An Emerging Domestic Presidency

The current health care debate is actually the third; Obama’s initial tenure rammed through the ‘Affordable Care Act‘, Trump’s initial foray at the beginning of his presidency  and now the U.S. Senate failure to ‘repeal & replace‘.  It looks like team Trump will need to spend more dwindling political capital on a failing initiative.  His presidency looks domestic, small and very much in line with Clinton’s.  This needs to change IF he’s to gain traction on large foreign related policy gains that often singlehandedly define any Presidency.

We don’t need another domestic presidency, that is after all the job of both chambers of Congress and the judiciary.  As it stands now, team Trump’s policy on Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mesopotamia is identical to Obama’s.  It looks like this president will not spend anymore capital to wrestle the American imperium in a direction aligning our interests to indigenous institutions in war torn theatre.  The sad truth is, we’ll need to act like praetorian guards to win our current engagements, and even then, it isn’t clear that a Clausewitzian imperative of linking politics to war can deliver us any reprieve.  Aside from fielding new aims alloyed to realist notions of statecraft, we’re going to have to live with grossly limited achievements in pursuit of limited aims.  Fair enough, but how we get there matters.

If we look at team Trump’s current war posture, it reflects a profound understanding of civil-military relations that mired previous presidencies.  While Obama used drones, special forces and air power to shield his party from un-welcomed realities, team Trump’s view of partial withdrawal and negotiation maybe the best result in regions that don’t have sufficient political institutions to solidify war gains.

Remember Rumsfeld’s admonition that “you go to war with the army you have. . . ” The U.S. Army, Defense & Pentagon don’t do reconstruction.  We’re unable and unwilling to do to Southwest Asia, Mesopotamia & Syria what we did in South Korea, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Germany and hosts of other places.  We reconstituted their governing institutions favorable for peace.  We don’t seem to be able to do that with Islamic Civilization.  What our current operations reveal are limits to our overt myopic positivist framework of war.

When John F. Kennedy admitted in 1961 that Khrushchev had savaged him in Vienna, we got the Cuban missile crisis and the construction of the Berlin Wall.  Meetings have consequences and we’ll have to wait to see Putin’s geostrategic behavior in the coming months evidencing his own judgement of Trump.  In the meantime, a small bit of humility could foster greater reach for team Trump as he seeks to pursue U.S. advantages.  Trump’s Hamburg meeting with king Vladimir revealed that Putin wants to deflect the issue of interfering in U.S. elections while preserving Moscow’s regional position in Syria, ratifying Russian propaganda that Moscow arbitrates Syria’s future.  Putin also seeks to gain stature in the post liberation of Raqqa while eliminating post-Crimea sanctions and normalization of Ukraine.

What did Trump get?

According to the Lawfare  blog, Trump acknowledged that the current status of Syrian political, demographic geography should protect rebel territory.  However, team Trump ratified Moscow’s Astana framework relying on Russian initiatives to monitor and enforce any ceasefire.  This entire framework required Trump to drop America’s stated policy demanding the removal of Assad.

Its Obama 2.0

So what’s the big deal?  Moscow does not have U.S. regional interests.  With Trump’s strategic blunder we cannot begin to initiate proceedings on Russian war crimes in Aleppo or Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Trump’s accession in Hamburg really ratifies Putin’s hold on eastern Ukraine.  Hamburg also permits the opening for a ‘special channel’ laying the groundwork for normalized relations.

All of this dooms U.S. efforts because it leaves the initiative to autocrats.

This is what happens when an American executive goes abroad unprepared.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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