Threat Hyperinflation at Centcom

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Buried in this New York Timesreport is a very revealing detail about the current head of Central Command, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, and his absurdly exaggerated view of Iranian power:

Military planners are also advancing the idea of deploying more American forces to the region without taking direct action against Iran. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, has pushed to send additional troops to the region, senior military officials said.

In meetings and in memos, the general has argued that the United States should view Iran as a great power or near-peer threat [bold mine-DL], much as the Trump administration’s formal national security strategy views China, Russia and North Korea.

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Trump Makes Another Bad Choice for National Security Advisor

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Trump announced the selection of his fourth National Security Advisor:

President Trump announced Wednesday that Robert O’Brien, the special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, will be his next national security advisor.

O’Brien previously served in the Bush administration’s State Department. Hugh Hewitt, who wrote the foreword to O’Brien’s book, has described him as a “long time colleague of John Bolton.” Since the Bush years, O’Brien advised the Romney 2012 campaign, and he also advised the short-lived Scott Walker campaign in the 2016 cycle. He is a typical hawkish Republican. Curt Mills referred to him in his recent report on the race to replace Bolton this way:

Robert O’Brien, the Trump hostage negotiator whose stock has risen in the administration in recent months, is “Bolton lite,” according to a source who has known O’Brien for years.

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A Foreign Policy Pivot? I Wouldn’t Bet On It

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Tom Wright makes the case that Trump is about to make a “foreign policy pivot”:

Trump wants to write a new chapter, closing the one marked “Militarism and Maximum Pressure” and opening one called “Dealmaking and the Pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize.” He wants a summit with Iran’s leaders and deals with the Taliban, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin on arms control. He does not care about most of the details, as long as he gets the credit.

Few of his officials are particularly enthusiastic about this pivot, but led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they accept it and will seek to shape it.

The pivot metaphor has been used many times during Trump’s presidency to describe an impending change in direction, but the pivots never seem to take place. Like the expectation that Trump will eventually grow and learn while in office, the expectation that the president will become more responsible in his policies is always disappointed. It would make sense for Trump to de-escalate tensions with Iran after creating the current crisis, but I see no evidence that he really intends to do this. Trump absolutely should extend New START, and without Bolton acting as an anti-arms control gremlin he could do this, but there has been no sign of interest in keeping the treaty alive. Trump should conclude negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan, but he just blew up the negotiations earlier this week. Negotiating with Iran requires ending “maximum pressure,” but so far the post-Bolton line from the administration is that “maximum pressure” isn’t going anywhere:

The United State is still pursuing a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday, days after US President Donald Trump’s hard-line national security adviser left the White House.

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Good Riddance, John Bolton

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Curt Mills’ reporting told us it was coming yesterday, and today Trump has finally fired Bolton:

Mr. Trump announced the decision on Twitter. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”

It took far too long to happen, but Bolton’s firing is undeniably good news. Bolton is the embodiment of everything wrong with hawkish Republican foreign policy, and his role in the administration has been without question a purely destructive one. I have to admit I didn’t think it would happen. Bolton had prevailed again and again on policy, and despite pushing his own agenda and doing an abysmal job as National Security Advisor he remained in place. Whatever Trump’s reason was for getting rid of him, it was the right decision. Bolton ends his career as one of the worst National Security Advisors in U.S. history. He should never have been hired, but at least he is out of government. Now he can go shill for the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) full-time.

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Trump’s Afghanistan Debacle

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Trump’s abrupt announcement over the weekend that he was canceling a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David has displayed much of what is wrong with the president’s handling of foreign policy:

What would have been one of the biggest headline-grabbing moments of his tenure was put together on the spur of the moment and then canceled on the spur of the moment. The usual National Security Council process was dispensed with; only a small circle of advisers was even clued in.

And even after it fell apart, Mr. Trump took it upon himself to disclose the secret machinations in a string of Saturday night Twitter messages that surprised not only many national security officials across the government but even some of the few who were part of the deliberations.

The negotiations to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close were probably the closest thing to a diplomatic success that the Trump administration has had in the last two and a half years, so it is fitting that Trump himself destroyed the process by trying to put himself at the center of it. Once again, the president has shown that he much prefers a grandiose spectacle to the slow, unglamorous work of patient diplomacy, and he would sooner dynamite a negotiating process than give up a chance at a photo op. Once again, John Bolton gets what he wants on a major foreign policy issue thanks to the arbitrary whims of a clueless, narcissistic president. In the end, it was Trump’s ego that torpedoed the process:

Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal; after staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.

The deal itself left much to be desired. Thousands of American troops would have remained in Afghanistan even after it was implemented. But it did offer a chance to bring our longest war to an end, and if he had had slightest idea what he was doing Trump could have seized that opportunity. As it turned out, he would rather blow up talks than not be able to take personal credit for the result. That is a warning to every other government that tries to negotiate with this administration that nothing Trump’s representatives say can be relied on, and the president may yank the rug out from under their feet at any time.

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Biden’s Iraq War Revisionism

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Former Vice President Biden has foolishly tried to claim that he immediately turned against the Iraq war after it started:

As you can see, the problem with Biden’s claim is that it is clearly a false bit of revisionism on his part to minimize the damage that his vote for the 2002 AUMF is doing to his candidacy. His record shows that he repeatedly, publicly endorsed the invasion after it happened:

Months after the invasion began in 2003, Biden removed any doubt about his support for the effort, telling CNN: “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq.”

At a hearing that July, he once more proclaimed his support, saying “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again.”

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