Serendipity: The Art of the Deal?

Let’s Not Leave Foreign Policy to Rank Amateurs!

The following is the first paragraph in an article in the April 18, 2019 issue of The New York Review of Books entitled “What Happened in Hanoi?”

Shortly after the success of The Art of the Deal (1987) made Donald Trump a supposed expert on negotiation, he lobbied the George H. W. Bush administration to put him in charge of arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union. The position went instead to Richard Burt, an experienced diplomat and arms control expert. When the two men met at a New York social event, Trump pulled Burt aside to tell him what he would have one—and what Burt should do—to start off the negotiation. Greet the Soviets warmly, he said. Let their delegation get seated and open their papers. Then stand up, put your knuckles on the table, lean over, say “Fuck you,” and walk out of the room.

Burt didn’t follow Trump’s advice, to which which we owe the fact that the world didn’t end in a nuclear holocaust well before the start of the new millennium.

Green Zones of the Future?

Is This What the Pentagon Wants?

Is This What the Pentagon Really Wants?

I love listening to the Republican Presidential Candidates for 2016 talk about foreign policy. All agree that Barack Obama is a “pussy” and that what we need is to destroy ISIS. But do they want to send in our troops and open new Green Zones in Syria and Northern Iraq? Urm, well, not really. Although Ahmed Chalabi is no longer around to say that we would be greeted with candy and flowers, I am sure that there are some Pentagon planners who would love to see an expansion of their powers, despite the cost.

Can the United States effectively wage war in an area where it doesn’t know the language, the culture, or the players involved? I myself think that all our direct efforts would be foredoomed to failure. Perhaps we can seal off parts of the country and reserve them for tennis courts, driving ranges, and chain burger restaurants for our boys and girls in uniform. But haven’t we already done that? And with what results?

As much as we love seeing ourselves as the mighty victors of World War Two, we’ve done precious little to add to our reputation since then. But, heaven knows, we keep on trying, piling up failure upon spectacular failure. The only thing our politicians can hope for is that the voters have a short memory and an even shorter fuse.

In the end, what we are doing in the Middle East right now is probably the right thing. ISIS will eventually collapse on its own. Isn’t it really quite stupid to build a caliphate on a bunch of foreign mercenaries, some of them not even Muslim, recruited through social media?

 

The United States of Fear

Kalashnikov AK-47

Kalashnikov AK-47

When we won the Second World War, we changed as a people. It’s like the gunfighter who’s gained such a fearsome reputation that everyone comes gunning for him. And, indeed, as a nation we got our asses kicked in Korea, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and a number of other places we never heard of before our famous victory. (Besides, truth to tell, the Second World War was more of a Russian victory than one for America and Britain: Stalin did far more to destroy the German war machine than we did.)

Sometime later, after we clumsily started being the world’s policeman, we discovered that we were not liked. For me, it all started in Caracas, Venezuela, in May 1958 when our Vice President, Richard M. Nixon, was met by an angry mob which attacked his limo. “How could that be?” I thought as a grade school student at the time. “Aren’t we the good guys?”

Then, shortly after I returned from Iceland in September 2001, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by Al Qaida terrorists. Then we learned there are all these Muslims out to get us, people who revered the terrorists and decided to name their sons Osama. As recently as yesterday, I heard a Syrian refugee blame Washington and Moscow for destroying his country—as if ISIS, Al Qaida, and the Syrian Baath Party had no part to play in it.

With the world turning against us, we started to look fearfully at Afro-Americans and Mexican immigrants (whom Trump calls “rapists,” except for a handful of good ones). Among our own kind, there were these strange homosexuals who started attacking our cherished institution of marriage.

Well, I guess we should all buy guns, the more the better. Let’s all build ourselves a fort and blow the heads off anyone who crosses its perimeter. Or if we’re feeling particularly depressed, maybe we could shoot up our old school or our workplace. How dare anyone criticize us? After all, aren’t we the good guys?

Not any more we aren’t.

 

 

 

Twenty Years in the Middle East

Do We Know Our Way About the Middle East Any More Now Than in 1995?

Do We Know Our Way About the Middle East Any More Now Than in 1995?

North Africa, the Middle East—in fact, the entire Islamic world—remain a giant mystery to us because we prefer to continue with our deadly combination of naiveté and sophisticated weaponry. Are we culturally aware of the peoples of the Islamic world? Are we teaching Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi in our schools to the generation that will take up the burden laid on our shoulders by the Bushes, Cheneys, Rumsfelds, and their discredited Neocon advisers?

The problem is, we are babes in the woods … where there are no woods. They know all about us, but we still know squat about them.

We are not winning anyone’s hearts and minds with our ignorance and fecklessness. What we are doing is creating a war zone that looks to be getting worse each year, despite the much-vaunted Arab spring. Given enough time, perhaps the entire population of the countries between Morocco and Iraq will cross over the border into Europe. (Fortunately, it’s too difficult to sail a flimsy raft full of refugees across the oceans.) Then there won’t be a Middle East, just a Muslim Europe—which is certainly not where the nations of Europe want to be.

Macedonian Police and Syrian Refugees

Macedonian Police Holding Back Syrian Refugees

It’s difficult to predict what will happen, especially since all we seem to be doing is committing random mayhem in the name of combating “terrorism.”

So who is to blame? Everyone. The United States for being willfully stupid. The Arabs and North Africans for thinking that Islamic fundamentalism is the answer … to everything. The Europeans, for letting themselves be overrun. It doesn’t look good.