Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why Trump?

Marine veteran and author J. D. Vance explains the appeal of Donald Trump. In truth, he only tells part of the story, but it is worth examining.

The Iraq War, Vance says, was a failure. And it was, by his account, solely the fault of George W. Bush. Thus, establishment Republicans got us into the war, and they bear responsibility for the consequences. Down with the Republican establishment.

Surely, many Republicans think this way. Many of those who fought in the war think this way. When Trump says that he is tired of seeing America lose, they hear that he is tired of seeing America lose wars.

Full disclosure: in my book Saving Face I discussed at length the cultural costs of our having lost Vietnam. I argued that since those who initiated and fought the war never apologized for their failures, the responsibility shifted to the soldiers. If the fault did not lie with the leaders, it lay with the troops.

If you care to see how a real leader prepares to deal with a possible military failure, you can examine the apology that Dwight Eisenhower would have issued if the D Day invasion had failed:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Strangely enough, Vance has nothing to say about the Obama administration’s handling of the same war. He does not say anything about the fact that Barack Obama declared the war a great success in 2011 and then withdrew, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. If the Bush administration bears a responsibility for having gotten us involved in the war, the Obama administration bears the ultimate responsibility for having lost it.

And, let us not forget the catastrophic war in Syria, which Roger Cohen in the New York Times declared to be primarily the fault of Barack Obama.

As long as Obama refuses to take any responsibility for his own failures, for some reason, Americans seem inclined to blame it all on George Bush. The Republican primaries have been an orgy of hatred against the Republican establishment, to the point that Obama has seen his poll numbers rise. Thus the internecine warfare has deflected responsibility away from the man who bears the major part.

Keep in mind, when Obama apologized for America, he took the coward’s way out and apologized for events that he had nothing to do with. In his pseudo-apologies he was asserting his own personal moral superiority. When it comes to apologizing for his own mistakes, Obama prefers to blame others.

Aside from the fact that Vance seems incapable of holding the Obama administration to account for its failures, we read his remarks with interest:

I am proud of my service and proud of those who served alongside me. But war is about more than service and sacrifice — it’s about winning. Sixty years ago, Americans looked to Europe and Asia and saw continents liberated and despots defeated. With the Islamic State on the rampage, Americans today look to a Middle East that is humiliatingly worse off than the way we found it.

Who paid the greatest price for the humiliation? People who lived in Republican precincts:

The burden of this humiliation fell hardest on Republican strongholds. Demographically, the military draws heavily from the South, rural areas and the working and middle class. And while no racial group has a monopoly on military service, white enlistees make up a disproportionate share of those wounded and killed in action. This is the very same demographic that forms the core of the contemporary Republican base. Whether they were working-class Reagan Democrats like Mamaw or committed middle-class Republicans, the people who made Mr. Bush president are the same people who sent their children to fight in his wars.

Again, we note that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not been run by the Bush administration for many years now. It does not seem to bother Vance:

Add to this a Department of Veterans Affairs that failed to adequately care for returning troops, and it’s almost too perfect a narrative: The same leadership that failed to pacify Iraq cannot properly administer benefits to veterans. The product is combustible frustration.

Vance refuses to pronounce the name Obama, and he refuses to recognize that Obama declared that Iraq had been pacified in 2011, but he seems to believe that the Democrats overcame their own responsibility by electing an anti-Iraq war candidate in 2008:

Yet while the Democrats elected an anti-Iraq war candidate in 2008, the Republicans never addressed the anger of their own voters. At best, they criticized the mismanagement of the war or hauled V.A. officials into Congress for hearings. But in 2008 and 2012, the party ran candidates who refused to rethink the Bush foreign policy that led to Iraq.

In early 2015, the party appeared ready to coronate Jeb Bush, the brother of the man who started the Iraq war. Jeb drew his advisers from the same pool of discredited thinkers who planned and executed the war. Meanwhile, his chief adversaries rushed to praise George W. Bush’s national security record.

Surely, he has misunderstood the nature of responsibility. The Democrats elected Obama in order not to accept any responsibility for their having supported the Iraq War. As the Vietnam War started going badly many Democrats broke with the Johnson administration and started an anti-war movement to exculpate the Kennedy administration.

Democrats have not in any way accepted responsibility for what has happened in the Middle East after the Obama foreign policy team took over.

Vance concludes:

Mr. Trump is unfit for our nation’s highest office. But to those humiliated by defeat, he promises we’ll win again. To those discouraged by a government unable to care for the people it sent to war, he promises to take care of our veterans. To those voters furious at politicians who sent their children to fight and bleed and die in Iraq, he tells them what no major Republican politician in a decade has said — that the war was a terrible mistake imposed on the country by an incompetent president.

The question should be whether or not Trump directs his ire against his fellow Republicans or whether he directs it against the Obama administration. Does he, like Vance, hold the Bush administration responsible for the current state of the Middle East or can he hold the Obama administration accountable for its catastrophic and world changing failure?


Marsh said...

He needed to direct his ire towards the Bush family and the neocons, who have taken over the GOP. There's plenty of blame to go around and Trump has distributed it exactly right so far.

He'll direct more of his ire towards Hillary and Obama once the general election starts.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The war in question was necessary. It was worth the strategy of holding the most central, strategic geography in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Hussein attempted an assassination on a former U.S. President (Bush 41). He was the premier menace in the region, threatening friendly neighbors, paying bounties for dead Israelis, and threatening states critical to the U.S. oil supply. Take Iraq and Afghanistan, foster good relations with Pakistan, and you've isolated Iran. Could've been a great move and a great outcome, and then we botched our response to the Green Revolution and then left Iraq to the Shiites as an Iranian puppet state.

It was war. We should've treated it like a war, as Eisenhower did. But we did what we do now: go in with minimal resources, leave without firmly securing our interests. Bush started it (Part I), Obama finished it (Part II). Neither the start, nor the finish, went very well. Winning the war was the easy part, securing the country was the challenging part. We celebrated "Mission Accomplished" in Part I, and it was hubris. Securing Iraq required a much, much larger force -- twice the size of our military in the field. Overwhelming force. The army we put in the field for the Persian Gulf War was a better size. Bush 41 made a mistake letting that one go, too, when he left Hussein in power. Yet it served our long-term interest of checking Iranian ambitions, while protecting our oil supply, our interest in the health of the Israeli state, and our relations with moderate regimes in the region, like Jordan and especially Egypt. Then we had the Surge -- much opposed at home -- which worked because we dedicated overwhelming force and had the resolve. Then Part II came, partly outlined above in our response to the Green Revolution, then Obama flying all over the place apologizing and enabling the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. We depart without a status of forces agreement, no garrison to protect our interests, and the Shiites take power and exact revenge. Poof! Then you get ISIS. And now our Iran policy isn't a policy at all... it's a monumental disgrace we watch unfold day by day.

So we spend blood and treasure, and come up empty.

To that end, Trump is right -- not because of some brilliant or amazing insight -- but because he's simply ascertained our present mindset: we don't win anymore. We don't play to win. We play a geostrategic chess game of "containment" that is helpful in our short-term interest but unwise in our long-term interest. If we're going to get into a war, we should mobilize and use overwhelming force to defeat and secure the country. Clean up our mess, rebuild it, put a government in place that will serve our interests in the long-term, and exit (read: Post-WWII Europe). Go in, go in hard, win the peace, exit with strength. That's how we used to do it, when we prosecuted wars with one objective in mind: unconditional surrender.

The nation-building of the neocons was a dream to help Israel. I'm all for helping Israel, but the cost was too high and took our eye off our other key interests, which have all been lost under Obama. We don't hold any respect in the region, and that is dangerous. They think we're all going to bug-out at the first sign of danger, or drone our way to victory. That won't work. Not now, not ever.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I think that Vance's analysis is a lot of left-wing pablum. When Trump says that he wants the country to win again, the audience is not thinking of GW Bush and Iraq, they are thinking of the last seven years of Obama and all the humiliations that have piled up over that time. There are a number of Iraq veterans in my shooting club and virtually all of them blame Obama for the outcome there. Moreover, they deeply respect Bush and his love of the military. Vance's analysis is just what the NYT and its left-wing readers want to hear.

How about the humiliation of a president unable to even mention the enemy we are fighting? I think that is a first in American history.

Anonymous said...

DO NOT ever forget that Bush refused to purge the upper levels of all federal executive departments and bureaucracies. He left intact after 8 years of Clinton appointments in the name of a "new civility" in governing. Contrast that with the behavior of his predecessor and his successor, both of whom purged these agencies of any and all conservative employees and installed their own apparatchiks. Thus, Bush remains very much responsible for the failures and shortcomings, when he failed to "put adults back in charge" in the name of civility.

Dennis said...


Nicely stated. If we are going to fight a war then we need to fight to end it as quickly as possible, help to ensure a stable government of their choosing, and then exit stage right. Trump is correct when he states what large numbers of people feel about their government's handling of almost every issue it gets involved in. Unlike Obama who seems to think that terrorism demands a certain amount of death as a result of it. It is like the old Mad magazine character "What Me Worry" attitude about everything. I suspect that when one believe they stand astride of history and their part in it it leads to this type of megalomania. .At least Obama is consistent. Abortion, transforming America, revolutions, et al each have their quotient of acceptable deaths and demonstrations of his power and greatness over others.