After WWII, with the guiding hand of a well-intentioned American government, the newly-liberated Imperial Japanese quickly got their act together. Just look at Japan today. The country is a miracle. At the time, based on this thinking, President George W. Bush’s doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East seemed like a good idea to me, a way to both do some actual good for tens of millions of oppressed people while making America more secure based on the historical fact that democracies do not make war with one another.
Today that thinking feels naïve.
I take no pleasure in saying so out loud, but just like the post-Soviet Russians, too many people in the Middle East, including the Iraqis, have been damaged beyond repair by generations of oppression. With rare exceptions (like those lovely Kurds), self-determination no longer seems to be part of their DNA. Also, unlike the Japanese, the Iraqis and Afghans are not bound by a single culture, and this lack of a unified sense of nationalism makes it too easy for meddlesome troublemakers like Iran and Russia to cause all kinds of internal chaos.
America gave Iraq and Afghanistan everything we had, more than $2 trillion and thousands of our dead sons, and both countries are still a mess.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton tried the half-assed approach to regime change, and while Libya itself is now a literal horror show, Barry and Hillary’s refugee crisis might have destroyed Europe forever. Yes, Muammar Gaddafi was a monster, but Libya was the cork stopping refugees from making their way to Europe, and that monster was keeping that cork firmly in place.
The result of this stark reality is that unlike America’s neocons, I am at least able to look back at the last 15 years and learn a lesson. Moreover, unlike America’s neocons, I no longer hold the absurd belief that an American government incapable of competently governing America is somehow able to summon the magic ability to govern in much more difficult circumstances abroad.
And now, although it is a mercenary one, we have one more argument against foreign wars. Even with Obama fighting it every step of the way, we are much less dependent on foreign oil than we were 10 years ago. Yay fracking! Bottom line: We are all out of rationales to put boots on foreign sand.
And so, like many of his early supporters, one thing I very much liked about President Trump was his reluctance to meddle in the snake pit that is the Middle East, to nation-build, to police the world. But that doesn’t mean that I am an unreasonable absolutist or isolationist.
Syria is one of the most complicated geo-political disasters in world history, and unquestionably the worst of my lifetime. Syria makes Vietnam look like a game of Battleship.
On one side of an ongoing civil war you have Bashar al-Assad, a monster and tyrant willing to use chemical weapons against his own people. Backing him are Iran and Russia. On the other side are the rebels. Outside of the chemical weapons, this is what Vietnam was like. As messy as that country was, though, things are even messier in Syria because al-Assad is also, albeit reluctantly, fighting America’s most dangerous enemy ISIS, and the rebels fighting the good fight against al-Assad are seeded with jihadists. Also seeded with jihadists are Syrian refugees. Western countries could welcome the Vietnamese without worrying about importing terrorists.
There is just no good answer in Syria. None.
Well, actually there is one, and believe it or not, Barry came up with it: draw a thick, implacable red line over the use of WMDs, including chemical weapons. The only problem is that Barry is a feckless fool who refused to enforce his own red line. Trump, thankfully, is not, and there are all kinds of good reasons to back his decision to lob those cruise missiles.
Not just for the sake of innocent people in foreign countries, but for our own sake, we simply cannot live in a world that allows the use of chemical weapons, or any WMD. The more we stand idly by and allow the use of this poison to proliferate (which encourages more production and stockpiles, which increases the odds of international terrorists getting their demonic hands on it), the more we put ourselves and our allies (especially Israel) in danger. A military response is the only serious deterrence, and we must use it.
Moreover, Trump chose the perfect target, the airfield that launched the planes carrying these chemical bombs. A military target decreases the chances of civilian casualties and hitting that particular airfield sent a very clear message.
The other clear message sent, not just to Syria and her sponsors, but to the entire world, including the increasingly emboldened North Korea, came from Trump’s decisiveness. While it is true that Obama used “cruise missile diplomacy” in 2013, as Ben Shapiro astutely pointed out, “Obama had already blown American credibility out of the water for four years by the time Assad gassed his own people. It was obvious to everyone … he was looking to launch a few missiles to silence criticisms of his pathetic foreign policy.”
In other words, Obama’s missiles were purely symbolic and utterly meaningless. The whole world knew he was goaded into using force, which meant the whole world knew they could go on doing whatever the hell they wanted because Obama wasn’t going to do diddly-squat. And they did. Just look at all the chess pieces the world’s bad actors moved into place after Barry blinked. Iran moved on Yemen, Russia moved into the Ukraine, China became much more aggressive in the China South Sea.
As a spanking-new president, though, Trump’s decisiveness, his measured but still bold lack of reluctance, immediately reversed eight years of Obama’s disastrous policy of leading from behind. First impressions matter, and Trump’s first impression told the world that the Obama Doctrine is dead, that America is back in charge, is leaning forward rather than back; that there *is* a red line – and if we are willing to enforce it for Syrian civilians, just imagine what will happen if you touch America or Israel.
Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters are disappointed over this. But they are wrong. They want to avoid war when their approach can only invite war. Time and again, history has shown us that the fastest and most effective way to ensure America does end up embroiled in a terrible and costly war, is for us to stand back and do absolutely nothing. Our reluctance is only seen as weakness, and weakness invites bullies.
The only way for us to avoid an unavoidable war is to show the world that there are lines we will never allow to be crossed, and that we have the will and the means to enforce those lines.
Hey, I am with everyone who doesn’t want to once again get buried under the desert sand. I am with everyone who wants Trump to focus on America, Americans, our economy, and the plague against the working poor we call illegal immigration. I am with everyone horrified by neocons unwilling to learn from the glaring mistakes of their failed wars of choice. Trust me, I am. But the reality is this…
The Bush Doctrine of all-in intervention wasn’t worth the cost.
The Obama Doctrine of isolationist cowardice and half-assing it when he did engage, gave us ISIS, created an existential immigration crisis in Europe (that threatens us), and emboldened the bad guys, especially in Russia, China, and North Korea.
The Reagan Doctrine of peace through strength, through targeted airstrikes (like Libya) when necessary, and strengthening our allies, was a true success. Although always wary of using troops, Reagan’s early show of force in Grenada set the tone for an administration that worked miracles in foreign policy while avoiding the wars Trump’s angry fans are so wary of.
And so far Reagan’s approach appears to be Trump’s guiding light.
Works for me.