Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a trip to Berlin this week and instead made an abrupt visit to Iraq.
There he met with the Iraqi Prime Minister and President to brief them on the latest U.S intelligence regarding threatening behavior from the Iranians.
Up to this point, it has not been publicly disclosed what intelligence personnel believe the Iranians are doing that has administration officials concerned. There are unconfirmed reports that Iran may be moving short-range ballistic missiles onto boats in the Persian Gulf.
The United States is carefully rolling up its sleeve and flexing its muscle by sending the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier into the region, along with B52 Bombers. Muscle flexing is generally a good thing, as it can be attractive to a prospective mate and intimidating to a looming adversary.
Best of all, muscle-flexing isn’t barroom fighting. Those are dangerous, unpredictable, and can get you killed.
To this point, Donald Trump has been able to resist the urges and opportunities to engage in those fights. No president in history has been the focus of more character assassinations, particularly regarding their mental stability, than has this president. Indeed, 27 psychiatrists and other mental health professionals went so far as to publish a book in 2017 warning about the President’s mental state!
Yet, our President has behaved like anything but a sociopath when it comes to the restraint he has shown. There has been strategic military use in dismantling the Islamic State (ISIS), but other foreign policy successes like bringing North Korea to the table, confronting China on trade, and getting NATO members to pull out their wallets have been the result of trigger point therapy as opposed to military might.
In these efforts, the president has had the help of people like Pompeo, Ambassador Richard Grenell, and others. He is, however, clearly at the helm.
American involvement in overseas conflicts has been controversial going all the way back to 1801, when then-President Thomas Jefferson deployed the U.S. Navy and Marines toward the African Continent to fight the Barbary Pirates (as an aside, readers might want to explore Jefferson & Adams’ 1786 meeting with the Ambassador from Tripoli in London, where they asked why Muslims were attacking Americans?). Our results have been mixed over the past 220 years, with a highlight being WWII and the lowlight being Vietnam.
Our engagements in both Iraq and Afghanistan get honorable mention on the lowlight list.
One of the themes of this president’s 2016 campaign was to not be reckless with the lives of American soldiers. He ran on a promise of keeping America first in all decisions that relate to foreign matters. In foreign matters, nothing quite matters like the risking of American lives.
As an example, right now, in our hemisphere, it is difficult for many people to watch the images coming out of Venezuela. It is also difficult to recognize that the Russians and China are establishing an influence directly in our geographic backyard. While this isn’t Cuba in 1962, it also isn’t our geostrategic preference.
President Trump could easily deploy troops forcefully into Venezuela to stabilize the country. Our military could vaporize any opposition in less time than it takes to watch a YouTube video on how to fire an M16. Dictator Nicolás Maduro would have an epitaph and the legitimate president, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, a new office. Easy, right?
Not so easy. We would lose American troops along the way. We would be forced to occupy afterward. We would spend money building schools and God-knows-what. We would be there for some undefined amount of time. For what? For the Venezuelan people or for America Frst?
Back to Iran. The Iranians continue to tempt fate and bait us. They seem to want war. They calculate that if we do engage, the days of Dresden and Hiroshima are behind us. We would fight surgically. They will sustain losses but not catastrophic. With a ruling regime that views the lives of its citizens as having similar value to that of insects, they think they can wait us out and win through the fatiguing of American citizen support.
Meanwhile, we would lose money and, more importantly, lives.
There is a seeming paradox at work in viewing the Trump Administration’s use of American military force when compared to his recent predecessors. In the last 40 years, presidents have been more willing to engage American troops in battle, but less willing to assert American supremacy as a nation. President Trump is exactly the opposite in his actions. He is reluctant to use our military to engage in battle and strong in asserting America’s role as the most important and powerful nation on earth.
But there is neither mystery nor irony in this. The famous Chinese general Sun Tzu had it figured out 2,500 years ago in saying:
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Our president’s greatest show of power lies in his reluctance to use power. Everyone knows that when the military is called upon, its mission is to kill people and break things. I believe that President Trump is only going to be willing to engage our military in combat when the mission is to kill lots of people and break lots of things.
I reckon our enemies are starting to understand that, too. I’m not sure what the Iranians are thinking, but if they do wish for war, they’d best be careful about what they wish for.
In the meantime, I commend our president for keeping yet another campaign promise and not using the American military for political purposes. I encourage him to continue to hold the line. It is the one promise he made that is 100 percent within his control and for which he needs no help from Congress.