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Trump's New National Security Strategy Not Likely to Alter the Pattern of 'Promiscuous Intervention'

His policy decisions have so far belied his understanding of the public's foreign policy frustration.

The Trump administration is nearly ready to roll out its first National Security Strategy (NSS), a document that promises to make concrete the president's campaign-trail pledge of a dramatic about-face from the adventuresome and often counterproductive foreign policy of the post-9/11 era.

The plan reportedly has the support of all relevant cabinet-level advisers, and, per Axios' scoop, is intended to serve "as a 'corrective' to the past 16 years of American foreign policy," a time in which Washington chronically "overestimated America's influence and importance and lost track of priorities."

A more restrained approach focused strictly on core interests of defense instead of peripheral concerns like solving internal political conflicts in distant countries would be a welcome corrective. But unless the NSS inaugurates a radical departure from the Trump team's own foreign policy to date, this is a correction unlikely to be made.

President Trump's first year in office has seen little in the way of foreign affairs innovation, unless we count his escalation of the status quo of his recent predecessors. The president's policy strength is asking good questions rather than providing good answers. It's a safe assumption this NSS will not repudiate the Trump team's record so far.

Until that expectation is fulfilled, let's speculate a little about what the NSS is likely to be, and how it could still be made better. The plan has four broad themes, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster explained at the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum in California this past weekend: "protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength … and finally enhancing American influence."

McMaster declined to outline what those bromides mean, other than suggesting a continuation of what military historian Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich has aptly labeled a "pattern of promiscuous intervention." In the last decade and a half, U.S. troops and taxpayers have paid a high price for that pattern.

"When it comes to promised results—disorder curbed, democracy promoted, human rights advanced, terrorism suppressed—the United States has precious little to show," Bacevich wrote at Foreign Affairs last year. Those words are no less true today despite a new Oval Office occupant. "As if on autopilot, the Pentagon accrues new obligations and expands its global footprint, oblivious to the possibility that in some parts of the world, U.S. forces may no longer be needed, whereas in others, their presence may be detrimental," Bacevich wrote.

Tellingly, McMaster touted Trump's August speech on Afghanistan, echoing "the American people's frustration … over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly, lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests."

This promising start was fatally undermined when Trump immediately announced his intention to maintain exactly that foreign policy of frustration for unknown generations to come. Trump absurdly imagined the risk in exiting Afghanistan after 16 years is that we might do it too hastily.

He observed that "the American people are weary of war without victory," only to set the impossible victory of bombs over ideology as the United States' unachievable goal. He even decried nation-building, and then promptly promised to continue doing it under another name.

McMaster likewise promised to "no longer confuse activity with progress," an admirable change, only to speak enthusiastically of busily trying to remake other nations in the United States' image with military intervention all around the globe. He praised Trump's decision to launch airstrikes on Syria's Assad regime despite the real risk of great power conflict it entailed, and in an interview format after his talk, he made a truly dangerous case for preventive war as an acceptable response to North Korea's provocations.

Activity without progress abounds.

I highlight McMaster's address not only as one of the few sources of information on this forthcoming NSS, but also because his support for the plan should itself give pause to anyone hoping for a corrective.

Widely regarded as a knowledgeable and experienced military leader, the former general has a long record of support for an expansive American footprint abroad, nation-building and military interventions, unconstrained by considerations of cost, plausible conclusion, or even whether vital U.S. interests are actually at stake. He has decidedly not learned the lessons our Mideast misadventures are begging to teach us.

If we have reason to believe the new National Security Strategy will change little—or little for the better—how might it yet be improved? Bacevich rightly argues that the first step is to take honest stock of our present morass, to fundamentally question whether the United States must preserve her current military commitments overseas. (The answer is indisputably "no," though reasonable people might differ on the extent and pace of the changes so desperately overdue.)

From there, Bacevich continues, the foremost strategy aim must be to "to restore a bias in favor of restraint as an antidote to the penchant for reckless or ill-considered interventionism, which has cost the United States dearly while reducing places like Iraq and Libya to chaos."

If the new NSS could deliver something like that, it would stand a real chance at embodying Trump's better foreign policy angels and correct Washington's decade and a half of "overestimate[ing] America's influence and importance and [losing] track of priorities."

I'm hopeful, but I confess I won't be holding my breath.


Photo Credit: Shealah Craighead/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a contributing writer at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Relevant Magazine and The American Conservative, among other outlets.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump's New National Security Strategy Not Likely to Alter the Pattern of 'Promiscuous Intervention'
    Trump already has. Unlike Boooosh and Block yo-Momma who both started multiple new interventions, Trump has not started any new interventions in 11 months.

    Of course, many Libertarians would probably agree that the best scenario is to pull out of nearly all overseas locations. Trying to pull out of destablized regions in a day is not always the best plan. We should definitely push Trump and Congress to get out of the interventions we mostly started sooner-than-later.

    On that note, Russia has announced it will pull out of Syria, except for two bases under agreement with Al-Assad. Afghanistan has not become a worse situation for US troops there. ISIS in Iraq has been mostly routed, restablizing that country.

    The main point is that the USA has not started any new overseas troubles that we can butt our noses into.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Just for clarification, are you saying you're a libertarian?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I guess you don't think so but that isn't saying much.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Is that a yes or a no?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I am a Libertarian.

    Are you a Libertarian?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    No.

    I am a Libertarian.

    And this is why.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You're not a Libertarian for socialist reasons.

    You like the opposite of freedom, Liberty, free market, and limited government.

  • some guy||

    It's cyclical, though. After getting involved in a terrible, intractable overseas conflict you have to wait a generation before you do it again. You have to give people time to forget how horrible war is. Of course, wars are affecting a smaller and smaller portion of the population over time, so maybe that cycle is shortening...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The key is average people being up on history and not letting American politicians be so aggressive with our military.

    Same thing with our aggressive domestic police forces.

  • Calidissident||

    Did Obama start any new interventions in his first 11 months? If not for 9/11, would Bush have done so? Pretty early to say there's any improvement even on that front. And while we were already involved in Syria, Trump's direct actions against the Assad government were a new development there.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    It took barry 26 months. We'll just have to see with trump.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The Gee Oh Pee imitation game sockpuppet lies. Anything that's banned, like copies of Ulysses or cases of weak beer in 1923, sells for 4 times the going price on average. Google "March 18, 2015" "narcotics" and up pops the State Department's Apologia and Mein Kampf on why "we" must send thugs, spies, agents, bunko and squads to pressure, lobby, bribe, brainwash and lie to the entire planet to suppress leafy plants. That same date the DOS brought on the Flash Crash reported at Zerohedge. Through gangland organizations such as FATF the mixed economy kleptocracy orders governments all over the planet to kill and cage their own citizens so politicians and "first responders" can rob and resell otherwise cheap commodities. Replacing the communists to feed Afghan heroin into and exclude safe drugs from US markets requires the initiation of force those men are engaged in Over There.

  • BYODB||


    ...lie to the entire planet to suppress leafy plants.

    I take it you're no fan of MDMA or LSD. Another victim of 'only pot should be legal', or ignorance of the breadth of drugs in existence, or a believer in gross oversimplification?

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    This was not a good read.

  • some guy||

    My NSS:

    1. Maintain military overmatch against all foreign powers.
    2. Stop trying to manipulate politics in other nations.
    3. Talk to everyone. Firmly, but respectfully.
    4. Trade with everyone.
    5. End the war on drug users.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Why military overmatch? All you need is enough to deter invaders, and I submit the natural militia of all the 400M private firearms is enough for that.

    Are you worried about Nork subs sinking merchant ships?

    Are you worried about Russian Bears attacking merchant ships with air-to-ship missiles?

    Surely you aren't worried about actual foreign invasion!

    Me, I wouldn't even worry about nuclear attack, and would get rid of all nuclear weapons. The idea the North Korea would want to commit suicide by launching a nuclear attack on the US is laughable.

    What are you worried about? Why do you think they are real threats?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Invasion is not all you have to worry about.

    Ask Japan about having millions of weapons on a giant island and having the USA effectively cut off all foreign trade during WWII.

    Keeping battles off US soil is a good strategy, which is where a strong US Navy comes in.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Who the heck do you think would invade the US if there were no US Navy or Air Force? I'd really like to know.

    China? They hold trillions is US bonds. We are probably their biggest trading partner. The last thing they want to do is make all that worthless.

    Most people think trade does nothing to prevent war. They are wrong. One of the stupid things Hitler did was drop as much trade as possible and make Germany as self-sufficient as possible. They were making ersatz coffee long before war was declared. All it did was weaken their economy and country.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    The idea that trade stops war is silly. Global trade was at a then current peak at the outset of WWI. Trade wasn't matched at comparable levels for decades. The only notable reduction in global conflict began after WWII with the advent of a weapon that you think we don't need because, like, glocks or something. Overmatch (pax [insert name here]) or MAD are the only stable games in town.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    How much of that trade was between future enemies? Never mind, it doesn't matter.

    Do you really think China is going to start a war over the South China Sea by invading the US? It's ludicrous. Do you thnk they will threaten nuclear war over the South China Sea?

    Are you one of those people who think Japan was a serious threat to invade Hawaii? They barely managed 2 surprise air raids. They didn't have time for the fabled third strike, not could it have done any real damage to the repair facilities or oil tanks; they didn't have enough serviceable planes left nor daylight. And as for invasion -- it would have taken all the shipping they used for all their other invasions, and they didn't have enough shipping anywhere to sustain an occupation.

    Invasion of the US mainland by any country is a fantasy.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Invasion of the US mainland by any country is a fantasy."

    You mean like Britain invading the US mainland during the War of 1812?

    Japan was ready to invade Midway with an invasion force of Imperial Marines.

    Mexico invades mainland USA every day.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Midway?!? You are a fucking idiot. That's your example of invading the US? Did you know that a US submarine landing party laid explosives which derailed a Japanese train. I guess you'd count that as a successful invasion too. And the German invasion of the US during WW II. Why not count that while you're at it? You're slipping up, an incompetent fucking idiot.

    And a 200 year old raiding party which burned the White House?

    Thanks for proving the difference between raid and invasion.

    Then you throw in immigrants looking for work. You're a pile of wonderment.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Once the decision to kill has been made, the moral issue is settled. The instruments of that killing are not affected by any moral or humane questions or considerations. --Louis Ridenour. The article was titled The Hydrogen Bomb, published before there was one, back when it was barely possible to lob weapons at something the size of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Berlin or London. Nuclear weapons on cruise missiles toppled the Soviet empire without firing a shot--once SDI testing and Mathias Rust made it clear their ballistic arsenal was useless (this goes for the Korean dictatorship too). Furthermore, nuclear weapons are protected by the Second Amendment. (http://www.fortfreedom.org/w12.htm)

  • BYODB||


    The instruments of that killing are not affected by any moral or humane questions or considerations.

    False.

  • BYODB||

    Well, unless someone is trying to say the gun or bomb has feelings but that wasn't the gist of the quote.

    How you kill someone is obviously a moral question, or torture wouldn't be considered 'wrong' at all. Nor would mustard gas, nerve gas, drawing and quartering, or literally a billion other ways a person can slowly and painfully murder another person in the most grotesque way possible.

    The reverse isn't true either, in that killing itself is never moral, so I suppose Louis Ridenour was just a jackass idiot when it didn't come to radar huh? Oh, what's that you say? He worked for a wartime company? SO SURPRISED!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    That picture pixelisation makes it look like Trump sports a Col. Sanders beard.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I wish he did. That would be so awesome.

  • Hank Phillips||

    You know who else looked like Col. Sanders? (Hint: in 1929)

  • Ken Shultz||

    "President Trump's first National Security Statement isn't likely to steer the United States away from its modern history of ill-advised military adventures"

    It's kinda silly to pay so much attention to what politicians say, makes much more sense to watch what they do. It's especially important these days, when major events are ignored by the news media if they run contrary to the dominant narrative. For instance, . . .

    Did you know that Iraq declared victory over ISIS three days ago? Add to that, Putin ordered Russian troops to begin withdrawing from Syria yesterday. Having destroyed ISIS, not a whole lot left for them to do.

    I'd like to remind people that these things don't happen by accident. The reason ISIS was destroyed was because of a number of deliberate policies, the central gist of which, Trump both campaigned on and executed, namely collaborating with Putin--something neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton could have done or would have done so long as Putin won't let LGBTQI+ legally marry in Moscow. In fact, the limited ceasefire Trump negotiated with Putin (on behalf of Assad, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard) made all the difference. Once Putin's allies and our allies stopped fighting each other and concentrated their efforts on defeating ISIS, ISIS lost all of its territory and was utterly destroyed.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    At least you and me were paying attention to the situation in Syria, Ken.

    Trump will not get credit for it either but some of us know that Trump got talent together to make that happen.

    I hope Trump does it again, this time with Russia and China against North Korea.

  • JoeBlow123||

    You are living in a fantasy. ISIS territory was drastically shrinking before he came into office. And it was Iraqi blood that was doing most of the heavy lifting.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You are in a fantasy of your own making. ISIS territory was not shrinking before Trump took office, which is why Hillary and Trump discussed it on their campaigns.

    Of course, Iraqis are providing the most troops in that fight. Its their land or adjacent to Iraq. The US has provided almost 100% of the military equipment for Iraq and has trained them. Then the US military still coordinates ground attacks and air strikes.

  • Calidissident||

    ISIS was already losing ground before Trump took office. Your narrative where his decisions turned the tide is not accurate at all. You can argue he did some things that have helped, but it's documented fact that they were losing territory quickly in both Syria and Iraq well before he took office.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Are you saying that Trump's willingness to work with Putin wasn't a factor in ISIS' obliteration, or are you just objecting to Trump being given credit for something?

    Are you suggesting that Hillary Clinton would have or could have done the same thing, that McCain's opposition to Trump had nothing to do with his willingness to collaborate with Putin on Syria, or that all this would have happened anyway--even if there had been no Trump/Putin led limited ceasefire?

    . . . or are you just objecting to Trump being given credit for something?

    Things happened the way they did because of the decisions people made, and Hillary Clinton could not and would not have made those decisions. Even if the option to collaborate with Putin had been available to her, she would not have availed herself of a collaboration with Putin--because it does not suit her rigid, neocon ideology.

    Regardless of whether you, I, or someone else likes or dislikes Trump for whatever reason, the fact is that his foreign policy decisions led to ISIS' demise--without a U.S. invasion. And that would not have happened the way it did with Hillary Clinton in office.

  • JoeBlow123||

    The US military had air deconflliction agreements with the Russians before Trump came around. Trump continued the policies established before he came into office.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Putin and Trump announced the ceasefire in early July of 2017.

    https://tinyurl.com/yabhzxb4

    ----CNN

    At the time, it was unclear whether Putin could deliver on promises made about the Iranian Revolutionary Army, Assad, or Hezbollah. Putin delivered and acted in good faith.

    Those resources being redeployed to fight ISIS instead of each other subsequently led to ISIS' destruction.

    That agreement and the subsequent progress made in the fight against ISIS weren't pushed heavily in the media--because they conflict with the narrative about Trump colluding with Putin to steal the election.

    Even now, you'd think that Iraq and Russia both declaring the war against ISIS won would make the lead off on every news channel. Nobody wants to talk about that?

  • Ken Shultz||

    The Obama administration's relationship with Putin was awful, and Putin and Hillary Clinton openly despise each other.

    Hillary Clinton openly questioned the legitimacy of Russia's election, which is foolish behavior coming from a Secretary of State that needs to work with Russia. She compared Putin to Hitler, which Putin decried, complained about his treatment of LGBT in Moscow, and even accused him of "manspreading", which is ridiculous.

    Putin blamed Hillary Clinton's public comments for the protests that erupted in the wake of the election in Russia. Even if Hillary's rigid neocon ideology would allow her to work with someone like Putin, it's unlikely that Putin would have gone to bat with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and Assad for her. She openly despised him in public.

    And Obama's ongoing relationship with Putin was one of tomfoolery. It consisted almost entirely of Obama sticking his foot in his mouth (e.g. see red line comments), only to be both saved by and outmaneuvered by Putin again and again and again . . .

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Under the deconfliction agreement, set up in the fall of 2015, U.S. and Russian forces can communicate via a flight safety hotline run out of the Combined Air Operations Center at U.S. Central Command. Previous uses of the hotline include a Russian official alerting coalition forces in September 2016 that the targets they were attacking and believed to be Islamic State forces were, in fact, Syrian government-aligned forces, and U.S. officials alerting the Russians in March 2017 that Russian and Syrian fighters were bombing U.S.-backed fighters rather than Islamic State forces."

    - USNI, Eckstein (2 Apr 2017)

  • loveconstitution1789||

    A WHOLE hotline? Wow. Obama really made some inroads there.

    Hillary was saying that she would shoot down Russian planes over Syria. Clearly the situation was not good for the USA and Obama was president.

  • Calidissident||

    Also, to be clear, the cease fire you're referring to covered part of southwestern Syria. It wasn't a national truce.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Are you saying that because the ceasefire wasn't nationwide that its effects were negligible?

    Are you saying that the ceasefire wasn't a factor in our allies and their allies working together to defeat ISIS--when they had been fighting each other before?

    Or are you simply denying anything anybody says that might be construed as to suggest that Donald Trump accomplished something?

    I can give a short list of things I think Trump has gotten right and Trump has gotten wrong.

    I can give you a short list of things Obama got right and Obama got wrong.

    Name something Trump has done right.

    I dare you.

  • GILMORE™||

    ken, for the love of christ, that piddling ceasefire was meaningless and regional, and you've been moaning about it like it was the paris peace talks of 1973 for like 6+ months now.

    cali is factually correct here.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I guess we will never know how meaningful the ceasefire was because the Russians are probably leaving and ISIS is barely a fighting force.

    In other words, the end of the fighting in Syria is nearer now than when Obama was president.

  • JoeBlow123||

    So is the death of the sun and our evolution to beings of pure light.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So is the sockpuppet hands that control you.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It was neither piddly nor meaningless and it wouldn't have happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected.

  • Ken Shultz||

    ". . . for like 6+ months now."

    Yeah, I said it wasn't piddly or meaningless "six months ago", before they started working together to fight ISIS instead of fighting each other, and I'm saying it isn't piddly or meaningless now that collaborating with Putin and his allies has defeated ISIS either.

    Jesus Christ, now we're not only talking about something that might happen in the future. We're talking about something that's already happened!

    Defeating ISIS is neither piddly nor meaningless and neither is the means by which they were defeated.

  • BYODB||

    And when ISIS relabels itself or splinters into ISAGARGARHURGLEBURGLE I'm sure we'll tremble in our boots again.

    Remember when we were talking about Al Qaeda? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Didn't we 'beat' them too?

  • Ken Shultz||

    ISIS has no territory. It's hard to be a Caliphate without territory.

    I didn't say it was the end of terrorism. But conquering all of ISIS' territory in Syria without the U.S. invading--which is what Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain wanted to do--is a great achievement. It's a victory for U.S. security and bought on the cheap.

    We didn't even have to arm the anti-Assad forces (some Al-Qaeda and ISIS associated) to the teeth like Obama wanted to do. We just had to work with Putin and our own allies from Iraq.

    Most people still don't even seem to know that Putin and Trump were working together on Syria. Our news media is a joke. They're pathetic. I mean, it's entertainment, but people walk away knowing less about what's happening in the world than those who don't watch or read anything and know they know nothing.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Remember when we were talking about Al Qaeda? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Didn't we 'beat' them too?"

    A gas station got robbed down the street the other night. I guess we should give up on the whole fighting crime thing--since, even when they catch people for armed robbery, there's just gonna be more robberies anyway?

    I don't think so.

    The legitimate purpose of government is to protect our rights. We have police to protect our rights from criminals. We have courts to protect our rights from the police. We have a military to protect our rights from foreign threats.

    ISIS presented a legitimate threat to our rights, and the government was right to use our allies and our military to defend our rights from those threats. It's excellent that we were able to help dispatch ISIS in Syria without anything like an invasion. When other threats arise, we should use the apparatus of government to protect our rights from those threats, too.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Trump's foreign policy is a return to Reagan/Bush Sr. era pragmatism, and a rejection of Bush Jr/Obama era neoconservatism. If Trump isn't as isolationist as we'd like, at least he's competent. There will be no U.S. led invasion of Syria as Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain wanted, and that's a reflection of Trump's fundamentally pragmatic and realist foreign policy.

    I don't take Trump's tweets seriously, and I take his public policy statements with a grain of salt. It's like reading a book about the Beatles or watching an interview with them on television and thinking you understand their music. If you want to understand the Beatles' music, the last thing you should do is watch John Lennon talk about it on TV. You have to listen to the music itself if you want to understand it.

    Likewise with Trump's foreign policy. We avoided war in Syria--because Trump judged that a war in Syria was not in our national interests, and the war could be avoided and ISIS destroyed by collaborating with Putin. That's Trump's security policy--pragmatic and realist as can be--and it's plain as day to anyone who wants to see. Trump's security policy is a total break from the neoconsevatism of the Bush Jr./Obama era, and when the Trump administration broadcasts its intentions, I suspect that's meant for the consumption of policy makers in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. If you want to understand what Trump will do, watch what he does.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Well put Ken.

    I also think Trump tweets what he does to distract the lefty morons to focus on twitter, so he can work in America's best interests. Its working too.

  • JoeBlow123||

    You are right. Picking a fight in the Middle East over something as meaningless as the capital as Israel is certainly, abundantly pragmatic.

    Trump probably playing some of the 8th dimensional chess!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    At least you admit Trump is playing chess while you Block Yo-Momma supporters are playing tic-tac-toe.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "Promiscuous intervention" was my nickname in college.

  • GILMORE™||

    President Trump's first year in office has seen little in the way of foreign affairs innovation,

    if you've been paying any attention over the last 50 years, there hasn't been any "foreign affairs innovation" at all.

    our ME policy is basically the legacy of Jimmy fucking Carter. See: bacevitch. and no one is sure why we're still playing enforcer for Sunnistan, but we still do it because of sunken costs and 'stability theory'.

  • BYODB||


    if you've been paying any attention over the last 50 years, there hasn't been any "foreign affairs innovation" at all.

    Yeah, it's more like we've been in a holding pattern for 50 years with occasional wars, sorry I mean 'police actions', of opportunity. I mean, fuck, we're still technically at war with North Korea. Think about that.

  • Art Gecko||

    Presidents don't have national security strategies. The Deep State does, and the president goes along with it... or else.

  • timbo||

    We must piss away money on military adventures and constant operations at home to keep the MIC in healthy stock prices.

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