Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and John Duncan were the only Senators and Congressmen wise and sober enough to vote against a bipartisan bill to impose sanctions on Russia along with a few other nations. Democrats, still unable to accept electoral defeat, are mired in a mad frenzy of conspiracy theories regarding a phantom connection between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, so reckless vengeance has replaced sanity when it comes to dealing with Russia from their angle. Republicans are generally happy to treat adversaries with hostility, paranoid about being viewed as friendly with the enemy, and too egotistical to allow Democrats to seem tougher on foreign policy than they are, so it is no surprise that GOP congresspersons, whether sympathetic to the President or not, went along with the bill too. The aforementioned nay voters are generally principled in their stances and evidently care more about doing what’s both Constitutional and in America’s best interest than being perceived in a certain way by the public. Their dissent is a loud reinforcement of this.
The new sanctions against Russia are a blow to the Trump administration. Not because President Trump is secretly controlled by the Kremlin, as John McCain and the Democrats would like you to believe, but because Trump’s foreign policy goals include improving relations with our Eurasian neighbor.
With such an immense majority of Congress voting in favor of the new sanctions, Trump was forced into a corner. If he had vetoed the bill, it would have been overridden. This would have left the president looking like a diehard Russophile in the eyes of those still hypnotized by the collusion narrative, insubordinate in the eyes of moderates who just want our government to run smoothly, and defeated in the eyes of those who would name Trump our Grand Chancellor if it were up to them. Signing the sanctions into law likely feels like a betrayal to those Trump has promised a non-interventionist foreign policy, but they should be able to understand Trump’s helplessness considering the situation at hand. It’s frustrating, but Trump had no choice.
All in all, these sanctions will make the world a poorer and more dangerous place. Trade and economic opportunity will be obstructed for the Russian and American people as well as Russia’s other trading partners like the EU. And tensions will rise. Vladimir Putin, however, will not feel any of these effects. He is sitting pretty at the head of the Russian government, and his people will surely rally behind him as feelings of nationalism continue to spread across the globe. The Russian people are in inevitable trouble, but Putin is in great shape. These sanctions help solidify that. As Milton Friedman constantly reminded us, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
Nevertheless, the persistence of stupidity and no-skin-in-the-game decision making in Congress should not completely overshadow the encouraging alterations being made by the Trump administration in other areas on the foreign policy front.
President Obama’s handling of the Syrian Civil War and related conflicts can best be described as waffling. Obama drew a red line in the sand and allowed Bashar al Assad to (allegedly) cross it. Obama cultivated confidence among the “rebels” seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, but did not follow through. While I am happy he never went Full Hillary in Syria, Obama spoke loudly and carried a small stick, possibly leading to a conflict that has likely gone farther than it had to.
President Trump has an announced an end to the CIA’s program to arm these “rebels.” Purportedly as a result of seeing a video of a group of “rebels” gleefully beheading a young boy, Trump has all but told the Assad opposition you’re on your own.
This will allow the US to focus on what may be an actual threat to our national security in the form of ISIS. Regime change in Syria does nothing for the wellbeing of Americans, and would likely harm the wellbeing of the Syrian people and their neighbors. How much authority Trump has to go to war with ISIS is questionable. But it certainly seems more in line with America’s safety.
It’s true that the US has zoned-off a portion of Syria, and that we have bombed the sovereign nation’s military forces for stepping over borders within their own country on several occasions. However, it seems that the aim of this operation is an assault on ISIS, not Syria. It may be far from ideal, but at least the ends, defeating ISIS, are reasonable.
The cancellation of the CIA operation follows the brokering of a ceasefire between the Assad regime and the “rebels” negotiated by Trump and Putin. How literally we should take the word “ceasefire,” how much this has actually reduced fighting in Syria, and how long it will last are all difficult to ascertain. But even baby steps are progress, and Trump (and Putin) deserves credit if any were ultimately taken, particularly minus the use of force.
With seemingly good news on the horizon in Syria, the State Department may soon loudly announce to the world that the United States of America is no longer in the unconstitutional business of nation building on the whole. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and company are considering removing the State Department’s goal to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere” from their mission statement. As exemplified by the Iraq War, our undefined 17-year mission in Afghanistan, our meddling in Libya and Yemen, and even as far back as our disastrous campaign in Vietnam, the United States is not adept at promoting Democracy. As a good friend of mine, who happens to be a military veteran, recently noted:
1. There are no democracies in the countries of the world. The mission statement is a poor one subject to misuse.
2. The State Department should, by diplomatic means, encourage what is in the interests of the USA followed by encouraging self-determination.
The key to the second is “by diplomatic means”. The State Department has rarely actually used diplomatic means since 1941.
If these possibilities become realities, Trump will be following through on a key campaign promise to put “America First” and allow other nations to govern themselves without the overreaching arm of the United States around to tilt the scales.
On the trade front, Trump pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership immediately after being elected. While I am a strong advocate for free trade, even the most free-market-leaning think tanks I follow were shaky at best on the terms of that deal. Populists across the political spectrum had thought of it as a recipe for doom. More recently, the president has finalized a bilateral agreement with the Chinese, and is set to make another with the United Kingdom as soon as the Brexit process is completed. His mass deregulation and “American Energy Dominance” initiative (which Rick Perry seems pretty excited about) could swell fossil fuel exports globally (by the way, his would be an odd way of going about undermining the US for the sake of the Kremlin. The more energy the United States exports, the more business Russia loses. Russia Today airs anti-fracking propaganda for a reason).
Lastly, consider the Trump administration’s messaging towards Israel. While I support the sovereignty of the Jewish state, I do not share American Conservatives’ dogmatic allegiance to it, especially from a financial or military standpoint. To be perfectly honest, I am unclear on what exactly the Trump administration has done to worry Conservatives about US relations with Israel. But if they were delighted, I’d be concerned as I do not see their Israel doctrine as sensible, righteous, or particularly beneficial to US national security. In other words, their discomfort comforts me.
President Donald Trump is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma just as Winston Churchill described… well… Russia. But just as Churchill quickly and sensibly determined that Russia’s actions were motivated by its national interests, we can assume that President Trump is motivated by his. Let’s just hope that Trump sees America’s success as his own. This latest flurry of foreign policy consideration and action suggests things are looking good for the President and the country he presides over.
It’s a warm and welcome summer breeze.