Monday, August 07, 2017

McMaster and Mattis are huge assets

Victor Davis Hanson writes at American Greatness. Some excerpts:
There is a larger context concerning the recent controversies among the architects of Trump’s national security team and agenda, and the criticism of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Recall first that the foreign policy of Barack Obama, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and Hillary Clinton could be best termed “provocative appeasement,” and it logically led to the present tensions around the world.

The approach combined the most unfortunate traits of carrying a twig while speaking loudly: vociferous remonstrations about human rights, occasional bombings, and drone-targeted assassinations, lots of sermonizing and faux red lines, deadlines, and step-over lines—all without either real consequences or accountability.

...An Iranian deal was kept alive by stealthy side agreements and a blind eye to Tehran’s provocations. North Korea offered a new existential threat to the U.S. mainland. China redefined navigation in the South China Sea and assumed commercial cheating was its birthright. Syria became a genocidal wasteland. Allies like Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf States were scorned; enemies like Cuba and Iran were courted. A reset and provocative Putin (both appeased and talked down to at the same time) was now invited into the Middle East. Europe was flooded with mostly young, male Muslim “refugees.” A medieval ISIS was on its way to carve out an unhinged caliphate of sorts.

...In the short-term, appeasement always wins praise for its pacifism and good intentions, and in the long term it ensures crises for those asked to clean up its messes

...Into this labyrinth of appeasement came Trump and his advisors.

When Trump picked James Mattis and H.R. McMaster respectively as his Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor, along with notables like Rex Tillerson at the State Department, Gen. John Kelly at Homeland Security (and now chief of staff), and Mike Pompeo as CIA director, he apparently preferred soldiers and businessmen to Washington establishmentarians. Trump also understood that the prior eight-year status quo could not continue without a likely war.

Weaker states abroad would inevitably try something stupid on the theory that the United States would not react (we forget that less powerful nations often start wars, as they wrongly conclude that the appeasing stronger powers are acting foolishly because they must be without military capability). We see the wages of the last eight years, most notably with North Korea’s decision to test missiles that soon may reach the West Coast, a dare that has forced redefinition of some 70 years of U.S. strategy on the Korean peninsula.

...Thus Trump was loud about ending optional wars and interventions that did not serve perceived U.S. interests—and whose costs often, in a tragic sense, came at the expense of a working class that was both a loser in the new globalization and yet asked to fight and pay for a globalized United States.

Whether we like it or not, Trump was not going to be able to implement Jacksonian changes in foreign policy with an array of firebrand Mike Flynns in all the major national security agencies. Flynn is an impressive and honorable American who was done a terrible disservice by a media lynch mob. But he was not the sort of pilot to ensure that Trump’s doctrine of “principled realism” was going to get enacted and implemented. Mattis and McMaster, by contrast, bring a sense of order and discipline to national security in the manner that the esteemed John Kelly does to the White House staff in general.

Doing so is not selling out or watering down the message, but allowing the very structures in which Trump can freelance and bring his needed unpredictably and, yes, even occasional volatility to foreign policy. The sober and judicious Dean Acheson established the proper structure in which the often brash, loud, buck-stops-here Harry Truman could create a credible policy of containment against the Soviet Union. Acheson was no more a sell-out than Truman was a buffoon. One could not have been successful without the other; neither felt that the other was either too crude or too refined; both saved us from a prior disastrously naïve approach—once embraced by themselves—to Soviet expansionism.

...McMaster’s firings at the NSC were, as in the case of John Kelly’s firing of the talented but otherwise profane, erratic, disruptive, and often naïve Anthony Scaramucci, likely process-driven rather than ideological.

...these are matters of political strategy and public relations—not fundamental issues of restoring American power and influence in the world without resorting to either nation-building or endless interventions of choice.

Trump is lucky to have the service of both men. And both men, in turn, are lucky to be chosen to serve Trump. Both are valuable strategists in peace—but indispensable, God forbid, if we ever get into a war.
Read more here.

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