Endless War Horribly Distorts US Foreign Policy

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The Pentagon used the president’s fixation on plunder to get him to agree to maintaining a U.S. military presence in Syria:

A US official with knowledge of operations in Syria said that Trump’s interest in the oil provided an opportunity for the Pentagon, which was unhappy with the initial decision, to temper his insistence on a full withdrawal and allow counterterrorism operations and airspace control to continue.

“This is like feeding a baby its medicine in yogurt or applesauce,” said the official [bold mine-DL], one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity about internal US deliberations.

It doesn’t bode well for US interests when the president’s subordinates are determined to manipulate him into perpetuating an illegal military deployment in a war zone and the president is gullible enough to be so easily swayed because of his crude desire for stealing other countries’ resources. The confused quasi-withdrawal from Syria exemplifies everything that’s wrong with how Trump runs US foreign policy. He makes poor, ill-informed snap decisions and fails to consult with anyone, but then he allows himself to be talked into some half-a-loaf compromise policy that is the worst of both worlds. The president frequently makes poor decisions and even when he moves in the right direction he does so for the wrong reasons, but then his subordinates try to trick him into reversing himself for their own bad reasons. Because the president is deeply ignorant and easily swayed by hawkish advisers, he always falls for the trick. That leaves the US with policies that the president doesn’t really like interrupted with sporadic bursts of confused, frenetic activity as he tries to change them and then gets manipulated into doing more of the same. Trump’s subordinates rely on his lack of discipline and focus to prevent him from doing things they dislike, and Trump’s own ineptitude encourages them to keep doing this because they assume that they can get away with it.

In this case, Trump suddenly ordered the redeployment of US forces without warning to the people that would be affected, and his subordinates had been so determined to frustrate the president that they were completely unprepared for the order when it came. This latest trick with using the oil to bait Trump into signing off on the indefinite military presence that his subordinates want will work for a while until the president decides that he doesn’t like being compared to a fussy infant who needs to take his medicine. Then there will be another abrupt decision without any of the necessary preparation, and more chaos will ensue. This is what a broken and incompetent foreign policy process looks like, and both the president and his subordinates are responsible for the mess. Either way, the US ends up with an open-ended, illegal military deployment in Syria, and the only debate is over what the absurd justification for the mission will be. For the moment, the official administration position is that US forces are there to control and exploit another country’s natural resources. Adam Weinstein sums it up:

The United States is now officially the globe’s hired muscle for commodities protection; its explicit foreign policy is now “Yes, blood for oil!”

Everything about this is illegal, and there is no longer even a pretense that the US has any legal basis for having a military presence in Syria. Our forces are simply seizing control of territory and resources because they can, and the president boasts about it to the world. Endless war has been horribly distorting our foreign policy for decades, and this is just the latest example.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.