Politics

The Orchestrated Chaos of US Foreign Policy Under Trump

EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.

In March 1906, on the heels of the US Army’s massacre of some 1,000 men, women, and children in the crater of a volcano in the American-occupied Philippines, humorist Mark Twain took his criticism public. A long-time anti-imperialist, he flippantly suggested that Old Glory should be redesigned “with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.”

I got to thinking about that recently, five years after I became an antiwar dissenter (while still a major in the US Army), and in the wake of another near-war, this time with Iran. I was struck yet again by the way every single US military intervention in the Greater Middle East since 9/11 has backfired in wildly counterproductive ways, destabilizing a vast expanse of the planet stretching from West Africa to South Asia.

Chaos, it seems, is now Washington’s stock-in-trade. Perhaps, then, it’s time to resurrect Twain’s comment—only today maybe those stars on our flag should be replaced with the universal symbol for chaos.

After all, our present administration, however unhinged, hardly launched this madness. President Trump’s rash, risky, and repugnant decision to assassinate Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani on the sovereign soil of Iraq was only the latest version of what has proven to be a pervasive state of affairs. Still, that and Trump’s other recent escalations in the region do illustrate an American chaos machine that’s gone off the rails. And the very manner—I’m loathe to call it a “process”—by which it’s happened just demonstrates the way this president has taken American chaos to its dark but logical conclusion.

The Goldilocks Method

Any military officer worth his salt knows full well the importance of understanding the basic psychology of your commander. President George W. Bush liked to call himself “the decider,” an apt term for any commander. Senior leaders don’t, as a rule, actually do that much work in the traditional sense. Rather, they hobnob with superiors, buck up unit morale, evaluate and mentor subordinates, and above all make key decisions. It’s the operations staff officers who analyze problems, present options, and do the detailed planning once the boss blesses or signs off on a particular course of action.

Though they may toil thanklessly in the shadows, however, those staffers possess immense power to potentially circumscribe the range of available options and so influence the future mission. In other words, to be a deft operations officer, you need to know your commander’s mind, be able translate his sparse guidance, and frame his eventual choice in such a manner that the boss leaves a “decision briefing” convinced the plan was his own. Believe me, this is the actual language military lifers use to describe the tortured process of decision-making.

In 2009, as a young captain, fresh out of Baghdad, Iraq, I spent two unfulfilling, if instructive, years enmeshed in exactly this sort of planning system. As a battalion-level planner, then assistant, and finally a primary operations officer, I observed this cycle countless times. So allow me to take you “under the hood” for some inside baseball. I—and just about every new staff officer—was taught to always provide the boss with three plans, but to suss out ahead of time which one he’d choose (and, above all, which one you wanted him to choose).




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