Af­ter Obama, Trump should re­gard for­eign pol­icy as clean slate.

Pres­i­dent-elect Trump should re­gard for­eign pol­icy as a tab­ula rasa

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Herbert Lon­don Herbert Lon­don is pres­i­dent of the Lon­don Center for Pol­icy Re­search.

On Dec. 6, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­fended his strat­egy for com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism, a strat­egy — if one can call it that — based on re­straint and with­drawal. With­out men­tion­ing Don­ald Trump’s name, the pres­i­dent went on to con­trast his ideas with those enun­ci­ated by the pres­i­dent-elect. He clearly at­tempted to make the case for why his suc­ces­sor should ad­here to his ap­proach.

That ap­proach in­cludes scal­ing back U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence abroad, a ban on tor­ture and the clos­ing of the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Guan­tanamo. Mr. Obama re­ferred to his ap­proach as “smart pol­icy” and noted with pride that “no for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion has suc­cess­fully planned and ex­e­cuted an at­tack on our home­land, and it’s not be­cause they didn’t try.” He ar­gued, as well, for us­ing diplo­macy be­fore mil­i­tary power, point­ing to the Iran deal as the way to re­strain a nu­clear pro­gram.

While Mr. Obama is keen on se­cur­ing his le­gacy, the claims about “smart pol­icy” are ques­tion­able. Alas, the scal­ing back of U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence has oc­curred with the pre­cip­i­tous with­drawal from Iraq, a sym­bol of mis­guided pol­icy di­rec­tives. The rise of ISIS is due in no small part to the de­par­ture of the U.S. mil­i­tary from the re­gion. Sim­i­larly, the an­nounce­ment that there will be a dra­matic force re­duc­tion in Afghanistan on an an­nounced date, led di­rectly to en­hanced field op­er­a­tions by the Tal­iban.

The emp­ty­ing of Guan­tanamo, with de­tainees sent to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions abroad, has re­sulted in at least a third of them re­turn­ing to the bat­tle­field to fo­ment ter­ror. But the in­ac­cu­rate claim about Guan­tanamo is small pota­toes com­pared to the as­ser­tion “no ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion has suc­cess­fully planned and ex­e­cuted an at­tack on our home­land…” While a 9/11 size at­tack has not oc­curred, “the tree of ter­ror­ism” has used splin­ter groups in the form of ISIS-in­spired ter­ror­ists to pro­mote death from San Bernardino to Or­lando. A change in tac­tics by ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tions does not rep­re­sent a change in pur­pose.

Clearly as Churchill noted, “jaw jaw is bet­ter than war war.” Diplo­macy should pre­cede mil­i­tary ac­tion as Mr. Obama noted. But soft power with­out the req­ui­site hard power be­hind it is a ne­go­ti­ated void. The cease­fire talks over Syria is a case in point. U.S. pres­ence is sub­or­di­nate to Rus­sian and Ira­nian troops. As a con­se­quence, Turk­ish of­fi­cials have de­scribed the U.S. po­si­tion as “ir­rel­e­vant.”

Last, the pres­i­dent, by his own ad­mis­sion, said Iran will be in a break-out phase — suf­fi­cient fis­sile ma­te­rial for the de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons — in 10 years. Hence the much-her­alded Iran deal does not re­strain Iran from a nu­clear pro­gram, it merely fore­stalls it. The real ques­tion is not whether Iran will pos­sess weapons of mass de­struc­tion, but when it will have them. More­over, Mr. Obama has con­spic­u­ously over­looked vi­o­la­tions of the deal and cer­tainly the spirit of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. Voiced dis­ap­proval in the U.N., sotto voce, by U.N. Am­bas­sador Sa­man­tha Pow­ers, has cer­tainly not moved the Ira­nian lead­er­ship. Hence, the vow made by the pres­i­dent to avoid nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion in the re­gion, has been re­nounced by re­gional na­tions ea­ger for a de­ter­rent to counter the po­ten­tial Ira­nian nu­clear weapon.

As I see it, the pres­i­dent is not in any po­si­tion to of­fer ad­vice on “smart pol­icy.” It turns out his poli­cies have not been very smart. If any­thing, Pres­i­dent-elect Trump should re­gard for­eign pol­icy as a tab­ula rasa in which he can im­print his own judg­ments. In far too many cases, the best judg­ment would be the op­po­site of what Pres­i­dent Obama has pre­scribed.


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