It's Time to Reconsider Trump And Foreign Policy: Maybe He’s On To Something

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President Donald J. Trump waves to the crowd as he exits Air Force One at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Nov. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Colville McFee)

Recently an article at War on the Rocks framed American foreign policy as boiling down to two choices. With the momentous events of the week preceding Christmas 2018—the Syria and Afghanistan withdrawal/downsizing, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis's resignation—this debate became a reality for anyone watching the news as they shopped for or wrapped their presents. But they only saw one side.


We will call that view the majority view. It repackages, but does not fundamentally change, the internationalist foreign policy that has served us so poorly for the last 17 years (some say much longer). This represents the majority view in both the Republican and the Democratic parties. This is the view that scathingly condemned Trump's withdrawal from Syria and downsizing in Afghanistan. The advocates favor some tinkering at the margins of what was current policy-- some cyber emphasis here, some "be tough with China about Iran" there. But the "change" advocated was no real switch in any meaningful sense away from a grand strategy of maintaining American hegemony of the sort that has existed since the Cold War ended by using primarily military power.

The second choice—highlighted by Trump's pre-Christmas shockers-- is framed this way: "Trump himself represents the second camp, promoting an illiberal, nationalist, and autarkic view of American foreign policy that dismisses long-held assumptions about alliances, free trade, and immigration."

No one wants that label, right? Well, hidden in the same article is mention of the minority Democrat position, at least as far as foreign policy goes, and it aligns better with leaving the Middle East and distancing (but not leaving) NATO that one finds in the "illiberal" Trump camp than in the majority positions of both parties or of the bulk of the Washington foreign policy "Blob."

And this is why there is no foreign policy debate inside Washington DC of any substance by Trump's critics. Trump's recent decision to withdraw from Syria is a case in point—on all sides there is a hue and cry against this "ill-advised" action against the advice of advisers and critics alike. Yet no real policy other than "stay the course" is offered in response.

The powers that be in Congress, the media, DoD bureaucrats, and the traditional think tanks like CNAS might want you to believe that they have a plan to recraft American foreign policy—but they don't. They only want to tinker on the margins. "Discuss" our role in NATO, but not do something even as modest as giving the supreme command in NATO to some other member, say France. Or, "rethink" our way to a new "consensus" on our role in the Middle East or vis-à-vis China. Rethink, consensus, discuss—these are all words of moderation and warmth that hide a lack of decisions, a lack of change—a warm blanket around the status quo absent Trump.

As for the Middle East, Andrew Bacevich is right. If there was a foreign policy restructuring by either party to move away from the US's illogical "Middle East First, Last and Always" tilt, then they would have asked for Mattis's resignation long ago. They would have howled for it. Instead he is lauded as one of the few sensible persons still working for Trump. And now he, too, is gone with howls of "Après Mattis le Deluge."

Seen any flooding yet?

Mattis earned the big bucks for giving the muscle to US foreign policy overseas with the world's most expensive military. What did he have to offer on that score?

  • Stay the course in Afghanistan.
  • Continue to have U.S. flag officers command and run NATO, despite there being plenty of other European general officers who could do as well or better.
  • Stay mired in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.
  • All but ignore the Pacific.

None of these sounds sensible to me. One reason he stayed around so long is that Trump hired fellow-traveler John Bolton to hold down the National Security Advisor portfolio and I suspect Bolton has provided Mattis what we in the military refer to as "supporting fires." Also, for two years Mattis kept the policy status quo in place against a restive and mercurial president.

If Trump were not so illiberal on so many domestic issues, the Democrats might worry that he might be able to co-opt their party's so-called "progressive wing," which shares some of his views on American engagement overseas. But he won't precisely because of his illiberal domestic agenda, which is far more important to progressives. The only changes in foreign policy will continue to emanate from the White House, not from the majority consensus that exists among the two main political parties.

Dr. John T. Kuehn has taught at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College since July 2000, retiring from the US Navy in 2004. He is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008, with D.M. Giangreco), A Military History of Japan (2014), Napoleonic Warfare (2015), and America's First General Staff (2017). The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

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Maj. Matthew Golsteyn in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse.)

President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.

The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."

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(Screenshot from 'Leavenworth')

President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.

Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.

"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.

"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"

Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.

Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.

For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.

Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."

In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.

At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.

But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."

"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.

Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.

"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."

The new Call of Duty Modern Warfare takes gaming to a new level. In fact, it's the best damn video game of 2019 (in my humble opinion).

You can watch video of the awesome gameplay for CoD above, and make sure to follow the Task & Purpose team on Twitch here.

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A new trailer just dropped for the upcoming World War I action flick The Great War.

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