The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts does make an effort at providing dispassionate analysis of the Trump administration. Dispassionate does not mean neutral — the evidence that the man acts like a toddler is overwhelming — but it does mean devoid of anger that could color the analysis.
Breaking: Tillerson Calls For Indefinite US Military Presence In Syria In Bid To Topple Assad https://t.co/PzDUMVwcxs— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) January 17, 2018
My Washington Post colleagues Liz Sly and Carol Morello wrote up the details:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday committed the United States to an indefinite military presence in Syria, citing a range of policy goals that extend far beyond the defeat of the Islamic State as conditions for American troops to go home.But a crisis unfolding on the Syria-Turkey border that threatens to embroil the U.S. military in a wider regional conflict underscored how hard it will be for the relatively small U.S. presence in Syria to influence the outcome of the conflict there.Speaking in a major Syria-policy address hosted at Stanford University by the Hoover Institution, Tillerson listed vanquishing al-Qaeda, ousting Iran and securing a peace settlement that excludes President Bashar al-Assad as among the goals of a continued presence in Syria of about 2,000 American troops deployed in a Kurdish-controlled corner of northeastern Syria.
Why did this make me mad? After all, Tillerson’s aims sound noble, even if his means seem meager. As Michael McFaul tweeted, Tillerson sounded just like John F. Kerry when he articulated this policy. Part of it is that I simply do not trust this administration to execute this kind of strategy. The past 24 hours of backtracking do not help.
What is infuriating is that this is merely the latest example of Trump upping the ante in every militarized conflict involving the United States. In Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan alone, the Trump administration has increased the number of troops from 18,000 to 26,000. On Iran, Trump desperately wants to scuttle the nuclear deal and ratchet up tensions — indeed, that is one justification for keeping U.S. forces in Syria. On North Korea, Trump sounds equally hawkish based on his most recent interview with Reuters:
He would not say whether the United States has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that the United States means business.“We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” he said.
What angers me about all of this is the sharp contrast between what some critics of American foreign policy claimed Trump would do and what Trump has actually done. Maureen Dowd infamously wrote in 2016 that, “On some foreign policy issues, the roles are reversed for the candidates and their parties. It’s Hillary the Hawk against Donald the Quasi-Dove.” Some people knew this was nonsense at the time, but Dowd’s argument caught hold among some commentators.
It persists to this day among some analysts. Trump supporter and international relations professor Randall Schweller told Vox this week that “There is no Trump doctrine; prudence is the Trump buzzword for foreign policy.” If by prudence, Schweller means “Trump has not invaded a new country,” then I suppose that is correct. That is a really weak definition of prudence, however. Trump has signaled that he is ready, willing and eager to use force against North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. This does not sound like a terribly prudent president. Thinking through counterfactuals is difficult, but it is hard to see how a President Hillary Clinton could have possibly been more hawkish than Trump.
In foreign policy, hawkish is not automatically bad and dovish is not automatically good. Sometimes the use of force is necessary, and on rare occasions, it is even just. The past few decades suggest the limits of using the military to solve every foreign policy problem, however. The Trump administration’s combination of hawkishness and policy incompetence has already generated tremendous amounts of negative blowback internationally, particularly among U.S. allies. It does not bode well for the future of American foreign policy.
So yes, I’m extremely angry. I have no right to ask that anyone who told you in 2016 that Trump was going to be the more dovish president should probably not talk about foreign policy for a good long while. But dear God, it would be nice.