Sunday, July 30, 2017

Competence and confusion in US foreign policy

Danielle Ryan has a sensible take on Bundespräsident Von Trump's approach to foreign policy to date, Trump’s foreign policy: Bizarre and inconsistent, or more strategic than we think? Salon 07/30/2017: "Maybe the haphazardness and mixed messages that characterize Trumpian foreign policy are part of a grander strategy we cannot yet perceive — or maybe they are indicative of an administration that can’t even manage itself, never mind complex international conflicts."

She observes that such inconsistency isn't entirely surprising, "He has been on both sides of most issues at one point or another."

Ryan uses the example of Trump bombing Syria and then later ending support to the fabled Syrian Moderates, seemingly conflicting positions. She also notes that despite his apparent desire to improve relations with Russia, Trump's administration also announced what could be a significant anti-Russian escalation with Ukraine:

Why then, just a week later, did the new U.S. special envoy on Ukraine, Kurt Volker, announce during an interview in Paris that the U.S. was now considering sending weapons to the Kiev government, which could be used against pro-Russian rebels in the breakaway eastern regions of the country — a move that would undoubtedly undo any Moscow goodwill resulting from the decision to stop arming rebels in Syria?
And she describes:

... a creeping advance on the town of [Russian separatist area] Avdiivka by Kiev’s forces — and a subsequent effort to lay the blame solely on the separatists, while maintaining the government’s innocence.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister blew the lid off that narrative when he told Ukrainian media: “As of today, despite everything, meter by meter, step by step, whenever possible, our boys have been advancing.”

It is unrealistic to think that support and weapons from the Trump administration would not increase tensions in Ukraine and irritate an already complicated situation. Throwing new weapons at the problem is no solution.
It would be a mistake to discount the role of plain incompetence in the Trump Family Business Administration's policies, foreign and otherwise.

Some progressives have expressed the hope that Trump is rejecting the "War Party" in favor of a less interventionist foreign policy. The problem is that Old Right isolationist views can sound superficially like pacifist ones. But that outlook, which seems to be Trump's basic reference point in foreign policy, is actually highly nationalistic and leans toward unilateral military solutions. This administration's dramatic de-emphasis on even basic staffing for the State Department and US embassies abroad is consistent with the rightwing isolationist approach.

Ryan opens the piece describing how cutting off the aid to the legendary Syrian Moderates can be taken as a pro-Russian policy, an anti-interventionist policy and/or a realistic, pragmatic move:

When Trump administration officials announced an end to the covert CIA program to arm and train Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, many framed it as a win for Russia — and while it was indeed something Russia had been seeking for years, it also, more importantly, made sense.

For years, this “secret” effort to aid rebels against Assad had been openly reported. The program enjoyed a budget of up to $1 billion per year — yet it had achieved absolutely nothing. It only helped prolong the war and actually aided groups like al-Nusra (al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate) and ISIS by allowing arms meant for “moderate” groups to enter into their hands instead.

Despite the effort ending in abject failure, much of the media reporting painted the decision to end this scheme as a catastrophe — simply because it also happened to benefit Russia (which supports Assad against the rebel forces). [my emphasis]
But even a strongly antiwar foreign policy would require competent diplomacy. And so far, that doesn't seem to be a prominent characteristic of this administration.

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