The barbarism of America First

As the Kurds have discovered, Trump's foreign policy is chaotic and lethal.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics USA World

US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all US troops from northern Syria and abandon the Syrian Kurds has been roundly condemned.

And rightly so. Since 2014, the Syrian Kurds were America’s principal allies in the fight against ISIS. They had given their lives to push ISIS out of the villages and towns it once claimed as its caliphate, before establishing in its place a secular democracy. And yet, after a phone call between Trump and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, all that seemingly counted for nothing. Trump effectively gave the Turkish state the thumbs up to use its tanks and missiles to carve a so-called ‘safe zone’ out of Kurdish-held territory. Even one of Trump’s biggest GOP cheerleaders, Senator Lindsey Graham, urged Trump to ‘change course while you still can’.

Graham’s concern is justified. Thanks to Trump’s recklessness, the Syrian Kurds will suffer, as they already are doing, under the Turkish assault. Jihadists from ISIS and assorted lookalike Islamist militias, some now freed from their Kurdish prisons, will revive, vengeful and invigorated. And Syria’s further destabilisation will likely impact on the already volatile situation in neighbouring Iraq. For a decision Trump took so lightly, its consequences will weigh heavily on the Middle East.

But it is a decision that also makes no sense from America’s own geopolitical perspective. In vacating the Syrian battlefield, the US has acted against its own avowed interests. This has become apparent over the past 48 hours, as the Kurds, betrayed by the US, have now understandably sought the protection of the Syrian regime and its leader Bashar al-Assad. That is, Washington’s one-time allies in Syria are now aligned with the very regime the US was seeking to overthrow when it began its intervention in Syria eight years ago. And it’s not just the Assad regime to which the US has ceded ground. It has also let Assad’s international and regional backers, namely Russia and the ‘murderous dictatorship’ of Iran, potentially expand their influence in Syria.

Trump’s decision, then, speaks of the deep chaos and incoherence at the heart of US foreign policymaking.

In part this is an ideological crisis, in which the US remains the global hegemon, but without a global purpose. A geopolitical force without a governing geopolitical interest. The Cold War, which might have once directed US foreign policy, is long gone, of course. But so, too, are the do-gooding dreams of an ethical foreign policy, which once animated US ventures in Iraq and more recently Libya and Syria, before being undone by them. But this ideological crisis, this crisis of geopolitical purpose and strategy, is now also an institutional crisis. High-profile staff are swapped in and out seemingly at will in search of an approach that sticks. Ambassadorial and diplomatic positions go unfilled. And key senior administrative and governmental posts are left vacant. The chopping and changing of individuals, combined with the slow depletion of institutional and diplomatic know-how, leaves a growing vacuum where collective decision-making and purpose might once have been.

This ideological crisis, and the unravelling of institutional authority, not to mention the shedding of staff, has now had one massively important consequence. It has left Trump free to act without the fetters of geopolitical purpose or institutional restraint. His impulses are given free rein. His whims become policy. His tweets inform negotiations. Or at least they do until he changes his mind.

The terrible decision to abandon the Kurds is a perfect example of this. According to reports, Pentagon leaders were all opposed to moving US troops in Syria out of Turkey’s way. But their concerns had no institutional force or authority. ‘We were concerned, but we didn’t think [Trump] would give in’, said a Pentagon official. ‘The entire [Department of Defense] leadership was opposed to the endorsement [of Turkey] and the withdrawal [of troops].’ And yet Trump, in his ‘great and unmatched wisdom’, decided to do it anyway.

The unravelling authority and intellectual depletion of the institutions of government have unleashed and emboldened Trump at his most damagingly impulsive and unpredictable. In an anonymous New York Times op-ed from last year, a ‘top official’ complained that ‘there is literally no telling whether [Trump] might change his mind from one minute to the next’. Fine. Trump is famously capricious. The problem is that the caprice of an individual president has been freed of institutional restraint and geopolitical context.

Of course, Trump claims there is a governing idea to his increasingly unhinged foreign policy — namely, that of America First. But in Trump’s Alice in Wonderland presidency, America First means whatever Trump wants it to mean. It is merely a way to present his impulses, his sudden changes of mind, as the products of some sort of geopolitical strategy. So Turkey is a ‘great ally’, except when Trump is imposing sanctions on it, or threatening to destroy and obliterate it economically.

In fact, Trump’s foreign policy is uniformly chaotic. He threatens to destroy North Korean president Kim Jong-un, and then grants him a photo-op with the US president. Or he takes on and demonises Iran, withdraws from the nuclear deal, and issues military threats — and then, when push comes to shove, he backs down.

For all the bluster and pyrotechnics, even in their own terms Trump’s foreign-policy achievements have been negligible. North Korea continues with its nuclear-weapons programme, and bouts of attention-seeking belligerence. Iran continues to edge towards making its own nuclear weapons. And the US is now more deeply implicated in the mess in Syria than it was under the low-key foreign-policy incoherence of Obama.

Because that is the grisly truth about Trump’s decision to leave the Kurds’ fate in the hands of the Turkish military. He has not adhered to some anti-interventionist creed or put an end to ‘these endless wars’. He has not not intervened. Rather, he has intervened on behalf of Turkey. He has allied the US with Turkey, NATO partner and foreign invading force. And in doing so, he has further implicated the US in the thoroughly internationalised conflict now being waged in Syria, between Iran, Russia and the Syrian government on one side, and Turkey and assorted Islamist militias on the other

Few would disagree that the US needs to extricate itself from Middle Eastern conflicts. So withdrawing troops makes sense. But it should have been a carefully thought-through negotiated withdrawal, drawn up according to a clear strategy. Above all, it should have been done on Syrians’ and Kurds’ terms. It is their land and lives at stake. But Trump and the US haven’t done that. They have withdrawn on Turkey’s terms, according to Turkey’s interests.

Trump can dress up the most catastrophic mistake of his foreign policy so far. But it can’t hide the truth of what is a barbaric testament to the implosion of US foreign-policymaking.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

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A Game

22nd October 2019 at 7:53 pm

Caw, the TDS is strong on this page. Trump Devotion Syndrome. Man can’t do a thing wrong. Ever. Even when he does. It doesn’t count. Its a conspiracy to portray him as wrong.
Sometimes your heroes reveal their feet of clay. That’s okay. You’re allowed to still vote for them or support them or want them to win or want them blessed with an amazing life.
Obviously the other TDSers have created a social contagion. Everyone is nuts when it comes to Trump. For or against.

Really good read. That he couldn’t find some humility to do some good, old fashioned learning about foreign affairs… and from day one, work out how to extricate the US from the middle east. Declaring leave dates, we know, doesn’t quite work…
Business relies heavily on who is in, who is out, who supports you, who is against you, particularly in the snakepit within a corporation.
But it just doesn’t work for governments on a global scale.

“High-profile staff are swapped in and out seemingly at will in search of an approach that sticks. Ambassadorial and diplomatic positions go unfilled. And key senior administrative and governmental posts are left vacant. The chopping and changing of individuals, combined with the slow depletion of institutional and diplomatic know-how, leaves a growing vacuum where collective decision-making and purpose might once have been.”

That is exactly what we have witnessed. What was his name? Scaramucci… that was one interesting week.
When do you settle on who you want to work with? Who do you have faith in and respect their opinions/knowledge/experience and sustain a working relationship? That the moment someone disagrees with him, suddenly they are an idiot and need to go. Its his deep, ravine of a flaw. The narcissism. Its the thrashing out of differing views that you can often find the best path. If he wanted the US out of Syria… why was he waiting for a phone call from Erdogan? Why wasn’t he talking up a coalition force minding the spot, or Europe picking up the tab of keeping them there.
He won’t stop talking up the US-Israeli alliance… well, he’s strengthened Israel’s enemies.
Under Trump, the US is definitely an untrustworthy ally. Happy to indirectly empower your enemies. Thanks… that’s great.

And Australia needs to man up and stop thinking the US will be there to save us. Time we got some nukes. (And we can get some nuclear power whilst we’re at it. Two birds with one stone.)

alex denn

20th October 2019 at 3:31 am

This writer is yet another loony affected with TDS. President Trump is, IMO, the least likely American President to become embroiled in foreign wars. He wants to get America out of all these useless countries in the Middle East and leave the action to the pathetic Europeans with their delusions of military grandeur. The problem for Europe, and the twittering elites, is that America is now self-sufficient (or at least able to satisfy its needs from North America itself) in oil and gas and can afford to leave the Middle East. In the meantime the elites and the European governments will whine and whine and yet not do anything about the problem.

Endtime Boogie

19th October 2019 at 5:00 am

Moral niceties almost always come last in the geopolitics race.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê are commies. As a poor man’s army they do acts of terror in Turkey as the Turks have always worked to destroy the Kurds ever since Ataturk & his Young Turks in the early 20th century.

But they aren’t the moral equivalent of Obama & allies’ ISIS, who were as clearly shown in Judicial Watch FOIA litigated DIA papers (1) were fomented in Syria because it’s an Axis Of Evil™ country as was Libya before Hillary ‘We came, we saw, he died.’ & as Iran is still now. This is why the Neo-Cons still want boots on the ground even though Obama wouldn’t go boots deep when Russia called his bluff & set to destroy ISIS.

The Neo-Cons couldn’t give a G.B Jnr’s snigger for the Kurds, it’s mostly about Iran & a little less Turkey & Russia. ISIS were genocidal proxy useful idiots used to try to maintain the U.S & allies especially Israel’s regional power, they failed, Iran wins again.

The PKK would do best to cut a deal with Assad for limited independance, promise pretty please to stop doing terror in Turkey to get Turkey’s ally Russia to get Erdogan to back off, please.


nick hunt

18th October 2019 at 10:38 am

Note Tim Black’s unhinged, emotional terms and endless, unsubstantiated smears on Orange Man Bad thoughout this ‘analysis’: “Trump’s recklessness, a decision Trump took so lightly, the deep chaos and incoherence at the heart of US foreign policymaking, Trump free to act without the fetters of geopolitical purpose or institutional restraint, His whims become policy, Trump at his most damagingly impulsive and unpredictable, his increasingly unhinged foreign policy, Trump’s foreign policy is uniformly chaotic, when push comes to shove, he backs down, bluster and pyrotechnics, bouts of attention-seeking belligerence…”

This is full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome, and it ruins the accuracy and credibility of any thinking or writing. Or maybe you should go work for the US Democrats. To get a decent, non-hysterical illuminating analysis, try this:

nick hunt

16th October 2019 at 9:55 pm

There’s no ‘deep incoherence’ in Trump’s foreign policy; he’s simply withdrawing from endless, pointless wars of intervention engineered first ny by Neocons and then Obama, and killing off the hated role of ‘global policeman’, exactly as he promised to voters. No wonder he is so popular with them. But this article oozes hate and unsubstantiated slander against Trump, condemns none of his preecessors for the mess they left him to clean up, and naively lionises the ‘angelic’ Kurds (mostly Muslim and leftist). For a better understanding of Trump’s sincerity and humanity in putting America First, Tim Black should watch him explaining ‘the hardest thing I have to do’. it only takes 5m to wake up.

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