the Vietnam War is back in the news it’s
still a war that to this day there’s a
lot of controversy around why the United
States entered into it what is your
perspective on that the United States
went to war in Vietnam for multiple
reasons but the basic reason was Charles
DeGaulle the American strategy at the
time was to contain the Soviet Union
with a string of alliances swinging from
Norway all the way through ran and
blocked them through expanding charles
de gaulle came along and said you can’t
trust the americans because if they ever
attacked the Americans wouldn’t come and
they were a night to go to fight for you
you’re going to be left alone we have to
form our own NATO independent of the
United States during the Vietnam War
there’s a word that became incredibly
important credibility credibility meant
that how credible were the American
guarantees to this all-important
structure of containment how credible
was it that we would come to Germany’s
aid or Japan‘s aid with everything we
had if they were a war and a terrible
fear that time was that these people
would lose confidence in us so part of
the reason we went to Vietnam had
nothing to do with Vietnam the fear was
that if we didn’t go to Vietnam our
credibility with our other allies would
be gone and the entire American strategy
will collapse on that basis there was no
expectation we wind up 50,000 dead on
that basis the expectation was that we
would go into a small police action we
may win it we may lose it but the
Germans would know that our guarantee
and to a very great extent in my opinion
worrying about how the Europeans react
if we didn’t go in it’s important now
the fact was the D Europeans criticized
the United States are going in but if we
hadn’t gone in they would have really
panicked they would have really
potentially said his NATO worth anything
is this Japan’s guarantees worth
anything and so we went in based on
something that was repeated over and
over him credibility it’s really hard to
be a superpower because one thing to
fight for your life in world war two but
to go to war for an abstract political
consideration having to do with strategy
elsewhere and send your your kids to
fight in a war like that is agonizing
particularly when you’re thinking this
war is about winning in Vietnam and it
really isn’t so we look at the war we
wonder why did we fight this war this
way half-heartedly not seriously well
and it got out of hand
but the reason basically was this was a
political war it had as his end not
protecting Vietnam and the Communists
that was important it was a side issue
it had to do with maintaining the entire
American lion structure and keeping the
Soviets from using this as a basis for
unraveling our position okay so framed
within that context when I ask you a
very interesting question you know that
to this day there’s a lot of controversy
about the Gulf of Tonkin incident what’s
your analysis of what actually happened
whatever happened there the United
States had made the decision to conduct
an air war against North Vietnam we knew
that if we went in on the ground we’d be
fighting a land war in Asia which does
Martha had warned us against our
illusion was that we would use air power
to inflict so much pain on the North
Vietnamese that they would give up the
dream of national unification well that
didn’t happen in fact they picked up the
air operations in South Vietnam which
meant we had to send more troops and
For several years, there has been a significant shift underway in U.S. strategy toward the Middle East, where Washington has consistently sought to avoid combat. The United States is now compelled to seek accommodation with Turkey, a regional power in its own right, based on terms that are geopolitically necessary for both. Their relationship has been turbulent, and while it may continue to be so for a while, it will decline. Their accommodation has nothing to do with mutual affection but rather with mutual necessity. The Turkish incursion into Syria and the U.S. response are part of this adjustment, one that has global origins and regional consequences.
Similarly, the U.S. decision to step aside as Turkey undertook an incursion in northeastern Syria has a geopolitical and strategic origin. The strategic origin is a clash between elements of the Defense Department and the president. The defense community has been shaped by a war that has been underway since 2001. During what is called the Long War, the U.S. has created an alliance structure of various national and subnational groups. Yet the region is still on uneven footing. The Iranians have extended a sphere of influence westward. Iraq is in chaos. The Yemeni civil war still rages, and the original Syrian war has ended, in a very Middle Eastern fashion, indecisively.
A generation of military and defense thinkers have matured fighting wars in the Middle East. The Long War has been their career. Several generations spent their careers expecting Soviet tanks to surge into the Fulda Gap. Cold Warriors believed a world without the Cold War was unthinkable. The same can be said for those shaped by Middle Eastern wars. For the Cold War generation, the NATO alliance was the foundation of their thinking. So too for the Sandbox generation, those whose careers were spent rotating into Iraq or Afghanistan or some other place, the alliances formed and the enemies fought seemed eternal. The idea that the world had moved on, and that Fulda and NATO were less important, was emotionally inconceivable. Any shift in focus and alliance structure was seen as a betrayal.
After the Cold War ended, George H.W. Bush made the decision to stand down the 24-hour B-52 air deployments in the north that were waiting for a Soviet attack. The reality had changed, and Bush made the decision a year after the Eastern European collapse began. He made it early on Sept. 21, 1991, after the Wall came down but before the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a controversial decision. I knew some serious people who thought that we should be open to the possibility that the collapse in Eastern Europe was merely a cover for a Soviet attack and were extremely agitated over the B-52 stand-down.
It is difficult to accept that an era has passed into history. Those who were shaped by that era, cling, through a combination of alarm and nostalgia, to the things that reverberate through their minds. Some (though not Europeans) spoke of a betrayal of Europe, and others deeply regretted that the weapons they had worked so hard to perfect and the strategy and tactics that had emerged over decades would never be tried.
The same has happened in different ways in the Middle East. The almost 20-year deployment has forged patterns of behavior, expectations and obligations not only among individuals but more institutionally throughout the armed forces. But the mission has changed. For now, the Islamic State is vastly diminished, as is al-Qaida. The Sunni rising in Iraq has ended, and even the Syrian civil war is not what it once was. A war against Iran has not begun, may not happen at all, and would not resemble the wars that have been fought in the region hitherto.
This inevitably generates a strategic re-evaluation, which begins by accepting that the prior era is gone. It was wrenching to shift from World War II to the Cold War and from the Cold War to a world that many believed had transcended war, and then to discover that war was suspended and has now resumed. War and strategy pretend to be coolly disengaged, but they are passionate undertakings that don’t readily take to fundamental change. But after the 18 years of war, two things have become clear. The first is that
- the modest objective of disrupting terrorism has been achieved, and the second is that
- the ultimate goal of creating something approaching liberal democracies was never really possible.
The world has changed greatly since 2001. China has emerged as a major power, and Russia has become more active. Iran, not Sunni jihadists, has become the main challenge in the Middle East and the structure of alliances needed to deal with this has changed radically since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. In addition, the alliances have changed in terms of capability. The massive deployments in the Middle East have ended, but some troops remain there, and to a section of the American military, the jihadist war remains at the center of their thinking. To them, the alliances created over the past 18 years remain as critical as Belgium’s air force had been during the Cold War.
There is another, increasingly powerful faction in the United States that sees the Middle East as a secondary interest. In many instances, they include Iran in this. This faction sees China or Russia (or both) as the fundamental challenger to the U.S. Its members see the Middle East as a pointless diversion and a drain of American resources.
For them, bringing the conflict to a conclusion was critical. Those who made their careers in this war and in its alliances were appalled. The view of President Donald Trump has been consistent. In general, he thought that the use of military force anywhere must be the exception rather than the rule. He declined to begin combat in North Korea. He did not attack Iran after it shot down an American drone or after it seized oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. After the attack on the Saudi oil facility, he increased Saudi air defenses but refused offensive actions against the Iranians.
Given the shift in American strategy, three missions emerge. The first is the
- containment of China. The second is the
- containment of Russia. The third is the
- containment of Iran. In the case of China, the alliance structure required by the United States is primarily the archipelago stretching from Japan to Indonesia and Singapore – and including South Korea. In dealing with Russia, there are two interests. One is the North European Plain; the other is the Black Sea. Poland is the American ally in the north, Romania in the south. But the inclusion of Turkey in this framework would strengthen the anti-Russia framework. In addition, it would provide a significant counter to Iranian expansion.
Turkey’s importance is clear. It is courted by both Russia and Iran. Turkey is not the country it was a decade ago. Its economy surged and then went into crisis. It has passed through an attempted coup, and internal stress has been massive. But such crises are common in emerging powers. The U.S. had a civil war in the 1860s but by 1900 was producing half of the manufactured goods in the world while boasting a navy second only to the British. Internal crises do not necessarily mean national decline. They can mean strategic emergence.
Turkey’s alignment with Iran and Russia is always tense. Iran and Russia have at various times waged war with Turkey and have consistently seen Iraq as a threat. For the moment, both have other interests and Turkey is prepared to work with them. But Turkey is well aware of history. It is also aware that the U.S. guaranteed Turkish sovereignty in the face of Soviet threats in the Cold War, and that the U.S., unlike Russia and Iran, has no territorial ambitions or needs in Turkey. Already allied through NATO and historical bilateral ties, a relationship with Turkey is in the American interest because it creates a structure that threatens Iran’s line to the Mediterranean and compliments the Romanian-U.S. Black Sea alliance. The U.S. and Turkey are also hostile to the Syrian government. For Turkey, in the long term, Russia and Iran are unpredictable, and they can threaten Turkey when they work together. The American interest in an independent Turkey that blocks Russia and Iran coincides with long-term Turkish interests.
Enter the Kurds
This is where the Kurds come into the equation. Eastern Turkey is Kurdish, and maintaining stability there is a geopolitical imperative for Ankara. Elements of Turkey’s Kurds, grouped around the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have carried out militant attacks. Therefore it is in Turkey’s interest to clear its immediate frontiers from a Kurdish threat. The United States has no overriding interest in doing so and, indeed, has worked together with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria. But for the Turks, having Kurds on their border is an unpredictable threat. American dependency on the Kurds declines as U.S. involvement in the Middle East declines. Turkey becomes much more important to the United States in relation to Iran than the Kurds.
Trump clearly feels that the wars in the Middle East must be wound down and that a relationship with Turkey is critical. The faction that is still focused on the Middle East sees this as a fundamental betrayal of the Kurds. Foreign policy is a ruthless and unsentimental process. The Kurds want to establish a Kurdish nation. The U.S. can’t and doesn’t back that. On occasion, the U.S. will join in a mutually advantageous alliance with the Kurds to achieve certain common goals. But feelings aside, the U.S. has geopolitical interests that sometimes include the Kurds and sometimes don’t – and the same can be said of the Kurds.
At the moment, the issue is not al-Qaida but China and Russia, and Turkey is critical to the U.S. for Russia. The U.S. is critical for Turkey as well, but it cannot simply fall into American arms. It has grown too powerful in the region for that, and it has time to do it right. So Trump’s actions on the Syrian border will result in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington and, in due course, a realignment in the region between the global power and the regional power.
American executives are betting that the president is good for business. Not in the long run
MOST American elites believe that the Trump presidency is hurting their country. Foreign-policy mandarins are terrified that security alliances are being wrecked. Fiscal experts warn that borrowing is spiralling out of control. Scientists deplore the rejection of climate change. And some legal experts warn of a looming constitutional crisis.
.. Bosses reckon that the value of tax cuts, deregulation and potential trade concessions from China outweighs the hazy costs of weaker institutions and trade wars.
.. the investment surge is unlike any before—it is skewed towards tech giants, not firms with factories. When it comes to gauging the full costs of Mr Trump, America Inc is being short-sighted and sloppy.
.. The benefits for business of Mr Trump are clear, then: less tax and red tape, potential trade gains and a 6-8% uplift in earnings.
.. During the Obama years corporate America was convinced it was under siege when in fact, judged by the numbers, it was in a golden era, with average profits 31% above long-term levels.
Now bosses think they have entered a nirvana, when the reality is that the country’s system of commerce is lurching away from rules, openness and multilateral treaties towards arbitrariness, insularity and transient deals.
.. so far this month 200-odd listed American firms have discussed the financial impact of tariffs on their calls with investors. Over time, a mesh of distortions will build up.
.. American firms have $8trn of capital sunk abroad; foreign firms have $7trn in America; and there have been 15,000 inbound deals since 2008. The cost involved in monitoring all this activity could ultimately be vast. As America eschews global co-operation, its firms will also face more duplicative regulation abroad. Europe has already introduced new regimes this year for financial instruments and data.
.. The expense of re-regulating trade could even exceed the benefits of deregulation at home. That might be tolerable, were it not for the other big cost of the Trump era: unpredictability. At home the corporate-tax cuts will partly expire after 2022.
.. Bosses hope that the belligerence on trade is a ploy borrowed from “The Apprentice”, and that stable agreements will emerge. But imagine that America stitches up a deal with China and the bilateral trade deficit then fails to shrink, or Chinese firms cease buying American high-tech components as they become self-sufficient
.. Another reason for the growing unpredictability is Mr Trump’s urge to show off his power with acts of pure political discretion.
- He has just asked the postal service to raise delivery prices for Amazon, his bête noire and the world’s second-most valuable listed firm.
- He could easily strike out in anger at other Silicon Valley firms—after all, they increasingly control the flow of political information.
- He wants the fate of ZTE, a Chinese telecoms firm banned in America for sanctions violations, to turn on his personal whim.
.. When policy becomes a rolling negotiation, lobbying explodes. The less predictable business environment that results will raise the cost of capital.
.. Mr Trump expects wages to rise, but 85% of firms in the S&P 500 are forecast to expand margins by 2019
.. Either shareholders, or workers and Mr Trump, are going to be disappointed.
.. In a downturn, American business may find that its fabled flexibility has been compromised because the politics of firing workers and slashing costs has become toxic.
.. American business may one day conclude that this was the moment when it booked all the benefits of the Trump era, while failing to account properly for the costs.
Most attention on this issue has focused on Iran, because countering Tehran’s growing regional power—particularly as the war in Syria winds down, and with Iran and its allies gaining control of key strategic areas along the Syrian-Iraqi border—is uppermost in the minds of Saudis and Israelis alike. Both also feel keenly menaced by Iran’s most effective Arab proxy, Hezbollah, which has emerged from the Syrian war much more powerful than before
.. The traditional assumption has been that the Palestinian cause benefits from a zero-sum attitude toward Israel by the Arab states that, at a minimum, demands a complete end to the occupation that began in 1967
.. There’s still a strong sense of betrayal about Egypt’s separate peace with Israel in 1979; there’s somewhat more understanding about why Jordan undertook a similar treaty with Israel following the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords.
.. The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by Riyadh in 2002 and subsequently endorsed by both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, initially held out full diplomatic and trade normalization for Israel with virtually the entire Arab and Muslim worlds as a major additional benefit to be acquired upon the conclusion of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
.. The Arab, and especially Saudi, position appears to have evolved lately to accept the virtue of “concurrence,” whereby limited Israeli peace moves and concessions toward the Palestinians, such as restricting settlements in the occupied territories, would be matched by concomitant limited Gulf Arab gestures toward Israel
.. It’s unlikely that many Palestinians share the degree of alarm that Israelis and Saudis feel about the growth of Iranian power in the Middle East, and particularly the emergence of an Iranian-controlled “land bridge” between Tehran and Lebanon and its Mediterranean coast. Yet this is a strategic game changer