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Is Trump Now Bad Cop or Good Cop?

During his first 15 months as president, Donald Trump has postured as the bad cop.

He railed about NATO members welching on their promised contributions to the alliance. Trump rhetorically reduced North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “short and fat” and “rocket man.” He ordered the dropping of a huge bomb on the Taliban and twice hit Syrian chemical weapons sites. He talked of trade wars and hitting back at China.

Through all the bombast and follow-ups, Trump’s supposedly more sober and judicious appointees—especially former National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary James Mattis—played good cops against the outnumbered lone-wolf Trump.

This script was well known from the days of Richard Nixon and his national security adviser and then secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Nixon often postured as if he were eager to bomb the North Vietnamese to smithereens, to go to Dr. Strangelove levels to stand down the Soviets, or to unleash Israel to do whatever it took to defeat its enemies.

Then Kissinger was sent over to reassure both troubled allies and tense enemies. He pleaded for modest concessions to ward off what might be far worse. He confided to leaders that Nixon was a madman who terrified Kissinger as much as he did the world abroad.

The net effect was to gain compromises and advantages that otherwise would have been impossible.

Remember how in the old cop movies, arrested suspects were worn out and scared by unpredictable and brutal police interrogators? Once softened up, they were then handed over to make their confessions to a new shift of kindly detectives who brought out the good-cop gifts of cigarettes, coffee, and donuts while they badmouthed their colleagues’ harsh interrogation methods.

No one knows whether these simplistic stereotypes are even half true in the Trump administration. But what is certain is that new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, along with strengthened U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, are more likely to question the status quo and to take some risks in restoring U.S. strategic deterrence.

Will Trump now reverse roles and become the good cop?

Instead of worrying the Europeans, frightening the North Koreans, and assailing the Russians and Chinese, will he more calmly express his fears that he can scarcely control the righteous anger of his new foreign policy team?

There might be lots of advantages for a new good-cop Trump, compared with his past bad-cop role.

First, playing the skeptic with foreign interventions puts him more in tune with his swing-state, blue-collar supporters. Remember that Trump ran on avoiding entangling overseas interventions. Now, he can emphasize that role as he winks and nods to Pompeo, Bolton, and Haley to ratchet up the pressure as he publicly tries to calm them down.

Second, Trump’s art-of-the-deal style has been to play the mediator who claims that there must be some way to find common ground between two adversaries. As a good cop, he can say to the Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians and others, “Let’s make a deal so I don’t have to call in the tough guys, who are starting to scare me as much as they scare you.”

Third, Trump has a special affinity for Mattis. But in the past, Mattis was stereotyped as a good cop trying to talk Trump out of straight-arming NATO allies or walking away from past U.S. deals. Now, however, Trump can join Mattis in a good cop role, as the two pose abroad as unified voices of caution who want agreements rather than confrontations.

Even in role-playing. it is wise to have Mattis and Trump on the same side. One reason Trump has a special affinity for Mattis is that his caution and reluctance to intervene abroad fit Trump’s own campaign sloganeering.

There was always a paradox with Trump’s Jacksonian foreign policy. How was he to restore deterrence abroad without another costly intervention? How does he bomb ISIS into oblivion without worrying about the innocent refugees living among the ashes and an eventual return of ISIS infiltrators?

Trump now can outsource his lone-wolf hawkishness to new hard-liners Bolton and Pompeo, and remind enemies that his art-of-the-deal comprising is their last chance at an agreement.

In sum, the tough reputations of the highly regarded Pompeo and Bolton now allow Trump to be what he always was—a dealmaker.

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America • Americanism • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Europe • Foreign Policy • Israel • Middle East • military • Post • statesmanship • Terrorism

Tug of War Over the Iran Deal

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron came to Washington to lobby Donald Trump to break his promise to undo Barack Obama’s “Iran deal.” A few days later, Europe’s biggest figure, Germany’s Angela Merkel, came to town for the same purpose. Trump’s tendency to bend to the latest pressure being no secret, it was also no surprise that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a dramatic speech, citing chapter and verse about Iran’s nuclear program, intended to pull Trump back to his campaign promise: His “No. 1 priority” as president would be to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

Netanyahu’s speech—cast as it was in terms of promises made and broken regarding military security, as opposed to the commercial interests that Merkel and Macron had brought to bear—seems to have had its intended effect. Trump said that Netanyahu’s details proved that he, Trump, had been “100 percent right” about “the deal,” and that withdrawing from it would “send the right message” to North Korea and others.

Netanyahu’s critics did not challenge his contention that the details came from very recent acquisitions of Israeli intelligence. There is no way of knowing the truth of that. More important, they could not dispute the accuracy of those details. The U.S. government confirmed that Iran’s nuclear program continues. Their main rejoinder is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program—which contradicts official contentions that it does not exist—is an old story. No less true for being old.

I doubt anybody is surprised that “the deal” did not pause or slow Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, never mind stop it. Neither can anyone be surprised that the program kept the same director and personnel, and merely changed names as well as (some) venues. Not a few of the deal’s supporters state now that, as in 2015, the program’s strength “vindicates the need” for it.

In short, Netanyahu’s speech brought us back to square one. What should have been done then? What is to be done now?

The Scope of Iran’s Threat
Reading Netanyahu’s description leads specialists to ask for even more details. Yes, the Iranians are working on the metallurgy and the hemispheric conventional explosives essential to detonate U-235. OK. Of what size are the prototypes? That would tell us something about the throw weight that Iranian missiles would have to produce to loft these weapons to any given range.

But such concerns on our part are a kind of voyeurism. Intelligence, by contrast, is information that you can do something with, or about. We already have that. The key fact is: sooner or later—it makes little difference which—Iran will be able to deliver nukes anywhere on the planet. Now what?

At least partially because of the deal, now even more than in 2015, Iran is leading one side of the perpetual Sunni-Shia war. In so doing, it imperils the world’s energy traffic. Through its proxies, Iran also threatens a war with Israel that would involve us. But it is doing so on an economic, social, and political razor’s edge, as well as in the face of a demographic implosion.

In such situations, the beginning of wisdom is to stop making matters worse for ourselves. “The deal” enriched Iran with cash and gave it new lifelines of trade. The cash is gone. But by exiting “the deal” and imposing secondary sanctions (no trade with whoever trades with Iran) the United States can destroy those lifelines, and more. We should.

Tehran Has Major Problems
The Islamic Republic’s foreign ventures and military programs are increasingly unpopular at home. Its economic policies and the corruption by which they are administered, as well as its disastrous management of Iran’s scarce water supplies, have further impoverished a poor population. The ruling Mullahs’ hypocrisy has deprived them of the people’s respect. This is not a people eager, or even able, to bear hardship to support their regime’s nuclear weapons program. Note that the regime has never admitted to its people that it is aiming at such weapons.

Nevertheless, the notion that “regime change” in Iran should be U.S. government policy is deeply mistaken. The Iranian people’s choice of regimes is rightly, and exclusively, their own. Moreover, nothing would work against any revolutionary movement more surely than being identified with the country that is inflicting economic privation on the entire country. And economic privation—big-time privation of the unendurable kind—is what U.S. secondary sanctions would inflict on Iran.

Secondary sanctions also would be cruel enough to reach the regime’s enforcers. The Iranian people would know why they are suffering: because their regime has been making war, and that it has been doing that from the very beginning. They are sick of war, and of their regime. No outsiders would have to tell Iranians to choose between war and peace.

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Trump the Diplomat

Even critics of Donald Trump must acknowledge his recent wave of diplomatic successes. China has expanded market access to American exporters. The leaders of North and South Korea have held a summit, declared an end to their state of war, and the North has announced it would cease testing nuclear weapons. Mexico has intervened and stopped the “migrant caravan” from Central America.

Like “Cowboy” Bush, but even more so, Trump’s “arrogant and unrestrained” promotion of America and its interests has met with widespread criticism from the diplomatic establishment. Yet, somehow, Trump has obtained substantial results. How is this possible?

Previous American Diplomacy: Not a Success Story
For starters, the bar was exceedingly low. What passed for diplomatic “successes” among his predecessors turned out mostly to be diaphanous illusions.

In 1994, Bill Clinton famously declared that he had reached a “good deal for the United States” and that the North Koreans would stop their nuclear program in exchange for food and energy resources. At the time, the New York Times lauded the framework as “resounding triumph.” This blackmail payoff scheme turned out predictably: the North Koreans promptly cheated and used their newfound resources to fund their secret nuclear weapons program.

Hillary Clinton’s “reset” with Russia went nowhere, with U.S. support for Moscow’s rivals in Georgia and Ukraine creating tension that continues into the present, in spite of our common interest in combating Islamic extremism.

George W. Bush responded to the forced landing of an EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft by China with a few weeks of behind-the-scenes begging that ended with the Chinese releasing the crew, but keeping the top-secret aircraft for several months, along with U.S. compensation and apologies for violating Chinese airspace. In spite of this provocation, America continued to give the Chinese most favored nation trading status, and America lost 5 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016.

Obama was praised both for the Iran Deal and his Cairo Speech, where he blamed the West for most of the problems in the Islamic world, including its disorder and seemingly endless supply of terrorists. He snubbed allies in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere, and opened up trade and tourism to Communist Cuba, while obtaining nothing in return. Above all, Obama endeavored to be liked by audiences overseas, and he mostly did so by insulting America’s past and people.

Hillary Clinton, Obama, Madeline Albright, Jimmy Carter, and John Kerry all touted their preference for “diplomacy,” as opposed to what they dismissed as the Republicans’ unsophisticated and atavistic preference for force and threats of force. Along these lines, Clinton made the following critique of Trump during the campaign, which mocked the skills he acquired in the private sector, as well as his typically Republican willingness to threaten and use force:

So the stakes in global statecraft are infinitely higher and more complex than in the world of luxury hotels. We all know the tools Donald Trump brings to the table—bragging, mocking, composing nasty tweets—I’m willing to bet he’s writing a few right now. But those tools won’t do the trick. Rather than solving global crises, he would create new ones. He has no sense of what it takes to deal with multiple countries with competing interests and reaching a solution that everyone can get behind. In fact, he is downright contemptuous of that work. And that means he’s much more likely to end up leading us into conflict.

In short, some Republicans, and almost all Democrats, have long had a near-religious faith in negotiations, talks, gestures of humility, the United Nations, and multilateralism. They eschew threats, the use of force, confidence, and American unilateralism. Yet the foreign policy establishment’s tactics and their communications strategies have been both ineffective and old-fashioned, failing to communicate foreign policy goals and America’s interests in a clear and direct manner. They behaved as if we were in the age of the Congress of Vienna, while we now have a large, young, democratic, and opinionated world.

Trump Uses Multiple Tools in Diplomacy, Including Twitter, Trade, and Tough Talk
In spite of all the talk about social media, Obama and W. both had fairly traditional communication strategies that made use of high-level talks, television, and scripted presentations. Trump’s penchant for Twitter, which appears at first random and provocative, has in fact proven crucial in communicating U.S. intentions and expectations to foreign competitors, as well as their people.

When Kim Jong-un was testing missiles and threatening attacks on Guam, Trump mocked him as “Rocket Man” and warned North Korea of “Fire and Fury.” If ambiguity has been the cause of prior conflicts, it’s clearly not Trump’s problem. And, like the “madman” strategy used by both Nixon and Reagan in dealing with the Soviet Union, these Twitter messages have the benefit of being knowingly authored by the man in charge.

The biggest difference between Trump and the foreign policy establishment is that he does not make a false distinction of trade policy, threats, war, and diplomacy. They all exist on a continuum, the goal being to communicate to adversaries, mold their behavior, and enforce their commitments in the service of American interests. While Trump has defined those interests narrowly—America First—and has disappointed his supporters by deviating from that template with certain aspects of his Syria and Russia policies, overall the employment of the various tools of statecraft in a single direction is apparent.

Under Clinton, Bush, and Obama, one of the most important items of leverage in the United States, trade policy, has fallen into desuetude. Trump has put an end to that. While Wall Street and many Republicans warned of a disastrous trade war, it is apparent that free trade orthodoxy has limited the use of this nonviolent and crucial tool, which leverages America’s status as one of the world’s largest markets. We read this month in the Los Angeles Times, “Amid Trump’s threats, Xi pledges to slash tariffs, open China’s markets.” If this is what a trade war looks like, it appears we are winning.

It is clear that, for most of the experts, diplomacy means glorified groveling. In the pre-9/11 dealings with the Taliban and Sudanese governments harboring al Qaeda, Madeline Albright described the following toothless responses, “After the Africa embassy bombings, we repeatedly warned the Taliban that they would be held accountable if bin Laden were responsible for any further terrorist strikes against U.S. targets. We said after the Cole bombing that we would not rule out any option if and when the attack was traced back to bin Laden.” After this, we got 9/11.

The Businessman President
I suspect much of the ineffectiveness of traditional diplomacy comes from the cultural biases and limited experiences of the experts themselves, who come from academic, law, and government service backgrounds. While such service teaches one to value protocol, process, titles, credentials, and appearances, the business world teaches competition, the value of the bottom line, and frequently consists of high stakes negotiations. For a businessman engaged in negotiations, the threat of a lawsuit, withholding performance, adjusting prices, and other hardball tactics are familiar tools.

Businessmen, particularly large-scale New York City real estate developers, often must address ambiguous relationships with a variety of stakeholders. They deal with competitors, vendors, regulators, unions, contractors, subcontractors, lawyers, and community activists. A great many decisions, conflicts, and threats are made along the way.

One of the most important aspects of negotiating is anchoring. Thus, it is not a bug, but a feature of Trumpian negotiation that he moves back from an initial and extreme statement of his position—for example,  the United States will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it. Successful negotiating does not typically result from the legacy diplomatic approach: endless begging, pleading, and talking.

Foreign policy run by the president also requires wrangling in domestic constituencies and legacy government officials seeking to deploy American power in ways contrary to America’s interest. Here, too, an important business skill has inured to Trump’s advantage: saying no.

Trump famously has been successful since the 1980s, and that level of capital leads to a great many people selling him on investments, deals, and other ventures. He will have to continue to push back against the legacy foreign policy establishment to maintain his legacy. Let’s hope he remembers what he wrote about in The Art of the Deal, after rejecting a proposed investment, “That experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better off sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.”

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America • Americanism • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Germany • Middle East • NATO • Post • Russia • the Presidency • Trade

Trump Gives Merkel Some Tough Love

On the heels of the near love fest between French President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, the White House hosted a meeting with a rather frigid German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump publicly (and appropriately) lambasted Germany for its unwillingness to live up to its NATO commitments. The president also beautifully ripped into Merkel for the massive trade deficit between the United States and the European Union.

Trump was right and Merkel knew it.

Germany is a great country. Since losing two world wars and then surviving as a bifurcated frontline state in the Cold War, Germany has risen to be the dominant power in Europe. In fact, today, the European Union essentially is the German Union. After its disastrous experience in the 20th century, Germany opted to trade military might for economic preeminence.  Today, Germany possesses the fifth strongest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of more than $3 trillion. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “In Germany, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD $33,652” which is higher than the OECD average (America’s is slightly higher at $44,049).

Oh, and the German people rarely have to concern themselves with the messy business of national defense. This has gone on for decades at our expense.

And that’s a big part of the problem. Judging from Germany’s actions since the end of the Cold War, they certainly do seek dominance in Europe. Unfortunately, they still wish to be viewed by Washington, D.C. (as they have been up till now) as the helpless ward of the United States. Germany calculated that it was a very simple tradeoff: they rely on America’s military to defend them and the money that the German republic saves is then channeled into their welfare state.

This must end.

For all of her globalist rhetoric, Merkel is one of the stingiest practitioners of classical geopolitics in the modern age. For instance, in case the Trump Administration missed it, the recent Franco-American state visit (chock full of fawning rhetoric, awkward kisses, and the classic French slap at the end) was not what it appeared to be. Despite possessing the most advanced, nuclear-armed military in continental Europe, France is deeply indebted to Germany. Also, France forms part of an axis of anti-American European resistance, which includes Germany and, yes, Russia. It has existed in some form since the 1990s, but solidified over these countries’ opposition to the Iraq War of 2003.

Despite its military power, France’s turgid economy makes it the weakest of the three members of this European axis of resistance. Macron came to the United States not out of friendship to the United States but as Merkel’s errand boy. The new European order is easy to understand: the French military is subordinated to German economic dominance, and both are dependent (or were) on cheap Russian energy.

Germany needs the United States to maintain its commitment to the pathetic Iran nuclear deal that the Obama Administration crafted in 2015 (as does France and much of the rest of Europe). All of these countries are deeply committed to trade with Iran. If the United States were to withdraw from the deal, the Europeans would take a significant economic hit. Given the anemic economic situation in Europe, countries like Germany and France need every boost they can get. When it became clear that the Trump Administration was averse to recertifying the Iran nuclear agreement, Macron went to Congress and lambasted the American president. The French left in a huff, and a few days thereafter, the Teutonic Merkel came to Washington to badger the president.

But Merkel’s brinkmanship didn’t work. If anything, it had the opposite of the intended effect.

President Trump knows that the status quo has to change. We have to start giving our allies some tough love so that they stand on their own and give us relief for a change. What Trump did in his meeting with Merkel was necessary. No, he did not kill NATO, as his critics insist. Instead, he reinvigorated it by insisting NATO become a more European endeavor (in other words, a more German and French-powered alliance). Trump made clear his intention to protect American interests—and taxpayer dollars—with at least as much zeal as Merkel and Macron protect their interests and money.

Going back to the 1990s, French and German policymakers have sought to create a world where there were many powers to rein in America’s perceived “hyperpuissance.” Well, they have may have finally succeeded in crafting that multipolar world.

Be careful what you wish for, Frau.

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Americanism • Asia • China • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • military • North Korea • Post • Trump White House

A Common Sense Strategy for North Korea

The United States needs to keep the military option on the table in dealing with the rogue regime in North Korea. Put simply, a state with nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them to the United States (particularly when it has expressed eagerness to do so) ought to be an unacceptable outcome for the Trump administration and the American people.

Would the use of military force against North Korea be risky? Yes, and we should weigh these risks carefully. But the fact is that pusillanimity and cowardice also carry risks, and the United States has been indulgent, even enabling, to North Korea for far too long. 

Beyond Belligerent Tweets
To his credit, President Trump has not undertaken military action lightly. He has used the strongest rhetoric in criticizing the regime of Kim Jong-un, and he has expressed a willingness to do whatever it takes to remove the nuclear threat that the country poses. He has also demonstrated remarkable patience, allowing time for diplomacy and sanctions to work.

Although his belligerent tweets (“Rocket Man,” “fire and fury”) undoubtedly got North Korea’s attention, it is more likely that tighter U.N. sanctions, engineered by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, was the decisive factor in convincing Kim he needed to pivot from saber-rattling to diplomacy. International sanctions on North Korea have been the most comprehensive and severe of recent history and, more importantly, even North Korea’s principal sponsor, Communist China, has assisted in bringing maximum pressure to bear on Kim Jong-un.

These sanctions, combined with aggressive U.S. military deployments and maneuvers in the region, clearly have convinced the North Koreans that it’s time to change direction. North Korea’s announcement on Friday that it would suspend nuclear and missile testing is a sign the regime is finally beginning to face reality.

Thanks to the Trump Administration’s successful rhetorical, economic, and military moves, we find ourselves on the brink of peace on the Korean Peninsula. We need to do all we can to make the most of it. The contours of a comprehensive settlement with the regime of Kim Jong-un are coming into view.

Peace At Last on the Peninsula?
For years, the primary goal of the North Koreans,
vis-à-vis the United States, was to achieve a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (some readers may be shocked to learn that this wasn’t accomplished long ago) and a security guarantee that, in effect, removes any possibility that the United States would pursue “regime change” in North Korea. That North Korea has stubbornly sought nuclear weapons and missile technology for the last couple of decades is largely a consequence of America’s equally stubborn refusal to give ground on a treaty or a security guarantee. Conceding those points would involve no real sacrifice on our part, and could immeasurably reduce North Korean suspicions.

Fact is, the North Korean leadership inhabits a parallel world of Stalinist semi-lunacy. While Kim and his close associates are not suicidal or obviously self-destructive, they have been born and bred to believe that the United States of America is their sworn enemy and will stop at nothing to destroy us if they continue to feel threatened. The presence of powerful U.S. military forces in the region, including approximately 25,000 American troops in South Korea, does nothing to reassure the paranoid North Koreans. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missile technology makes sense when viewed from within that milieu as it is based on their desire to deter what they view as U.S. aggression and their (irrational) fear of American “imperialism.”

What a Deal Might Look Like
A treaty to end the Korean War is long overdue. The United States should happily agree to this condition, and it should engage in whatever bilateral or multilateral talks are needed to facilitate it. A security guarantee is also a reasonable request on North Korea’s part. This certainly will not create anything like an alliance between the U.S. and North Korea. It would more likely take the form of a Non-Aggression Pact between our two countries.

Again, this is not a sacrifice on our part, since we have never had any intention of attacking North Korea. Why would we? We would be inviting terrible retaliation on our allies and potentially Chinese intervention. Much as we might like to rescue the people of North Korea from communist oppression, the cost of doing so, or even attempting to do so, is much too high. It would be far better to reassure the North Korean regime that we respect its sovereign rights.

What other elements could a comprehensive deal include? Clearly, North Korea must denuclearize in a way that is total and verifiable (but not necessarily immediate). North Korea would also need to cease its criminal enterprises, including cyber warfare and arms smuggling. Meanwhile, the United States should consider changing the disposition of its military forces in the region to assuage lingering North Korean fears. In time, the United States, South Korea, and North Korea should all agree to drawdown their conventional forces on the peninsula. The U.S. could also gradually eliminate sanctions against North Korea, and full diplomatic relations could be achieved.

All sides have much to gain by reducing the potential for armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Arguably, no one has anything to gain from a war that could turn nuclear very quickly.

President Trump, by bringing fresh eyes and an iron will to our North Korean imbroglio, has opened the door to peace. Let us seize the day and make the wise choices that will allow this door to stay open. The people of North and South Korea may not be united and free overnight. But peace would create the potential for further progress in the North. Who can say where that will lead?

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America • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Middle East • military • Post • Russia • Terrorism • The ME Agenda • Trump White House

Conservative Dissent on Syria: An Interview with Peter Hitchens

I was reading George Will on Syria. The piece consists of this: Obligatory reference to the Germans dropping chemical weapons. Wikipedia level knowledge of the types of weapons and a strained causal link to Israel’s motivations in destroying Syrian airfield, completely oblivious of the greater strategic considerations. Mild Wikipedia level history to show that the gentleman author knows what he is talking about followed by a boring rhetorical question about a hypothetical situation of an airborne chemical attack on U.S. soil which will never happen because it is simply a logistical impossibility and U.S. remains the superpower for the near foreseeable future. That was followed by even more obligatory references to the U.S. failure to hold up deadlines, and culminated finally in a lament and a strained connection to rise of China, Rohingya, and Syria to the decline of Pax Americana.

In short, it was the typical (if not stereotypical) half-baked democracy promotion idea, the type of which you can find on Politico written by people who clearly are promoting one side of the agenda. Not conservative, not even Republican, but imperial in its instincts.

Unfortunately, some questions are not answered. Questions like: Who did the chemical attacks? On what motivation? What evidence do we require to intervene? Where is the independent proof? Why should we even believe the “activists,” the white helmets, or the rebels who provide with the “evidence?” What of the factor of Russian deterrence? What is the intervention endgame? The intervention timeline? And, most importantly, what geostrategic interests do we (meaning the United States and the UK) have in Syria or the greater Middle East, other than balancing Iran—which to put it simply, the Saudis and Israelis are more than capable of doing themselves, independently?

It also doesn’t address the broader Western public disinterest in a new war or intervention. What we know, however, that the minorities of Syria, including the Syrian Christians, the Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Damascus, are opposed to the rebels and supportive of Assad. We also know that further strikes against Assad are illegal. There are also detailed studies on how Rebels use propaganda aimed at Western media.

Not all Conservatives agree this time, however, as finally after 15 years of spending money on a toxic cancerous region, a kind of realism has set in. Tucker Carlson, went on a phenomenal rant on why President Trump should remember candidate Trump, on Middle East misadventures. In The National Interest, my colleague John Allen Gay gave a thorough run down on why it is a grave mistake for the United States to topple Assad. Similar conservative arguments are found on Syria, calling for restraint, realism, skepticism and prudence.

I asked Peter Hitchens, the most prominent Conservative-Realist voice against any further involvement in the Middle East, on this side of the Atlantic to answer a few questions on the matter. Mr Hitchens isn’t a pro-Assad or pro-Putin apologist, nor is he a believer of the “evidence” that forms the basis of further intervention in Middle East. He has also written in detail about why, as a conservative and a Realist, one should oppose any wastage of blood and treasure in a sectarian proxy war between rival great powers.

Here are my questions and his answers.

***

Sumantra Maitra:  You have been one of the consistent conservative voices opposing further Anglo-American interventions in the Middle East. What is the conservative argument against further involvement?

Peter Hitchens:   In political terms, it is the conservative argument against any “war of choice.” War invariably reduces liberty in the countries which wage it. This is already apparent, as an opponent of this war I feel besieged by a frightening conformity and genuinely fear limits on my freedom to oppose if this gets much worse.  Access to major electronic broadcasting stations will, I think, be increasingly reluctantly given to opponents of the New Cold War, of which the Syrian conflict is an aspect. When I opposed the Iraq war I found that broadcasting invitations almost entirely dried up.

But fundamentally I do not think the arguments for this conflict pass the basic tests of a Christian Just War. And I am actually angered by the refusal to wait for hard evidence before acting. And I am amazed that so many educated people seem unaware of the experience of the ages, that alleged atrocities must always be treated with reasonable skepticism when they are being employed to make the case for war.

Maitra:     How can we get out of Middle East, and why are we not being able to? Who’s pushing for us to be involved?

Hitchens:   I don’t think major powers can “get out” of the Middle East, where so many are interested and clients are concentrated, and so many obligations have been inherited from the colonial past. But I do think we should rid ourselves of the idea that it is a problem, which can be solved by some all-embracing “solution.” Far better to recognize that no such ideal solution is available, and concentrate on ensuring that all may live under their own vine, and their own fig tree, in peace and prosperity.  

Maitra:  You have written that you don’t believe chemical attacks were done by Assad. Why? Is it a failure of Western media to corroborate the assumptions and accusations without looking for proof?

Hitchens:   I think I have written that the Assad state’s involvement in these attacks is not proven by any material I have seen, a slightly different statement. This seems to me too obvious to anyone who makes an open-minded study of the known facts. I cannot answer for others.   

Maitra:  Russia is not the Soviet Union, but Russia is nevertheless an adversarial great power. How should we handle Russia?

Hitchens:   In what way is Russia adversarial, or, come to that, great? It has in the past 30 years withdrawn from control over 700,000 square miles of territory in Europe and of even more in Central Asia. Its relations with its non-NATO neighbours, and also with NATO Norway, are generally good and harmonious. Its objections to the expansion of an explicitly anti-Russian military alliance right up to its border, in defiance of pledges given to its Soviet predecessor, are reasonable and have been patiently expressed for many years, and ignored.

I do wish people would realize that in the era since the UN Charter, aggression has been done indirectly, either under humanitarian cover or through other semi-covert means, such as “people power” overthrows of governments which are inconvenient to great powers. The 2014 overthrow of the non-aligned legitimate Ukraine government (and its replacement by a pro-NATO unconstitutional regime)  by an openly Western-backed armed mob was an act of aggression. Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea were highly limited responses to this aggression.  Russia possesses some unusable nuclear weapons but has one-tenth of the conventional military power of NATO and has a GDP roughly the same size of that of Italy which is not a great power. It has no global ideology and no global navy, as it used to have.

Maitra:  You say you’re a foreign policy realist. Do you think the European Union is turning into an empire, and if so, are there chances that it would be potentially adversarial to not just Russia, but also to the United States in future?

Hitchens:   The EU has from the start been a postmodern Empire, based on the tactful granting of limited sovereignty to its subject nation (the trappings of independence, but not the real thing). The USA helped give birth to it, believing that such an arrangement would maintain stability in western Europe. It is in many ways an instrument of U.S. policy and I would be most surprised if the EU ever became a serious challenge to the USA.

But, as the continuation of Germany by other means, it cannot accept Russia as a member (unless it is first broken down in several much smaller segments) and is bound to be hostile to it. The Russo-German conflict, especially in the Balkans, the Baltics, Ukraine, and the Caucasus, is the main line of tension in the region and persists under all conceivable political and economic arrangements.

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Trump Seeks Middle Ground in Foreign Policy Balancing Act

Was the latest round of airstrikes in Syria a one-time hit to restore deterrence and stop the future use of chemical weapons, or was it part of a slippery slope of more interventions in the Middle East?

President Donald Trump was elected in part because he promised an end to optional wars, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Libyan misadventure.

But Trump also guaranteed an end to perceived Obama-era appeasement. Trump said he would no longer put up with false red lines in Syria, or complacency about North Korea’s new generation of nuclear missiles.

He also claimed that he wanted to remind enemies that the penalties for attacking U.S. interests are not worth the risk of obtaining some sort of perceived transient advantage. And he inherited American overseas commitments symbolized by some 800 U.S. military facilities in 70 countries abroad.

Working Out “Principled Realism”
These paradoxes were supposedly resolved by his administration’s doctrine of Jacksonian “don’t tread on me” punitive retaliation. Trump might promise to “bomb the s–t out of” the Islamic State, but then not send a division of U.S. Marines into Syria to police the savage postwar landscape.

This middle ground was more or less codified by former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in the recently published National Security Strategy. His team called threading the intervention needle “principled realism.” The Trump Administration would use military force to protect U.S interests, but only in a context of what was practicable, given the existing quagmires abroad.

Of the two extremes, avoiding nation-building is the easier. Clearly, no one wants another Libyan debacle during an era of $1 trillion annual budget deficits, or the expenditure of blood and treasure in long-term efforts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan into Westernized nations.

Ronald Reagan learned that lesson in the 1980s, when he wished to reverse what he saw as the appeasement approach of former President Jimmy Carter. But Reagan did not want any more entanglements like Vietnam.

So, in humiliating fashion, Reagan removed U.S. Marine peacekeepers from Lebanon in 1984, in fear of more attacks like the 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marines’ Beirut barracks.

On the other hand, Reagan beefed up the military and bombed Libya, invaded Grenada, and occasionally shelled terrorist bases in Lebanon—without putting the lives of a great many U.S. troops at risk.

Reagan’s apparent aim was to show the world, and especially the Soviet Union, that it was dangerous to provoke the United States or its friends. But he did so without having to fight a messy and disadvantageous full-scale war in the streets of Beirut or Tripoli to prove it.

The Best Course
How frequently and how hard—and at what risk of provoking a war with Russia—will Trump and American allies hit Syria in the coming weeks to stop Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons?

We know that tough talk alone does not necessarily convince North Korea, China, and Iran to abandon their past strategies of aggression, which were often honed during the Obama administration’s “lead from behind” recessionals.

There are no easy answers.

The best course is to use overwhelming military force only when the interests of America and its allies—or the credibility and strategic deterrence of the United States—are on the line, and only in landscapes that are to America’s advantage and will not result in inordinate costs.

There are more political ironies to Trump’s balancing act. Trump’s core voters are adamantly opposed to optional military inventions because they believe that such attacks, even to uphold international norms, divert scarce funds from domestic needs and never quite make the world or the United States any safer.

Yet NeverTrump Republicans and a few Beltway Democrats applauded Trump for hitting back in Syria. Some interventionists even want Trump to escalate efforts to finish off the Afghanistan debacle. And a few talk of a preemptive strike against North Korean or Iranian nuclear facilities.

But these voices are mostly those who did not support Trump. And they will not support Trump whatever he does.

So here is the irony. The loyal Trump voter says not to intervene. The rabid Trump haters say to intervene. And the fence-sitters will eventually offer judgment based only on the success or failure of the mission.

For now, Trump should keep quiet, stop tweeting his intentions, and give no indication of what he might do next. If he decides to act again in the future, then he should do it unexpectedly, with overwhelming force and with the intention that he won’t have to do it again very often.

Barack Obama lectured loudly and carried a small stick. So far, Trump has blustered loudly and carried a sizable stick.

But it would be better to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s maxim to speak softly and carry a big stick—or, wiser yet, to keep quiet altogether and carry a club.

(C) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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Clueless New York Times Fizzles Out on Missile Defense

We live in a global defense environment where technology can outpace judgment and experience. Perhaps in the debate over ground-based midcourse defense missiles (GMD), an anti-ballistic system that can shoot down incoming missiles, we can look to the past, always the best indicator of the future.

Also as recent events in Syria indicate, missile technology and associated defense will continue to play a vital role in military policy and the worldwide projection of power.

For any defense to be viable, it has to be flexible and to a point prescient. It has to anticipate counter systems and be able to read a fluid situation. When the Tommies attacked on the Somme in 1916, they failed to anticipate, after much warning and experience in that war, the matter at hand.

Thus we had the senseless slaughter of the flower of a British generation all because the borrowed and obsolete French elan vital  met the German machine gun. “Pip pip and over the top lads” was no match. The folly continued with the Maginot Line as a complacent French government of the 1930s thought that a passive defense could outwit the likes of Erwin Rommel.

The Brits, having learned the lesson, took an active approach to strategic defense and developed a radar system that gave them early warning on air raids. This allowed them, during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, to vector fighters to approaching threats. They didn’t sit idly by waiting to get hit. With that, tenacity, and creative PR, they won the battle and saved the West.

School is out and the logical lesson learned: Active strategic defense works. Passive defense does not. A serial abuser of logic in this regard is , no surprise here, the New York Times.

In a recent editorial they promoted the fallacy that for GMD to work it had to be perfect. Well, no system alone is perfect. But a coordinated force, including the US Navy’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), a sea-based anti-missile system, and associated defensive measures, would only be an effective deterrent against the planners on the other side who will coolly assess their chances and risks before launching a strike.

And that has always been a major point many fail to understand: deterrence.

It’s not only what you have, but also the ability and the will to use it. If the other side thinks it cannot successfully fulfill their mission objectives, which in a launch against the U.S. would be to actually hit a target, then the reward does not overcome the risk. Even if a launch were detected against this nation, the risk for the attacker would be serious destruction of the means of attack and possibly of the source itself.  Henry Kissinger postulated some of the same ideas in his 1957 Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy.

Herman Kahn also recognized this in the “escalation ladder”; a concept that understood the leadership psychology behind a launch has as much to do with use as does the weapon. Effective GMD renders the psychological edge in favor of the defender per simple cost benefit analysis.

In fact, rather than destabilizing the strategic equation, as the Times claims, GMD brings potential adversaries to the table. We saw what well played strategic gamesmanship accomplished in Reykjavik in 1987 between President Reagan and Gorbachev. Even without a deal, perhaps the very fact of turning down a Soviet deal that would have cancelled strategic defense research, the stage was set for a simmering down of Cold War tensions and the eventual American victory, yes, victory, in that decades long conflict.

Today we see North Korea talking about a denuclearization. Do we really think that would have transpired if Kim thought he could successfully launch a missile strike against American territory or interests?

Or did he take he take into account President Trump’s December 2017 commitment to a layered domestic missile defense system, and the $249 million in additional funds allocated to the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and act accordingly?

The head of the MDA, Lt. General Samuel Greaves, recently testified before Congress not only as to the need for a new layer of sensors in space and an east coast GMD site, but also to the very real threat a new generation of hypersonic missiles poses to the United States, “The hypersonic threat is real and it’s coming…It’s just a matter of time before [Russia and China] have fully developed that capability.” The Chinese DF-17 hypersonic glide missile, boasted of by Chinese media less than 6 months ago, is a case in point.

Ignoring this and other challenges to our national security, the Times goes on to do what it has done with some relish for forty years. It decries that a functioning GMD could embolden an aggressive U.S. president to rash acts, insinuating once again that the problem is really the nuclear warmongering U.S. leadership, not a saber-rattling cast of geopolitically unkempt international characters who regularly boast of smiting the Great Satan.

Pity the ever-decreasing journalistic sentience of the Gray Lady, really. They’re caught in a never-ending loop of 60s “activists” stumbling their way to their own personal Shambalas.

That their Shambalas were more shambolic than paradise never fazes them.

And so they trod on, blissful in the knowledge that their policy incompetence will play well in the gilded foyers of Gotham.

To some who know better, their traditional blind eye to strategic defense and their habit of not wanting to upset American adversaries puts the Times in the unenviable position of the Germans in the summer of 1940.

Lack of insight would lead them to losing the battle, yet again.

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Syria Strike: Apocalypse When Redux

Another deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and another retaliatory airstrike by the United States raises the possibility of not only protracted conflict in the Middle East but escalating tensions with Russia and Iran. Or so we’ve been told.

But already, the implications of Friday’s cruise missile attack—as with the limited strike on a Syrian air baseir base this time last year—suggest anything but  the possibility of World War III. Contrary to the knee-jerk reactions by some on the far-right—who once again are insisting that President Trump has “sold out”—this latest strike instead suggests a further strengthening of American standing in the international community, as well as greater steps towards peace in the Middle East.

As  explanation for why this is so, we can look at the president’s own words as he laid them out in his brief remarks on the action in Syria.

Another Calculated Attack

In his remarks, the president says explicitly that the primary purpose of this strike was, once again, a very limited one. In this case it was to target the chemical weapons themselves. In the last strike, the target was the airfield from which the weapons had been launched.

But even then, the United States did everything it could to avoid as many unnecessary casualties as possible. It has been reported that the United States government warned the Russian government ahead of time of approximately where the strikes would land, giving them plenty of time to evacuate their own forces before the missiles fell.

In performing a very precise strike on Syria, the United States is taking reasonable action that does not necessarily constitute a declaration of war. This comes shortly after the president announced his plans finally to withdraw American forces from the region after the complete defeat of ISIS (which he also mentioned in his remarks). Trump knows the primary goal for the United States of any involvement with the conflict in that country is about to be achieved, and is thus careful to make sure that such actions as this strike still convey American strength, without crossing the line into total intervention. In taking such measures as informing the Russians where the bombs will fall, the potential for escalation is severely diminished.

At the same time, as we have made it clear that the core reason for this attack is the chemical weapons and that we have no interest or intention of entangling ourselves further in the region, we are actually making it more likely that Russia will have to adopt the same posture as the United States when it comes to chemical weapons—or, at the very least, be less supportive of the Syrian government in such confrontations as this.

As reported by Business Insider, the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime most likely flies in the face of any advice being given to them by the Russian government; they are not as effective as conventional bombs, and only hurt the public perception of Assad’s regime while also prompting this kind of outside intervention. In that sense, perhaps Russia might even be more prepared to turn a blind eye towards future actions against the country, especially if Syria is snubbing Russia’s wishes.

To that end, even Syrian officials have already conceded that they are willing to move on from these latest strikes if they prove to be a quick and precise effort, rather than a drawn-out campaign. Reuters reported that a pro-Assad official said “if U.S.-led strikes are now over,” then the “attack will be seen as limited.”

As with ast year’s strike, this attack appears to have moved from a carefully calculated execution to quick concessions from those that were hit. With the primary target being the deadly chemical weapons themselves, the strike alone does not indicate an escalation or an invasion; it is simply yet another slap in the face as punishment, and a patient but firm display of American strength.

An Even Broader Coalition

The size and makeup of the coalition that led these latest missile strikes should speak volumes about the increase in support for such measures, and thus the decreased possibility of retaliation. But it also reveals a startling shift in responsibility within the region.

Whereas the United States has previously borne the burden of such action entirely on its own, this latest strike was carried out by a broad coalition of world powers. Namely, the United States was joined in this effort by the United Kingdom and France, which only makes possible retaliation by Russia even less likely as they are faced with an even larger and stronger coalition.

But another key partner that some are already overlooking is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with the three major powers in preparation for these strikes is the one significant difference between last year’s strike and this year’s strike.

This cam about because of one key event that took place after the original strike in April of 2017: Trump’s historic speech to the Middle Eastern countries gathered at the Riyadh Summit. In that speech, he threw down the gauntlet for the majority of Middle Eastern nations to determine their own fate, to solve their own problems, and to no longer depend on the United States’ assistance. He reiterated this same stance in his remarks, saying that only the people of that region can truly fix the problems there.

And the effects of his speech were swift and pronounced. It was Saudi Arabia who led the charge against one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism in the region, leading over a dozen other Middle Eastern nations in severing most diplomatic ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia also took great strides in dealing with its own internal corruption and advancing human rights; and the figurehead for this change is the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to as “MBS.”

Now, MBS is once again showing his determination to further advance Saudi Arabia as the new leader of stability efforts in the Middle East, declaring that Saudi Arabia is willing to join in on the international response to the chemical attacks in Syria. The fruits of Trump’s speech at the Riyadh Summit are continuing to flourish, and thissuggests that future action is more likely to be led by Syria’s geographic neighbors than by the top world powers.

Others Are Watching

As with any move in foreign policy, the most important thing to remember is that one move almost always affects another move, no matter how far apart on the board the pieces may be. Beyond the immediate implications that this move carries for the Middle East, and beyond the broader implications for the relationship between the United States and Russia, the ripples of this action in Syria could very well be felt all the way in North Korea.

Prior to these latest developments in Syria, the top focus in foreign policy in the media was the ever-increasing possibility that North Korea may actually agree to denuclearize.

Thus, with the historic and highly-anticipated summit between the United States and North Korea slowly approaching (set for sometime next month), President Trump knows that he must maintain an image of strength and resolve all over the globe. He knows that weakness in one area potentially can translate to weakness in another area. If North Korea sees the president acting indecisive or weak in one volatile region of the world, then it may be led to believe that he will be similarly weak in dealing with the Korean Peninsula.

At the same time, he has proven that he is capable of juggling multiple international crises at once, which further strengthens his image and most likely makes North Korea feel as if they are just another customer, rather than the center of attention. Kim Jong-Un is likely frustrated by that fact, but also probably feels that this makes the upcoming talks even more valuable since he has managed to earn even a portion of President Trump’s time.

The message to Assad was also a message to Kim, and there’s no doubt that both men heard it loud and clear.

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What Is Syria to Us?

The U.S. strikes last week on suspected chemical weapons sites near Damascus and Homs exemplify how not to use military force. Their only consequence is to highlight the poverty of the foreign policy of which they are part: driven by questionable intelligence, the “CNN effect,” and an inability to come to grips with real problems.

The strikes did a little harm to Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, who is a dependent of Iran and Russia and who is nearly helpless vis à vis our newest enemy, Turkey. Iran is extending its reach to the Mediterranean and threatening war on Israel. Russia is solidifying hegemony over the Middle East. Turkey is making war on the Kurds, the only real allies the United States has had in the region in a generation. Instead of braking any of these ominous developments, the U.S. government, reverting to type, destroyed a few buildings and hyped its own virtues in garbled neo-Wilsonian lingo.

The U.S. government’s claim that the Assad regime used chlorine gas and sarin together (that would be a first) against civilians separately from movement of ground troops (military nonsense) may or may not be correct. The government presented no evidence except videos. When it does have evidence, it usually crows. “Tin foil hats” are not necessary for skepticism, given U.S. intelligence’s historic and unbroken allergy to checking information that comes over the transom, its reflexive reaction to cable news reports of reported atrocities, and its own penchant for grandstanding.

No Geopolitical Significance
But the provenance of those chemical attacks, if any, is irrelevant to policy.

U.S. intelligence does not know what was in those buildings. But their destruction has little to do with the production of simple chemical weapons. Tokyo terrorists cooked up sarin in garages. Strikes at 3 a.m. did nothing to degrade the Assad regime’s human expertise in this field. Moreover, if Russia and Iran were complicit, as claimed, they can easily make up what was destroyed.

In short, the strikes’ military significance is tiny, and the geopolitical significance is nil.

Material confirmation comes from Moscow. The Russians’ S-400 air defense system, located at their air and naval bases, covers Damascus, Homs, and lots more with a blanket that the U.S. military judges formidable enough to have kept all manned aircraft well outside its reach. Only our most stealthy, most electronic-counter-measured cruise missiles were sent through it. The Syrians, using the Soviet-vintage S-300, inflicted about 10 percent casualties on our best stuff. But the Russians decided not to engage any of their own equipment, judging that defending targets that have no strategic meaning for Russia or for its allies was not worth what they would lose by revealing the S-400’s operational characteristics.

Then again, those targets had zero strategic meaning for America as well.

Syria ceased to exist sometime in 2012. The current struggle between Russia, Turkey, and Iran over its remains poses challenges for American statecraft that transcend our minimal interest in those remains themselves. Over a generation, feckless U.S. officials have fostered such disrespect for America as to incite these contenders and others to act in ways dangerous to our peace. Hence, regaining that essential respect must be our primary concern—the object of our strategy. Bombing that does not lead to respected facts-on-the-ground only makes matters worse. If need be, take lessons from Putin.

Essential Questions
Consider who is doing what to whom, and then ask what is that to us, and what can we do about it in our interest? If we act there, it must be to do something good and lasting for ourselves.

Iran is the main beneficiary of the last stages of the Syrian civil war. Already having reduced Shia-dominated Iraq to satellite status, having done virtually the same to Lebanon through Shia Hezbollah, and now being the executor of Russia’s protectorate over Alawite rump-Syria, it is engaged in maneuvers vis à vis Turkey and the Kurds to secure the last link of its power from Central Asia to the Mediterranean. Due partly to the resources that the Islamic Republic gained from the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal, Iran’s growing influence and armament are weighing against U.S. interests and threatening a war with Israel likely to involve America.

Yet U.S. foreign policy, in deference to Germany, France, Britain, as well as domestic interests, continues the “deal,” strengthening Iran’s hand. But bombing buildings in Damascus gives Washington a warm feeling.

President Erdogan’s Turkey has turned its back to the NATO alliance, joining with Iran and Russia—and with China as well—against all manner of U.S. interests. Until recently the sine qua non of ISIS, Turkey integrates its escapees into its irregular forces. Forcefully, Erdogan pursues twin objectives: the spread of Sunni power under his (Ottoman) leadership through these irregulars, and crushing the region’s demographically surging Kurdish population. But his incompetence is making it possible for Iran and Russia to take advantage of Turkish policy. Hence, for example, Turkey is clearing Kurds from areas of former Syria along its border which it cannot hold and that must eventually come under Iranian control. U.S. policy, for its part, bound as it is to the outdated notion “Turkey, our NATO ally” poses little objection. Instead, we bomb Assad.

Russia, its victories having made it the Middle East’s arbiter, is aligning the entire region against us. But whereas Iran’s intentions seem aimed at a major war and Turkey is already fighting a minor one, Russia seems to be trying to consolidate long-term gains. An Iran-Hezbollah war on Israel is not in Russia’s interest. Israel counts on that. Yet Russia cannot be sure of being able to contain Iran in this regard. For Putin, peeling Turkey away from NATO is such a big, unearned prize that he is not inclined to consider the troubles that Erdogan’s adventures can make for Moscow—especially since none are on the horizon. The United States could put such troubles on his agenda, while containing Iran in our own interest.

Instead, we get this.

A Signal Lost in Noise
Other than salvaging vital respect, and safeguarding Israel, America has no vital interests in the Levant. Protecting these as we disengage requires putting brakes on the Turks and Iranians, and salvaging a 
pied a terre vis à vis the Russians. It should be easy enough to stop facilitating Iran by re-imposing the sanctions removed in 2015, and this time applying them to anyone who trades with Iran.

In the aftermath of the late strikes, U.S. spokesmen gloried in having “sent a signal.” That signal, however, was one of unseriousness. Real sanctions would need no hype. To stop hurting ourselves, it should be even easier to cease to treat Turkey as an ally, in word and in deed, so long as it is ruled by Erdogan. That, too, would speak for itself. As for Russia, no words can undo its victories in the region. The path to limiting its gains lies in safeguarding our remaining assets there in a manner not inconsistent with Russia’s own interests.

The Kurdish people, who live from the Mediterranean shores to the Iranian plateau, are America’s only remaining strategic asset east of Israel. Salvaging that asset by securing their independence from the governments of Damascus, of Turkey, of Iran-dominated Iraq, and of Iran itself is the most concrete way of limiting these countries’ capacity to hurt America’s interests. Russia will not make war to stop this, and may welcome it as a factor for the stability of their gains. The Kurds have proven that even outgunned they are more effective fighters man for man than any of their neighbors.

If U.S. foreign policy were worthy of the name, the hundred-some cruise missiles salvoed at buildings could have supported Kurdish forces as they secured a Kurdish state from the Iranian plateau to the Mediterranean.

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What Message Did We Send in Syria?

Friday’s cruise missile strike on Syria by the United States, Great Britain, and France has received widespread praise for its relative restraint and alleged effectiveness. People I know, like, and respect say the attack was necessary. Maybe they’re right. But no one has yet made or, as near as I can tell, is attempting to make a compelling, substantive argument why the strikes were necessary to protect and maintain U.S. national security.

Let’s stipulate the following: 1) the April 7 chemical attack on civilians in Douma really happened; 2) Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus was responsible; 3) Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are tyrants; and 4) using chemical weapons (especially—but not exclusively—on civilians) is deplorable. Not the way Hillary meant it, but actually deplorable.

But those stipulations facts don’t answer the question. They distract from it.

Two arguments come closest to addressing my question. The first is that the strike seriously degraded Assad’s ability to produce chemical weapons. The truth of this will be borne out in the fullness of time. But even if true, it prevents neither the reconstruction of that capacity nor Assad’s ability to purchase chemical weapons from others. If he believes chemical weapons are necessary for the survival of his regime, we should expect him to pursue both. But again, this assertion, while tactically interesting, doesn’t answer the threshold question: Why was this necessary to maintain American national security?

The second and potentially more compelling argument is that the attack “sent a message” to Assad, Putin, the North Koreans, and the Chinese. The always smart Claudia Rosett lauds the strike in such terms. She notes that one of the targets was almost certainly the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which has served as the hub of Assad’s weapons-of-mass-destruction research and development. If a missile or two happened to take out the SSRC, Rosett writes:

It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC’s suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines.

In fact, this is essentially the same language we heard after the April 2017 cruise missile attack, when U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a joint statement saying the strike “sent an important message” to Assad. But it’s unlikely either attack did any such thing.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said this week that Assad has used chemical weapons 50 times during the Syrian conflict, including two attacks in Douma this year alone, one in January and the one on April 7 that served as the proximate cause for Friday’s punitive missile strike. In other words, use of chemical weapons has been a regular feature of Assad’s struggle to retain power. Apparently, Assad did not get the message we thought our missiles delivered last year.

That said, some critics of the strike have lost their sense of proportion and context. The Syria strike does not represent a return to the failed political consensus favoring promiscuous foreign intervention and too-easy presumptions about nation-building that prevailed during the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama years. But at the same time,  proponents of those policies and the principals that implemented them think Friday’s attack represents an opening.

Meanwhile, President Trump on Saturday morning declared “mission accomplished.” But if it’s the case, as Haley told the United Nations, that the United States remains “locked and loaded” to strike Syria again, the president needs to explain why we are going abroad seeking monsters to destroy. And if Assad is, in fact, able to reestablish his chemical weapons capabilities what message did we really send? Did we look strong or did we inadvertently display our impotence?

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Time to Take on the Military-Political Complex

Michael Walsh wrote an excellent article recently in which he did something that is essential to making America great again: he took on the military.

Walsh’s piece should be read in its entirety, but his point can be summed up, I think, by saying: something stinks in the military, but the military is still a powerful entity in American politics.

If we are to have any hope of restoring fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C., then we will have to continue to take on the military. Otherwise, the U.S. economy will suffer and political power will slip back into the hands of the suicidal Left. The problem is, as recent events have shown, if you want to cut the federal budget, you must cut the defense budget.

Don’t Hide Behind the Military
When Trump signed what he himself called a “
ridiculous” omnibus bill, he said his “highest duty is to keep America safe” and the bill “increases total defense spending by more than $60 billion from last year and funds the addition of critically needed ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, and submarines.” There was no other way, said Trump. We need a strong military, and the only way to get it is to give into the demands of Democrats.

Trump may have had good, prudential reasons for signing the bill. Whatever they were, he chose instead to hide behind the military. That was a mistake he should not repeat. Americans need to divest themselves of the myths that enable that mistake.

In the coming months, Republicans and Americans need to realize the strength of our national defense is not the same thing as how much money we flush down the Pentagon’s toilet. As Brandon Weichert pointed out when Trump signed the omnibus,

While the Defense Department does need to shore up its war-making capabilities after nearly two decades of war, the Pentagon had more money going toward it than the defense establishments of the next five countries combined . . . The question should have been whether or not America’s bureaucracies were spending the money that they already were given wisely. They weren’t.

The idea that national defense is commensurate with the defense budget goes unchallenged in Washington. Like almost all established ideas in the swamp, it is silly. The much-vaunted greatness of the giant, all-volunteer “professional” Army and the thought that more ships in the Navy equal a better Navy is laughable to any sane person who has actually seen what government is and does. But our undying, uncritical adoration of the military blinds us to these facts.

Standing Army Follies
When it comes to land forces in a free society, smaller, and sometimes poorer, is better. The common claim made in defense of a large, professional army is that modern war is so complex that regular men cannot fight them and win. If that claim sounds familiar, it is because it is eerily similar to the progressive justification for its form of tyranny: modern life is so complex that men cannot rule themselves. A big standing Army is predicated on the same ridiculous notions as the rest of the administrative state: unbiased, apolitical altruism and “expertise.” Soldiers are not apolitical, and it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise. In fact, the soldier’s job is inherently political, for it is awfully hard to support and defend a thing for which you have no passion or understanding.

Soldiers are not experts, either. Any military veteran or family member of a service member may balk at my dismissing of military expertise, but don’t buy it. Any decent citizen with common virtue can become as good a soldier or officer as anyone else with relatively little training; members of the military have no monopoly on courage, ethics, or technical ability.

What’s more, armies have benefited historically from an influx of citizen soldiers in both the enlisted and commissioned ranks in times of war, since it helps break up the stagnant group-think and lack of creativity that dominate any large, bureaucratic institution.

What a Healthy Nation Needs
If you doubt all of this, just look at history. The 
citizen-soldier called into action won World War II. And the tribal shepherd in the mountains of Afghanistan and Iraq have given our professionals a rough go of it with homemade bombs, small arms, and cell-phones for the past 15 years.

History teaches that a small standing army supported by a large reserve corps of citizen-soldiers greatly improves free society. For one, it helps keep the military under civilian control. For another, free men must take responsibility for their nation, including its defense. A nation requires a political as well as a military will to survive. A society that farms out its defense to professional soldiers only is a sick one. If you make the vast bulk of the military inactive and push our divisions into the reserves, you might find that we have more men like Peter Wang, and fewer cowards like Scot Peterson.

Like the rest of progressive ideas, the value of a large, well-funded “professional” force is predicated on an unrealistic view of human nature. Men are not angels, and if you give them lots of power and money, they tend to become corrupt. If you shower them with adoration as you do it, they certainly will.

A Persistent, Strategic Force
As for the Navy, bigger might be better, but it isn’t necessarily so. Bigger also means a big bureaucracy just as it does with the Army, and bureaucracy breeds
the corruption of incompetence, factionalism, and general ineffectiveness. It also breeds corruption of the more nefarious kind. Combine all of this with a bloated acquisitions process inherent in a giant military, and you don’t necessarily get more power from more ships. Instead, you get boondoggles like the littoral combat ship and the F-35 (the two things Trump thoughtlessly touted in his signing speech).

Unlike the Army, the Navy (and now parts of the Air Force) should be a persistent, strategic force. It is a standing institution in the Constitution, and it should be used well. That costs money. And size helps. But the things necessary for success at sea in a time of changing technology are innovation, skill, and courage. A big Navy, like any big human institution, will not breed these things. The careful balance that must be struck with the size of the Navy is a hard one, but bigger is not always better. Certainly, big budgets don’t equate to strength. Whatever is the right budget for our circumstances, audits help keep these institutions in top form.

The Air Force straddles both of these propositions because it is partially strategic and partially operational in nature. Both arguments apply to it. Parts of it would benefit from being small, poor, and largely in the reserves. Other parts would benefit from being smaller, poorer, and regularly audited.

Part of the problem is Trump seems deaf to this argument. He is completely surrounded by “his generals” who were raised in the factionalism of the U.S. military. They are not indecent men, but they are conditioned to believe that dollars equal strength and the military (like the FBI?) is pure. And they are well trained in promoting this myth. Most Americans are under this spell, too.

As long as this remains the case, Trump’s generals will trump him and anyone else who wants to reduce the budget and save our country from drowning in debt. As long as we demand ridiculous budgets for our military, which has a vested interest in the Pax Americana approach to foreign policy, Democrats will demand ridiculous budgets for the administrative and entitlement state here at home.

If Trump wants to have any teeth to his claim of “never again” signing such a bloated spending measure, he will need to divest himself of the myth that military strength is commensurate to the military budget. In the end, we will have a stronger military if we make it less rich and if use it less often. As Thomas Jefferson once advised, “the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

America • Americanism • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • military • Post • September 11 • Terrorism

Four Lessons Ahead of the Coming Syria Strike

President Bush declared the Global War on Terror. President Obama changed its name to the Overseas Contingency Operation. And President Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, promised to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS and take their oil.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we have a succinct history of our Middle Eastern foreign policy.

First, we declared a nebulous war on an idea. Then we tried to engineer a sterile solution through diplomacy, increased covert operations, and targeted strikes. And now, we might be getting to a practical approach that focuses on our national interest. As we stand on the brink of further entanglement in Syria, we should look back at the past two decades and ask what we can learn from our obvious failures in the region. Four lessons immediately spring to mind.

It is a Bad Idea to Declare a War on an Idea
A war on terrorism is virtually unwinnable. Even if we put aside debates over what exactly constitutes terrorism, ignore the geopolitical ramifications of going after the terrorist groups that exist in sovereign countries, and somehow accept that the United States could wipe out all organizations facilitating and funding terrorism, we’d still have a big problem: it would only take one deranged person stabbing someone on the streets of London in the name of an extreme ideology for terrorism to show that it was alive and well.

Our politicians could argue that terrorism was greatly diminished, but they could never truly declare victory—after all, the idea of terrorism would never raise a white flag. The lack of any clear sign of victory hurts morale and makes it hard to disengage without losing face.

Wars should be fought against specific people and groups who can surrender and there should be clear objectives that easily can be verified.

It is Difficult to Spread a Set of Values by Force
It is nearly impossible to change hearts and minds with a gun or with bribes (read: nation building). When threatened with violence, people will typically obey orders, but will only do so while the threat stands. The same is true for bribery.

We can’t force or pay people to change their values—they will comply only as long as the incentive or threat is applied and will revert back to their original beliefs and actions as soon as it is removed. But even if the United States were somehow able to change the beliefs and values of an entire country, it is not clear that we have a coherent vision of what exactly we want other countries to believe.

The United States vowed to support democratic movements and institutions in all nations and cultures. Although it is easy to support structures and forms of government, it is hard to inculcate respect for values such as freedom of speech or freedom of religion.

Fact is, we have seen plenty of Islamists winning free and fair democratic elections. And there are many democracies that are also relatively closed societies.

It is Hard to Engineer Solutions When the Enemy of Your Enemy May Easily be Your Enemy
Fighting a ground war is difficult and expensive, especially one happening halfway around the world. It is tempting to find groups on the ground that are already fighting our enemy and support them instead. But when these groups include poorly defined collections of insurgents with divergent motives and are supported by large global superpowers with conflicting goals, it is difficult to predict, let alone engineer, the outcomes of proxy wars. Even the most bookish foreign policy wonks in Washington often have no idea who we are funding and arming, let alone the potential ways that this support could backfire—we have directly and indirectly funded, supported, and otherwise helped many groups we later have had to fight.

We also often have a difficult time anticipating the actions of other superpowers. This is not to argue that we should never leverage existing actors in a region to achieve our goals, but we must constantly and vigilantly reevaluate who we are supporting and adjust our strategies accordingly. This type of constant adjustment, however, is not conducive to the development of a carefully concocted plan—it requires far a far more improvisational and intuitive foreign policy style than the wannabe social engineers who staff much of our government typically favor.

It is Helpful for Military Actions to Have Goals That Concretely Help Citizens
After the September 11 attacks, the country came together in support of our president, our government, and our military. We knew that we had to hold our attackers responsible and we were willing to spend blood and treasure to do so. But now, more than 15 years later, it is no longer clear why we are still entangled in the Middle East.

We are told that we have to engage with the region in order to secure the humanitarian rights of an arbitrarily chosen set of people halfway across the globe. We are told that we have to fight the terrorists there so we don’t have to fight them here. Meanwhile, we routinely ignore crises in our own country that affect our citizens and we have difficulty securing our own porous borders.

Even if intervening in the Middle East helps our national security interests and improves the lives of foreign peoples, it is insane to prioritize costly involvement in the Middle East to secure these goals when we have far cheaper means of taking care of problems at home that we refuse to implement. We should concentrate on common-sense solutions within our borders to protect and help our citizens before we start meddling in complicated and costly foreign affairs.

We shouldn’t be isolationists—we should just be smart.

Photo credit: Huseyin Nasir /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • Post • The ME Agenda

Bomb Assad But Bring the Boys Home

Recent events have dragged the Syrian civil war once again to the center of the world’s attention. The first of these events was the recent meeting in Ankara, Turkey with Turkey’s leader, President Recep Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Conspicuously absent from that meeting was any representative from the United States, or, for that matter, from Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Interestingly, the meeting was entirely about how the Syrian civil war would end (so why was America and the Syrian leadership excluded?).

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump recently intimated, with the apparent destruction of the physical caliphate of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military mission in Syria would be coming to an end. Soon, U.S. forces would be leaving Syria and could claim a decisive victory over their enemies—a nice change for our armed forces, after nearly two decades of unwinnable nation-building missions throughout the developing world.

That was before the apparent chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb or Douma. Reports are sketchy, but dozens of civilians reportedly were killed. It appears that forces loyal to the besieged Syrian strongman, Bashar al-Assad, perpetrated the chemical weapons attack.

Recall that around this time last year, Trump ordered a massive cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base for a similar chemical weapons attack. In light of the latest atrocity, the president’s hope to withdraw U.S. forces appears to be in jeopardy. And with the recent shakeup in the Trump Administration’s national security team, the real question is whether the president will be persuaded to reverse course and succumb to Washington war fever.

His tweet regarding the chemical weapons attack in Douma is instructive:

Keep in mind that the president has never said he would abandon our campaign in Syria. He has argued consistently that whatever happens in Syria (or in foreign policy more generally), he will protect American interests. The president appears to be taking his larger desires for a reduction in America’s commitment in Syria (as well as his correct hope for healthier relations with nuclear-armed Russia) and aligning them with the reality on the ground. Fact is, the president has committed American policy to retaliating against the genocidal mania that Assad routinely exhibits.

Fortunately, the United States can retaliate against Assad’s attack and still reduce its military footprint in Syria. There is a wide chasm (that needn’t be crossed) between striking back at Assad’s forces for their illegal actions and expanding America’s mission in Syria to include regime change.

After all, when President Trump authorized the greater commitment of American forces to Syria last year, he gave our troops easier rules of engagement to follow—and narrowed the scope of their mission. Whereas former President Obama wanted American forces to effectively topple the well-entrenched Assad, Trump merely wanted to decimate jihadists who composed the bulk of the “resistance” movement against Assad.

Under Trump, terror groups like ISIS and Al Nusra—direct threats to the United States, its allies, and overall regional stability—were the primary targets of the American military campaign in Syria. Even though ISIS has around 2,000 dead-enders scattered about in Syria, the bulk of the American mission there is over. Respecting the remaining American forces in Syria, the classic Pentagon urge to “use-it-or-lose it” must be overcome by removing those forces from an unwinnable, endlessly expanding conflict.

The president should strike back against Bashar al-Assad for having committed this brazen act of genocide. But, he should also go to Putin and Erdogan—cutting out the Iranians completely—and offer to reduce American presence in Syria in exchange for them forcing Assad (and Iran) to end the civil war peacefully.

The president has mostly defeated America’s enemies in Syria. We need to stop trying to remake foreign countries in our image, no matter how despicable the regime may be. It doesn’t work and it weakens us.

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America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • Deep State • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • History • Middle East • military • NATO • Post • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism • Trump White House

What Price Victory? What Cost ‘Infinite War’?

President Trump said something this week that flew largely under the radar of a media obsessed with Stormy Daniels and whether it can get the scalp of “embattled” (by them) EPA boss, Scott Pruitt. It had to do with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and what, if any, America’s long-term role should be in that sorry corner of the world. He said that our troops would be withdrawing “very soon” from Syria, no later than this autumn.

The reaction from the proponents of endless war was illustrative of why, going on 17 years after 9/11, America still finds itself embroiled in Muslim-bred conflicts in which it has no material interest other than strictly punitive. As the Washington Post reported:

President Trump’s pronouncement that he would be pulling troops out of Syria “very soon” has laid bare a major source of tension between the president and his generals. Trump has made winning on the battlefields of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan a central tenet of his foreign policy and tough-guy identity. But Trump and the military hold frequently opposing ideas about exactly what winning means.

Those differences have played out in heated Situation Room ­debates over virtually every spot on the globe where U.S. troops are engaged in combat, said senior administration officials. And they contributed to the dismissal last month of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster who as national security adviser had pressed the president against his instincts to support an ­open-ended commitment of U.S. forces to Afghanistan.

No wonder McMaster is gone. An “open-ended commitment” of U.S. forces to anywhere, much less the notional “country” of Afghanistan, is one of the worst ideas ever and runs counter to American policy since the days of George Washington. But the enthusiasm for it among the careerist military and the consensus-loving bureaucrats of the State Department remains unabated.

It’s apparently not enough that we’ve been fighting the same collection of goatherds with AK-47s since early in the first term of the George W. Bush Administration. It’s bad enough that we didn’t finish the job—which was to take Osama bin Laden at his word, and at his declaration of war upon us in the name of Islam—and deal the expansionist, triumphalist faith a blow from which it might never recover. The Saudis, in the form of the bin Laden family and most of the 9/11 hijackers, had given us a casus belli, as had the Iranians, dating all the way back to the hostage crisis of the Carter Administration, and for which they have never been properly disciplined. All right-thinking allies would have been behind us.

But of course, we didn’t. The war in Afghanistan was effectively over in a matter of a few months, although bin Laden escaped to next-door Pakistan, where the duplicitous Pakistanis—whose countrymen are currently visiting a rape epidemic upon poor, politically correct Britain—gave him shelter right under the noses of their military establishment. Then Bush chose to turn his attention to Poppy’s unfinished spat with Saddam Hussein. And here we are, nearly two decades later, still taking off our shoes to get on an airplane in our own country, and with troops scattered all across the Middle East for no purpose.

Well, not quite to no purpose. According to the military brass, we need to stay in Syria in order to prevent the return of ISIS; in other words, we need to not finish the job in order to be able to not finish the job, at least for the unforeseeable future. The Associated Press reports:

The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for “wasting” $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.  What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? “Nothing,” Trump said over and over, according to the officials.

The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said . . . At one point, [Gen. Joseph] Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.

Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities. Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said. Mattis floated a one-year withdrawal as an alternative.

Trump then relented—but only slightly, telling his aides they could have five or six months to complete the mission to destroy the Islamic State and then get out, according to the officials. Trump also indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.

Good for Trump. The job of the military is to win, and thus finish, wars, not to use them as extended live-fire exercises. Further, under our Constitution, the military reports to civilian authority, in the form of the president and one of his chief cabinet members, the secretary of defense. And it’s their job to make very clear the overall strategic objective, which in warfare is always optimally the total destruction and unconditional surrender of the enemy. During World War II, the objective was clear: destroy Imperial Japan and take Berlin. We, and our allies, did both, and America’s war—from the standing start at Pearl Harbor to VJ Day—lasted less than four years.

But that’s not how our contemporary military sees things. As the Post story points out, referencing Defense Secretary James Mattis, “His remarks reflected a broader Pentagon consensus: In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the U.S. military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put. These days, senior officers talk about ‘infinite war’.”

Those senior officers should be cashiered. “Infinite war” is what characterized the Roman Empire from Julius Caesar (read the Commentaries, Caesar’s reports back to Rome regarding his military operations in Gaul and elsewhere) through Marcus Aurelius (who spent very little time in the Eternal City) right up to the fall of Rome in 476, when the barbarian chickens came home to roost in the form of Odoacer, a member of the Germanic tribes that the Romans never managed to conquer. Their defeat by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 A.D. dissuaded the legions from crossing the Rhine again—but eventually the Rhine crossed them, and made it all the way to the Tiber.

The moral of the story is: finish the job. So good for Trump for giving the Pentagon a strategic objective and a time frame in which to accomplish it. The Post article quotes another officer, Air Force General Mike Holmes, in a speech earlier this year: “It’s not losing,” he explained. “It’s staying in the game and . . . pursuing your objectives.”

How terrifying to know that, for some senior military officers (who, by the way, are not necessarily on the Right politically), warfare is about “staying in the game.” Both Left and Right have vested interests in keeping conflicts going—progressives get an extended opportunity to effect “social change” on a culture of “toxic masculinity,” while so-called conservatives keep the procurement pipelines open and flowing.

But as Trump ever more firmly grasps the reins of the presidency, and learns that the buck really does stop with him, look for him to be less swayed by time-serving ranks of fruit salad and scrambled eggs, and to find officers who share his quaint notion that wars are for winning, troops are for celebrating with victory parades, and some foreign problems are best left to fester abroad—after an Omdurman-style object lesson in what it means to cross the United States and the West.

The Germans and Japanese learned that lesson in 1945. Will Islam? If we’re not prepared to teach it to them, then be prepared for infinite war. Because victory is obviously too expensive to contemplate.

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Administrative State • Deep State • Department of Homeland Security • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Free Speech • Infrastructure • Libertarians • military • Post • Progressivism • Silicon Valley • taxes • Technology • The Left • The Media

Trump Is Right to Fear Amazon

President Trump’s feud with the shopping giant Amazon is both welcome and overdue. Welcome, because Amazon’s ambitions extend well beyond the monopoly power that Trump has presciently warned about in recent months. Overdue, because while Trump has been complaining about the company since August, his complaints only lately reached the level of alarm that is actually warranted by the rise of the online shopping giant.

And make no mistake, Amazon’s rise warrants both political and economic alarm. The protestations of partisan fact checkers notwithstanding, a few things are obvious about Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. First, as even the fact checkers admit, Amazon does not pay taxes on roughly half the sales that go through it—namely, the sales that take place through third-party sellers.

Second, Amazon gets a special rate from the U.S. Postal Service compared to other companies—an implicit form of favoritism that most definitely advantages the company, seeing as they send about 40 percent of their sales through the mail.

Third, retailers that do not compete with Amazon have had a better time of it economically than competitors that do. Granted, this last point can be chalked up to more than just competition with Amazon, but taken with the other facts, it most definitely lends credence to the argument that Amazon is beginning to become dangerously overpowered in today’s market. Nor does it help Amazon’s case that Bezos is indisputably, and by a wide margin, the richest man on earth.

Further, Trump’s political arguments against Amazon and Bezos carry a particular sting. No other tech billionaire owns a major paper of record with the pedigree of the Washington Post. The closest equivalent is Chris Hughes, who though he once owned The New Republic, sold it in 2016. But even if he still owned it, The New Republic carries a well-known partisan slant and always had a specialized audience. The Post broke the Watergate story. The two aren’t remotely comparable in terms of reputation or influence upon the popular imagination.

So, naturally, Trump’s decision to attack the Post as a “lobbyist” for Bezos has drawn blood, as it should. All the indignation of the paper’s editors aside, It is hard to imagine how the Post could scrutinize Bezos at all, what with it being his money that sustains them. For any paper to have its hands tied in dealing with the richest man on earth is cause for concern, but when their motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” well, it looks even worse.

Nor is it only the Post that Bezos aspires to use to control the flow of information. Indeed, there is one way that President Trump could easily cut off Amazon’s rapidly rising power at the knees, and prevent it from acquiring even more. He could direct Defense Secretary James Mattis not to migrate all the Defense Department’s data to the Amazon Cloud.

The plan to get the Pentagon to migrate its data is something Mattis’s department has been attempting to execute for the past few months, often at the bidding of former Amazon employees. It would probably be the single biggest coup that the shopping giant could pull off, both economically and politically. Economically, it would land Amazon an actual (if also, technically, virtual) monopoly on cloud services, effectively ending the quest for innovation in that sphere. Politically, it would hand them control of all the Defense Department’s top secret data: not exactly a reassuring state of affairs, should Amazon ever decide it wants to punish President Trump or weaken his government. Say, because of a few tweets that tanked their stocks?

So yes, Trump is right to be worried about Amazon, not least of all because the company and its leaders are trying to buy his government out from under him, and to hound him out of that government in the pages of D.C.’s major paper of record. Trump owes it to his convictions and his constituencies to stop the entrenchment of Amazon as the de facto owners not just of online retail, but of the swamp itself.

After all, a swamp controlled by Amazon is a swamp that no one, except Jeff Bezos, will ever have the right to drain. Least of all the American people.

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Center for American Greatness • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • military • NATO • Post • Russia • Terrorism • The Media

Trump Should Make a Deal with Russia

The political establishment in Washington, D.C. remains angry with President Donald Trump for “coddling” Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. By now, the claims against Trump are well-known: he refuses to respond to Russian meddling in the 2016 election; he isn’t vocal enough about decrying Russia’s apparent chemical weapons attack in England; he hasn’t challenged the validity of Putin’s recent reelection.

In truth, Trump’s critics are being unfair.

Clearly, Russia cannot be trusted. The Russian presidential election was neither free nor fair. Yes, it is true that Putin’s regime has a terrible human rights record—as well as a history of major aggression directed against both his neighbors and the United States. It is also a fact that Russia sought to influence the American election in 2016.

But is this anything new?

Russia has tried to influence every democratic election around the world since the 1920s. Fact is, the Russians could never have made nearly 63 million Americans vote for Donald Trump—and this is something that even former President Barack Obama emphatically argued in 2016. Election tampering, unfortunately, is part-and-parcel of international espionage.

The reality is Russia is a power in decline. Moscow is its own worst enemy. China, on the other hand, is in ascendance. And, by the way, we’ve yet to finish our fight with the jihadists. Shouldn’t we be less concerned about dying Russia and more focused on China’s rise? Who knows, maybe the Russians could even help us in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism—if we give them something they want.

The Russians did use nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain. Thus far, the British government has opted to take a measured approach. The NATO states have strongly condemned the Russian action, in solidarity with the British government, and we expelled a bunch of “diplomats” on Monday. What more can we do?

Assassinations, like election tampering, are an unfortunate part of international espionage. Stalin had Leon Trotsky, his long-time rival, murdered in Mexico City. In 2007, Vladimir Putin had a Russian opposition member, Alexander Litvinenko, murdered in London with radiation poison. Yet, the Western response in 2007 was even more muted than it is today. We’ve experienced similar attacks by Russia for 70 years. What makes this situation worse than all of the others throughout history?

It’s not as though the Trump Administration has failed to stand up to Russian aggression. Trump actually kept the Obama-era sanctions on Russia in place. Then Trump bombed Russia’s ally, Syria, twice last year for having unlawfully deployed chemical weapons against civilians. President Trump also increased pressure on Russia’s other ally, Iran. In Europe, Trump has increased NATO’s funding as well—despite his understandable consternation over Europe’s general unwillingness to adequately fund the alliance. Additionally, the president has approved selling weapons to Ukraine, against Russia’s wishes. And, more recently, U.S. forces in Syria destroyed a Russian military unit.

The Trump Administration’s massive defense budget calls for the greatest modernization of American nuclear weapons since the Cold War—something that directly challenges Russian power. The president wants to establish a space force, and he is taking seriously the prospect of new antiballistic missile defenses.

Equally, the administration is pushing for the development of North American energy sources, thereby reducing Russia’s ability to hold the world hostage with its massive fossil fuel stores (to say nothing of shepherding the White Stream natural gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan energy with Europe).

To say the Trump Administration has gone soft on Russia is absurd. Ultimately, Trump is reluctant to risk his personal relationship with Putin by criticizing him publicly. This is a smart move: while Trump has stood strong against Russian aggression, he has always left the door open for a better deal to be made. Trump would do well to meet with Putin before Cold War 2.0 begins in earnest.

Trump and Putin need to leash the dogs of war and open the art of the deal. The United States and Russia should be partners, not enemies.

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America • Americanism • Deterrence • Economy • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • Trade

Compassionate Nationalism

One might think that President Trump’s frequent references to “America First” would be palatable to all Americans, especially since Trump takes every opportunity to assure foreign leaders that he fully expects them to put the interests of their own nations and citizens first as well. But given the virulent opposition Trump seems to attract, particularly with respect to policies that embrace the principle of America First, it would be helpful to try to explain some of its moral foundations.

Just as conservatism often suffers a rhetorical disadvantage when pitted against liberalism, nationalism suffers a rhetorical disadvantage when pitted against globalism. With measured success, conservatives have risen to the challenge, offering up versions of compassionate conservatism based on principles of prosperity, freedom, opportunity, liberty, and so on. So how might one define compassionate nationalism?

America Can’t Help the World Unless America is Strong
The crucial moral argument in favor of nationalism is that America cannot be a force for good in the world unless it is internally cohesive and economically strong. Ironically, this is a globalist argument, but it differs from liberal globalism insofar as it asserts that America’s way of life is more effective than that of most other nations in delivering freedom and prosperity to its people. Therefore protecting the American way of life is a prerequisite to America helping the rest of the world achieve that way of life.

This is an arrogant claim. It makes people uncomfortable. But it’s true. Standing up for American values, and more generally, for Western values and traditions, is a nationalist sentiment. But it isn’t ugly, it’s beautiful. It isn’t jingoistic, it’s compassionate.

America and the West have given the world nearly everything that gives individuals hope for the future—democracy, technological revolutions, capitalism, social welfare, equality of opportunity, individual freedom, environmental stewardship. Parliaments. Railroads. Medicine. The Internet. The list of wondrous innovations that make life better for everyone, everywhere, is endless—and nearly all of them came from Western societies. This should be boldly proclaimed because it is the moral basis for why immigrants who come to America must be assimilated to American values, not impose their values or demands upon America.

One of the most contentious elements of the Greatness Agenda is changing America’s immigration policies. But if current policies are not changed, America as we know it will cease to exist. America needs to restrict immigration primarily to individuals who are highly skilled in professions where there are shortages of American workers. Moreover, priority needs to be granted to immigrants from cultures that are fundamentally compatible with our own. This means cultures that respect individual freedom, cultures that do not accept corruption as a given, cultures that embrace religious freedom and women’s rights.

The moral argument against this, of course, is that America should rescue the impoverished refugees and offer them safe haven. The problem with that argument is simple—the numbers don’t work.

America Cannot Possibly Accommodate the World’s Poor
America currently has a population of 330 million people. According to the UNICEF, more than 3 billion people—10 times the U.S. populationlive in poverty. Over 1.3 billion peoplefour times the population of America—live in extreme poverty. But it doesn’t end there, as if we could actually transport more than billion people to our shores.

According to the United Nations, the population of India will increase by another 353 million people in just the next 20 years. Similarly, in only 20 years, Nigeria is projected to add 122 million people to its population, Pakistan will add 97 million, Indonesia, 69 million, Congo, 65 million, Egypt, 47 million.

In fact, according to the latest projections from the United Nations, not including China, the 50 nations in the world with the greatest projected increases to their population include only two developed nations: America and Great Britain. America is projected to add 55 million people to its population in the next 20 years. Great Britain, another 11 million. The other 48 nations? They are projected to add 1.7 billion people to their population in the next 20 years.

Here’s more irony: Already living within these 48 nations are nearly all of the world’s 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty. So as the United States adds 55 million people to their population in the next 20 years, with more than half of that increase due to immigration, it has a choice. Will we import people who contribute to society, such as doctors and engineers, or will we choose to import unskilled economic refugees who will drain our wealth and further undermine national cohesion?

There is an argument to be made that unskilled immigration still constitutes a net economic gain for the host nation. But even those who still make that argument concede that there is a greater economic gain to be had via entry of highly skilled immigrants. And these arguments miss the point, which is that even if America admitted millions of economic refugees, there would still be billions of people who will continue to live in desperate poverty in the nations those relative few who escape leave behind.

Foreign Aid Costs Less and Helps More than Mass Migration
Put another way, if the liberal globalists want open borders for moral reasons, what they are basically doing is acknowledging that mass migration of unskilled people is a form of foreign aid. And if so, the vastly more effective way to offer foreign aid is to remain economically strong, and then offering actual foreign aid to these struggling nations. In nearly all iterations, direct foreign aid helps more people, more effectively, if it is spent over there. A good example is the case of displaced war refugees, where at least five times as many can be supported in relative comfort in areas close to their country of origin, when compared to the lifetime cost of resettling and supporting these refugees in the United States.

The moral argument in favor of favoring direct foreign aid over mass immigration of destitute, unskilled people is magnified if one examines the challenges that could be addressed for a fraction of the funds that would be necessary to resettle millions of immigrants. The situation in Sub-Saharan Africa provides searing examples of need. According to the United Nations, the sub-Saharan’s 800 million population is projected to rise to 1.5 billion by 2050. It has the highest fertility rate in the world—and the lowest life expectancy. It has 90 percent of the world’s malaria cases, with well over 100 million cases per year. Similar rates of affliction apply in sub-Saharan Africa for diarrhea, tuberculosis, intestinal worms, and other infectious diseases. These illnesses not only kill millions each year but almost invariably leave survivors with permanent cognitive impairment.

Aggressive programs of foreign aid can solve many of these problems. Malaria was nearly wiped from the earth in the 1950s. Diarrhea and intestinal worms could be eliminated largely through basic hygiene and proper sanitation. Tuberculosis could be eliminated by identifying and treating casesbefore they spread via contagionthrough a comprehensive national health service.

What about violence, civil strife, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, female genital mutilation? What about malnutrition, iodine deficiency, iron deficiency, pollution, illiteracy? All these problems can be alleviated with foreign aid. Often foreign aid is exposed as ineffective. But mass immigration would cost much more, to accomplish even less. As a form of foreign aid, mass immigration is the least practical way to help the destitute of the world, yet that is the core moral argument for open borders.

The Moral Path
If America is economically strong, with skilled, capable immigrants who have left behind a diverse assortment of poverty-stricken nations, foreign aid isn’t the only way to help those nations. Direct investment in infrastructure and industry are also ways to quicken these nations’ rise to prosperity, especially if they are practical. Here again, the conventional liberal globalist wisdom is flawed, because these nations don’t need wind farms and solar panels, they need cost-effective natural gas and nuclear power plants. They need dams and aqueducts. They need to drain swamps, refurbish and expand their railroad network, become net food exporters, engage in sustainable forestry, and build universities, hospitals, roads, cities, industry
they need to join the 21st century.

Instead, the liberal globalist sends them just enough medicine and food aid to ensure a burgeoning population, demands nothing of their governments in return, and pretends that a few solar panels will somehow power their economies to prosperity. It’s virtue signaling that is oblivious at best, maliciously opportunistic at worst.

Embracing compassionate nationalism is the moral path towards making America great again. If America truly recovered the energy and vision of the nation it was a century ago, Americans would invest in mega-projects in developing nations. They would invest in projects to green the Sahel by diverting water from the Ubangi River into Lake Chad, or by planting a trillion drought tolerant trees along the latitude of 15 degrees north, from Mauritania to Sudan. Projects to make the desert bloom, and expand the forests. It was done in Israel. It took about 70 years. Where’s the difference? If the will was there, Americans could lead this effort, and other great works, and truly help midwife the emergence of a global civilization.

If we could see 500 years into the future, we probably wouldn’t recognize much. It will probably be a transnational civilization, populated by transhuman beings. But in the meantime, and to ensure we survive the present, America must be strong. Whatever globalist future is in store for us, it is best served by exercising compassionate nationalism, not virtue signaling nihilism.

America • Asia • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • North Korea • Post

Our Long History of Misjudging North Korea

North Korea has befuddled the United States and its Asian allies ever since North Korean leader Kim Il Sung launched the invasion of South Korea in June 1950.

Prior to the attack, the United States had sent inadvertent signals that it likely would not protect South Korea in the event of an unexpected invasion from the north. Not surprisingly, a war soon followed.

General Douglas MacArthur, after leading a brilliant landing at Inchon in September 1950, chased the communists back north of the 38th parallel. In hot pursuit, MacArthur gambled that the Chinese would not invade, as he sought to conquer all of North Korea and unite the peninsula.

As MacArthur barreled northward to the Chinese border during the fall of 1950, the landscaped widened. American supply lines lengthened. MacArthur’s forces thinned. The weather worsened. The days shortened.

Conventional wisdom had been that the Chinese would not invade, given America’s near-nuclear monopoly and likely air superiority. But in November 1950, what eventually would become nearly a million-man Chinese army did just that, pouring southward into the Korean peninsula.

The Chinese and North Koreans pushed the American and United Nations forces past the Demilitarized Zone at the 38th parallel. In January 1951, the Communists retook Seoul after forcing the longest American military retreat in U.S. history.

With the arrival of military genius General Matthew Ridgway, U.S. forces regrouped. In early 1951, Western troops retook Seoul and drove Communist forces back across the 38th parallel. But despite continued success, Western forces chose not to reinvade the north and reunite the country.

What followed the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War was a tense Cold War standoff between two antithetical Korean countries for the next 65 years. North Korean assassinations, kidnappings, and continual provocations continued throughout the “peace.”

In 1994, the Bill Clinton Administration gave massive aid to North Korea under the “Agreed Framework” deal, including heavy fuel oil. In exchange, North Korea promised to cease its ongoing nuclear proliferation.

Predictably, North Korean leadership lied. It eagerly took the aid only to further fast-track its nuclear weapons program.

The George W. Bush Administration in 2003 arranged for “six-party talks”—China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States—to discourage North Korean nuclear proliferation. America and its allies once more provided aid and promised not to attack the Kim Jong Il regime. In exchange, Pyongyang agreed in writing to dismantle “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.”

Once more, North Korea outsmarted Western naifs. It interpreted American concessions as weakness to be exploited rather than magnanimity to be reciprocated.

In 2006, North Korea detonated a nuclear device.

The Barack Obama Administration learned nothing from the failures of the Clinton and Bush administrations. It followed the same old tired script of lecturing North Korea about its violations of international law. Then, predictably, Obama gave more aid to North Korea while pleading that it change its behavior and denuclearize. Obama’s policy was called “strategic patience”—a hope that if North Korea would not compromise, it at least would eventually collapse due to its corruption and malfeasance.

Obama misjudged North Korea as every other president had since the end of the Korean War. North Korea only further expanded its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang always figured it could feign one of its “crazy” moods and then play on Western empathy for more money, all while China smiled and claimed ignorance.

Soon after Donald Trump was elected, North Korea announced that it was now capable of using its nuclear weaponry to take out cities on America’s West Coast. But this time around, the United States did not offer bribes. Instead, it issued its own threats to North Korea. Trump himself assumed the unhinged role the Kims usually played, denigrating Kim Jong Un as “Little Rocket Man” and “short and fat.”

But the Trump Administration also lined up an international boycott of North Korea that is slowly squeezing the regime. Now, Kim Jong Un suddenly wants to talk. A collapsing North Korea once again claims it will denuclearize, but first it wants a historic photo-op with a U.S. president.

What have we learned about North Korea in the past 65 years? North Korea’s cunning usually trumps America’s ideals of fair play and self-confidence. Empty threats do not work. Appeasement with infusions of food, cash, and fuel makes things worse.

China finds its North Korea client useful. Russia is usually against anything we are for. South Korea appeases North Korea when it senses U.S. weakness. It stands firm only when America does.

What should Trump do after seven decades of North Korean aggression?

Ratchet up the embargo of North Korea. Do not give it any aid—no matter the pleas and threats. Put more pressure on China. Do not barter with Pyongyang until it is proven that it has no more nukes.

(C) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

America • Americanism • Deterrence • Foreign Policy • History • Middle East • military • North Korea • Post • Terrorism

Lessons from Germany’s ‘Spring Offensive’ 100 Years Later

One hundred years ago this month, all hell broke loose in France. On March 21, 1918, the German army on the Western Front unleashed a series of massive attacks on the exhausted British and French armies.

German General Erich Ludendorff thought he could win World War I with one final blow. He planned to punch holes between the French and British armies. Then he would drive through their trenches to the English Channel, isolating and destroying the British army.

The Germans thought they had no choice but to gamble.

The British naval blockade of Germany after three years had reduced Germany to near famine. More than 200,000 American reinforcement troops were arriving each month in France. (Nearly 2 million would land altogether.) American farms and factories were sending over huge shipments of food and munitions to the Allies.

Yet for a brief moment, the war had suddenly swung in Germany’s favor by March 1918. The German army had just knocked Russia and its new Bolshevik government out of the war. The victory on the Eastern Front freed up nearly 1 million German and Austrian soldiers, who were transferred west.

Germany had refined new rolling artillery barrages. Its dreaded “Stormtroopers” had mastered dispersed advances. The result was a brief window of advantage before the American juggernaut changed the war’s arithmetic.

The Spring Offensive almost worked. Within days, the British army had suffered some 50,000 casualties. Altogether, about a half-million French, British and American troops were killed or wounded during the entire offensive.

But within a month, the Germans were sputtering. They could get neither supplies nor reinforcements to the English Channel. Germany had greedily left 1 million soldiers behind in the east to occupy and annex huge sections of conquered Eastern Europe and western Russia.

The British and French had learned new ways of strategic retreat. By summer of 1918, the Germans were exhausted. In August, the Allies began their own (even bigger) offensive and finally crushed the retreating Germans, ending the war in November 1918.

What were the lessons of the failed German offensive?

The fortunes of war can change in days. In late March 1918, the Germans thought the war was won. Three months later, they knew it was lost. Often, the worst moments of war come right before the end, as the last-gasp battles of Waterloo, the Bulge, and Okinawa remind us.

In 2016, an ascendant Islamic State bragged that it had formed a vast new Islamic caliphate. By the end of 2017, ISIS had been bombed to smithereens and routed.

Long-term strategy matters. Without a strategic vision, short-term tactical success means nothing. The advancing Germans had no real idea of what to do next—even if they reached the English Channel. There was never any chance that the British would quit. The British had survived worse at the earlier battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.

In our time, America has never quite determined its strategic aims in the nearly 17-year-old Afghan war. Is it to crush the Taliban? To build a democracy in Afghanistan? To rid the country of terrorist havens? To stop the opium trade? To make Afghanistan economically and militarily self-sufficient? To simply not lose? All that and more have been mentioned as American goals.

Alliances are critical. What did it matter that Germany had finally defeated Russia if at nearly the same time it had provoked an even stronger new enemy in America? The key to denuclearizing North Korea is creating a frontline partnership of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States—and to flip either China or Russia to our side to ensure that sanctions strangle Pyongyang.

War is decided as much by economics as by soldiers. Germany unleashed a lethal army against the Allies, but its soldiers did not even have enough food or munitions to sustain the offensive after a few weeks. Germany had neither the food nor the factory capacity to conduct war against the combined might of Britain, France, and the United States. In many ways, 1918 Germany was like today’s Russia—formidable on the battlefield, but only for a short duration and without the economic ability to finish what it starts.

Leaders usually ignore history. A little more than 20 years after the Spring Offensive, Hitler’s Third Reich fought America, Britain, France and Russia; unleashed its armies in a two-front war in Europe; was blockaded; and lost another world war.

The final battles of World War I will have their 100 anniversaries this year. But the lessons of how Germany almost won and then suddenly lost are ageless.

(C) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Photo credit: Interim Archives/Getty Images