Clarion Project’s National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro examines some of the key challenges a president Donald Trump will likely face in office.
Clarion Project’s National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro examines some of the key challenges a president Donald Trump will likely face in office.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 1, 2016:
Whoever is elected US president on Nov. 8, he or she will land in the middle of a foreign policy shambles and face a pressing need to rebuild America’s fences in most parts of the world, including the war-ridden, messy Middle East. The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump, whose approaches are so different in every respect, will both find it impossible to isolate America from the Middle East
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence experts postulate divergent developments in response to the alternative results of the Nov. 8 presidential election, depending on the winner.
If it is Hillary Clinton, then –
If it is Donald Trump, then –
Claremont, by Angelo M. Codevilla, October 18, 2016:
At the 2016 elections our bipartisan foreign policy class is near-unanimous, not so much behind Hillary Clinton nor even against Donald Trump. Rather, it circles its wagons around its own identities, ideas, practices, and, yes, livelihoods. Clinton represents the ruling class’s people and priorities in foreign affairs as in domestic ones, though she seems to care even less about the former’s substance. Trump, a stranger to most of the foreign policy class (though not to its current epitome, Henry Kissinger) has voiced views on foreign affairs that are within the establishment’s variances in substance if not in tone. Chastise and threaten NATO for its lack of contributions? Senate majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) offered an amendment to that effect in 1970. Cozy up to Putin? Hillary Clinton brought him a bright red “reset” button in 2009.
Nevertheless, the foreign policy class does not merely reject Trump; it detests him. Why? Because Trump, in tone even more than substance, expresses the subversive thought that U.S. foreign policy has failed to “put America first,” causing the nation to suffer defeat after defeat. Hence, the entire foreign policy class—in the bureaucracies, think tanks, academe, and the media—are a bunch of losers. Millions of Americans consider these two thoughts to be common sense. But the above-mentioned class takes the first as the root of heresies, and the second as a demagogic insult. Consequently, the 2016 election is not so much about any particular plank in any foreign policy platform. It is about who defines and what constitutes common sense.
Who and what
Why the fuss? Obviously, foreign policy’s formulators and executors are their country’s fiduciaries. Though it follows logically that they should mind no interest before their country’s, nevertheless our foreign policy class’s defining characteristic for a hundred years has been to subsume America’s interest into considerations they deem worthier. The following is our foreign policy class’s common sense, which it hopes the 2016 elections will affirm.
Since Woodrow Wilson, Progressive Democratic and Republican statesmen have confused America’s interest with mankind’s. In practice, they have taken upon themselves the role of mankind’s stewards (or sheriffs, leaders, pillars of order, or whatever) and acted as if, in Wilson’s words, America has “no reason for being” except to “stand for the right of men,” to be “champions of humanity.” Accordingly, a series of statesmen has forsaken war and diplomacy for strictly American ends and with means adequate to achieve them, and adopted foredoomed schemes pursued halfheartedly—Charles Evans Hughes (commitment to China’s integrity and renunciation of the means to uphold it), Franklin Roosevelt (seeking world co-domination with Stalin and the U.N. to banish “ancient evils, ancient ills”), Harry Truman (pursuing peace through no-win war in Korea), Nixon/Kissinger (scuttling Vietnam to help entice the Soviets into a grand detente), George W. Bush (democratizing the Middle East because America can’t be free unless and until the whole world is free).
Instead of Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” these Progressives’ maxim seems to have been: speak grandly while brandishing twigs. The pattern has been consistent: Think global order, make political-military commitments if not in secret then certainly without the American people’s affirmative consent, commit military forces while avoiding declarations of war or specifying how success is to be achieved, and refuse to calibrate American military commitments to what opponents might do to thwart our forces. Then, when the enterprise falls apart, seek scapegoats.
Inexorably, Progressive foreign policy is gravitating in the direction of foreign Progressive forces. For Progressives, the benevolence of “the Arab Street” and even of organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood is an article of faith. From government, the media, and the universities, Progressives indict as racists anyone who imputes responsibility for terrorism to Arabs, Muslims, or Islam. America’s Muslims vote Democrat. Any Progressive president would find it hard to depart from this part of his tribal identity, least of all Hillary Clinton, whose top aide, Huma Abedin, is deeply connected to the Muslim world. The Democratic Party, along with its bench in academe, has identified increasingly with Israel’s enemies as fellow Progressives. Surely and not so slowly, our foreign policy class has acted more and more as if Israel’s refusal to accede to Arab demands were the chief cause of the Middle East’s troubles.
Imagine, then, what effects the intensification of U.S. foreign policy’s trends would produce in the not so distant future. Then, considering how these effects would manifest themselves on America’s streets, ask how the American people are likely to react.
The 2016 election is about whether that pattern should change. How much, if at all, it would change under Trump matters much less than the mere possibility it might change. Trump’s virtue in foreign policy lies in having voiced this simple, vital thought: U.S. foreign policy must put America first, and deliver victories rather than defeats. Whether Trump really believes that, whether he would act on it, or even whether he understands past mistakes, is secondary.
The Senator blasts ‘outrageous, illegal’ actions by the Obama administration.
CounterJihad, October 19, 2016:
It is not every day that you see a sitting Senator accuse the President of the United States of having broken the law. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida did so in a recent piece published by CNN. Oddly enough, the accusations of lawlessness take a back seat to the charge that the President’s lawless policy on Iran is failing to achieve its aims.
Here are the claims of lawbreaking, with which he opens:
Outrageous, potentially illegal, actions by this administration have become so commonplace that many Americans have become numb to the recent news regarding this President’s policy toward Iran. We now know the President authorized a$1.7 billion cash ransom payment to Iran, then his administrationlied about it to Congress…. This endangers every American overseas by incentivizing kidnappers and encouraging hostage-takers, and since Iran’s release of five US hostages in January, multiple American citizens have been thrown into Iranian jail cells. Providing cash to Iran has also allowed the mullahs to circumvent the international financial system as they shuttle much-needed resources to their terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
We recently learned President Obama dismantled a key part of the ballistic missile sanctions against Iran eight years early…. Once again, the White House lied to the American people about its concessions to the Iranian regime.
Senator Rubio in fact understates the case. This is in keeping with his efforts to position himself as a responsible Republican, one acceptable to the press. Rubio has recently rebuked Presidential candidate Donald Trump for claiming that the US election is rigged, and has likewise claimed that it is irresponsible to talk about the leaks provided by Wikileaks because they might be a Russian information warfare effort. Both of these are very popular positions among the media, and are in fact the positions of the Clinton campaign as well as the Democratic leadership. Asserting them allows Rubio to appear to be a bipartisan, centrist figure.
This makes all the more surprising his charge that the President is breaking the law, though it does help to explain why he has presented the case far more gently than he might have done. Take the so-called “side deals” with Iran. The administration classified those deals, which prevented public discussion of them. Yet they were not classified from Iran, which of course knew what the deals contained because they were a party to them. US law does not permit classification of information to avoid political embarrassment. It appears that the administration violated the law even in negotiating the deal, then, in order to prevent a public debate on the wisdom of its side deals.
The administration also violated the law in not providing those deals to Congress. The law governing the negotiations required a mandatory handover of all information, including side agreements, so that Congress could consider the deal and vote on whether to approve it. (In the event, Congress never did vote to approve the deal: the vote was filibustered by the President’s partisans in Congress).
As for lying to Congress, the administration certainly did that, as the French confirmed.
Rubio is also right about the “giant pallets of cash,” which certainly did land in the hands of America’s worst enemies in Iran: the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran’s terror-supporting shadow army. It certainly was a hostage payment, just as the Senator suggests. And it has indeed provoked a wave of new arrests of Americans and those with American ties, a kind of hostage taking under color of law. All of these charges are perfectly true.
Yet Rubio’s real criticism is that all of this lawbreaking and all of these lies by the administration have failed to achieve any of the goods that the deal was supposed to achieve.
Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles…. Earlier this year, Iran launched two missiles, one inscribed with “Israel must be wiped out” in Hebrew…. Iran has also maintained its support of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has destabilized the government in Lebanon and is working with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.A senior Iranian official has also stated that Tehran has been providing intelligence to Russia for military targeting, helping Moscow support Assad and his slaughter of innocent Syrians….In Yemen, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels continue to prolong a conflict that has no end in sight…. In recent days, the Houthis fired missiles at US Navy ships on multiple occasions. However, even as American sailors are attacked by an Iranian proxy, potentially using Iranian-provided weapons, the administration pretends none of this is happening, and is reluctant to condemn Iran publicly.
There, too, he is correct. It should be shocking that Iran was allowed to buy advanced S-300 missiles from Russia as a consequence of this deal. These missiles can defeat almost all American, and all Israeli, aircraft that might be used against Iran’s nuclear sites. How much more shocking, then, that Iran installed those S-300s around one of the very sites the deal was supposed to render harmless. Could there be a clearer sign of their intent to continue to use that site for weapons development?
Iran’s Supreme Leader has told his people that only a traitor or a fool thinks Iran’s future lies in diplomacy instead of in missiles. How much of that vast cash ransom went to supply those who are even now firing Iranian-made cruise missiles at US warships at sea?
The administration has indeed been lawless, and it has been foolish. It is good to see a Senator pointing it out. But what will the Senate do to hold the administration accountable? What will it do to reverse this foolish course?
Breitbart, by John Hayward, October 17, 2016:
As emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta continue to trickle into the public eye, major revelations regarding Hillary Clinton’s policy preferences on handling foreign policy, particularly rogue states, have come to the fore.
Below, five of the biggest reveals from the Wikileaks email dumps so far:
5. Clinton on Israeli-Palestinian talks says “A Potemkin process is better than nothing”: As with almost every major Democratic figure, Clinton thinks the “solution” to the Palestinian problem involves manipulating and pressuring Israel. However, emails produced by WikiLeaks suggest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels Clinton is “more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House,” and the worst moment in his relationship with her came when she was “heavily scripted and reading from points prepared by the White House.” That’s funny, because President Obama and his defenders have been loudly insisting they were the best friends Israel ever had.
4. Clinton hearts Cuba: It is clear that Clinton will be useful to special interests that want to make money in Cuba, and enrich the dictatorship in return. Clinton’s team was also very happy to use Cuba as a political prop, in part because, as one special interest contact put it, “it would drive Rubio, Cruz, and others nuts.” The brutality and repression of the Castro regime mean absolutely nothing to these people, and yet they portray themselves as morally superior proponents of human rights. To read anything from the WikiLeaks dump referencing Cuba, you’d think the horrors of totalitarian communist repression were carried out by distant ancestors of the Castros, and it’s faintly amusing that anyone would still be hung up on it.
3. The project for “progressive Islam”: The most interesting thing about this leaked email is that Clinton’s inner circle and their connections in the Islamic world think “progressive Islam” is necessary, because on the record, Clinton claims Islam is already pretty darn progressive. Everything bad associated with Islam is supposedly the work of people who aren’t true Muslims. The interesting conclusion to be reached from following these discussions is that global Islam is much more complicated, and messy, than the official pronouncements of Democrats would indicate. As long as Democrats are single-mindedly determined to pander to Muslim-Americans, convinced the “anti-Muslim backlash” is a graver threat than terrorism, and above all else clubbing political opponents with accusations of anti-Muslim bigotry, they’ll remain dangerous on both national security, and the more subtle clash of civilizations.
2. “Foreign govt donors: all the money is in”: Does anyone really doubt all that foreign money pouring into the Clinton Foundation is going to have a profound impact on American foreign policy, if Hillary Clinton gets into the White House? We’ll be lucky if the new Clinton Administration steering lucrative overseas contracts to Foundation donors is the worst of it.
1. Clinton said Iran could only be contained by bombing their nuclear facilities: Hillary Clinton’s conversation with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein in 2013 included her suggestion that Iran should be made to feel more “pain” by “not in any way occupying or invading them but by bombing their facilities.” Painless aerial bombardment is the Democrats’ favorite foreign policy tool, along with supplying weapons to local fighters who will serve as America’s deniable, easily abandoned boots on the ground. Neither of those strategies works very well, as Blankfein observed to his credit… and Clinton agreed with his assertion that bombing-only campaigns have never “worked in the history of war.” It’s as muddled as everything else Hillary Clinton says on foreign policy, but it’s arguably a more aggressive stance than Obama doctrine.
The once-fledgling Islamic State would never evolve from its “junior varsity” status to the Islamic terrorist hegemon that it is today without the wisdom, guidance, and support of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a highly secretive classified document reveals.
The Islamic State currently features 43 affiliates in 20 countries and continues to control Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. When Obama assumed office, ISIS attracted roughly 1,000 fighters and was referred to as al Qaida in Iraq, or the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was contained to one country.
Obama and Clinton in 2010 then outlined their new and untested approach to Middle East policy in the document titled Presidential Study Directive-11. In an op-ed dated March 6, 2011, David Ignatius with The Washington Post helpfully delves into PSD-11. He writes, “This is the president as global community organizer — a man who believes that change is inevitable and desirable, and that the United States must align itself with the new forces shaping the world.”
Obama then announced America’s new policy during a global apology tour that U.S. protocol in the Middle East and with the Muslim world would change dramatically.
The United Arab Emirates-based publication, Middle East Briefing, in an analysis of Freedom of Information Act documents and other sources, found that under PSD-11 the State Department would lead an effort to build “civil society” — particularly nongovernmental — organizations to alter the internal politics of targeted countries.
Under PSD-11, the Obama administration deliberately pivoted from a strategy that focused on maintaining stability in the Middle East to a strategy emphasizing U.S. support for regime change — regardless of the impact it might have on the region’s stability. That is why we have gone from a general state of stability in the region in 2009 to the Middle East chaos we have now. Officials did not concern themselves with questions over whether new regimes would be allies or foes of the U.S. – or U.S. intelligence agency warnings about the jihadist chaos such regime change might unleash. They chose to believe the few rosy sunglass analyses.
Ignatius referred to intelligence analysts who said at the time, “…Islamic extremists don’t seem to be hijacking the process of change.” He quotes one intelligence analyst who discounted the threat from the Muslim Brotherhood. The West had previously ostracized the movement over its violent tendencies.
Individuals who reviewed documents released under FOIA concluded that State believed “that the Muslim Brotherhood was a viable movement for the U.S. to support throughout North Africa and the Middle East.” As a result, “American diplomats intensified contacts with top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and gave active U.S. support to the organization’s drive for power in key nations like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria…” It represented a major shift in decades long U.S. policy.
In the ensuing months, the Obama-Clinton administration then abandoned Iraq and prioritized promoting regime change in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria above stability in the Middle East. It engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaidaelements and other syndicates that it naively considered harmless and erroneously believed would foster democratic reforms.
Today the countries that America deserted or knocked over — Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria — are failed states. Tunisia remains a work in progress, and Egypt is slowly recovering from its disastrous experiment with Muslim Brotherhood leadership.
PSD-11 and the resulting decisions based upon it reshaped the Middle East substantially. Its flawed and naive analysis and the policies that sprang from it created conditions that fostered the rapid expansion of Islamist terror, specifically ISIS, and have sent the Middle East into barbaric turmoil.
The first principle enshrined in PSD-11 included Obama’s belief that this is “your revolution” which led America to abandon Iraq. Standing on the right side of history by switching sides and partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood underpinned his second major guiding principle.
The reported enshrinement of these two theoretical propositions in PSD-11 as a new national security strategy were dramatic reversals of longstanding bipartisan agreement among lawmakers.
The answer as to why ISIS gained power and influence, and why stability in the Middle East has disastrously deteriorated, does not require extensive analysis. As an official in the Obama White House indicated at the time, “It’s a roll of the dice, but it’s also a response to reality.” The Obama-Clinton administration gambled with America’s national security by embracing radical jihadists, and the world lost.
The approach as outlined by PSD-11 resulted in perhaps the greatest foreign policy catastrophe in the last 40 years. At least in Iraq the U.S. removed one of the world’s worst dictators in history, a man responsible for heinously murdering hundreds of thousands of his own people. There would be no such benefit derived from Obama and Clinton’s new strategy.
With PSD-11 the administration engaged with radical Islamists who predictably, rather than pursuing democratic reforms, took advantage of the opportunity to fundamentally transform the region and its threat environment back to the Middle Ages.
America flipped sides and the world is paying a huge price for a devastatingly naive miscalculation based upon little more than a “roll of the dice.”
It’s time to declassify and release PSD-11.
Truth Revolt, by Caroline Glick, October 14, 2016:
Off the coast of Yemen and at the UN Security Council we are seeing the strategic endgame of Barack Obama’s administration. And it isn’t pretty.
Since Sunday, Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen have attacked US naval craft three times in the Bab al-Mandab, the narrow straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Bab al-Mandab controls maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and ultimately controls the Suez Canal.
Whether the Iranians directed these assaults or simply green-lighted them is really beside the point. The point is that these are Iranian strikes on the US. The Houthis would never have exposed themselves to US military retaliation if they hadn’t been ordered to do so by their Iranian overlords.
The question is why has Iran chosen to open up an assault on the US? The simple answer is that Iran has challenged US power at the mouth of the Red Sea because it believes that doing so advances its strategic aims in the region.
Iran’s game is clear enough. It wishes to replace the US as the regional hegemon, at the US’s expense.
Since Obama entered office nearly eight years ago, Iran’s record in advancing its aims has been one of uninterrupted success.
Iran used the US withdrawal from Iraq as a means to exert its full control over the Iraqi government. It has used Obama’s strategic vertigo in Syria as a means to exert full control over the Assad regime and undertake the demographic transformation of Syria from a Sunni majority state to a Shi’ite plurality state.
In both cases, rather than oppose Iran’s power grabs, the Obama administration has welcomed them. As far as Obama is concerned, Iran is a partner, not an adversary.
Since like the US, Iran opposes al-Qaida and ISIS, Obama argues that the US has nothing to fear from the fact that Iranian-controlled Shiite militias are running the US-trained Iraqi military.
So, too, he has made clear that the US is content to stand by as the mullahs become the face of Syria.
In Yemen, the US position has been more ambivalent. In late 2014, Houthi rebel forces took over the capital city of Sanaa. In March 2015, the Saudis led a Sunni campaign to overthrow the Houthi government. In a bid to secure Saudi support for the nuclear agreement it was negotiating with the Iranians, the Obama administration agreed to support the Saudi campaign. To this end, the US military has provided intelligence, command and control guidance, and armaments to the Saudis.
Iran’s decision to openly assault US targets then amounts to a gamble on Tehran’s part that in the twilight of the Obama administration, the time is ripe to move in for the kill in Yemen. The Iranians are betting that at this point, with just three months to go in the White House, Obama will abandon the Saudis, and so transfer control over Arab oil to Iran.
For with the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand, and the Bab al-Mandab on the other, Iran will exercise effective control over all maritime oil flows from the Arab world.
It’s not a bad bet for the Iranians, given Obama’s consistent strategy in the Middle East.
Obama has never discussed that strategy.
Indeed, he has deliberately concealed it. But to understand the game he has been playing all along, the only thing you need to do listen to his foreign policy soul mate.
According to a New York Times profile published in May, Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is the president’s alter ego. The two men’s minds have “melded.”
Rhodes’s first foreign policy position came in the course of his work for former congressman Lee Hamilton.
In 2006, then-president George W. Bush appointed former secretary of state James Baker and Hamilton to lead the Iraq Study Group. Bush tasked the group with offering a new strategy for winning the war in Iraq. The group released its report in late 2006.
The Iraq Study Group’s report contained two basic recommendations. First, it called for the administration to abandon Iraq to the Iranians.
The group argued that due to Iran’s opposition to al-Qaida, the Iranians would fight al-Qaida for the US.
The report’s second recommendation related to Israel. Baker, Hamilton and their colleagues argued that after turning Iraq over to Iran, the US would have to appease its Sunni allies.
The US, the Iraq Study Group report argued, should simultaneously placate the Sunnis and convince the Iranians of its sincerity by sticking it to Israel. To this end, the US should pressure Israel to give the Golan Heights to Syria and give Judea and Samaria to the PLO.
Bush rejected the Iraq Study Group report. Instead he opted to win the war in Iraq by adopting the surge counterinsurgency strategy.
But once Bush was gone, and Rhodes’s intellectual twin replaced him, the Iraq Study Group recommendations became the unstated US strategy in the Middle East.
After taking office, Obama insisted that the US’s only enemy was al-Qaida. In 2014, Obama grudgingly expanded the list to include ISIS.
Obama has consistently justified empowering Iran in Iraq and Syria on the basis of this narrow definition of US enemies. Since Iran is also opposed to ISIS and al-Qaida, the US can leave the job of defeating them both to the Iranians, he has argued.
Obviously, Iran won’t do the US’s dirty work for free. So Obama has paid the mullahs off by giving them an open road to nuclear weapons through his nuclear deal, by abandoning sanctions against them, and by turning his back on their ballistic missile development.
Obama has also said nothing about the atrocities that Iranian-controlled militia have carried out against Sunnis in Iraq and has stopped operations against Hezbollah.
As for Israel, since his first days in office, Obama has been advancing the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. His consistent, and ever escalating condemnations of Israel, his repeated moves to pick fights with Jerusalem are all of a piece with the group’s recommended course of action. And there is every reason to believe that Obama intends to make good on his threats to cause an open rupture in the US alliance with Israel in his final days in office.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night made this clear enough. In the course of their conversation, Netanyahu reportedly asked Kerry if Obama intended to enable an anti-Israel resolution to pass in the UN Security Council after the presidential election next month. By refusing to rule out the possibility, Kerry all but admitted that this is in fact Obama’s intention.
And this brings us back to Iran’s assaults on US ships along the coast of Yemen.
Early on Sunday morning, the US responded to the Houthi/Iranian missile assaults by attacking three radar stations in Houthi-controlled territory. The nature of the US moves gives credence to the fear that the US will surrender Yemen to Iran.
This is so for three reasons. First, the administration did not allow the USS Mason destroyer to respond to the sources of the missile attack against it immediately. Instead, the response was delayed until Obama himself could determine how best to “send a message.”
That is, he denied US forces the right to defend themselves.
Second, it is far from clear that destroying the radar stations will inhibit the Houthis/Iranians.
It is not apparent that radar stations are necessary for them to continue to assault US naval craft operating in the area.
Finally, the State Department responded to the attack by reaching out to the Houthis. In other words, the administration is continuing to view the Iranian proxy is a legitimate actor rather than an enemy despite its unprovoked missile assaults on the US Navy.
Then there is the New York Times’ position on Yemen.
The Times has repeatedly allowed the administration to use it as an advocate of policies the administration itself wishes to adopt. Last week for instance, the Times called for the US to turn on Israel at the Security Council.
On Tuesday, the Times published an editorial calling for the administration to end its military support for the Saudi campaign against the Houthis/Iran in Yemen.
Whereas the Iranian strategy makes sense, Obama’s strategy is nothing less than disastrous.
Although the Iraq Study Group, like Obama, is right that Iran also opposes ISIS, and to a degree, al-Qaida, they both ignored the hard reality that Iran also views the US as its enemy. Indeed, the regime’s entire identity is tied up in its hatred for the US and its strategic aim of destroying America.
Obama is not the only US president who has sought to convince the Iranians to abandon their hatred for America. Every president since 1979 has tried to convince the mullahs to abandon their hostility. And just like all of his predecessors, Obama has failed to convince them.
What distinguishes Obama from his predecessors is that he has based US policy on a deliberate denial of the basic reality of Iranian hostility. Not surprisingly, the Iranians have returned his favor by escalating their aggression against America.
The worst part about Obama’s strategy is that it is far from clear that his successor will be able to improve the situation.
If Hillary Clinton succeeds him, his successor is unlikely to even try. Not only has Clinton embraced Obama’s policies toward Iran.
Her senior advisers are almost all Obama administration alumni. Wendy Sherman, the leading candidate to serve as her secretary of state, was Obama’s chief negotiator with the Iranians.
If Donald Trump triumphs next month, assuming he wishes to reassert US power in the region, he won’t have an easy time undoing the damage that Obama has caused.
Time has not stood still as the US has engaged in strategic dementia. Not only has Iran been massively empowered, Russia has entered the Middle East as a strategic spoiler.
Moreover, since 2001, the US has spent more than a trillion dollars on its failed wars in the Middle East. That investment came in lieu of spending on weapons development. Today Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in Syria reportedly neutralize the US’s air force.
US naval craft in the Bab al-Mandab have little means to defend themselves against missile strikes.
The US’s trillion-dollar investment in the F-35 fighter jet has tethered its air wings to a plane that has yet to prove its capabilities, and may never live up to expectations.
Israel is justifiably worried about the implications of Obama’s intention to harm it at the UN.
But the harm Israel will absorb at the UN is nothing in comparison to the long-term damage that Obama’s embrace of the Iraq Study Group’s disastrous strategic framework has and will continue to cause Israel, the US and the entire Middle East.
Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, October 11, 2016:
One of the frustrating things about not having a conservative on stage during a major policy debate is that nobody starts from the right premise on any given issue. Nowhere was this more evident than with the discussion about U.S. involvement in Syria during Sunday night’s debate.
As I noted in my foreign policy piece on Friday marking the 15th anniversary of the failed Afghanistan war, nobody in politics seems to understand the lesson of the Middle East, even when it smacks them in the face. There is no positive outcome of an Islamic civil war and no reason for us to get involved in tipping the scales to one side. Undoubtedly, innocent people get killed in the civil war, but that is not our fault nor is it our responsibility to solve these conflicts — especially when there is no recourse other than getting our soldiers killed fighting for one or multiple enemy factions. In fact, strategically speaking on a geo-political level — without factoring in the human suffering — there is actually no better outcome than to have all of our enemies marred in an endless and unsolvable civil war. Why should we share in the misery?
In this vain, it is easy to understand how vacuous the question from Martha Raddatz was with regards to Syria:
what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?
She later asked a follow up of Trump: “What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?”
This assertion from Raddatz is outrageous and reflects weapons-grade stupidity, the very sort of ignorance that has gotten our soldiers killed for years to no end. During the Holocaust, there was one regime led by one man who seized power in a western country. By intervening and getting rid of the Hitler regime, that territory was able to be secured and preserved for a liberal democracy that would no longer kill its citizens. Indeed, that is what happened. In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.
Moreover, those various factions merely reflect the fractious nature of the people in the region. This is a Muslim country that is engaged in an Islamic civil war steeped in theological and tactical differences and exacerbated by irreconcilable sectarian differences. It is also a country that was never a country. It was cobbled together after WWI. There is no way to put that genie back in the bottle now that it has exploded.
Other than holding land for the Kurds, there is no other reliable partner with whom to hold ground. And in fact, once we have all our enemies engaged in a death-match, why should we join in their misery instead of letting them kill each other? Our involvement will do nothing but bring misery to our military without saving a single life. We will make the situation worse and tip the balance of power to a specific sworn enemy, as we have done in each of these insufferable theaters in recent years.
“What if Aleppo falls?”
What an ignorant question! Falls to whom? To Assad? It’s already controlled by Islamists.
Not surprisingly, Clinton’s “solution” posited at the debate was to double down on Obama’s policy of arming the lovely “rebels.” In other words, arm Al Qaeda-affiliates who swear to chop our heads off. Clinton is smart enough to understand that the public has grown weary with U.S. involvement in these Islamic civil wars, so she emphatically said she’s opposed to sending ground troops to Syria. But then she immediately offered the Obama artifice strategy of sending “special ops.” As we’ve noted before, Obama has used the special operations troops as his private mercenary army. He has misused them to operate like a conventional force just so he can declare there are no troops on the ground. But these men are ground troops like everyone else and their lives matter just as much as conventional forces. In fact, it’s even more tragic to lose such highly trained soldiers, as has been happening in recent months (shhh, don’t tell anyone), to prop up Islamic rebels who will never succeed in their mission and hate us just as much as the Islamic State and Assad. In short, Hillary’s plan is to make Al Qaeda strong again while giving the illusion that we don’t have troops on the line.
Also, isn’t it interesting how Hillary orchestrated the Obama administration’s alliance with Iran, with the biggest beneficiary of that deal being Russia, yet she suddenly become zealously anti-Iran and Russia in order to involve our troops in a civil war with the Salafists in Syria?
Hillary did offer one new idea supported by conservatives — to directly arm the Kurds. This is farcical coming from her because almost every Democrat has already voted against such a proposal.
At the debate on Sunday, Trump said he disagreed with his vice presidential candidate’s call for attacking Assad. During the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence expressed support for more robust military action in Syria on behalf of ….i don’t know whom…but some of our many enemies. “If Russia chooses to continue to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime,” said the Indiana governor in last week’s debate with Tim Kaine. This is the general position of the GOP establishment and the bankrupt conservative foreign policy mindset. It defies any logic and cannot even be articulated in a way that even makes sense on paper. Who would be the beneficiary of such military force? The Islamic State? The Islamist rebels? The mythical moderate rebels?
Mike Pence has already expressed support for military action against ISIS. Do these people even follow what is going on? Do they get briefings from advisors?
Trump came the closest to the truth on Syria during the debate, noting that it was our interventions in the region that exacerbated the problems to begin with and that it is dumb to fight against Assad and Russia when they are fighting the Islamic State. The AP got ensnared in a phony fact check attempting to claim Assad is not fighting ISIS. It turns out Trump was right on that point.
However, he is wrong on two other points.
Is it too hard to let Allah sort it out?
“Putin’s regime is acting as if it is already at war with the West”
Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, October 10, 2016:
Why wouldn’t Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and all other wealthy Muslim countries fund ISIS, ISIL, or whatever we are calling the leading army of Mohammad this week?
In the latest Wikileaks download, a series of emails between then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and Counselor to President Obama, dated August and September 2014 reveal Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding and providing support to ISIS.
In the email Mrs. Clinton states: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
We know from the recently released portions of the 9/11 Report a large volume of evidence exists revealing Saudi Arabia funds jihadi training materials and Islamic Centers/Mosques in the United States, among other direct support to fund the global jihad against the U.S. and the West.
Pakistan provided direct support via their intelligence agency (ISI) to Al Qaeda fighters after the attacks on the United States on 9/11/2001, and, provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden.
Turkey’s policies and open hostility towards the United States make clear they cannot be trusted at all.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are giving financial and logistical support to ISIS.
The questions that remain:
*Why are key facilities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar not on our target list?
*Which Muslim country in the world is not hostile to the United States and supporting the armies of Mohammad (ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc)?
PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, OCTOBER 10, 2016:
The Associated Press (AP) botched a presidential debate “fact check” last night when it rated false Trump’s claim that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian army were fighting the Islamic State.
But after it was noted by some experts that recent AP reporting documented fighting between the Syrian regime and ISIS, the news organization backtracked on the “fact check” — but in fact made it worse.
The AP’s initial “fact check” flat out rated Trump’s claim false in a now-deleted tweet:
Even this month the Assad regime has been striking ISIS positions in their ongoing confrontation with the terror group around Deir ez Zor:
The Assad regime is also fighting against ISIS near Aleppo and several other locations around Syria:
This morning, that earlier tweet was removed and replaced by one claiming that it was only “partially true”:
The correction, however, didn’t improve the quality of the AP’s “fact check.” It actually made it worse.
Trump defends policies on vetting, investigating immigrants from dangerous countries
WND, October 10, 2016:
Were Muslims partially responsible for American independence?
Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows with a questionable claim during Sunday’s fiery presidential debate by stating Islam was always part of American history – even since the Revolutionary War.
After recycling the Khizir Khan controversy, the Democrat nominee claimed “we’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington.”
Several conservatives found humor in this seemingly overlooked part of colonial American history.
But Clinton’s pronouncement was designed to put Donald Trump on the defensive because of his earlier proposed shutdown of Muslim immigration. Paying tribute to American Muslims, Clinton mourned, “We just lost a particular well-known one with Muhammad Ali.”
She accused Trump of being “short-sighted” and “dangerous,” even putting American security at risk.
The former Secretary of State intoned:
“We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines. I’ve worked with a lot of different Muslim groups around America. I’ve met with a lot of them and heard how important it is for them to feel they are wanted and included and part of our country, part of our homeland security. And that’s what I want to see.
“It’s also important to know I intend to defeat ISIS as part of a coalition with majority Muslim nations. Right now a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering, ‘Why should we cooperate with the Americans?’ And this is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists. Violent jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam. And it is a mistake and it plays into the hands of the terrorists to act as though we are.”
However, Trump did not back down. He called the late Capt. Khan an “American hero” but quickly pivoted to the question of the Iraq War, saying Khan would still be alive if he had been in command because Trump opposed the invasion.
Trump accused Clinton of having “voted for the war without knowing what she was doing” and called it a “disaster.” He also said American Muslims need to report suspicious activities to law enforcement in order to prevent attacks like those which occurred in San Bernadino.
Trump did not defend a Muslim ban in explicit terms, but explained he favored “extreme vetting.”
He slammed Hillary Clinton for favoring a 550 percent increase in the Syrian refugee program beyond what the Obama administration has authorized.
Trump warned of dire consequences unless American security was prioritized.
“People are coming into our country and we have no idea who they are,” he said. “Where they are from, what their feeling about our country is. And she wants 550 percent more. This is going to be the great Trojan Horse of all time.”
Trump slammed the moderate Muslim nations Hillary Clinton praised as American allies for not doing more to solve the refugee crisis.
“I believe in building safe zones, in having other people for them,” Trump said. “As an example, the Gulf States who are not carrying their weight but have nothing but money.”
For her part, Clinton claimed she would “not let anyone into our country that I think poses a risk to us.”
However, the former secretary of state claimed sad pictures of Syrian refugees moved her to welcome more migrants. She also pinned the blame on Russia for the Syrian crisis.
“There are a lot of refugees, women and children,” Clinton said. “Think of that picture we all saw of that 4-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he had been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces. There are children suffering in this catastrophic war. Largely I believe because of Russian aggression. And we need to do our part. We are by no means carrying anywhere near the load that Europe and others are.”
America’s policy in Syria and Iraq has been “cool, rational, and wrong.” Is it already too late to fix it?
CounterJihad, Oct. 4, 2016:
The Islamic State (ISIS) has delivered a new propaganda video showing another gruesome mass execution of fellow Muslims. The group proclaims that the video should serve as a warning to any Muslims thinking of coming to join any of the rebel armies fighting against them in the conflict. Amid Nazi salutes, ISIS soldiers clad in stolen American-made 3 color DCU uniforms promised to fight the “apostates” whom they painted as being on the same side as the Americans.
Yet the Americans have done but little to support any allies in the region. As the Economist notes, US President Barack Obama has kept American forces largely out of the conflict except in an advisory role. This is because, they explain, he views an American intervention as likely to cause more harm than good. His policy has been throughout “cool,” “rational,” and “wrong.”
As America has pulled back, others have stepped in—geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Islamic State (IS) has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq. A new generation of jihadists has been inspired to fight in Syria or attack the West. Turkey, rocked by Kurdish and jihadist violence (and a failed coup), has joined the fight in Syria. Jordan and Lebanon, bursting with refugees, fear they will be sucked in. The exodus of Syrians strengthens Europe’s xenophobic populists and endangers the European Union. A belligerent Russia feels emboldened….
None of this is in America’s interest. Being cool and calculating is not much use if everybody else thinks you are being weak. Even if America cannot fix Syria, it could have helped limit the damage, alleviate suffering and reduce the appeal of jihadism…. Mr Obama says that Mr Assad eventually must go, but has never willed the means to achieve that end. (Some rebel groups receive CIA weapons, but that is about it.)… [J]ihadism is fed by war and state failure: without a broader power-sharing agreement in Syria and Iraq any victory against IS will be short-lived; other jihadists will take its place.
Russia has been building pressure on the Obama administration in other ways. Since the suspending of talks between the US and Russia, the Putin administration has announced major nuclear war games that will move tens of millions of people to civil defense shelters on very short notice. They have suspended nuclear arms deals with the United States involving plutonium cleanup, suggesting that they fear the US will cheat. The Russians have also deployed one of their advanced missile systems outside of their homeland for the first time. The deployment was made without comment, but as one American official noted wryly, ““Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?” Al Nusra Front is an al Qaeda linked organization that has been sometimes allied with, but more often at war with, the Islamic State.
All of this means that America’s window to take a more aggressive approach may be closing, if it has not already closed. Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant. This President has been badly outmaneuvered. The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”
The threat is very real, as estimates are that the assault on Mosul might produce another million refugees headed for Europe and America, or perhaps half again that many. The failure to take a more aggressive approach may end up bringing a flood tide of human suffering and terror.
PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Sept. 29, 2016:
U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups are coordinating with al-Qaeda fronts in defending Aleppo, and other FSA groups — armed with CIA-provided TOW anti-tank missiles — are working together with a terror group designated by the State Department just last week.
That’s from a report filed today by Reuters about the rapidly changing situation in Syria:
In Aleppo, rebels in the Free Syrian Army are sharing operational planning with Jaish al-Fatah, an alliance of Islamist groups that includes the former Syrian wing of al-Qaeda.Meanwhile, in nearby Hama province, FSA groups armed with U.S.-made anti-tank missiles are taking part in a major offensive with the al-Qaeda-inspired Jund al-Aqsa group.
The FSA rebels have deep ideological differences with the jihadists, and have even fought them at times, but say survival is the main consideration.
“At a time when we are dying, it is not logical to first check if a group is classified as terrorist or not before cooperating with it,” said a senior official in one of the Aleppo-based rebel factions. “The only option you have is to go in this direction.”
A top jihadist leader killed in an airstrike on a Jaish al-Fatah meeting earlier this month was Abu Omar Saraqeb, who played an active role in al-Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign against the U.S. in Iraq. Presumably, U.S.-backed FSA leaders were also present at the Jaish al-Fatah meeting.
The alliance between the FSA and Jund al-Aqsa in Hama is particularly noteworthy, since the State Department designated Jund al-Aqsa a terrorist organization just last week.
In its September 20 designation, the State Department identified Jund al-Aqsa as a direct threat to U.S. national security:
The Department of State has designated Jund al-Aqsa (JAA) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.As a result of this designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which JAA has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with JAA.Jund al-Aqsa is a terrorist group in Northern Syria that primarily operates in Idlib and Hama provinces. Formed in 2012 as a subunit of al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusrah Front (ANF) – a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group – JAA has since split and now carries out operations independently. However, despite the split it is still openly aligned with ANF. In March 2015, JAA launched two suicide bombings at checkpoints on the outskirts of Idlib. JAA also carried out the February 2014 massacre in the village of Maan in central Hama province, killing 40 civilians.
Two weeks ago I reported here at PJ Media about FSA units threatening to kill U.S. Special Forces operating in northern Syria, eventually chasing them out of the town of Al-Rai near Aleppo.
Interestingly, President Obama said — at least sixteen times — that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.
What exactly is the point of supporting “vetted moderates” if they have no problem with working with al-Qaeda — or even, in some cases, the Islamic State — whenever they feel its in their interest to do so?
We provide these “vetted moderate” FSA groups with U.S. heavy weaponry when FSA units themselves are threatening to use those weapons against American troops.
Now there is a very real possibility of those weapons being shared with designated terror groups.
For more than two years I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media on the escalating catastrophe of the Obama administration’s Syria policy:
July 7, 2014: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic StateSept. 3, 2014: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra
Sept. 13, 2014: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS
July 20, 2016: CIA-Vetted, “Moderate” Syrian Rebels Behead Child Soldier
The ability to affect any positive change in Syria is compromised by the fact that we have no reliable partner in the country — notwithstanding the so-called “vetted moderates” — and a growing likelihood that American troops may be killed without any national strategic purpose.
Breitbart, by James Zumwalt, Sept. 26, 2016:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford has just gone where no JCS chairman has ever gone before! Unsurprisingly, it took a Marine general to stand up to President Barack Obama in the wake of yet another of his dubious national security decisions.
The same mindless Obama/Kerry negotiating team that brought us an Iran deal undermining our national security, recently sought to bring us a similarly questionable deal with Russia. This one mandated the Pentagon’s participation in an intelligence-sharing agreement with the Russian Central Command in Syria—built upon a ceasefire paving the way for peace negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.
But, unlike the Iran nuclear deal where the JCS Chairman did nothing, our current Chairman, General Dunford, publicly voiced his objection.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, Dunford made clear the military would refuse to execute what was the central element of Obama’s new Syria policy, i.e., intelligence-sharing with Russia—despite the president’s order it be done.
Calling it a bad idea, Dunford said, “The U.S. military role will not include intelligence sharing with the Russians.” Sitting at Dunford’s side during the testimony was his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who raised no objection.
The implication of his testimony was obvious—the president’s deal with Russia was undermining U.S. national security. Dunford, having freed himself from Obama’s vortex, was having none of it.
During his eight years in office, Obama has demonstrated an uncanny ability to endanger U.S. national security interests without ever being challenged by those responsible for doing so.
Congress completely abandoned its responsibility in this regard, most notably allowing Obama to end run the Senate to make a nuclear agreement with Iran effective. The deal—legally a treaty necessitating two-thirds approval by the Senate—was packaged as a non-treaty, i.e., an executive order, as Obama knew he could not muster such approval.
The agreement with Iran, after both presidential candidate Obama and President Obamapromised over two dozen times not to, paved the way for Tehran to get nukes—legally inten years; sooner if done illegally.
Unbeknownst to Congress was the fact the deal also included secret side deals—one of which allowed Tehran to conduct its own inspections with not even U.S. top negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry knowing the details. It also resulted in the lifting of sanctions against Iran and the transfer of billions of dollars, some of which cash transfers were hidden from Congress.
The Senate votes of those either knowing the details of the nuclear deal with Iran or, despite a responsibility to know them, failing to learn them, ultimately enabled Obama to subvert the U.S. Constitution and pass a treaty with less than the mandated two-thirds majority.
The agreement, which Obama promoted as opening the door to better relations between the U.S. and Iran, has resulted in that door being slammed in our face. Since the Senate passed the agreement, the number of naval confrontations with Iran has doubled, with Tehran now even threatening to shoot down our spy planes operating in international airspace.
But it was not the Senate alone that failed the American people in ensuring our national security interests were given top priority by killing the Iran nuclear deal.
Our Founding Fathers imposed limitations upon our military within the Constitution to ensure it always remained subordinate to civilian authority. For over two centuries now, the Constitution has worked effectively to ensure this.
Thus, last year, when the JCS reviewed the terms of an Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by civilian authority, and then JCS Chairman U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey gained full knowledge of its terms and secret side deals, it became incumbent upon him to act in our country’s national security interests as permitted within the Constitution’s guidelines.
There is no way a responsible military leader could have endorsed this deal, knowing secret side deals paved the way for a nuclear armed Iran. Dempsey had an obligation to advise Obama of such. And, when Obama disregarded his advice, Dempsey should have been driven by ethics to tender his resignation. This would have conveyed the message to the Senate it should reject the deal as well. Dempsey failed to do so, allowing the Senate to pass an unconscionable treaty.
It has become clear, as Obama manages to get Kerry and others in government, as well as in the military, to support his questionable national security initiatives, he wields a mesmerizing ability to lure others into his web of dangerous national security thinking.
Clearly, Obama has created a vortex in Washington spinning in a direction contrary to U.S. national security interests. That vortex has proven capable of sucking into it those in government responsible for ensuring a president’s questionable national security actions do not go unchallenged.
But hope may now lie on the horizon due to Dunford’s principled stance.
It is inconceivable to think our president sought to share intelligence with Russia for two reasons.
Firstly, as an ally of Iran, Moscow would obviously share what it learned with Tehran, compromising future U.S. collection efforts.
Secondly, Dunford, during his July 2015 confirmation hearings, had warned Congress that Russia posed “an existential threat to the United States… if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
Fourteen months later, Dunford’s assessment had not changed, testifying, “a combination of their behavior as well as their military capability would cause me to believe that they pose the most significant challenge, potentially the most significant threat, to our national interests.”
Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the Syrians, the ceasefire failed after 300 violations negating, for the near-term at least, Obama’s intelligence-sharing scheme with Russia and thus sparing us any further compromise of our national security.
It is discomforting to know Obama still has four months remaining in office. It is comforting to know, however, that General Dunford, having successfully freed himself from Obama’s vortex, will be there to challenge any other dubious presidential decision seeking to undermine our national security.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.
Trump still has a lot to learn, but Clinton can’t learn lessons because she wrongly thinks that she already has the answers.
CounterJihad, Sept. 27, 2016:
The first Presidential debate revealed a Democratic candidate who believes she has all the answers even though her failed performance as Secretary of State led directly to the formation of the Islamic State (ISIS), aided the rise of Iran, and furthered much of the chaos in the Middle East. She cannot learn anything while she believes she already knows everything. Electing her promises more of the same, and ‘the same’ has been a disaster.
The Republican challenger, meanwhile, has much still to learn about the security structure he would command as President. Clinton’s strongest moment against him on foreign policy came as she chided him for appearing to suggest that America would not honor its mutual defense treaties with Japan or South Korea. Nothing is more important to the world than the reliability of America’s word. Clinton should know that: it was her former boss, President Obama, who personally kicked off the refugee crisis bedeviling Europe by failing to enforce his red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. His failure to keep his word on a security agreement gave the Syrian regime free rein to wage war on its own population, putting millions on the road to Europe.
Trump’s strongest moment against Clinton came when he accused her of bad judgment in the formation of ISIS. She attempted to respond by saying that George W. Bush had negotiated the withdrawal from Iraq, and that “the only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then-Iraqi government that would have protected our troops, and the Iraqi government would not give that.”
That’s all true, but whose job was it to obtain such an agreement? That was her job. She was the one who was supposed to obtain that agreement, and she failed utterly. As our earlier coverage states:
It was her job to negotiate an arrangement with the Iraqi government that would do two things: allow a stabilizing US military presence to remain in Iraq, and allow the US Department of State the freedom of movement it would need to step up as guarantors of the peace. The peace, you see, had been purchased not only by the US military’s victory on the battlefields, but also by its patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq. These tribes, mostly but not exclusively Sunni, had rejected the terrorism of al Qaeda in Iraq in return for promises of fair treatment from the Iraqi central government. This included jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government promised to provide in return for the support of these former enemies. The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.
Instead, the Secretary of State failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept. In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.
The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.
Clinton was similarly unreflective when she argued that Trump had supported “the actions we took in Libya,” without pausing for a moment to acknowledge what a destabilizing mistake it was. Effecting regime change with no capacity to control the outcome is what allowed radical groups, including ISIS, to expand into the vacuum. That one is also her fault personally, as she pushed President Obama to take this action. Her own President says that he considers taking her advice on Libya to be his “worst mistake.” Yet again, she has learned nothing, and does not seem to be aware that there is even anything to learn.
A similar failure to understand the lessons of the recent past occurred in their exchange on NATO. Trump is right to be critical of the institution’s continuing relevance, but he is criticizing it on the wrong grounds. That the other nations do not pay their way is true, but it is not the problem with NATO. That it does not focus on terrorism is partly true, but it does not render the organization obsolete because a resurgent Russia remains a security challenge for western Europe.
Nevertheless, Clinton’s smug response is un-reflective and wrong.
You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.
What Clinton fails to mention here is that, like all of NATO’s decisions, invoking Article 5 must be done unanimously. The reason to question NATO’s continued relevance is that the Turkish drift into Islamist politics makes it unlikely that a unanimous vote could still be reached. Turkey has also shown signs recently of falling into Russia’s orbit. If Turkey becomes a Russian ally in the way that China is, NATO may be rendered obsolete simply because it can never take a decision. If Turkey becomes a Russian satellite, NATO will indeed have been rendered obsolete. In either case, NATO’s continued relevance turns on figuring out how to swing Turkey away from Islamist thought and Russian influence, eliminating the unanimity requirement on NATO actions, or else developing a mechanism to expel the Turks from the alliance. None of that exists, and since Turkey would have to agree to any of those changes, none of it is likely to come to exist.
Finally, on Iran, Clinton is wedded to a policy that Trump rightly describes as a disaster.
You look at the Middle East, it’s a total mess. Under your direction, to a large extent.
But you look at the Middle East, you started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going.
The horror show in Syria is linked to the Iran deal, as Obama decided to let Syria fester in order to pursue Iran’s approval of his deal. Clinton’s role in this deal is something she herself has celebrated, so she cannot walk away from it. Since then, Iran has developed new ballistic missiles that make sense only as a delivery mechanism for nuclear payloads. It has bought advanced anti-aircraft missiles, and installed them around one of the nuclear sites allegedly to be made harmless by this wonderful “deal.” Why is it hardening this site against air strikes if it intends to live by the deal? Why develop a delivery mechanism for weapons you don’t intend to build?
Clinton cannot even ask these questions, because she is wedded to her failures.