Foreign Policy in the Trump Administration

What I have below is a compilation of various articles and quotes about foreign policy issues/stories that may have relavance during the Trump administration. (I probably should have started the thread a while ago, but I didn’t. I’m starting it now because I want to address the Syrian situation, involving the recent use of chemical weapons.

Before I do that, here are the articles, quotes, and comments about different foreign policy issues:

From The Observer: Will Belarus Be Putin’s Next Victim? by John Schindler

Schindler explains the relationship between Russia and Belarus. Basically, both were close allies, but now it seems like Lukashenka, their strongman leader, is pulling away. He fears that Russia may invade a la Ukraine. What would that mean for the U.S.:

Then there’s the knotty issue of what exactly the White House would do. Belarus isn’t in NATO and it cannot expect overt Western help against Putin. But would President Trump do anything at all in the event of Russian aggression against yet another neighbor? The new administration’s repeated public fawning over the Kremlin, plus its exceptionally tepid support for Ukraine as fighting increases there between the Russian military and Kyiv’s forces, provide ample room to wonder which side Trump is really on here.

Not to mention the weird question which the White House recently asked the Intelligence Community about Belarus. According to a new AP report, “national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus.” It should be noted that Poland, a stalwart NATO member, has conducted zero incursions into Belarus, and the notion is frankly bizarre outside the paranoid halls of the Kremlin and pro-Russian websites that seek to stir up anti-NATO sentiments with fake news.

However, Polish military incursions into Belarus have featured prominently in recent Russian military exercises, namely ZAPAD (West) 2009 and 2013, where a Drang nach Osten by Warsaw was the exercise scenario—twice. Therefore, the White House is either parroting ridiculous Russian fake news or it is consciously pushing Kremlin disinformation on our Intelligence Community.

What’s Happening in Mosul (2/9/2017)

Putin in Syria and Ukraine

From WaPo: Trump and Putin are Discussing Military Cooperation in Syria; Mattis Says Russia Must Prove Itself First (2/1/2017)



From the New Yorker:

For Putin, it was a story of misplaced hopes and rejection: he became convinced that, no matter how accommodating he might try to be, Western powers—the United States, above all—had an innate disinclination to treat Russia as a full partner and a respected member of the international order.

I have no strong evidence of this, but I sort of feel like Putin might be justified in feeling this way–and that this was a mistake by the President Obama. That is, Obama (and maybe Bush 43) should have bee more sensitive to Russian national esteem. They view themselves as a great nation (with some justification), but they’re trying to find a way to express this–find a way to be great–in the present moment. Did we do enough to respect this desire? Did we do enough to help them find this? Or, does Putin deserve much of the blame? I don’t know the answers to this.

However, I do think it behooves us to a way to help Russia solidify their national identity in something that generates pride for them, while also allowing them to be a good-standing member in the world. Now, this may be an unrealistic expectation, but if it is possible, it would be more productive, proactive and safer move.

12 Responses to “Foreign Policy in the Trump Administration”

  1. Reid

    What Should We Do in Syria–After Assad Seems to Have Used Chemical Weapons on His People>?

    Senator Rubio is clear about what he thinks we should do and makes an impassioned plea:

    I hear what Sen. Rubio is saying–I saw a video of the Syrian children who were affected by the chemical attack, not just dead children, but children still alive, shaking, having trouble breathing. It’s some of the most disturbing footage that I can remember, and it definitely made me feel like we should intervene. So I get what Senator Rubio is saying.

    However, at the risk of being cruel and heartless, I think important questions must be asked: namely, can we intervene in a way with a low probability that the U.S. would have to keep a strong military presence in Syria for a long, possibly indefinite time, as a result of this intervention? If the answer is no–in other words, if we intervene to either prevent Assad from using chemical weapons or remove him from power, we will likely have to have a strong military presence in Syria for years to come, with no end in sight, then I think we really need to reconsider intervening; or we need to be sure we can make a commitment to stay there for many years.

    Answering this question involves answering several other questions:

    1. Who would likely replace Asaad, and would this be politically accepted by a significant majority of Syrians?

    2. If not, then would the country be in an even more chaotic situation?

    3. How close would the country be at coming to some political solution? Close like 1-5 years? 5-10? Or are they really far a part where the process could take more than a decade with no end in sight?

    4. Could we leave before a political situation was found? How much instability and turmoil would be created by doing so?

    These questions center on the internal difficulties in Syria, but they don’t take into account the effects in the region. Also, my understanding is that Russian military is heavily intertwined with the Assad’s military. Would attacking Syria be the same as attacking Russia?

    Of course the chemical attacks on Syrian civilians, including children, is horrific and gut-wrenching. But, as callous as this sounds, some other difficult questions must be asked and answered as well with regard to whether the U.S. should intervene or not.

  2. Reid

    We May Attack Syria Before Answering the Questions I Raised Above

    If we do attack in the next few hours, it’s hard for me not to imagine that this is rash decision by Trump–devoid of any serious consideration of the issues I raised.

    And I’m skeptical about just selective strikes–as Engel talks about. If those type of strikes would be meaningful and wouldn’t significantly increase the risk of indirectly leading to Assad’s ouster, then I tend to think Obama would have done this.

    Oh, there’s also the concern that attacks could start a larger conflict with Russia and Iran. This potential is something to be really mindful of as well.

  3. Reid

    Over 50 Tomahawk Missiles Fired at the Airfield With Chemical Weapons

    I just hope this doesn’t escalate.

    Not sure when the tweet below appeared today, but it’s a bit unnerving to me:


    Reports are we notified Russia of the attacks–to allow them to avoid being hurt.

    I’m not sure what to believe the possibility that the Russians warned the Syrians, and if they did, what’s the significance of that? Is the most important thing the destruction of the airfield versus taking out combatants? I have no idea.

    Also, I’m a little troubled by thoughts that this isn’t on the up-and-up, that this is more of a staged thing. But that would be a crazy conspiracy theory (which would mean that Sec. Mattis was in on this or duped). I’m not prepared to go down that road. Another theory: this sets up a deal where Russians withdraw in exchange for removing sanctions. Ugh, that would not seem good to me.

    But I’m keeping these ideas at arm’s length for now. Really, it’s too early to tell what’s going on. So many things could happen.

    Here’s an argument against bombing Syria. It’s very shot and easy to understand. It seems reasonable.

    Edit (4/8/2017)

    From Vox: The War in Syria, Explained

  4. Reid

    I watched some Frontline documentaries on Assad and Syria over the weekend (The Regime (2011) and Confronting ISIS (2016), which obviously wasn’t just about Syria. Including the Vox article above, I want to write about some things that stood out for me, combining this with my own thoughts.

    What Kind of Society Do Middle Easterners Want?

    The attitudes of Middle East populations toward sectarian and ethnic differences was one missing element from these sources of information. Specifically, how many people support tolerance for these differences–a tolerance that government and government institutions should enforce? Or, how many people actually want their sect or ethnic group to dominate, including discriminating or even violently repressing other religious sects and/or ethnic groups? If the number people who support tolerance isn’t large enough, then I suspect that a viable, sustainable political solution isn’t possible–or very difficult. If about half the populace is OK with discrimination and oppression–and their political objective is to put someone in power that favors their group and oppresses the others–is there any chance for political stability and peace? It seems unlikely. In the context of the Assad regime, I wonder about the percentage of Syrians who support Assad. If the numbers are close to half, then will removing Assad really solve the problem? I’m skeptical about that. My sense is that large numbers of Syrians have to get fed up with the violence and turmoil, and thereby turn to tolerance and a system that ensures that all religious and ethnic groups will be treated equally and fairly. Once a majority wants this, I think Western countries like the U.S. could come in and help, but if there isn’t a majority, I feel like there is very little Western countries can do to help the people of the Middle East find peace and civil stability.

    By the way, if Western leaders don’t really acknowledge this component–i.e., the attitude of the people towards these issues–I feel like they’ll probably make some big mistakes. For example, when they talk about removing Assad because he does all these terrible things, to Westerners these are obviously terrible things, and most Westerners would want to remove such a leader from power. But going back to what I mentioned, if large numbers of Middle Easterners are OK with this type of ruler, removing them would just be opposing a Western position. In other words, larger numbers of the Middle Easterners must also adopt a similar view.

    Interests of Middle East Leaders Vs. Western Leaders

    What stood out for me is the difference in interests between the U.S. and many of the Middle Easterner leaders. The U.S. and the West are concerned with terrorism from groups like ISIS. Many of the Middle Eastern leaders see ISIS as a problem and a threat, but a lower order threat. For example, the Saudis see Iran as an existential threat. The Turks see the Kurdish as a bigger or equally significant threat. I am far from understanding the interests of the various leaders in the region, but I got a taste that suggests they are quite different from Western leaders.

  5. Reid

    One Reason Dealing With North Korea is Difficult and Complicated

    Even if North Korea tried to launch a nuclear attack, and it failed, Seoul is not very far from North Korea. If the U.S. launches a strike against North Korea millions of South Koreans could die.


    Edit (4/20/2017)

    From WarontheRocks: Why Mattis Versus Kim Jong Un Will End Badly for Us All

    Edit (4/22/2017)

  6. Reid

  7. Reid

    Interesting op-ed by Daniel Drezner about Russian sanctions bill that just passed. He likes it overall, but has some serious reservations.

  8. Reid

    From The Atlantic: What is Putin Up to In Syria?

    “Russia is not in Syria to defeat ISIS,” Casagrande said, even though ISIS has attacked Russians and poses a serious threat to the country. Russia is in Syria to prop up its ally, the Assad government, and by extension to maintain its geopolitical influence in the Middle East and military presence on the Mediterranean Sea. Despite losing their stronghold of Aleppo in December, opposition fighters, not ISIS, remain the greatest to the Assad government and thus to the Russians, she argued.

    “Russia likes to portray itself as this marvelous counterterrorism actor that is in parallel and in lockstep with the U.S. against ISIS,” Casagrande said, in part because doing so positions Russia as a critical player in providing security in the Middle East. As my colleague Julia Ioffe has noted, Russia has sought to cultivate an image as the West’s indispensable ally on counterterrorism at least since September 11, 2001. But “Russia typically only goes after ISIS when it is convenient for Russia,” according to Casagrande.

  9. Reid

    Worth Paying Attention To

  10. Reid

    The Current Ideological War on the World Stage

    In the 20th century, there was a war between democracy and fascism, nazism, and eventually communism, with democracy eventually beating all three. Now, there’s a new challengers to democracy–authoritarianism, set for the times we live, one dominated by internet-based technology.

    A New Era of Competition: The Growing Threat of Authoritarian Internationlism as a Global Challenge to Democracy is a report by Charles Walker (International Reports of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung). I never heard of either, but Michael Weiss of The Daily Beast and Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, tweeted this report. The report focuses on what I mentioned above.

  11. Reid

    IF We Go to War with North Korea, Here’s Some Things to Think About

    In light of this NBC story, Senator Lindsey Graham: Trump Says War with North Korea an Option, it might be worth thinking about ramifications of the U.S. going to war with North Korea–i.e., taking out Kim Jong Un.

    First and foremost, thousands, maybe tens and hundreds of thousands, if not millions will die. Seoul is really close to the border. The North Koreans have conventional weapons pointed at South Korea. (See map a few posts up.) If the North Koreans use nuclear weapons, then even more could die a horrific death. Japan could also be included. U.S. soldiers are also there in South Korea as well.

    All of these people would die because we ostensibly want to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the U.S. with nuclear weapons, or at least stop them from expanding their capability. There rationale is not without merit, but the underlying principle here is that other people would be dying so that we could end North Korea’s ability to hit the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

    (And this isn’t factoring in the possibility that the Western part of the U.S. could also be experience large casualties as well.)

    Could we as Americans live with ourselves if this happened?

    And think about this: Are we confident that President Trump would devote the thoughtfulness, discipline, and seriousness if he made this decision? Would we be confident that he made this decision for the right reasons? For me the answer is no to both, and I find that horrifying.

    If someone like President Obama made the decision to attack North Korea, knowing that thousands, maybe millions died, essentially for our national security would be an awful truth to have to bear. And honestly, I think I would doubt that Obama made the right decision–I would probably disagree and criticize him for it. If Trump did this I feel like the situation would be far worse. The horror of the possibility that Trump ordered this frivolously, impulsively or because of mental instability would be an even greater burden to bear.

  12. Reid

    “Do You Actually Believe North Korea Would Survive a Nuclear Attack?”

    This was asked to a North Korean diplomat, who is described as intelligent (and reasonable, I assume). Hear the answer below.

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