Foreign Policy

Trump's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Foreign Policy

President Trump's foreign policy flies in the face of his rhetoric.


President Donald Trump's Sunday morning press conference on the killing of the murderous and evil Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was heavy on celebration but light on coherent strategy for America's foreign policy in the Middle East. It's clear that Trump is careening between his impulse to finally bring our troops home and an acceptance of the failed status quo of forever wars. This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde foreign policy is, in some ways, an improvement over that of recent administrations, but its inconsistency risks unnecessary escalation and makes it impossible to end endless wars.

On the positive side, Trump's call for change in U.S. strategy hit several key points. First, the past 18 years of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East cannot be permitted to continue forever. "Look," the president said, "we don't want to keep soldiers between Syria and Turkey for the next 200 years." Nor do we—or, at least, nor should we—want to keep them elsewhere in Syria or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and beyond.

Part of the urgency of withdrawal stems from Trump's second point, which is the futility of staying put: "They've been fighting for hundreds of years. We're out." U.S. military intervention is too often applied to problems it is incapable of resolving—problems better suited to political, religious, and diplomatic solutions implemented by people with more knowledge and interests at stake than the United States. Reactionary meddling in other nations' affairs too often leads to failure and dangerous backlash.

Third is the enormous cost, both in dollars—"We're in [the] Middle East now for $8 trillion," Trump continued, referencing the long-term costs of these conflicts—and lives, with casualties numbering in the tens of thousands on the American side and the millions among civilian populations in the countries where we're at war. "We don't want to be there. We want to be home. I want our soldiers home," Trump said, where they will be out of harm's way.

Fourth is the security argument: Prolonging these wars fails to keep Americans safe while undermining American power. This is true on multiple fronts. One is that terrorist activity in the Middle East can be addressed by regional powers, all of which share the United States' absolute opposition to ISIS and similar groups, even if we have grave differences on other matters. Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey are all "right there," Trump said, and "they all hate ISIS. So we don't—you know, in theory, they should do something."

Likewise, America boasts strong natural defenses. "We're 8,000 miles away" from the Middle East, Trump said, meaning terrorists face significant hurdles to attack the U.S. directly. U.S. boots on the ground in countries like Syria are bogged down policing and nation building, not deterring terror attacks, which can be planned anywhere, even outside of a territorial caliphate. And targeted raids, like the one that killed Baghdadi, can be conducted without a permanent ground presence in the Middle East.

So far, so good—but then Mr. Hyde broke out. Though the president insists "we're out" of Syria, that simply isn't true, as he conceded in this very press conference. "We are leaving soldiers [in Syria] to secure the oil," Trump said. "And we may have to fight for the oil." After announcing he wants American soldiers home, he immediately backtracked, indicating they could stay if they are "fighting something that's meaningful." (Local observers in Syria are already reporting U.S. forces have returned to the bases they just left.) Staying to control Syrian oil or land against claims from the Syrian regime, ISIS, or some new extremist group—or whatever else a president unilaterally deems "meaningful"—is not withdrawal. It is the opposite of withdrawal.

It does not bring an overlong war to an end; it does not stem the rising cost of intervention or prevent further bloodshed; and it does not contribute to American security. It unnecessarily keeps our soldiers from coming home, and it puts the United States at grave risk of broader conflict, including with nuclear-armed Russia.

Trump's policy flies in the face of much of his rhetoric. For all his bluster, his foreign policy has been largely conventional. He talks like he's taking U.S. foreign policy in a legitimately new direction, but his actions mostly stay the course.

The Baghdadi raid is an instructive example here. Its target—Baghdadi specifically, and ISIS more generally—was significantly a byproduct of U.S. foreign policy failures. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, emerged following the American invasion in 2003. Baghdadi's own career in terrorism was at "every turn…shaped by the United States' involvement in Iraq," including through his imprisonment at a U.S. detention camp. These unintended consequences argue against military intervention and for withdrawal.

Also noteworthy is the raid itself, which is precisely the sort of counter-terror operation that the United States can conduct without an enduring ground presence in the Middle East. Those who argue that this kind of strike requires permanently policing an entire region are wrong, consigning the U.S. to perpetual war to reshape the Middle East. Those who acknowledge the last 20 years haven't gone so well for the U.S. know better. It's time for action, not talk, about bringing American soldiers home.

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  1. Mind you, his policy on letting Russia handle the problems in the ME since it is not our concern, while an undeniably intelligent one, was one of thoose key pillars of “OMG, HE IS PUTIN’S COCK HOLSTER” theories.

    Yes, it is just immoral and impeachable to…let somebody else deal with a problem we’ve had little success with in spite of massing expenditures.

    1. I think it was more stuff like this:
      that led people to think Trump may be beholden to Putin, rather than him letting Russia intervene in Syria.

      1. Not believing the US intel community as they are trying to engage in a coup against you is simple intelligence.

        God knows the intel community has showered itself in glory with its amazing work for decades. I bet they saw big events, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, coming well before it did….

        1. God knows the intel community has showered itself in glory with its amazing work for decades. I bet they saw big events, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, coming well before it did….

          Or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the fall of Iran, or 9/11…

          1. …or the *building* of the Berlin Wall.

      2. Jeff, you continue to prove yourself a dumbass.

        1. I am not De Oppresso Liber.

      3. I also like how your link relies on you still believing Russia and Trump worked together despite the Mueller report struggling to find any connections between the two. Including having to note that after Trump won Russia was trying to find a way to get a channel open to Trump to congratulate him.

        So as long as you still are retarded and believe Russiagate… Jeff’s link makes sense.

        This of course is a lot more serious as to being a Putin cockholster than….

        Doing nothing over Crimea; Letting Russia “dispose” of Syria’s chemical weapons (that continued to be used for years); opening Skolkovo as a tech trade partner that allowed US technology to be used in Russian weapons; lowering US armarment counts while Russia expanded theirs; allowing Russia to pursue tactical nukes; reducing Liquid Gas exports to Europe allowing Russia to have energy dominance in Eastern Europe; agreeing to not build missile defense in Poland; etc.

        Jeff is fucking retarded.

        1. And when Obama sanctioned Russia and kicked their spies out of those compounds people like you accused him of wanting to start WW3. There’s nothing you fuckers won’t lie about or twist.

        2. You’re responding to De Oppresso Liber, not me.
          As I said, I don’t use socks here. I never have.
          You’re lying about who I am and what I do.

          1. Hahaha. Okay Jeff

      4. “Trump sides with Putin over U.S. intelligence”

        Potential foreign adversaries or traitorous coup plotters who definitely wish you harm (and have a shitty track record even when they don’t).
        That’s a puzzler.

    2. i am chagrined that any policy wonk would think Trump has any cogent thoughts. Its all hurt feelings and indignation. it is not in the least reasonable or rational. to treat him as if he had thought out anything is irrational. there is not one iota of proof he has thought thru anything beyond slogans.

      1. And personal enrichment is right up there with the insanity.

      2. “I’m nOt IrRaTiONaL. YoU’re iRRatIonAl!”

      3. Remember how guys like timmy were always saying George W. was a simple-minded monkey, or H.W. was Rove’s idiot-boy, or how Reagan was a moron, or Ford was Lennie Small in a suit.
        And remember how guys like timmy told us that Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama were super geniuses, despite fucking up everything that they touched.

        It’s almost like there’s some sort of narrative going on here…

  2. U.S. military intervention is too often applied to problems it is incapable of resolving—problems better suited to political, religious, and diplomatic solutions implemented by people with more knowledge and interests at stake than the United States.

    It’s not just the US military, it’s government altogether that attempts to solve unsolvable problems. Which I think of as the heart of libertarianism – quit trying to “solve” problems, accept the fact that the best you can do is make tradeoffs and often leaving bad enough alone is as good as it gets.

    1. Kinda like the next presidential election.

      1. I don’t look at the next election as “leaving bad enough alone”, it’s more like “any port in a storm”. When you wake up and realize you’re surrounded by a pack of ravenous flesh-eating zombies and you’re wishing you had a flame-thrower, you’re not going to say no to a guy with a machete. Even if he is an asshole – ravenous flesh-eating zombies.

        1. Problem with a flamethrower is instead of just zombies you end up with flaming zombies. A blade never needs reloading.

          Personally I don’t vote for the least asshole. I am a loser and idealist. Fuck ‘em. You could run a Beagle for President with an (l) next to his name and I would vote for the dog. Bark for Liberty !!!!

    2. Who says that the aim is to solve any problems?….Heck, the USA’s Military-Industrial /Political Complex invents the problems (Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc..) & then makes it seem like only they can solve them, when the real aim is to fill their coffers with more filthy lucre & more Unconstitutional power over us!….These wars are not to defeat any real enemy, but make a killing with the BS Nation-Building!…it is working perfectly I would say!!!

      “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

      —James Madison, Political Observations, Apr. 20, 1795 in: Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 4, p. 491 (1865)

  3. “President Trump’s foreign policy flies in the face of his rhetoric.”

    Reason’s support for coercive monopolies like the state flies in the face of its claim to support free markets !

    1. Because there is no difference between minarchism and Stalinism. None at all.

      1. I think if I was younger knowing what I know now I would just say the heck with it and join a kibbutz. Ok they are socialists but nice socialists. Growing vegetables, and fixing dinner for the community sounds like a decent life.

  4. “We are leaving soldiers [in Syria] to secure the oil,” Trump said. “And we may have to fight for the oil.”

    What part of “Bomb the shit out of them and take their oil” didn’t you understand? Trump has a very mercenary view of things – how much something is worth is strictly a matter of dollars and cents.

    1. Where did he say take?

      Are you going with the we are only in Iraq to steal the oil too? Idiots still believe that.

  5. God knows the intel community has showered itself in glory with its amazing work for decades. I bet they saw big events, like the collapse of the Berlin Wall, coming well before it did….

    Or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the fall of Iran, or 9/11…

  6. Drumpf’s disastrous foreign policy is a major reason I wish the early 2000s neocons would retake control of the GOP. (Admittedly, another factor is that the neocons are closer to the Koch / Reason open borders position.)

    1. PS — Commander in Chief Hillary Clinton would have killed the leader of ISIS during her first year in office.



  7. It’s time for action, not talk, about bringing American soldiers home.

    Jeezus H. Quit with the bullshit binary. This is just yet more advocacy of failure to THINK – which is the plague of those who advocate less of this permawar. Foreign policy is not some thing where one can just mouth off and then in the next moment DO something. It’s fucking INFANTILE.

    We are 20+ years overdue in putting together a plan of action for drawing down or reducing our footprint re NATO after the Cold war. Because those who had that objective then had no plans to implement that – the opposite was done instead. NATO was moved East and now we have a new set of problems to deal with.

    Same with every fucking situation since then. Those who want to draw down are almost willfully oblivious to doing the damn groundwork necessary to make it happen well. So they are — drumroll – ignored. Unfortunately correctly so since that crowd resembles a petulant whiny kid in the backseat yelling Are we there yet? I wanna go to the bathroom. I wanna go home

    That is not the skillset that any rational person would put behind the wheel to turn around and drive home. Until noninterventionists acquire that skillset, they will be relegated to whining in the backseat.

    1. To be fair, the advocates of immediate withdrawal are in part motivated by a distrust of all the “we’ll get out eventually” plans that keep getting put forward. “Sure I agree, we just need a few more months/years/decades.” And the gradual drawdown never happens.

      Just kick the intervention habit already.

      1. And they should distrust that. The only people who will set a goal of withdrawal and plan for it beforehand are those who have a goal of withdrawal. Most people who are involved in the intervention are focused exclusively on making sure the intervention succeeds and they do not give a moments thought to what will come afterwards – nor should they in all fairness. That’s enough for their plate.

        But in the interim, those who want the withdrawal have to be as knowledgeable about what is happening on the ground as Lawrence of Arabia was re the ground he was fighting on when he wrote his 27 articles. Because in every intervention or potential of same, there are probably 1000 decision points like the following:

        “Do not try and do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not win it for them.” If the ‘withdrawal goal’ person ain’t there – at that moment – with better knowledge – then it is very likely that decisions get made to do something ‘perfectly’ – ourselves. And in so doing, the war (or even potential war) becomes ours – not theirs. And inevitably that becomes a one-way pull deeper into the mess. Ultimately, the Brits themselves got pulled in deeper there because they didn’t have a Lawrence equivalent on both the military and diplomatic side.

        Even BEFORE we intervene somewhere, there are prob hundreds of situations where we define our own national interests but find it better to accept that our friends may only help ‘tolerably’ rather than ‘perfectly’. Failing to accept that lesser option means we have to intervene ourselves.

        Nonintervention requires MORE knowledge than intervention. Because we have to understand our friends’ capabilities as well as our own. And we have to HAVE friends who remain capable.

    2. Which ties into the bigger problem that modern American society in lacks for “adults in the room”.

    3. You know, change a few words here and there and you’re talking about Brexit. And you’re arguing against a no-deal Brexit because, well, it’s just unthinkable that we wouldn’t have a plan for this! How can we just pull out without knowing what will come afterward? All our damn plans going in were shit, why would our plans going out be any better? Rip the Band-aid off, get it over with, move on. There’s all kinds of terrible stuff going on all over the world, what’s one more match on the bonfire?

      1. If you want to divert to Brexit – the argument is that those who advocated Brexit should’ve taken responsibility three years ago for implementing it. Not sat on the sidelines carping for 2 and a half years until ‘no deal Brexit’ actually becomes a real problem.

        That shit is entirely on the Brexit crowd’s willful desire to remain ignorant and whiny in the backseat of the car.

  8. Trump goes in and out and in and out
    And in and out and in and out

  9. “Also noteworthy is the raid itself, which is precisely the sort of counter-terror operation that the United States can conduct without an enduring ground presence in the Middle East. “

    I think you would need a base just not the kind that shows up in press reports or maps.

    So Trump has done another of his reversals which is not really a reversal. Another “This bird is dead. No it’s not it’s just resting.” Routine.

    So protecting oil, which Syria hardly has any of and it isn’t the good stuff, is meaningful. Preventing Turkey from slicing up Syrian Kurdish territory controlled by our allies and conducting ethnic cleansing there is not.

    Well are we in or out? Can’t have it both ways. This has been the problem all along. I am all for out. Not this halfway bullshit.

    Oh and Erdogan is a putz. Get our nukes out and close our base there if we are getting out. The situation in Turkey is only going to get worse unless he is deposed or dies. Let him see how much fun an occupation is. The Kurds are retreating which is wise. When Turkish soldiers start coming home in body bags and Kurds go back using guerrilla tactics let’s see how popular the project is.

    1. The quote you highlighted was made possible exactly because we had troops in the area and were ready to deploy. Not sure how this is not recognized by the writer.

      1. And not just any troops. They had this planned out and timed. Delta is considered the best or one of the best in the world.

        I knew a guy who was a special ops. We used to play golf together. After his army service he went on and became a top orthopedic surgeon in the navy. They don’t just pick these guys because they can shoot straight.

  10. Local observers in Syria are already reporting U.S. forces have returned to the bases they just left.

    Presumably to rebuild and resupply them after the destructive departures.

  11. “…but light on coherent strategy for America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.”

    A circumstance set under Bush and worsened under Obama. Why, one can say, he ‘inherited a mess’. I think he’s identified well what should be done.

    However, the deep state – and the things in it – and Democrats and their lackeys in the media won’t let him bring the soldiers home. We saw the reaction to his tweets calling for the end of American involvement in Syria.

    His rhetoric was bang on. He just needs to find a way to put it into practice.

    I find a lot of what he says about war and the Mid-East is actually refreshing and far more coherent than what Obama did.

    Bush had Iraq. Obama had Libya. Both prosecuted wars – with the latter even increasing them.

    Trump has yet to make such a move. +1 to him.

    If this keeps up, Obama should given him his unearned Peace prize.

    1. However, the deep state – and the things in it – and Democrats and their lackeys in the media won’t let him bring the soldiers home. We saw the reaction to his tweets calling for the end of American involvement in Syria.

      So what you really mean is, “Trump caves to pressure”.

      1. I think what they’re doing is a little beyond ‘pressure’.

        If anything, I’m actually impressed he actually gets things done at all with all the insane nonsense thrown his way.

        1. Dealing with insane nonsense is in the job description. Trump has a unique approach in just throwing more insane nonsense in every direction. This raises the insane nonsense level to the point where government is like the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Very entertaining.

          1. True.

        2. I think what they’re doing is a little beyond ‘pressure’.

          With regards to Syria? That is normal. He made a decision that was unpopular with plenty of people, including among people within his own party, including among some of the people that he himself appointed (e.g. Bolton). So they criticized him, publicly. He caved because he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. And also probably because all of the people who do know what they are doing have resigned or been fired, and so his advisors who are left are total yes-men who will just tell Trump what he wants to hear. Plus it’s not like he has any actual principles upon which to make a firm stand. No, one day he decides he’s going to bring the troops home to stop “endless wars”, the next day he decides no, he’ll just send them to Iraq, the next day he decides no, he’ll send them to Eastern Syria to “protect the oil”, the next day he decides to send them back to where they were originally, who knows what he will decide to do next.

          1. No. The Russia and Ukraine narratives as well as the impeachment theatre.

      2. Another stupid take by Baby Jeffrey.

        1. This is where you do your Tulpa impression, right? To make inane responses to every comment that I make?

          There was no ‘deep state’ stopping Trump from moving those Syrian troops to wherever he wanted to send them. Trump was the one who decided to pull them out, then yank them to Iraq, then yank them back, then have them wait in limbo.

          1. Yeah hopefully they have figured it out and are waiting in the barracks.

            “We have another order to redeploy to camp X-ray in the north”

            “Well sir four of the vehicles are out. We are waiting for parts for the transmission and brakes to get them moving. Another one probably needs major engine work. Then I got three guys in the infirmary one of them is the only one who can replace the transmission. I think they ate some bad shawarma or something. Doc says not to move them. Captain Miller tells me half his guys have the same thing. Can’t move our guys for couple days at least.”

            “Very well Sargent. Carry on and good report. Keep me informed”


          2. “This is where you do your Tulpa impression, right? To make inane responses”

            Jeff,it always makes me laugh that youre so pathetically fucking arrogant that you think you can go on a discussion board, and yet avoid the discussion part and just pontificate.

            Youre not here for discussion. Youre here to reduce foreign policy to dick measuring contests and inane comments like “Trump caved”

  12. Until Islam rejects violent jihad it won’t get better.

  13. Sᴛᴀʀᴛ ᴡᴏʀᴋɪɴɢ ғʀᴏᴍ ʜᴏᴍᴇ! Gʀᴇᴀᴛ ᴊᴏʙ ғᴏʀ sᴛᴜᴅᴇɴᴛs, sᴛᴀʏ-ᴀᴛ-ʜᴏᴍᴇ ᴍᴏᴍs ᴏʀ ᴀɴʏᴏɴᴇ ɴᴇᴇᴅɪɴɢ ᴀɴ ᴇxᴛʀᴀ ɪɴᴄᴏᴍᴇ… Yᴏᴜ ᴏɴʟʏ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ᴀ ᴄᴏᴍᴘᴜᴛᴇʀ ᴀɴᴅ ᴀ ʀᴇʟɪᴀʙʟᴇ ɪɴᴛᴇʀɴᴇᴛ ᴄᴏɴɴᴇᴄᴛɪᴏɴ… Mᴀᴋᴇ $80 ʜᴏᴜʀʟʏ ᴀɴᴅ ᴜᴘ ᴛᴏ $13000 ᴀ ᴍᴏɴᴛʜ ʙʏ ғᴏʟʟᴏᴡɪɴɢ ʟɪɴᴋ ᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴏᴛᴛᴏᴍ ᴀɴᴅ sɪɢɴɪɴɢ ᴜᴘ… Yᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʏᴏᴜʀ ғɪʀsᴛ ᴄʜᴇᴄᴋ ʙʏ ᴛʜᴇ ᴇɴᴅ ᴏғ ᴛʜɪs ᴡᴇᴇᴋ
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  14. Trump, “Our $2 candy bars are 50% off.”
    Reason, “Okay, here’s $1.”
    Trump, “$1.05 please”
    Reason, “WTF! You said 50% off – gezz what’s your problem.”
    Trump, “You still have to pay the tax.”

    This article — a little too Obsessive Compulsive to be taken seriously.

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