“What are you reading my lord?” — Polonius
“Words.” — Hamlet
Something has changed in U.S. politics. And it may finally signal something changing for the better. Since the announcement (but no real follow through) to end our military involvement in Syria what passes for our statesmen – John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – have been ignored, mocked or both.
Bolton attempted to box Trump in on not leaving Syria while Israel chest-thumped about how they will not yield an inch to Iran. Turkish President Erdogan publicly lambasted him with no response from President Trump.
Or anyone else for that matter.
When was the last time you heard of a major U.S. political figure go overseas and be refused a meeting with a foreign head of state, publicly upbraided and sent home like an irrelevant flunkie?
I can’t think of one.
Bolton came into the Middle East and made demands like he was the President which Bolton knew were clearly red lines for Erdogan — guaranteeing the safety of the Syrian Kurds.
And he did this from Jerusalem.
The insult couldn’t be plainer. The lack of Bolton’s self-awareness and understanding of the situation was embarrassing. And it left Erdogan the perfect opportunity to call out the Trump Administration’s policies as beholden to a foreign power, Israel.
Next up we have His Rotundity, Mike Pompeo. He goes into Cairo and gives a speech which again shows a stunning lack of specific knowledge of history. Pompeo spent most of the speech doing what he does best.
Misrepresenting history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East so ardently one really thought he should have done it in his private man place.
The other thing he did however, is what got my attention. And I have Moon of Alabamaagain to thank for this. Pompeo outlined Trump’s vision for the future of U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
And that intervention involves something Trump is good at and Pompeo isn’t.
From Pompeo’s speech (H/T MoA):
In Syria, the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people. There will be no U.S. reconstruction assistance for areas of Syria held by Assad until Iran and its proxy forces withdraw and until we see irreversible progress towards a political resolution.
— MIKE POMPEO, SECRERTARY OF STATE
To be honest, the Trump administration actually engaging in something approximating diplomacy would be a welcome start. Because, to this point, there has been precious little diplomacy in the way the administration as comported itself.
Whether this was by design or a consequence of the paralysis imposed on it by a rebellious Deep State and political opposition is, frankly, as irrelevant as most of the words that come out of Pompeo’s mouth on most days.
But, grudgingly, I’ll concede this is a good sign. As always with Trump, the follow-through is what’s important. He should know that from his golf game.
Back in the Iraq-SSR
To whit, the Asia Times just ran an article wondering what is Trump up to in Iraq? Pulling the troops out of Syria only to relocate them to Iraq to retrench there after another embarrassment — recent electoral loss of our guy Abadi — seems at odds with Pompeo’s words.
Baghdad played host to a kick-off conference of the new NATO Mission in Iraq or (NMI).
According to the press release issued by NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, the conference was attended by “key leaders from across the Iraqi Security and Defence sector. They included the Iraqi Chief of Staff, General Othman Al-Ghanimi” and representatives from various international partner missions, organizations and entities such as the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the European Union Advise Mission in Iraq, the United Nations Assistance Mission Iraq, and the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq and Diplomatic Missions.
The NMI Commander, Canadian general Dany Fortin, introduced the mission’s mandate, vision and aim as a “new iteration of a long-standing relationship” between NATO and Iraq, one that will bring together “expertise and best practice in security/defence sector reform, institution building and training and education from the entire Alliance and its partners.”
We’re cozying up to the Iraqi military as NMI has the backing of prominent Iraqi generals, while the Iraqi political leadership, no longer ‘our guys,’ refused to meet with Trump when he landed in what Trump called ‘our base.’ But we have no bases in Iraq. We are there at the pleasure of the Iraqi government, a government that now no longer necessarily wants us there.
Again, a U.S. official, this time Trump himself, using the wrong words and the wrong diplomatic protocol now wants to engage in dialogue with people who we’ve invaded, abused, spat on and murdered.
So, is this a change in direction in U.S. foreign policy or a response to the ‘wrong people’ coming to power politically and the U.S. looking to shore up support with the military?
In other words, has anything really changed?
Face the Face
For another example I turn to U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who just sent a letter to both Uniper and BASF to stop work on the Nordstream 2 pipeline or else face further U.S. sanctions.
The Bild report raised the ire of some German politicians in Berlin. Fabio De Masi, a top Left Party MP, demanded that the government reprimand Grenell, saying: “The US Ambassador seems to make an impression that he is a viceroy of the Washington emperor.
This is the real face of Trumpian diplomacy. Stop acting in your own best interest or we’ll bankrupt you.
The situation at this point is pretty clear. While our military strength is formidable it is not, however, a blank check to enforce political edicts anymore.
In a world where U.S. prosperity is dependent on the prosperity of the entire world, threatening financial ruin is just as much of a bluff as threatening physical ruin.
And we’re seeing that bluff being called a lot. Country after country are now simply showing U.S. strongmen like Pompeo, Bolton, Mattis and even Trump himself, the door and there is little to no real response from them.
- Trump tried to scare Erdogan into submission with sanctions and a collapse of the lira last year. When it didn’t work, Erdogan knew where his allies were. He acted accordingly, siding with Putin’s energy security for Turkey rather than a mercurial U.S.
- India did the same thing over the purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. They said some nice things, invited us to talks and then sent us packing without a deal.
- Germany refuses to yield on Nordstream 2.
- Qatar was the first to pull out of the Syrian conflict and then turned around and negotiated a major exploration and development deal with Iran in the North Pars gas field.
- Even Japan is in constant talks with Russia about working out their differences officially (again, against U.S. wishes) and sign a peace treaty. Japan needs Russian energy badly and Putin is patient enough to wait Prime Minister Shinzo Abe out while calling out his hypocrisy.
War of Words
All of these words and ineffectual bloviations point to the same thing, despite Trump’s bluster. The U.S. isn’t respected the same way it once was. And the countries caught between the growing stature of China and Russia and the fading glory of the U.S. sense this shift and are placing their bets accordingly.
Trump senses this and, in many ways, doesn’t care about them. He’s focused on what he sees as old debts, not future liabilities. He’s worried about getting everyone to pay up and pay us back rather than excising the sunk costs and shoring up the finances at home.
He’s coming around to the view that these commitments — Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. — can never recoup the losses. So, while Putin, Xi, Erdogan and Modi wait him out on when we’re leaving Asia, he’s trying to wait out the Deep State’s and his staff’s obsession with staying here.
In the meantime all we’re left with is a lot of words, full of sound and fury, signifying the end of the geopolitics as we’ve known it.