Andrew J. Bacevich, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East”

Now a retired colonel after nearly a quarter century in the U.S. Army, as well as professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University, Bacevich brings a valuable dual perspective to this study of American foreign policy over the last forty years. Taking as his point of departure the fact that few, if any, American soldiers were killed in the Middle East from the end of World War II to 1983, the author of Breach of Trust and The Limits of Power investigates why the region has been the scene of constant conflict and high American casualty rates in recent years. http://www.politics-prose.com/book/97…

Donald Trump Is No Dick Cheney

Republican foreign policy was once defined by clashing world views. Now it’s defined only by loyalty to the president.

At first glance, the recent drone strike ordered by President Trump against an Iranian general would seem to return Republican foreign policy to the George W. Bush era. Several elements of the attack reflected the approach to the world defined by Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney: a belief in the efficacy of military force, the validity of pre-emptive attack and the determination to avoid seeking approval from congressional leaders. But on closer examination, such comparisons fail. In his foreign policy, Mr. Trump represents something wholly new.

The president’s recent actions underscore the fact that the Republican Party has no guiding principles; it has only Mr. Trump, who demands loyalty to himself as its leader. Nor does the party leadership have senior figures with long experience in foreign policy who might challenge Mr. Trump’s thinking. The Republican Party, which once served as home for a variety of clashing philosophies about foreign policy, has lost its moorings.

Consider the party’s history in recent decades and the contrast with where the party stands today. Over the past half-century, the Republicans had been loosely split between two approaches for dealing with the world. One was the traditional, alliance-centered internationalism that had held sway, for example, under President George H.W. Bush. The other was the hawkish unilateralism of the party’s neoconservatives, who had gathered strength during the Reagan administration.

During the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell carried forward, if imperfectly, the ideas of internationalism; Vice President Cheney embraced many of the views of the neoconservatives. These two schools of thought came into acrimonious conflict over Iraq, Israel, North Korea and other issues.

Now, under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party has been transformed in such a way that neither internationalists nor neoconservatives hold influence in the White House. Mr. Trump has weaved, wavered and reversed course on foreign policy based on his views of the moment, and as he has, the Republicans have followed. The factional disputes that characterized the Bush years have been replaced by a single question: Are you loyal to President Trump or not?

There is no one to challenge Mr. Trump now. In contrast, consider the era of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Powell. Those two men were the most durable figures at the top of America’s foreign policy apparatus from 1988 to 2008, encompassing the end of the Cold War and its aftermath.

During those 20 years, Mr. Powell served for nine years under four American presidents as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and secretary of state. Mr. Cheney served for a total of 12 years as secretary of defense and vice president. The Trump administration has nothing comparable; indeed, not one of the senior leaders in the current administration, including the vice president, secretary of state and defense or national security adviser, has been involved at the top ranks in any previous administration.

Even the more experienced officials Mr. Trump initially appointed to senior foreign-policy jobs, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and the former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, had spent less previous time in senior Washington positions than veterans of previous Republican administrations (who also included figures such as Brent Scowcroft and Robert Gates). And even these older hands — the “adults in the room,” as they were often called — left the Trump administration within two years.

Determined, experienced advisers can sometimes deflect a president’s worst instincts and ideas. While doing book research in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, I ran across the astonishing fact that in the fall of 1988, well after the Iran-contra scandal was behind him, President Reagan secretly tried to revive efforts to pay Iran for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and to forge a new relationship with Iran.

“We have billions,” Mr. Reagan told Mr. Powell, his national security adviser. But Mr. Powell was adamantly opposed to the idea and made sure it didn’t happen. (In the early 2000s, he was less strongly opposed to the idea of going to war in Iraq, the venture strongly supported by Mr. Cheney.)

It is tempting for liberals to assume that all their opponents on the political right are alike, or stem from the same source — and that therefore, Dick Cheney somehow led to Donald Trump. But that’s not correct; Mr. Trump’s origins, outlook and style are quite different from those of Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Cheney’s rise to power — indeed, his very persona — was based on a preoccupation with government processes and a familiarity with the national-security bureaucracies (call them the “deep state”) that Mr. Trump so often disdains. Mr. Cheney has at times voiced disapproval of some of the linchpins of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, such as his dealings with Russia and North Korea. John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, represented the last link in the top ranks of the Trump administration to the determinedly hawkish policies advocated by Mr. Cheney.

As for Mr. Powell, it is at this point hard even to recall how or why he identified himself as a Republican. Yet at the time the Cold War was ending, the Democrats were calling for a “peace dividend” that included substantial cuts in the defense budget, and Mr. Powell, working closely with Mr. Cheney, labored hard, and for the most part successfully, to resist those efforts.

Mr. Powell’s eventual alienation from the Republican Party was a result of the same forces and dynamics that would eventually propel the rise of Mr. Trump: nativism and hostility toward immigrants and racial minorities. When Mr. Powell appeared before the Republican National Convention in 1996, he made a plea for diversity and tolerance.

“The Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen yesterday must be as precious as a Mayflower descendant,” he told the delegates then. That speech was greeted by a smattering of boos. In 2008, when Mr. Powell announced he could not support the Republican presidential nominee (even though it was his old friend John McCain), Mr. Powell specifically cited the mood of Republicans who had claimed that Senator McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, was a Muslim.

The Trump Republicans long ago abandoned Mr. Powell and virtually everything he stood for — and while it may seem less obvious right now, they have cut loose from Cheneyism, too. We can see the party’s absence of ideas or strategy in the current policies on the Middle East and North Korea.

The drone strike came alongside Mr. Trump’s purported effort to lessen America’s involvement in the Middle East. His personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Vladimir Putin of Russia might appear to be in line with Mr. Powell’s emphasis on diplomacy — but under Mr. Trump, what has counted so far is only the word “personal,” not the diplomacy. As a result, the Republicans are left with no past and no ideas, merely a single man and his vagaries.

Does Trump Have a Middle East Policy?

(Visit: http://www.uctv.tv/) The Trump Administration has an anti-ISIS military policy but has zeroed out reconstruction support for areas that have been liberated from ISIS in Syria. It has an anti-Iranian policy both rhetorically and economically, but it leaves containing the spread of Iran and the Shia militias in Syria to Israel and to the Russians and leaves Israel on its own to deal with the Russians. It has declared it will present a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians but at this point is unable to deal directly with the Palestinian Authority. In all these areas, there are elements of a policy but inconsistencies as well. The gap between objectives and means remains wide. Can it be bridged? Will we see an effective strategy for the area? And, what would an effective strategy look like? Dennis Ross will cover all this in his lecture. Recorded on 10/21/2018. Series: “Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies” [2/2019] [Show ID: 34373]

The Phony Shutdown War

Trump and Democrats put political symbolism over policy substance.

A quarter of the federal government has shut down, and most of America doesn’t care. There’s wisdom in that response because this showdown over spending, the third this year, is a mostly symbolic political exercise that won’t make much difference no matter who wins.

President Trump wants $5 billion for security at the Mexican border, while Democrats are offering no more than $1.6 billion. Mr. Trump wants to be able to say he won the money for the “wall” he campaigned on, while Democrats don’t want to give him that victory so they say their money can only be spent on “border security.”

This is the tyranny of small differences, and neither choice will solve our national immigration dilemmas. A physical barrier has worked in some places like San Diego. But migrants then look for other illegal entry points. Building the wall across the entire 1,954-mile border would be expensive and it wouldn’t stop illegal immigration since most illegals arrive by overstaying their legal visas.

The best solution, as ever, is to reduce the incentive for people to come illegally by creating more ways to work legally in America. Most migrants come to work, and at the current moment there are plenty of unfilled jobs for them. A guest-worker program would let migrants move back and forth legally, ebbing and flowing based on employer needs, while reducing the ability of gangs and smuggler “coyotes” to exploit vulnerable migrants.

Mr. Trump can’t decide what he really wants and seems to have no political strategy for achieving whatever it is.

  • First he surprised everyone by taking public ownership of a possible shutdown in a meeting in the Oval Office with Democratic leaders.
  • Then he agreed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to fund the government for two months to move the funding debate into the new year when Democrats run the House.
  • Then the House GOP Freedom Caucus and talk-radio hosts stomped their feet, and Mr. Trump flipped back to welcoming a shutdown and tweeting that “it could be a long stay.”

To what end? Mr. Trump’s shutdown tactic is to hold his breath until the other side gives in. This didn’t work for Newt Gingrich in 1995, though at least Newt was battling Bill Clinton over major reforms in the entitlement state. Mr. Trump is holding his breath over a mere $3.4 billion in spending for a piece of political symbolism.

The Freedom Caucus has long argued that Republicans can win a shutdown standoff if they hold their breath long enough. Perhaps Mr. Trump will try that, and at least we’d get a political market test of which party suffers most as the standoff continues. Yet if it ends with the two sides compromising on something like $3 billion in border funding, Americans can be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was a pointless political farce.

‘He takes no ownership — that’s just Trump’: President eschews responsibility for a shutdown he once craved

The Debrief: An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights

In 2014, Donald Trump sued to have his name taken off a pair of Atlantic City casinos he built three decades earlier that had gone bankrupt.

It took the president just 10 days this month to remove his name from something else he once proudly owned but that wasn’t going great — the federal government shutdown.

After threatening a shutdown for months over border wall funding and vowing last week that he would “take the mantle” of responsibility, Trump tried to shift the blame Friday, just hours before a government funding bill expired at midnight.

“The Democrats now own the shutdown!” he wrote on Twitter.

.. “You own the shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded in a tweet, adding a video clip of his meeting with Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Oval Office in which the president declared: “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

.. The rhetorical Kabuki offered another example of a president who routinely contradicts himself without regard for the consequences. It also illustrated a chief executive who had brought Washington to the brink of a self-inflicted governance crisis with no clear strategy of how to manage the shutdown — or win it.

“It’s really indicative of how we all know he thinks so in-the-moment and so off-the-cuff that it winds up being dangerous,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, one of the properties from which Trump removed his name.

.. “The whole idea of once things are going wrong, he takes no ownership — that’s just Trump,” O’Donnell added. “He does not own anything that goes wrong. The problem is, he’ll blame anybody. Obviously, it’s the Democrats in this situation.”

.. He alternated between insisting that Mexico would pay for the wall through a convoluted, and false, interpretation of a new trade deal and suggesting that the U.S. military and other agencies would find money in their existing budgets to build the barrier if lawmakers failed to deliver — despite restrictions on federal agencies reprogramming funding.

.. And the president even began rebranding “the wall,” parrying Democratic denunciations of a concrete monolith at the U.S.-Mexico border by announcing that his administration would build “artistically designed steel slats.” That quickly prompted widespread derision.

.. He even appeared to be conspiring with prominent conservative talk show hosts to help guide him. Rush Limbaugh boasted that Trump had “gotten word to me” that he would shut down the government if he failed to win the wall funding.

By Friday, a desperate Trump had seized on the “nuclear option” proposed by congressional border hawks to discard the Senate’s long-standing filibuster rules and approve with a majority vote a House-passed spending plan that included the $5 billion.

.. Aides announced that he had indefinitely postponed his winter vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida, which was scheduled to begin Friday evening.

.. In the case of his casinos, Trump had divested himself of control of the properties five years before he sued the new owners, having retained a 10 percent stake for the continued use of his moniker.

In his lawsuit to remove his name, Trump asserted that the properties, which twice under his management had faced bankruptcy, had fallen into disrepair and tarnished a Trump brand that “has become synonymous with the highest levels of quality, luxury, prestige and success.”

.. To O’Donnell, the episode was “classic Trump.” The president, he said, had taken ownership of the shutdown in the televised showdown with Schumer and Pelosi to demonstrate his toughness to his base — without a plan to deal with the aftermath.

“That’s really what this was: ‘I’m a tough guy. Don’t think I can’t handle the heat,’ ” O’Donnell said. “The fact is, he can’t handle it.”

The Price of Getting Inside Trump’s Head

Michael Cohen has profited from it, but we’re all Trumpologists now.

Christie argued that pesky journalists and amateur Trump watchers were always getting the President wrong, making it out as if there were some “Machiavellian” grand plan by Trump that could explain many otherwise seemingly unexplainable moves. “There is no strategy,” he exclaimed.

.. Several mentioned White House aides or outside advisers, such as Christie, who seem to have the ability to read Trump’s quirks and offer reliable guidance about what a President who delights in the appearance of unpredictability will actually do. One White House reporter, for example, said that Stephen Miller, the combative young aide who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has helped shape his hard-line immigration policy, was “an authentic reflection of his boss,” citing him as a helpful resource “if you’re looking to decode what Trump is really thinking.” Others mentioned informal advisers including Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax and another regular Trump phone buddy; journalists such as the Times’ Maggie Haberman and the Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti

.. “The truth is, virtually everyone who claims to know what Trump is going to do has been wrong at some point,” one sharp analyst told me. “The best indicator, in my mind, is to go back and read his core campaign pledges and speeches. Those have been far more instructive than anyone in Congress, in the Republican Party, or on his own team.”

..  “All the same traits repeat themselves now,” the correspondent wrote to me. “The grandiosity, the impatience and impulsiveness, the repeated lies.

.. At the time, other observers, less schooled in Trump, wrongly thought that the heavy responsibilities of a job for which he was ill-prepared might change him. Not the Trumpologists. “He’s the same old Trump,

.. What did it mean that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of Germany’s pro-Russia oppositionists at a time of such tensions with the West, was right there in the front row? That Putin only shook hands with three people—Schroeder, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and a splendidly attired Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill

.. Indeed, the Putin inauguration scene made the former Moscow correspondent in me realize just how much Washington these days feels like Russia.

.. Of course, there’s always an element of Kremlinology in how we cover the White House.

.. But, at least in Administrations of old, there was a process to pay attention to, meetings where actual decisions were made, policy rollouts planned in advance as a result of those decisions. “Process protects you” was a favorite line of Obama’s process-obsessed second-term chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and most of his predecessors, from Republican and Democratic Administrations alike, agreed.

.. Many of this President’s major decisions—from appointing Cabinet secretaries to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal—are completely opaque and, in many cases, shockingly process-free.