Playing in the Mud

Foreign policy can be a dirty business. Each new US President faces a world full of challenges that pose threats as well as creates opportunities while calling out for American leadership. After a hundred days Donald Trump appears to be different from all his predecessors in the White House. He clearly comes to the Office with a unique skill set and a gaudy response to issues of the day. Sometimes when the day is not to his liking he pours tweets on it to change the subject and the direction of the news. He appears to be active and reactive without being managed by a group of handlers which is at least part of the reason for his unanticipated election victory.

But the world is a dangerous place and not knowing is far worse than a disadvantage. The President has commented on the complexity of health reform and other issues, but seems to be only selectively interested in learning the details of foreign policy as it relates to Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Russia, Israel/Palestine and of course Mexico. He is neither a Republican nor a Conservative ideologue and thus doesn’t fit the mold of the role he is cast to play as a Republican President. But he is wielding immense power and running a very different ship of state from Barack Obama.

Barack Obama was elected twice to bring our boys home and decrease the American footprint in the Middle East. In Syria the chemical Red Line that Obama imposed was walked back in the face of a negative British vote in Parliament and a calculation that the Syrian miasma looked remarkably like the Iraqi one that the President was fully engaged in trying to reverse even as he sidestepped the development of a new engine of terror which became known as the Islamic State or Daesh. Syria continues to be hell on earth.

On April 4, 2017 the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad utilized chemical weapons again to attack rebels as well as civilians in Idlib Provence killing and maiming hundreds. Donald Trump took action and took it quickly: The United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield that delivered the chemical weapons on April 6th taking a very different course from President Obama. Chinese President, Xi Jinping happened to be eating dinner with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago during the US raid and was informed along with guests and asked to directly help the United States deal with North Korea.

On April 13th a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), also known as the “mother of all bombs,” was dropped on ISIS tunnels in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan by the US military. The MOAB weighs about 22,000 pounds (10,000 kg) and is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever designed.

According to Press TV, Trump told reporters after meeting with first responders at the White House “We have [an] incredible military. We are very proud of them and this was another very, very successful mission.”

“If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that to what’s really happened over the last eight years, you’ll see there is a tremendous difference,” he claimed.

North Korea continues to take provocative actions testing ballistic missiles, making underground nuclear tests even as Kim Jong Un delivers bellicose statements against the United States. The Trump Administration has discarded the traditional Clinton-Bush-Obama policy of “strategic patience,” for a policy of “maximum pressure.” On April 9th the U.S. Pacific Command announced it is sending the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, and its strike group toward the Korean Peninsula. During this period both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence visited the region and made their own provocative statements.

“The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready,” said Pence.

The United States recently deployed the THAAD; Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea which has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles. It brought the consternation of both the Chinese and the Russians who are within the systems range.

It is difficult to read the combination of moves, tweets, missteps and outright changes that characterize an evolving Trump foreign policy. Some are already comparing him to Nixon and his use of unpredictability, what Nixon called his “Madman theory.” But while it is obvious that Trump can learn, he is neither studious nor consistent, while being endlessly reactive to negative media coverage. The problem is that lives are now at stake and although Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States he has not prepared and is not preparing while in office to understand the interplay of forces that are required to effect the flow of events and the course of history in a fashion that is in the strategic interest of the United States. Thus I fear a number of men and women, Americans and others, military and civilian are in danger of getting very dirty indeed.

PS: “People are saying, ‘Is he sane?’ I have no idea. I can tell you this, and a lot of people don’t like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others,” Trump said.

“And at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie,” he added.

President Trump: Face the Nation

About the Author
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in Philadelphia that brings the faiths together to learn about and from each other and to build a new constituency for Middle East Peace.
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