Monday, January 28, 2019

Donald Trump: Breaking With The Past (The Beltway Ain’t Happy)

President Trump is breaking with the past. He’s arguing that Washington must cut its losses, withdraw its forces, climb out of the Middle Eastern and Afghan money pits, and acknowledge that Seoul (with U.S. backing) won the war on the Korean Peninsula. Washington hates him for doing these things, but most Americans and future generations of Americans will love him for it.

By DOUG MACGREGORon January 28, 2019 at 4:01 AM

The first quality of a great leader is the courage to break with the past when the facts change. For President Trump, facing facts means change. But real change—ending the Korean War, disengaging forces from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—is anathema to just about everyone inside the Washington Beltway.

It’s tempting to view the recent attacks from within his own party on Trump’s decision to leave Syria or the public wounds inflicted on the president by an ungrateful national security advisor as unique in American history, but that’s not the case. In 1969, when President Richard Nixon first confided his intention to seek a rapprochement with China—three years before Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing—members of his own Administration were not enthusiastic.

Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, reacted to Nixon’s decision with more than a little trepidation: “Our Leader (President Nixon) has taken leave of reality. He thinks this is the moment to establish normal relations with Communist China.” Kissinger later revised his opinion, but Kissinger’s initial reaction demonstrates that Washington’s emotional investment in the past all too often overwhelms reason and obscures opportunity.

Fortunately, President Trump is not easily deterred. In Northeast Asia, the president is pursuing a strategy aligned with Nixon’s strategy in 1972. It’s designed to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate the potential for armed conflict between China and the United States.

Trump’s determination to move forward with a new summit is based on much more than the president’s perception of North Korea as the poster child for the failure of state socialism, a Northeast Asian State with a sub-Saharan African economy and a dying society sinking deeper and deeper into despair. President Trump also knows that half of China’s investment in national defense is committed to internal security.

The true rationale behind President Xi’s being granted exceptional authority is the real potential for nation-wide unrest if the Chinese economy’s slowdown results in a potentially destabilizing “hard landing.” It’s an open secret that Xi has chosen Seoul to manage North Korea’s decline. Thus, President Trump knows what Nixon knew: The United States and China have no compelling reasons to be enemies.

In Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, President Trump confronts a different challenge: A legacy of American military and political disaster that even the launching of U.S. military operations on the scale of Desert Storm could not reverse. After 9/11, Americans went abroad in search of a new enemy—Islamist Terrorism—to destroy. Trump knows these military operations failed.

President Trump is well aware that the American military supplanted a secular Arab dictatorship only to replace it with Iranian political, military and economic domination of Iraq. Having lost 800,000 soldiers in its fight with U.S.-backed Iraqi Forces in the 1980s, It’s painfully clear to Trump that Tehran will now fight any attempt by any foreign power to install an anti-Iranian regime in Baghdad—an Iranian version of the Monroe Doctrine.

In Ankara, Trump knows that Turkey’s membership in NATO is about as nominal as that of Greece or Bulgaria, but the president sees no benefit to the United States in cultivating conflict with Turkey. Like everyone else in the West, Trump knows that President Erdogan’s Turkey is a Sunni Islamist Republic, much as Iraq is a Shiite Islamist Republic.

President Trump knows that when U.S. forces withdraw from Syria, then Moscow, Damascus, Tehran and Ankara will try to craft a solution to the civil war’s devastation. Yet, Trump knows that solution will remain vulnerable to the violence of ruthless groups across the region. He also knows that Iran and Turkey will both compete for regional hegemony, but, like Russia, Iran and Turkey lack the economic strength and societal cohesion to bear the heavy burden that the competition will impose.

Perhaps, most important, Trump understands that Israel’s very existence reminds its neighbors of Israel’s ability to create and master the advanced technologies of modern warfare; an agonizing reality that is not lost on Ankara and Tehran. Israel’s actual power is disproportional to its size and this condition is unlikely to change in the next several decades.

In Afghanistan, President Trump understands that chaos will persist whether the U.S. military remains engaged or not, but Afghanistan’s neighbors will act to contain it. For reasons that have nothing to do with the U.S., Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors will try and prevent the reintroduction of terrorist camps and to suppress drug-related criminality. Though imperfect, stability will return, though it may be in a form that involves cooperation with regional actors Washington abhors.

President Trump is breaking with the past. He’s arguing that Washington must cut its losses, withdraw its forces, climb out of the Middle Eastern and Afghan money pits, and acknowledge that Seoul (with U.S. backing) won the war on the Korean Peninsula. Washington hates him for doing these things, but most Americans and future generations of Americans will love him for it.

Doug Macgregor, is a decorated combat veteran and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016). The retired Army colonel may be best known in the military for his book, Breaking the Phalanx.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

American Military Power Should Not Decide Venezuela’s Future

The Trump Administration is backing Juan Guaidó, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly as the legitimate leader of the country.

Many in Washington, like Sen. Marco Rubio, who has urged the Trump Administration to publicly support Mr. Guaidó, are hopeful that the groundswell of support across the international community for Maduro’s political opponents will lead to Maduro’s removal from power by forces inside Venezuela. This would be the best outcome.

For others, the role of the Reagan Administration in removing Ferdinand Marcos from power in the Philippines is a useful precedent. The problem with this approach is that the Trump Administration risks getting caught in the unsavory trap of backing regime change via an internal coup d'etat cloaked in the legitimacy of the National Assembly, designed to confirm Washington’s preference regarding who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan People and who precisely should rule in Caracas.

But if Maduro is not removed by forces within the country; if Maduro can employ what Lenin famously called the “organs of power”—the Venezuelan military and police—to crush his opponents and preserve his control over the country, then what?

Would it then be wise for President Trump to commit U.S. military power to do the job? The temptation to intervene militarily in Venezuela is real, but if the President measures what the United States might gain by what it might lose, the answer is “no.”

The advocates for action will argue that in any conflict with Venezuela, the power of the U.S. military would be overwhelming, promising a quick victory. Maduro’s enemies in the region—particularly in Columbia and Brazil—would certainly welcome his forcible removal from power.

Having failed in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria to reaffirm the old formula that equates the “Liberal World Order with American National Security,” Washington’s bipartisan War Party will see Venezuela as an opportunity to recoup its losses and keep the taxpayer gravy train running at full steam.

Moreover, Vladimir Putin’s decision to invest $1 billion in Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and land two antiquated Cold War bombers on one of Venezuela’s offshore islands simply buttresses their argument for U.S. military action to prove that the Trump administration is not the collective instrument of Russian influence.

Unfortunately, dispelling the persistent mischaracterization of the ease with which superior military power can be used is not enough. The contrast between the limited aims of the Bush Administration in March 2003—Saddam Hussein’s removal—with the war aims the Bush Administration ultimately embraced—nation building through military occupation—should not be forgotten. Clarity of strategic purpose at the beginning of hostilities, like the military plan of operations, often vanishes with the first shot in anger.

An intervention in Venezuela would open a veritable Pandora’s box of potentially self-defeating outcomes.

All forces in Venezuela may not accept defeat. Many could melt into the Amazonian interior drawing support from allies inside and outside the region to carry on the fight. Maduro’s redistribution of national wealth to his loyalists created patronage networks that will resist their disenfranchisement.

Expectations of Washington’s limitless charity could turn into widespread disappointment when economic conditions over which Washington has little control do not rapidly change for the better. The Latin American States that currently support Washington’s position may find it convenient to join Washington’s opponents in their condemnation of American military action. The historical parallel with Cuba is far from exact, but it’s still instructive.

The U.S. Armed Forces intervened three times in Cuba. After the Spanish-American War, U.S. occupation forces drafted a constitution for Cuba, supervised elections and installed a new government under a President that Washington favored.

When a rebellion erupted between 1906 and 1909 against Washington’s client, the U.S. military returned to occupy Cuba for a second time. In 1912, another uprising against the new Cuban government prompted Washington to send 500 Marines, but this time the Americans stood aside while the government successfully suppressed the rebellion. Is Cuba’s persistent hostility to the United States really a mystery?

If military action is to be regarded as a rational, as well as, a moral activity, then, Americans should applaud Maduro’s removal if the Venezuelan people can achieve that outcome, but, if they cannot, President Trump should resist the temptation to act for them.

The United States can no more transform Venezuela into a stable, liberal Democracy than it could transform Iraq. As we learned in Cuba during the 20th Century and in Iraq during the 21st, what nations do not create for themselves does not survive the withdrawal of American military power.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, Ret.) is a decorated combat veteran, a Ph.D. and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Will the ISIS Attack Accelerate Trump's Syria Pullout?

Macgregor gave political advice to the commander-in-chief. “President Trump would do well to adhere to the wise policies of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan—all of whom won re-election because they extricated U.S. forces from quagmires in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East,” he said. “U.S. forces should be repurposed to policing the American border, which is the central national security emergency of the day and a core tenet of their constitutional mandate,” suggested the colonel, referencing the ongoing government shutdown due to disagreements over funding for the border wall.

Will the ISIS Attack Accelerate Trump's Syria Pullout?

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” tweeted the Spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve.

President Donald Trump’s January 2 description of Syria as a land of “sand and death” has proved unfortunately prophetic.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a restaurant bombing, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights putting the death total at 15. Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by the Islamic State.

Up until now, U.S. forces have only suffered two casualties since the United States started bombing Syria in the fall of 2014. Multiple experts have spoken to TNI in response to the attack.

Manbij, where the bombing took place, is a large Arab city in the north of Syria that Kurdish forces, with American assistance, captured from the Islamic State in 2016. “The danger to U.S. troops is much higher in Manbij, where Turkey and the U.S. faced off and Turkey demanded that the YPG, or Kurdish forces, not be present. This required the U.S. to go out on paroles, which puts them at great risk. If the U.S. decides to police a buffer zone between Turkey and the Kurdish parts of Syria, more Americans will be killed,” said Oklahoma University Professor Joshua Landis, who heads their Center for Middle East Studies.

The kind of policing mission Landis describes makes the deaths of U.S. troops “probably inevitable,” in his words, and creates increasing liabilities on the ground. “A lengthy U.S. military occupation poses innumerable risks: driving adversaries into each other’s arms, alienating our Turkish allies, inflaming Islamist-nationalist sentiments in Iraq and Syria, engaging in costly nation-building, and risking great power conflict with nuclear superpower Russia,” listed Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, a Senior Fellow at Defense Priorities.

“The longer the Trump administration delays the previously announced withdrawal, the more troops we’re likely to needlessly sacrifice…It is time to expedite the president’s order and withdraw all our troops from Syria before any more troops are killed,” recommended Davis.

Others disagree, claiming that the attack proves that now is not the appropriate time for a U.S. withdrawal. “This horrific attack proves what the experts—including current or recently-resigned U.S. officials—have been saying: that ISIS remains a threat and that by declaring its defeat and ordering the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, Trump prematurely spiked the football,” said Executive Vice President Derek Chollet of the German Marshall Fund. Chollet previously served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Obama administration.

“The administration’s explanations for what we are doing in Syria have been all over the place, and it is unclear how their strategy is supposed to work,” continued Chollet. President Trump has claimed (on Twitter and elsewhere) that the only task of U.S. forces in Syria is the defeat of the Islamic State. This has been continuously contradicted, however, by figures such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, who say the U.S. mission includes goals such as the withdrawal of all Iranian forces from Syria and guaranteed protections for the Kurds.

“Fighting other people’s civil wars is not the mission of the U.S. armed forces,” counseled Colonel Douglas Macgregor, who has been previously considered for the national security advisor position.

“The loss of U.S. troops in Syria is tragic. However, while plenty of Washington insiders will try to exploit their deaths to keep us in Syria indefinitely, this should stiffen the president’s resolve to withdraw U.S. forces,” said Macgregor.
All four experts gave separate, detailed recommendations for what policy should take place going forward.

“The sooner that a deal is made between the SDF and the Syrian state to establish a common police force, allowing for stability following the U.S. withdrawal, the better,” opined Landis. Unable to piece together a fully independent state, some, including Landis, believe that the Kurds should make an agreement with Assad’s government, compromise on autonomy short of independence, and use the Syrian government as a counterbalance against Turkish advancements. “Ambassador Jeffrey recently asked the YPG not to make a deal with the Syrian authorities. That is a mistake and will lead to U.S. troops having to patrol in the place of regional police,” Landis warned.

Chollet thinks there ought to be responsibility taken at home. “The newly constituted House Armed Services Committee should hold hearings soon with Acting Secretary Shanahan and General Dunford to get to the bottom of this,” he said. The U.S. Senate held similar hearings after U.S. troops were killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017.

Davis believes U.S. strategy should change to focus less on holding physical territory overseas and more towards gathering intelligence for the prevention of terrorist attacks at home. “The security of our homeland is preserved through aggressive global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, along with robust cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement officials—no matter where on the Earth the threats arise,” he concluded. “With the Islamic State nearly vanquished and Russia firmly entrenched in western Syria, the United States has achieved all it reasonably can in Syria.”

Macgregor gave political advice to the commander-in-chief. “President Trump would do well to adhere to the wise policies of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan—all of whom won re-election because they extricated U.S. forces from quagmires in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East,” he said. “U.S. forces should be repurposed to policing the American border, which is the central national security emergency of the day and a core tenet of their constitutional mandate,” suggested the colonel, referencing the ongoing government shutdown due to disagreements over funding for the border wall.

Hunter DeRensis is a reporter at The National Interest.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Radio Interview with Frank Morano

AM 970 The Answer

Guests include Col. Douglas Macgregor, PhD, Kevin Harris and Jason Koebler of Motherboard and VICE

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Romney Rings In the New Year—Attacking Trump

The senator-elect’s clearly-timed New Years’ Night op-ed throws down the gauntlet as he’s set to be sworn in this week.

“So it begins,” a former senior White House official emailed Tuesday night, in reference to Senator-elect Mitt Romney’s striking op-ed published in The Washington Post on New Year’s Night. “It begins.”

The Romney op-ed is ostensibly about character. “The president has not risen to the mantle of the office,” Donald Trump’s predecessor as GOP standard-bearer wrote.

But what’s most revealing is that the lede, and the crux of his argument, is in opposition to President Donald Trump’s December foreign policy moves-- moves that have shaken the establishment, and thrilled elements of the president’s base, as well as long-time critics of the Washington consensus.

Romney, set to be sworn in later this week along with a new, oppositional and Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, decried the “deep descent” of December. 2018 closed out with President Trump parting ways with his establishment-darling Defense secretary, James Mattis, and initiating pull-outs and partial pull-backs in Afghanistan and Syria, respectively. Mattis told U.S. military personnel upon his departure New Years’ Eve to “keep the faith in our country and hold fast.”

“Romney largely uses criticisms of Trump's character flaws as a jumping off point to oppose the parts of the president's agenda that differ from Mitt's GOP,” said W. James Antle III, editor of The American Conservative.

But for some critics of this president, as well as those concerned about the ongoing Robert S. Mueller-led independent investigation into the president’s campaign, the Romney op-ed was an opening salvo in what could be prove to a ruinous year for this president.

Former aides fret that Trump’s moves to challenge establishment orthodoxy on foreign policy could be the bridge too far that finally spell Trump’s doom. “Can't do it this way,” the former senior administration official has told me. “Plays into hands of the never-Trumpers for a reason.”

Indeed, neoconservative emcee Robert Kagan and Kerry State Department alumnus Antony Blinken also teamed up for a searing op-ed in the Post this holiday weekend, arguing Trump’s “America First” foreign policy is driving the U.S. into a ditch.

But others reacted that Romney isn’t president for a reason.

“The truth is [Mitt Romney] lacked the ability to save this nation,” said Brad Parscale, Trump’s pugilistic 2020 campaign chief, soon after the publishing Tuesday night on the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The president “has saved it,” Parscale said. “Jealousy is a drink best served warm and Romney just proved it.”

“Benedict Arnold is a poor model to follow on your way into the US Senate,” Ret. Col. Douglas Macgregor, who’s been considered by the administration for national security advisor in the past, told me.

Macgregor, a favorite of Fox host Tucker Carlson, full-throatedly backs the withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria, seeing the manuevers as in the national interest. For those who seek a course correction in U.S. foreign policy, Trump’s December was a shocking, needed breath of fresh air.

Piling on was the more mainline Fox commentariat, with prominent personality Dan Bongino remarking: “This guy is hard to take. With everything going on in the country right now Mitt swears in and right away he hits the POTUS. Few of us are surprised though, we all knew Mitt to be a world-class opportunist.”

And Romney is now going in the opposite direction of his state’s senior senator, Mike Lee, who favors many of the White House’s recent foreign policy moves. Libertarian-leaning and a close ally of Trump whisperer Rand Paul , Lee, who previously distanced himself from Trump’s politics, recently signaled that he will back the president for re-election.

What is clear is that doubts about Romney’s new role in the U.S. Senate are dissipating.

Romney, who was briefly considered by this president for secretary of State, will be loathe to work tightly with the administration. In the op-ed, Romney lamented the departure of most of the appointees he admired: “his early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging.” All, cf course, are now gone from this White House. With this gauntlet thrown, Romney positions himself as the heir to a troika of Trump Senate critics -- the retiring Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake, and the late John McCain. Never a dull day in Trump’s Washington.

Curt Mills is the foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest, where he covers the State Department, National Security Council and the Trump Presidency.

Image: Reuters