IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2 January 2020WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUNDToday’s Events in Historical PerspectiveAmerica’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932America’s self-destructive neo-isolationist strategyBy Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift WASHINGTON – When protestors stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq, they invoked 40-year-old images of student protestors in Iran taking over the U.S. embassy in Teheran for more than a year-long occupation that ended in President Jimmy Carter’s defeat for reelection. That memory is driving President Trump’s reaction to the Iranian-backed protests in Baghdad that included the breach of an entrance to the embassy. Trump dispatched hundreds of troops and two Apache helicopters to rebuff the onslaughts, but the crowd disbanded only after only an Iraqi general assured them that Iraq’s Parliament would pass a law forcing U.S. troops to leave the country. The Baghdad embassy is heavily fortified in a compound of more than 100 acres. It rivals Vatican City in size and is a relic of one of the most ill-advised foreign policy decisions of modern times, the 2003 decision to invade Iraq and overthrow a repressive Sunni regime without any understanding of what would replace it or any comprehension of the centuries-old Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict that runs deeper than the deepest Mideast oilfield. Iraq is now led by a Shiite regime aligned with its old enemy, neighboring Iran – the largest Shiite nation – and at odds with the country that poured billions into its reconstruction and sent troops there to fight and die. Trump was elected on a promise to end foreign entanglements, a throwback to the self-destructive pre-World War II Republican Party isolationist strategy, a strategy embraced by populist sentiments without regard for the risks it poses for U.S. national security. The 9/11 attacks come to mind as well as oil supplies, a nuclear Iran, a resurgent al Qaeda, an even more deadly ISIS, expansion of Russian influence including acquisition of a Mediterranean outlet, and an increasingly hostile Turkey, a NATO partner. Trump is in the midst of impeachment with a Senate trial likely in the next weeks, and his reelection looms. He doesn’t want to go down in a blaze of fire and fury emanating from the Middle East, and if he has a policy for the region it can be summed up in one word, extrication. Get U.S. troops out, sever alliances, and let the locals shoot it out among themselves. There is some appeal to this message especially among Trump’s most ardent backers on the right. They view all assistance to foreign countries as assistance to people unlike us taking advantage of us. But global leadership requires resources, advisors who understand what’s at stake, and an ability to play three-dimensional chess on a three-dimensional world stage. That requires focused attention – not this president’s strong suit. He responds impetuously and with one priority – how will it affect his reelection? He remembers what happened to Jimmy Carter, and his only imperative is to avoid a defeat or any duck that quacks like a defeat. He saved the embassy in Baghdad because to do otherwise might undermine his electoral ambitions. It is a presidential attitude that extends further east to Afghanistan, where the president is attempting to strike a deal with the Taliban, the same Islamic fundamentalist regime that hosted Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorists who attacked America on 9/11. The Northern Alliance ousted the Taliban regime with U.S. assistance in 2001, and any negotiation will only result in that organization’s resumption of power. Surely every foreign policy advisor knows this and understands the real goal of negotiations: U.S. extrication, plain and simple, but it will quack like a duck none the less. Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency. Twitter: @douglas_cohn © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc. Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
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