Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Donald Trump’s Way Back Foreign Policy Machine

wayback machine

It is dangerous to listen to someone like Donald Trump whose nostalgia date (his way-back machine) is set to the 60’s and 70’s. No problem if you’re just telling stories to your grandchildren but a “huge” problem if you are the President of the United States. Donald’s idea of winning – he said in this foreign policy speech – is our victory in WWII and he also gives America credit for winning the Cold War. Donald is another worshipper of the only “perfect” American President, Ronald Reagan. He likes an America that is pugilistic and muscular.

Trump believes we haven’t won a war since World War Two or the Cold War because we have been weak. He, perhaps, would have liked Ronald Reagan to be made President for Life. Alzheimer’s, sadly, would have put the kibosh on that. However, except for Saint Ronald (who if you studied real history was way less than perfect) no one else has measured up. According to Trump the weakest leader of all has been President Obama (who is never given the honorific) and Hillary Clinton will be just as bad.

But what Donald Trump, stuck in the old days, cannot see is that the very philosophy concerning the ways we participate in the world has evolved.
We have learned not to go to war lightly – well no we haven’t but we, at least, are not turning every skirmish into a world war, or every power hungry man into an existential threat (OK, we’re not perfect at that either but we’re trying). We have learned that nation building in far-flung corners of the globe is expensive and not often appreciated or even successful, which doesn’t mean we will actually refrain. We surely have had plenty of examples of the totally unforeseen consequences of regime change, although from time to time we still can’t seem to resist.  We especially can’t help injecting ourselves into the chaos in the nations of our nearest neighbors, often with horrifying results.

trump foreign policy3

Donald wants to bring this all back along with torture and secrecy and threats (even nukes). So while evidence suggests that tactics that we and others have used in the past will not actually make America great again, that the only thing resorting to these old military chestnuts can do is enhance our reputation as “ugly Americans”, Donald Trump, still stuck in that post-World War II glow, seems unaware of such evidence.

Trump blames Obama and Clinton for “the confusion, chaos, and disarray” in the world but many of us believe that the Bush administration opened the Pandora’s Box that has turned into the seething, painfully transitioning Middle East we see and deal with today. Whether the region tried to shake off their authoritarian leaders, or whether the Iraq war had a domino effect, or whether Americas had our hands in their fall from power, it is clear that the Middle East does not have a tradition of democratic rule and that is not the setting it reboots to. Perhaps we need to flood the area with reasons to join the developed world that make sense in relation to Muslim beliefs.

However, I contend, that we are actually at the point where war and the environment meet, because if we cannot work across nations, and stay somewhat peaceful and stable as the inhabitants of this planet we may be doomed. If we can’t work efficiently as caretakers and help create a sustainable lifestyle for the exploding population, then confusion, chaos and disarray will be the order of the day, every day. Old imperialistic and militaristic strategies may have once made America feel large and in charge, but these outdated attitudes towards our global neighbors, however un-neighborly, are not what we need now.

We could go with America First and decide, as we see our planet become a less hospitable place to live, to build those walls and annihilate our enemies (or be annihilated, because people will fight back). That’s one way to be sustainable, wipe out anyone who won’t accept our leadership. But where is the challenge in that. It is far more interesting to try to design global strategies that will give everyone a livable spot in a world exhibiting rapid climate change. It is far more intelligent to keep striving to colonize other planets than to turn this one into a radioactive nuclear wasteland.

a ruined planet2

Earth probably doesn’t care if we take care of it; it will live on without us. But if we want the Earth to support human life we may need to start cooperating pretty soon now. We can’t just take a boilerplate set of old war policies and rely on them to keep the flaws in human nature from sucking us under. The nations who understand the risks to our planet need to be strong, yes, but also cooperative, creative and nuanced; and we need a global design for where we would like things to go here on Earth – and for that we need peace, not war-mongering. The reason Donald Trump’s foreign policies, and in fact the foreign policy stances of the Republican Party are dangerous is because they will not meet the current and future needs of Americans or anyone else on Earth.

By Nancy Brisson

If Only

The Republicans are always bemoaning Obama’s foreign policy. He’s weak, he’s feckless; Obama’s policies are making America lose its gravitas in the world. Republicans blame the entire chaos in the Middle East and beyond on Obama. Last Sunday, Chris Christie said that Obama is hurting America so much with his foreign policy that he should be removed from office.

Republicans say that Obama should have never backed down from that red line in Syria. If only he did not back down then Assad would already be gone. This is just a theory of course, even though they say it as if it were fact. There is no proof that this is true and in fact, since it is a hypothetical, it cannot be proved. Assad is stubbornly large and in charge, willing to let refugees from his entrenched and unpopular regime flood first his neighbors in the Middle East and now Europe. He has the backing of Putin and everyone is trying to avoid an all-out war with Putin, because he seems to want one so badly.

Republicans say, if only Obama had not pulled all our troops out of Iraq. They are trying to sell the idea that Obama, even more so than Bush, made the mess in the Middle East and the formation of ISIL is therefore also Obama’s fault. (They love this twisted reasoning that makes my brain feel like a pretzel.) Some people seem to be buying this but the rest of us have longer memories.

As we watched the same American troops serve duty after duty in Iraq (and Afghanistan), as we watched how IED’s were depriving generations of men and women of the limbs they were born with, as we got better and better at manufacturing futuristic prostheses and all-terrain wheel chairs, we came to believe that the human costs were too great and the rewards too small. People knew there were different sects in these ancient lands but they underestimated the bad feelings that had been pent up over the decades, along with the social hierarchies that defined the pecking order of the various sects. Our troops were stretched too thin and regrouping was a good strategy.

If we had stayed in Iraq we would have been reviled as imperialists, heretics, occupiers, all old labels we were trying to shake off. Once Bush unleashed all of this, the whole struggle became our business only in the sense that we need to contain it.

If only we had stayed in Afghanistan, the GOP opines, then we would not have allowed the Taliban to come back in. Forget that we only went in to get Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Forget that, although the Taliban is anathema to people who love human rights and freedom, beating back the Taliban was actually a different fight than the one that originally sucked us into Afghanistan. And as much as we gained ground and beat back the Taliban, as much as we don’t want to see our hard-won victories undone and the risks that our soldiers took disappear into this rocky land as if they never accomplished anything good for the people of Afghanistan, we don’t want to be occupiers, and how long could we stay in Afghanistan among hostile people who had asked us to leave.

If only the Iran Nuclear Agreement was better, Republicans say. Obama gave away all America’s power. Being diplomatic with these people won’t fly critics say. If will only make us appear weak and if they think we are weak they will find ways to exploit that weakness. But there is so much hostility and competition among nations. Why are these times turning into such a flash point with everything in turmoil at the same time?

It sounds reassuring to build up our military, perhaps to reinstate the draft if we can’t find enough volunteers. It sounds like security to build up our navy and our air force, to stock pile weapons, to be the toughest nation on the globe. Perhaps we think we need to fight fear with fear – bring back the Cold War only bigger, colder. The more militaristic we get though, the more militaristic are ‘enemies’ get. If only Republicans understood de-escalation, diplomacy, defusing confrontation. If we presented a united front to try to do that deescalating hostilities thing we might find strength and perhaps even respect from that.

The Republicans may have their if-onlys – but I have my own too. I think mine make more sense on a tiny planet with 7 billion+ people that feels, right now, like it is on the verge of apocalypse.

By Nancy Brisson