Trump vs. the Spy Chiefs: Who’s Right?

In the Trump vs. Intel “war,” both sides have valid points. Pat Buchanan notes, “While it’s not unusual for a president and the intel community to diverge on the gravity of threats, what is astonishing is that the intel leaders would declare a president to be flat-out wrong. Yet the confrontation is not unhealthy . . . .”

By Patrick J. Buchanan

To manifest his opposition to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, and half of the 14,000 in Afghanistan, Gen. James Mattis went public and resigned as secretary of defense.

Now Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in public testimony to Congress, has contradicted Trump about the threats that face the nation.

Contrary to what the president believes, Coats says, North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. ISIS remains a serious threat, even if the caliphate has been rolled up. And there is no evidence that Iran, though hostile and aggressive, is acquiring nuclear weapons.

CIA Director Gina Haspel agreed: Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear treaty that Trump has trashed and abandoned. The treaty is still doing what it was designed to do.

At this perceived public defiance, Trump exploded:

“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! . . . They [the Iranians] are testing rockets (last week), and more, and are coming very close to the edge. . . . Be careful of Iran.”

Trump added: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Trump then brought up the epochal blunder of U.S. intelligence in backing the Bush II claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (a “slam dunk”) and was a grave threat to the U.S.A.

Born of incompetence and mendacity, that counsel led to the greatest strategic blunder of the 21st century, if not of U.S. history — the second Iraq War. Launched by George W. Bush, this invasion plunged us into the Middle East’s forever war and got the Republican Party ejected from power in 2006 and 2008.

While it’s not unusual for a president and the intel community to diverge on the gravity of threats, what is astonishing is that the intel leaders would declare a president to be flat-out wrong.

Yet the confrontation is not unhealthy, for it reflects reality. On foreign policy, we are divided not only on means but ends.

And the division calls to mind Walter Lippmann’s words, after U.S. political clashes and unpreparedness in FDR’s New Deal decade led to the early disasters at Pearl Harbor, Bataan, and Corregidor.

“For nearly 50 years,” wrote the dean of American columnists, “the nation had not had a settled and generally accepted foreign policy. This is a danger to the Republic. For when a people is divided . . . about the conduct of its foreign relations, it is unable to agree on the determination of its true interest. It is unable to prepare adequately for war or to safeguard successfully its peace.”

We seem to be in just such a situation today.

Indeed, Trump is president because of the foreign policy disasters produced by his predecessors, who leaned on the U.S. intel community, and because Trump, in 2016, appeared to read the nation right.

Yet there is common ground between Trump and the spy chiefs.

Coats and Haspel are correct that the U.S. faces a Russia and China that are closer and more collaborative than they have been since the 1950s, before the Cuban missile crisis, which Mao saw as a Moscow capitulation.

And as we have more in common with Russia, with its historic ties to the West, and Russia appears by far the lesser long-term threat, how do we split Russia off from China? Here, Trump’s instincts are right, and the Beltway Russophobes are wrong.

As for Iran, the intelligence community is consistent.

In 2007 and 2011, the CIA declared “with high confidence” that Iran had no nuclear weapons program. Now, with UN inspectors crawling all over Tehran’s nuclear facilities under the treaty, the CIA and DNI are still saying the same thing.

Is there a plan to confront Russia in Iran? More at the AFP Online Store.

What of the contention that Iran is seeking hegemony in the Middle East?

Really? How? Would a nuclear-armed Israel, which has launched 200 strikes on Iran’s allies in Syria, accept that? What would Turkey, with the second-largest army in NATO, Egypt, the largest Arab nation, and Saudi Arabia have to say about that?

How could Shiite Iran, whose Persian majority is nearly matched by its Arab, Azeri, Baloch, and Kurdish minorities, gain dominance over a Middle East where the vast majority is Sunni Arab? How is Iran a threat to us over here, compared to the threat we pose to Iran over there?

Iran broke out of its isolation for two reasons. First, George W. Bush came in and overthrew its Taliban enemies on its eastern border, and then he overthrew Saddam Hussein, the enemy on its western border.

As Trump contends, ISIS has been defeated and driven from its twin capitals—Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. But it is also true that ISIS and al Qaeda still have tens of thousands of jihadists living among the peoples of the Middle East.

And the great question remains:

Are U.S. troops necessary over there—to prevent terrorists from coming over here? Or are they over here—because we are over there?

Pat Buchanan is a writer, political commentator and presidential candidate. He is the author of Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever and previous titles including The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? and Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, all available from the AFP Online Store.

COPYRIGHT 2017 CREATORS.COM



Trump’s Foreign Policy Scorecard

While President Trump’s “strategy of tension,” as described by French President Emmanuel Macron, appears to be effective with North Korea, though calling it a strategy at all, says Phil Giraldi, is questionable given the administration dysfunction. On other fronts, including Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, Trump is failing miserably on his foreign policy scorecard.

By Philip Giraldi

As Donald Trump is currently embarking on a 90-day agenda that has major foreign policy implications for the Koreas and Iran in particular, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on what has been accomplished, or otherwise, in his first 15 months in office.

French President Emmanuel Macron, having recently completed a state visit to Washington, reportedly has described the Trump program as “a strategy of tension,” which seeks to make adversaries uncertain of what the next step by the United States will be in an effort to obtain concessions that might not otherwise be likely.

It might be argued that the “strategy of tension” has worked with regard to North Korea, which might be considering détente with Seoul as an alternative to an attack by the United States. And Trump might even be right when he declares that previous U.S. presidents failed in their duty to strike a deal with Pyongyang. North Korea has long sought an end to the Korean War, which is still in armistice status, but its “unacceptable” condition has been that it should include a pledge of non-aggression from Washington, which successive administrations have refused to agree to lest their hands be tied if the North were to again become aggressive. And it would be conditional on the U.S. withdrawing its forces from the peninsula, knowing that once they are gone they will never return, so some might regard the North Korean overtures as little more than a trick to force the United States to depart before resuming business as usual by the hardline communist state.

American Freedom Party Conference in Tennessee

Even giving Trump credit for positive developments in Korea, however, it is far from clear that it was part of some kind of strategy, as the White House team has been largely dysfunctional while the president’s grasp of the niceties of international interrelations appears to be minimal.

Iran is another clear case where “tension” is being applied to compel the Iranians to give up their ballistic missile developments to supplement their participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to downgrade their nuclear energy program. The decision on whether the United States will withdraw from the agreement will likely be made in the next 10 days [this article was originally published in last week’s AFP Issue 19 & 20, before Trump’s decision on Iran was announced–Ed.], and the signs coming out of White House meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron are unfavorable regarding continued U.S. participation. Iran will likely dig in its heels, and there is a real possibility that it will consider a nuclear weapons program plus a functional delivery system to defend itself against the U.S. and nuclear armed Israel. There will be no coercion of Iran, which will actually fight hard using all its resources to resist an American effort at regime change.

And then there are Afghanistan and Syria. Afghanistan consists of doubling down on the mistakes made in that country since 2001, in the unfortunate belief that they can be corrected. Afghanistan will require some kind of settlement with the Taliban, which currently de facto controls more than half of the country, and which will have to become a partner in government like it or not. As the country is not a vital interest to the United States, extrication of U.S. forces after arranging for some kind of governing formula is the appropriate solution. Taking whatever steps are necessary to escape from a quagmire is acceptable.

Syria is Trump’s reversion to the same bad policies that resulted in Iraq, leading to the creation of ISIS among other consequences, not to mention a cost estimated to be $5 trillion. Syria, like Iraq, is a neocon exercise in delusion. Israel wanted Iraq to become a weakened state divided into ethnic and religious groups, a situation that still prevails in a country that is Shi’a dominated yet contains powerful Sunni and Kurdish regions that challenge the reinstatement of a national identity. Israel also wants the same for Syria, and the United States is complying by trying to create separate security zones that will not only include a large part of the country to the east along the Euphrates River and also to the north, but will also incorporate Syria’s oil production region, sharply diminishing the central government’s income. The formula will not work even though Israel and many in Washington are pushing hard for it.

Suicide of a Superpower, Patrick Buchanan
Will America survive? Available from AFP Online Store.

The fundamental problem is that the United States under Trump persists in believing, as did the former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, that the U.S. is the “essential nation” that is able to “see far” and provide leadership for the rest of the world. This kind of thinking is bollocks, as the British are accustomed to saying. The United States foreign policy is driven by special interests, the most prominent of which is Israel and its supporters, in its attempt to remake the Middle East. Can anyone doubt at this point that the world, as well as the United States itself, would be far better off now if it had not invaded in Afghanistan and decided to stay there to fix it, if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003, and if the Bush and Obama administrations had not been driven by hubris to continue the process in Syria, a drama without any end in sight?

So on balance, Trump might actually deserve an “A” on North Korea, if it turns out that his form of intervention actually brought about some kind of resolution to a problem that has been festering for 65 years. But he deserves a “D” on Afghanistan, which is a classic case of democracy-building gone crazy and an “F” for both Syria and Iran, which are reflective of Israeli desires rather than actual American interests.

There is still time to fix what is going wrong, but it depends on an understanding of what “America first” should actually mean, which is that the demands of hegemonistic foreign clients should no longer guide U.S. policy. Israel should be told that if it wants to attack Iran it should go right ahead, but it should not expect the United States of America to be joining in the effort.

Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.




Ending Pakistan Aid a Two-Edged Sword

Stopping the annual $1.3 billion “bribe” the U.S. has been giving Pakistan for years could spell trouble for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Without any allies on bordering the country, movements of equipment and supplies will be much more difficult. Giraldi explains why, for the time being, Pakistan is worth it.

By Philip Giraldi

The Trump administration has announced that it will be stopping the subsidies given to the Pakistani government since the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The payments increased dramatically after 9/11 as Pakistan became the launching pad for U.S. efforts to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda. They have continued since that time and currently amount to a considerable $1.3 billion a year, a sum which more or less buys the compliance of the country’s military, which serves as something like a Praetorian Guard for the nation’s civilian leaders. The money is forthcoming with the understanding that the Pakistan government, army, and security services will cooperate with the United States in efforts to stabilize the situation in neighboring Afghanistan while also combatting the possible resurgence of radical Islamic groups in the region.

President Donald Trump has tweeted his decision in characteristic fashion, stating, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Trump’s judgment, tersely expressed, is not exactly wrong, nor is it exactly right. American policymakers who had a basic understanding of the politics of central and south Asia understand that Washington’s bilateral relationships with countries in the region are based on mutual interests, which means that they can diverge when conflicting interests get in the way. Pakistan has long been nervous about the instability in neighboring Afghanistan, which means it is supportive of some efforts at reconstruction and political reconciliation by its neighbor, but it also believes the political turmoil to be endemic, partly due to the tribal and ethnic rivalries that cannot be erased through top-down, foreign-instigated regime change.

As a result, Islamabad has had from the start its own secret arrangements with Afghan groups that are protected and even sheltered inside Pakistan, which are loyal to Islamabad and not to whomever is in charge in Kabul. This includes the Haqqani Network, which functions virtually as a semi-independent arm of the feared Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI). The Haqqanis have been involved in large-scale drug trafficking and have waged their own war inside Afghanistan against the country’s police and military. They have also been accused of bombings in Kabul as well as attacks on U.S. and other NATO soldiers.

The Pakistanis clearly see having a viable major player inside Afghanistan as a national interest that weighs more heavily than whatever it is doing with the United States. To be sure, Pakistan’s major effort to eliminate its own Taliban in 2014 was only a partial success and resulted in numerous casualties while its semi-autonomous tribal region continues to be both radicalized and restive. Pakistan’s leaders reason, and have occasionally suggested, that they and their Afghan proxies will still have to deal with what is going on in the region long after the United States becomes tired of the effort and goes home. It is not an unreasonable point of view, nor is it reasonable to expect that Washington will continue to subsidize a country that is working contrary to U.S. interests, even if those interests have been unattainable.

And even if the Pakistanis are currently playing a two-faced game it is important to recall what benefit has derived from the relationship. Without Pakistan’s cooperation the Soviets would never have been driven out of Afghanistan in the first place. In the years after 9/11, when the U.S. mission was to destroy al Qaeda, nearly every major arrest or killing of senior cadre of the group took place in Pakistan and was carried out by the Pakistani police and intelligence services. Subsequently, Islamabad allowed the U.S. to set up secret drone bases inside Pakistan, something that was revealed accidentally by former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), to track and kill suspected terrorists.

Currently, Pakistan serves as the conduit whereby U.S. and other allied forces are supplied with fuel, heavy equipment, and other war-making commodities. Most supplies arrive at the port of Karachi and are trucked through the mountains on Pakistani-provided vehicles to Afghanistan. If Pakistan chooses to play hardball with Trump, it can cut off that supply line immediately and the U.S. effort to stabilize and democratize Afghanistan—if it might be called that—would be over.

In another part of the world, the Trump administration is considering cutting off its aid to the Palestinian Authority and is delaying payment of $125 million currently due. Trump has tweeted  “[W]e pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

The threat over money appears to derive from Amb. Nikki Haley’s threatened “revenge” over recent UN votes. The president’s bizarre beliefs that Israel wants peace and that stealing Arab Jerusalem and granting it to Benjamin Netanyahu is some kind of gift is breathtaking, but one of his aides might well advise him that much of the money given to the Palestinian Authority is used to man and train a police force, which largely exists to keep Palestinians from attacking Israelis. Trump’s Zionist supporters are already cheering the decision but will find that it yields bitter fruit if the West Bank erupts in violence. The reality is that Washington should spend money when there are good reasons to do so.

Is Pakistan worth it? Yes, until the day comes when Washington departs the region. Afghanistan costs something like $100 billion per year, and the Pakistani bribe is a minimal expense.

The similar bribe to provide some separation between Palestinians and Israelis is a different game altogether. Its utility as yet another costly measure to protect an intransigent Israel is certainly debatable.

Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Giraldi also submits articles that can be found on the website of the Unz Review.