Drums In The Deep

 

War drums are rumbling in ways strangely reminiscent of the world a century past. Nations with chips on their shoulders and something to prove have engaged in foreign adventurism. Would a second Clinton presidency succeed in quelling those drums, or have eight years of flailing foreign policy made us stumble towards some greater conflagration?

The 9/11 Attacks happened on George W. Bush’s watch, but it is clear the attack was planned and orchestrated in the years prior, during the presidency of Bill Clinton. One of my own first thoughts upon seeing the burning remains of the World Trade Center on TV was “Well, it finally happened.” After eight years of Clinton’s hamfisted foreign interventions, poor responses to repeated violations by Iraq and attacks on US troops and facilities (the USS Cole being the most prominent in my memory), I was expecting (at least) a serious bloody nose in some form from the Middle East. We had endured eight years of weakness in victory with a president who was overeager to spend a “peace dividend” he did not earn, and we have paid for that since with 15 years of war and misery (and the poor souls who inhabit Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are paying a still higher price). A strong response to Iraq or to Islamic terrorism in 1996, or a strong spine even in 1994 might have spared us much.

Set aside for a moment the problems in Iraq from 2005-2007, prior to the Surge (during which time I would argue we returned to a weak response form), our initial reaction to 9/11, followed by our toppling of Saddam Hussein, was swift and powerful, determined and grim, and almost of the form delivered by Exeter to the French King in Henry V, “Bloody Constraint:”

Bloody constraint indeed. American military might, delivered with efficiency and rapidity, against a nation (Iraq) and a tribal melange (Afghanistan) who had directly threatened our interests.

Looking to today, though, the US has again fallen back on weak responses, even to the point of paying blackmail to return our troops captured in an act of war by Iran. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that we engage in a hot war with Iran, but Reagan at least shelled the Iranians from time to time, and this was enough to keep them wary. That we have avoided worse today is in no small part a legacy of George W Bush, who afforded a luxury of time to Obama and Hillary that they squandered much as Bill Clinton did 20 years ago.

And so we come to the possibility of another Clinton presidency. A consistent refrain from Clinton’s supporters is that she has foreign policy experience, and that Trump has none. We know she has experience, but of what sort? As secretary of state, she presided over a series of disasters, from Libya to Syria, from Iraq to Ukraine (Kerry has merely had the misfortune of inheriting a situation set up before him). What might we expect? Much as I understand the criticism that Trump’s bloviating an ineptitude might back us into war through an unforced error, I have a far greater fear of Clinton actually stumbling into a war.

Otto von Bismark predicted “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” The chains of alliances, coupled with weak-minded and foolish statesmen, did indeed ripple into The Great War over what should have been a regional conflict. In our own time, the early 21st century, we have any number of “damned foolish things” that could trigger a general war, again because of chains of alliances.

Hillary Clinton has lodged us into a strange situation in Syria, one that has put us out as a target for Russian adventurism in a way that could blunder us into a real war.  2009 saw the now laughable “Reset” with Russia, a direct repudiation of the policies of Bush — policies that at least kept Putin’s aggressions limited to small forays like Georgia (whom he attacked only when Bush was on his way out). Since that risible Reset, Putin has invaded Ukraine and there is no end of talk about whether he’ll try for the Baltic republics next. Is Clinton up for the challenge of restraining Putin, or will she talk tough while trying soft power, or will her response be an inchoate flailing that trips us into a war we do not expect or want  Given her history, I fear the latter is the most likely scenario.

The war drums are rumbling. A strong leader might be able to silence them, but a weak leader will not heed them until it is too late.  I cannot say that a Trump foreign policy would be sound and strong, but I need only look at Bill Clinton’s, Barak Obama’s, or Hillary Clinton’s to know that hers is weak and ill-conceived.

There are 54 comments.

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Trump’s potential for hair trigger action could actually be a help.  It might not be the worst thing in the world for other countries to worry about what he might do.

    • #1
  2. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Judge Mental:Trump’s potential for hair trigger action could actually be a help. It might not be the worst thing in the world for other countries to worry about what he might do.

    I agree with this outlook. I think the rest of the world might be very quiet for fear of what he might do next. It’d be good for them. As to Hillary, yes everything she does is ill-conceived. She has terrible instincts because her core motivation never has anything to do with the actual problem at hand.

    • #2
  3. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    RightAngles:

    Judge Mental:Trump’s potential for hair trigger action could actually be a help. It might not be the worst thing in the world for other countries to worry about what he might do.

    I agree with this outlook. I think the rest of the world might be very quiet for fear of what he might do next. It’d be good for them. As to Hillary, yes everything she does is ill-conceived. She has terrible instincts because her core motivation never has anything to do with the actual problem at hand.

    I’m not sure I’d go quite that far.  I thought Libya was genuinely considered by her as the “right thing to do”, from a moral sense, in light of the Arab Spring, even if it was blitheringly stupid in every tactical and strategic sense.

    • #3
  4. Martel Inactive
    Martel
    @Martel

    Interesting how our failed policies in Russia and the Middle East seemed like largely disconnected blunders at the time, but now they converge in Syria.

    I’m not looking forward to finding out how our “Asia pivot” eventually ties in.

    • #4
  5. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Martel:Interesting how our failed policies in Russia and the Middle East seemed like largely disconnected blunders at the time, but now they converge in Syria.

    I’m not looking forward to finding out how our “Asia pivot” eventually ties in.

    I thought about including that, but this author handled it better:

    http://nationalinterest.org/feature/hillary-clinton-nuclear-weapons-more-dangerous-trump-18241?page=4

    • #5
  6. Martel Inactive
    Martel
    @Martel

    Just one of thousands of happy thoughts to consider:

    We magnanimously gave the Panama Canal to the Panamanians.  The Panamanians in turn sold control of much of the surrounding canal to China.

    We underestimate how important that canal still is.

    And on a day we really need it, we can’t be sure we’ll be able to guarantee the use of it.

    • #6
  7. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Well argued.

    • #7
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    So you’re maybe turning into our premier standard bearer for the populist American argument that Mr. Trump should have made so much more eloquently: The Clinton Dems are hawkish & none too competent.

    Of course, this also cuts off paths back to the Bush years… One wonders how the party cane come together in this new situation-

    • #8
  9. OldDan Rhody Member
    OldDan Rhody
    @OldDanRhody

    RightAngles:

    Judge Mental:Trump’s potential for hair trigger action could actually be a help. It might not be the worst thing in the world for other countries to worry about what he might do.

    I agree with this outlook. I think the rest of the world might be very quiet for fear of what he might do next. It’d be good for them. As to Hillary, yes everything she does is ill-conceived. She has terrible instincts because her core motivation never has anything to do with the actual problem at hand.

    Many complained that Reagan was bellicose: Iran released the embassy hostages – held for well over a year – just before he was inaugurated.

    • #9
  10. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Trump has taught progressives something they’d seemed to have forgotten,  nationalism and jingoism can work for progressives even more than for traditionalists and one cant  run the political table without them.   Our left was pacifist, anti American and anti military because our enemy was the socialist homeland.  Now we’re to be the socialist homeland.   A really nasty terrorist event could justify a new alien and sedition act that includes deep surveillance of religious groups which folks will naively think would focus on Islam.  It’s probably a good idea to assume that if a gesture helps the left build and consolidate power, enables them to weaken opposition, and increase support in the law enforcement and capture the wealth of the military industrial complex as well, they will do it.    With Islam such as it is, inviting in so many potential terrorists, they don’t even have to phony up a Reichstag event.

    • #10
  11. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Martel:Just one of thousands of happy thoughts to consider:

    We magnanimously gave the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. The Panamanians in turn sold control of much of the surrounding canal to China.

    We underestimate how important that canal still is.

    And on a day we really need it, we can’t be sure we’ll be able to guarantee the use of it.

    Yes indeed.  We consolidated control of the Caribbean, built the canal then made the Pacific as well as the Atlantic our water.  The process will reverse beginning in the South China sea if we allow it.   That is the source of the next war if we do not make our presence impregnable and unambiguous.   Just be there, have good relations with everyone, access everywhere, and robust trade.

    • #11
  12. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    I think Brian Blessed should be required to deliver all ultimatums.

    • #12
  13. Kenton Hoover Thatcher
    Kenton Hoover
    @KentonHoover

    I see the symptoms, I sense the disease, and I agree with the diagnosis. However Laetrile is not the cure.

    • #13
  14. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I think Brian Blessed should be required to deliver all ultimatums.

    I saw him in a couple of Shakespeare plays in Stratford, Ontario! And Maggie Smith was Lady MacBeth!

    • #14
  15. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I think Brian Blessed should be required to deliver all ultimatums.

    I have loved Brian Blessed ever since I was a young girl and he was starring as the very charming Police Constable “Fancy” Smith in the early 1960’s iconic British police television drama, Z Cars. (Fans of the Everton Football Club will know its theme music).  Some of the earliest episodes of the program had their sets designed, and then were later directed by, another young fellow who later hit the big time, name of Ridley Scott.

     

    • #15
  16. Six Days Of The Condor Coolidge
    Six Days Of The Condor
    @Pseudodionysius

    • #16
  17. Six Days Of The Condor Coolidge
    Six Days Of The Condor
    @Pseudodionysius

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woq2oj7mwkc

    • #17
  18. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    skipsul: I thought Libya was genuinely considered by her as the “right thing to do”, from a moral sense, in light of the Arab Spring, even if it was blitheringly stupid in every tactical and strategic sense.

    The Responsibility to Protect ideologues were behind the Libyan debacle and are likely to be very influential in Hillary’s foreign policy. That’s why she’s threatening Russia now.

    • #18
  19. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    I Walton: The process will reverse beginning in the South China sea if we allow it. That is the source of the next war if we do not make our presence impregnable and unambiguous.

    Chinese antiship ballistic missiles, currently deployed opposite Taiwan, could be game changers for US ability to project power within 1000 miles of the Chinese coast.

    The missile effectively makes deployment of carriers against China during a hypothetical conflict incredibly risky. This wasn’t always the case, and US carriers have proven to be an effective instrument of US hard power in East Asia: In 1996, as the Wall Street Journal notes, the US sent two aircraft carrier groups towards Taiwan as Beijing was threatening the island. China quickly halted its various provocative actions.

    The Dong Feng-21 could make the US think twice before authorizing those kinds of risky deployments. The average unrefueled combat range of US aircraft carriers is now 496 nautical miles (NM), retired US Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix noted in a report for the Center for a New American Security. The DF-21, on the other hand, has an estimated range of between 800 and of 1,000 NM.

    According to Hendrix, the missile is particularly challenging for the US Navy both because of its range and method of attack. The DF-21 strikes a target at hypersonic speed from a nearly vertical angle. It can also conduct defensive maneuvers that make the missile incredibly difficult to intercept.

    • #19
  20. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Add to this the war weariness the nation feels after nearly two decades of constant conflict, constant spending on it, and constant caskets coming home from some place most will never even contemplate. Should hot war break out (and why wouldn’t it, really?) I expect to see a lot of reticence to get involved. The American people will be more than willing to let the barbarians kill each other off so long as they don’t come do it on our shores. But these things are likely as not to spread beyond regional battles. Europe will reach its capacity for refugees, and they’ll turn their faces across the sea for safety and help. Because our well being is dependent on trade, and because trade is so dependent on world stability, we’ll be dragged into the conflict whether we like it or not. Leading us in this will be either a corrupt, criminal, incompetent leftist, or a guy who wonders (out loud) why we should have nukes if we don’t use them.

    • #20
  21. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Not a lot to disagree with, though to be fair here, the current catastrophe that is Syria is neither Obama’s nor Clinton’s fault. That a crime family on the ropes decided to start massacring its citizenry wholesale while releasing all the Islamic ghouls from prison to taint the revolution…was not the fault of American intervention or lack thereof. (The same gangster regime it should be remembered that facilitated the transfer of tens of thousands of jihadists across its borders to slaughter Americans and Iraqis)

    The US did next to nothing for the first three years of the Syrian Civil War as Assad butchered the population. There is however a convincing argument to be made that the suffering from 2013 onwards can be partially blamed on Obama after reneging on his infamous “red line” and all but acquiescing to the poison gassing of civilians.

    • #21
  22. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Byron Horatio: The US did next to nothing for the first three years of the Syrian Civil War as Assad butchered the population. There is however a convincing argument to be made that the suffering from 2013 onwards can be partially blamed on Obama after reneging on his infamous “red line” and all but acquiescing to the poison gassing of civilians.

    Right – it’s not the intervention in Syria per se that is worrisome, but rather the milequetoast nature of it once we went in.  It is too much like when the Dems ran the Vietnam war.  Hit hard!  But not too hard!  It took Nixon to bomb the snot out of the NVA, a response (if we were going to be in Vietnam) that we should have used earlier on.

    In Syria, we likely should either have hit hard and fast early on and just done the dirty against Assad, or else stayed the heck out.  Instead we slow stumbled in with no clear goal, tripping over our own red lines all the time.

    • #22
  23. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    skipsul: In Syria, we likely should either have hit hard and fast early on and just done the dirty against Assad, or else stayed the heck out. Instead we slow stumbled in with no clear goal, tripping over our own red lines all the time.

    The always interesting Edward Luttwak put it like this a year ago:

    Putin is different. He has two aims in Syria, both utterly realistic: Keep his Tartus base that makes Russia a Mediterranean Great Power (look at the competition) at very low cost, and demonstrate that it really pays to serve Russia. The Americans abruptly dropped Hosni Mubarak like a rotten apple after decades of obedient service because his police shot at some demonstrators: Russia still supports Assad vigorously no matter what. The message resonates with potentates across the region, none of whom happens to be democratically elected (with the exception of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is doing his best to undo his country’s democracy). Side with the Americans and you will be promptly abandoned if troublemakers force the police to shoot. Side with Putin’s Russia and you will be supported no matter what. So it little matters what happens to Assad in the end: Putin has already won the credibility competition, which earns him and Russia real gains.

    [continued]

    • #23
  24. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    And had this to say last month in an interview given the provocative title “Let War Work:

    …All the wars of the past resulted in an outcome – nice or not so nice – that led to the resumption of life. People repaired their houses, mended themselves, reconstituted new families, and proceeded on. So you have this phenomenon. Give War a Chance is an article that says, we are littering the world with unresolved conflicts, not peace but frozen war.
    The Palestinians are the ultimate case. You have the great grandchildren of people still living in refugee camps, still eating out of the trough of the UN Work and Relief Agency (UNWRA), instead of becoming Syrians or Jordanians, or emigrating to New Zealand. If there had been a UNWRA equivalent in Europe, you would not have London, Paris, Milan, Rome, or Prague. You would have large camps for stranded Visigoths, distressed Vandals, and Roman refugees.

    […]

    At its heart, this is a phenomenon of countries that are engaged in peripheral conflicts, not organic to their own interests, which take place at great geographic distance in a fundamentally frivolous attitude. When you hear somebody like Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, or Samantha Power talking about Libya, for instance, they are essentially provincial minds speculating about a country far away, of which they know little.

    That’s Hillary Clinton’s vaunted experience, which has so many Republicans feeling a thrill run up their leg when looking at the crease in Hillary’s pants suit.

    [continued]

    • #24
  25. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    For example, they intervened in Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi, who had developed a system to govern his geographic space, but they removed him without providing any alternative. If they had done their research, they would know that Libya does not exist, that Libya has never existed in history. Even in ancient times, there was Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, Cyrenaica spoke Greek, Tripolitania Latin. The modern artificial entity of Libya was only kept together by Muammar Gaddafi, and when you remove Gaddafi, you have to promptly occupy Libya with an army of 100,000, stay there for 50 years, and then maybe something will emerge.

    Here we actually have three phenomena, all of them derived from the same thing. We have intervention at long range, in countries about which you know little and which you can’t be bothered to study. Otherwise, how would you explain the fact that in 2003 the United States intervened in Iraq thinking that if you remove Saddam Hussein, Iraqi democracy would emerge? The falsest category possible is that of an Iraqi; there never have been Iraqis. There are Sunni and Shi’a, Arabs and Turkmen, Turkmen and Kurds, Kurds and Yezidism…

    • #25
  26. kovo62 Coolidge
    kovo62
    @kovo62

    I’m no Russophile; in fact, I’m greatly worried about signals from certain people on our side that we might not defend the sovereignty of some of allies such as Estonia.

    But when it comes to Syria we must remember this: Syria is a Russian ally. We must tread cautiously. If we as a nation decided to intervene in order to help the government of one of our official allies, we would not tolerate meddling from Russia. Syria is a Russian ally and has been for a long time.

    • #26
  27. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Ontheleftcoast:

    I Walton: Chinese antiship ballistic missiles, currently deployed opposite Taiwan, could be game changers for US ability to project power within 1000 miles of the Chinese coast.

    The missile effectively makes deployment of carriers against China during a hypothetical conflict incredibly risky. This wasn’t always the case, and US carriers have proven to be an effective instrument of US hard power in East Asia: In 1996, as the Wall Street Journal notes, the US sent two aircraft carrier groups towards Taiwan as Beijing was threatening the island. China quickly halted its various provocative actions.

    The Dong Feng-21 could make the US think twice before authorizing those kinds of risky deployments. The average unrefueled combat range of US aircraft carriers is now 496 nautical miles (NM), retired US Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix noted in a report for the Center for a New American Security. The DF-21, on the other hand, has an estimated range of between 800 and of 1,000 NM.

    According to Hendrix, the missile is particularly challenging for the US Navy both because of its range and method of attack. The DF-21 strikes a target at hypersonic speed from a nearly vertical angle. It can also conduct defensive maneuvers that make the missile incredibly difficult to intercept.

    It’s the thinking twice too often that invites war, not just continuing to do what others are accustomed to us doing.  After a period of pusillanimity there is greater risk of renewing custom.

    • #27
  28. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    I Walton: It’s the thinking twice too often that invites war, not just continuing to do what others are accustomed to us doing. After a period of pusillanimity there is greater risk of renewing custom.

    What others are accustomed to us doing is having military superiority globally that translates into the ability to project that superiority locally. If the others have developed technology that can compromise US superiority – with the understanding that US superiority includes willingness to sustain casualties and massive materiel losses – in a specific locale, thinking twice might be a good idea.

    Many years ago, Jerry Pournelle edited There Will Be War, an anthology combining speculative hard SF with futurist discussions of technology and its effects on strategy and tactics. This became an ongoing series, and has spinoffs, one of which is the recent Riding the Red Horse. In a discussion of battlefield lasers, Eric Raymond writes:

    The kinds of weapons these developments put the most terminal pressure on are the most expensive, complex ones— aircraft carriers and man-rated aircraft being the extreme examples. Cheap, dispersible weapons systems… will become more important… Together, these trends can be expected to reduce the capital-concentration advantages of large nations… [L]ikely there will never be another walkover like the First and Second Iraq Wars. This in turn implies that smaller nations— and possibly non-state actors such as separatist groups, back-country warlords, or Islamic terror organizations backed by oil money— will become more difficult to suppress…

    • #28
  29. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Martel:Just one of thousands of happy thoughts to consider:

    We magnanimously gave the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. The Panamanians in turn sold control of much of the surrounding canal to China.

    We underestimate how important that canal still is.

    And on a day we really need it, we can’t be sure we’ll be able to guarantee the use of it.

    The closest analog to modern China is Wilhelmine Germany. It’s imperfect of course.

    China is expanding it’s trade around the world by investing in the commercial development of third world states. It appears most of their interest is in nations with natural resources, weak governments, sub par economies and access to the sea. Their strategic objective:  ensure access to resources and the sea lanes. A subgoal, develop foreign markets.

    Their strategic weakness, their supply chain is at risk. As the German colonies were swept up between 1914 and 1917, western air and naval forces could interdict those lanes. A Chinese company operates the Panama Canal. There are no Chinese air bases or naval bases in the area, I don’t think their control is much of a threat.

    Not to say the Panamanians would support a US seizure of the canal. I would imagine they could be bought off fairly easily. And I doubt the Panamanians would take kindly to sabotage of their main economic activity.

    My fear is Hillary will be looking for an opportunity to prove she’s “tough”.

    • #29
  30. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Steve C.: My fear is Hillary will be looking for an opportunity to prove she’s “tough”.

    Right, which has its own Wilhelmine parallels too.  There are few things in foreign policy more dangerous than a weak leader who feels the need to prove something.

    • #30

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