Saturday, January 28, 2017

Foreign Policy Chaos

Stephen Griffin

For my war powers book I reviewed the foreign policy, with special reference to decisions related to war (including covert operations) of all US presidents since FDR.  With the possible exception of Kennedy’s acquiescence to Eisenhower’s Bay of Pigs invasion and Alexander Haig’s privately expressed (in the early Reagan administration) proposal to turn Cuba into a parking lot, this is the worst start in foreign policy I can think of for any modern presidential administration.  There’s no real comparison.  Things are sliding downhill remarkably fast.  But let’s keep in mind that it’s not really because of the actions of the “US government.”  It’s just President Trump’s White House.

Although Trump provoked a needless dispute with Mexico (needless because, after all, parts of a wall already exist and we could have presumably expanded it somewhat without jeopardizing our entire relationship), the seven-nation ban on refugees is in another category altogether.  There could be severe consequences for the US, both externally and internally, from this action, which will be fairly termed a ban on Muslims.  I suppose we could discuss policy consequences like an increase in terrorism, but the more obvious and immediate dangers are legal and constitutional.  The White House just threw a cloak of legitimacy around arbitrary discrimination against Muslims and, in doing so, Trump employed an explicitly religious rationale.  This puts us in exceedingly dangerous territory.

Remember Nixon’s second-term challenge to the other branches to “epic battle?”  That was mostly posturing on Nixon’s part, because he was already deeply embroiled in the Watergate conspiracy.  But Trump’s refugee order is the equivalent in our time and poses a tremendous challenge of moral, legal and institutional response.  Of course there will be a response from outside the government, but what about inside?  I can barely believe that responsible officials in the DOJ and the State Department, in particular, will support this action.

There is an additional very troubling feature of Trump’s action that should not get lost in what I assume will be an enormous reaction to its discriminatory character.  The action is also wholly arbitrary.  There is no rational basis for this policy.  This is like policy as fantasy football, policy as vanity plate.  There is no evidence of an increased danger to the US from Syrian refugees or any other refugees.  If terrorism is the problem, I suppose we might be more concerned by people traveling from France and Belgium than Yemen and Somalia.  But however we analyze the policy, the underlying reality is that it is not the result of any rational policy process.  There was no process.  This is pure prejudice.

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