The overreach began during the Obama years. Despite a demonstrable reluctance on the part of President Barack Obama at times, it was his administration, with strong congressional support, that extended U.S. foreign policy goals in the Middle East to include regime change in Libya and Syria and increased containment of Iran. It was the Obama administration that expanded the global war on terror to more countries in the Middle East and Africa. In Eastern Europe, the Obama White House, again with a huge assist from members of Congress, helped participate in a coup against the duly elected (though deeply corrupt) Viktor Yanukovych government in Ukraine and actively pursued a campaign to pull Ukraine exclusively into the Western camp — and to eliminate Russian influence in a country that historically had been closely aligned with Moscow.
In East Asia, the Obama administration hyped a “pivot” to the region that was in fact simply an expansion of the United States' military and geoeconomic goals in the Asian-Pacific region. It entailed not just the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership but new military deployments aimed at controlling the sea lanes and trade routes in East Asia, upon which China depends for its supply of oil and raw materials, as well as its transport of manufactured goods.
U.S. overreach has only accelerated under President Trump. Despite his campaign promises to end forever wars and to pull forces out of the Middle East, Trump has gone along with the national security bureaucracy and a sanctions-happy Congress to extend the United States’ foreign policy and military reach. In the Middle East, the Trump administration stepped up Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran — after abandoning the Obama administration’s successful, multilateral nuclear deal. And with the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week — without congressional approval — already-escalating tensions between the United States and Iran have been raised to new, extraordinarily dangerous levels. Incendiary rhetoric, military brinkmanship and Trump’s recklessness have brought us to the edge of war.
Trump has also undertaken direct military strikes against Syria and placed American troops in the country in an effort to control the country’s oil resources and to block trade with Iraq and Iran. As part of its ongoing goal of countering Iranian influence in the region, the administration has sought to increase its influence in Lebanon and drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq’s governments. And, perhaps most ominously, it has increased the deployment of U.S. troops and weapons systems to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. More than 4,000 additional forces are already headed there, with more promised.
The greatest expansion of American power and goals, of course, has been reserved for the containment of Russia and China. Trump’s 2018 National Security Strategy named China and Russia as the United States’ greatest threats and committed to large military buildups to counter their influence. The goal of the strategy appears to have gone beyond deterrence and even containment to a form of active pressure — especially in the case of Russia. This entails not just the encirclement of Russia with U.S. and NATO forces but also a strategy of weakening Russia economically and politically with more stringent sanctions, such as those imposed against international companies working on the completion of the Nord Stream II pipeline.
As in years past, NATO has been the principal vehicle used to advance Washington’s ambitious goals. Despite fears that Trump would act on his threats to dismantle the 70-year-old alliance, the administration has given it new missions — a NATO military buildup in Poland and the Baltic States, extension of the alliance’s ranks in the Balkans, adding space as an operational domain and naming China as a security challenge for the first time.
As a result of these and other actions, the United States is now committed to a new cold war on two fronts, Russia and China, and perhaps three fronts when one adds the maximum-pressure campaign against Iran. These have opened up several new geopolitical theaters with expanded U.S. foreign policy goals. Under Trump, the goal of U.S. foreign policy has expanded from controlling the traditional sea lanes in the Euro-Atlantic, Asia-Pacific, and Middle East and Persian Gulf to controlling them in the Arctic, as well. Also under Trump, the United States has greatly increased geopolitical ambitions in controlling the world’s energy markets.
The expansion of the United States’ foreign policy goals does not, however, mean the expansion of U.S. influence or greater U.S. security or economic well-being. Indeed, the United States’ influence arguably has declined even as its foreign policy ambitions have increased. Historically, imperial overstretch does not end well, and there is ample evidence that Trump’s foreign policy is failing nearly everywhere.
With this past week’s offensive military action against Iran, it is clear the United States is not retreating under Trump. It is expanding, and in often stupid, militaristic and dangerous ways. It is that expansion that most threatens our security and economic well-being, and it is time that we begin to call out what is happening.