devastate the most vulnerable while rewarding those best off.

For McConnell and Ryan, their legislative agendas should be enough to mortally wound the GOP Presidential standard bearer. The refusal to allow the Senate to act upon President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was just another manifestation of a Party totally adrift from custom, the Constitution, or the best interests of the majority of Americans. It’s all about now.   Hmmm.

Following months of rejecting the Trump candidacy (in favor of some other candidate representing some minority faction within the GOP), McConnell and Ryan have both endorsed Trump and vow to support his election as President. In doing so, McConnell and Ryan have made clear that they are not about thoughtful governance. Instead they are about expedience and letting the future take care of itself. For the average American, this should be a lonely message.

Trump has placed both McConnell and Ryan in a difficult position.  Regardless of what they really think, both have made calculations that unless Trump does well in the general election, the GOP will do poorly in general.

Trump has found little value in pandering to each of the GOP minority factions and has delighted in antagonizing Hispanics, Muslims and women. When McConnell and Ryan announced their Trump endorsement, over arching principles, what little of them existed, went out with the bathwater.

Most analysts have observed that the success of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump signal a desire by a large and growing segment of Americans to see government do more about income inequality (more better paying jobs). The 2008 and 2012 GOP Platforms could not be more out of step with US demographics and only fantasy towards narrowing income inequality. Sweeping Platform changes are sorely needed for the 2016 Platform but it appears it will be same old, same old.

I guess that’s what you get with small thinkers.