On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave his scheduled State of the Union address. I will leave it to others to analyze it from a domestic policy and ideological perspective and if you’re following me on Twitter, I will retweet some of those opinions. I think it was a decent speech that set modest, but pragmatic domestic goals for the country. With a divided Congress, President Trump’s ability to get anything through will be an achievement: especially to avoid another government shutdown. Foreign policy, however, is a different story.
Foreign policy has always been this President’s weakest point. President Trump has not been shy about his faith in the American military. His America first policy, or doctrine if you want, centers on the idea that the United States can defend or retaliate if necessary without the country being as invested financially or militarily overseas. In this speech he cements this doctrine: laying out his plan to finalize America’s resignation (for lack of better world) from the world stage and gives us a vision of what the world will look like once we’re gone.
And, for the most part, I didn’t like it that part of the speech. I think it’s half informed at best and it will lead to complications far sooner than the President or his supporters realize. However, this is Elevator Foreign Policy so I will take this point-by-point and give my two cents. Then I’ll go into what needs to happen now with the President locked into his approach, at least for this year.
Venezuela: While President Trump’s decision not to recognize Nicolas Maduro as the President of Venezuela was the right decision, he has stumbled in the aftermath. There has been no visible effort to secure Interim President Juan Guaidó or anyone who could serve in his administration, very little effort to formally organized Venezuela’s efforts to unite and pressure Maduro to leave the country and, most importantly, no aid package in front of Congress right now to support the new opposition government and begin to help the country out of the hole Maduro will leave it in. The aid package, at the very least, could have been addressed during the State of the Union, but instead the President used the moment to condemn socialism. Now, I hate the socialist ideology in all of its forms so fair enough. But it doesn’t change the reality that we’re still essentially hands off in the country.
President Trump will not have a lot of time to act on this one. We need to make it clear that the United States and our allies in South America will secure the opposition to Maduro and will work with the interim government to restore the country’s economy once he is gone. That needs to be clear and concrete within the next ninety days. If it is not, Maduro will kill his opposition and snatch a bloody victory from the jaws of sure defeat.
Afghanistan: Afghanistan is lost. This is not due to the failure of our soldiers or many braves Afghans who have put their own lives on the line to try and free their country. You cannot go a decade of politicians not taking the war seriously and anything good come from it. In our absence, the void has been fully filled by the Pakistani ISI, Iranian Quds Force and the Russian government. Before the State of the Union Tuesday, news broke of a meeting in Moscow between the political opposition to President Ghani and Taliban delegates. It is safe to assume that that meeting has begun to lay the framework that will have the blessing of Russia once we are fully gone. So long as they have that blessing, the elected government will not survive and whatever takes it’s place will be no friend of the United States: regardless of what the President thinks.
I personally could have accepted a level of troop withdrawal as a deterrent to giving the Taliban what it wants. However, we’re doing that regardless. I cannot predict what happens next, but if we’re going to do this damned foolish thing the least we can insist on is that we will only accept discussions and agreements that happen in conjunction with the Ghani Administration and we will not accept a government elected under any new constitution for a minimum of ten years. If we don’t start drawing a line in the sand, we will be back in Afghanistan by 2030. Only this time we’ll be fighting the Taliban and their allies in Russia instead of al-Qaeda.
Syria: Mr. President, when you say you want our allies to step up their commitments to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who exactly do you mean? All in all, American involvement in the region is minimal: strictly to support Iraqi and Kurdish fighters. Even the President increase of troop levels were mostly in supportive roles. I do not ask this to be combative, but the reality is that neither President Obama nor President Trump have clearly defined America’s role in the fight against the Islamic State. I would suggest that would be the first step. Let’s clarify what has been done in the region and where the Islamic State is now versus where they were two years ago at their peak. Once we establish that, we can discuss America’s role in the region: specifically as allies to the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds who have tried to liberate the Kurdish regions of Syria and unite with Iraqi Kurdistan.
The reality is that we have to be subtle here and sensitive to the needs of our allies. They’ve been putting up the bulk of the fight against ISIL and they are facing serious retaliation from Syria and Russia. We cannot leave them to be slaughtered and expect support in Middle East again: especially considering continued issues with the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The blunt statements at the State of the Union aren’t helping and unless the President is prepared to clarify his position, he needs to rethink it.
Overall the biggest issues I had with this speech is the core premise: the idea that we can do this massive pullback and it have no negative repercussions. The question is often asked by the President and his supporters on why America should pay in resources and blood to rebuild foreign countries? Allow me to end this entry by answering that question. Mr. President, while there are moral reasons to be as involved as we are on the world stage, the pragmatic reason is that the cost in blood and treasure allows us to influence the direction of the world. More people around the globe are living longer and prospering more thanks directly to our hegemonic influence.
We are facing enemies right now that realize one thing: the Americans, as a collective, are not serious. We’re not serious about the issues facing our own country and we certainly are serious about our role on the global stage. We can be waited out and, once we are gone, the chances are good that we won’t be back. Serious nations, powerful nations, are not less patient than the people who want to destroy them. Once we are gone, the idea that our military superiority is enough to maintain global stability with no other involvement on our part will shatter. I can guarantee you that, because it already happened on September 11th.
Right now, there are only consequences to President Trump’s foreign policy with minimal upsides. The President’s maneuvers on North Korea and Iran are good, but temperamental. Without real goals for the next decade and more, it’s currently set to only last his administration. It isn’t too late for us to become serious and challenge the growing threats of resurgent Islamist terror and the rising acceptance of autocracy. But it will take leadership and comprehension on why our enemies are so confident they can wait us out and last night the President showed neither.