EDITOR'S NOTE: Cory Massimino is the Senior Academic Programs Chair at Students For Liberty, the Mutual Exchange Coordinator at the Center for a Stateless Society and a Young Voices Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @corymassimino.
Refugee crises, US-armed terrorists and funding state sponsors of terrorism. These are just some of the ramifications of President Obama’s schizophrenic foreign policy that caused the American people to turn to Donald Trump in a moment of stupendous blowback.
No, not everything about Trump pleased conservatives. But many viewed him as the Batman to Obama’s Joker; replacing a foreign policy marked by chaos and anarchy with the drive and firepower needed to decisively defeat America’s enemies.
Part of making America great again was about empowering the military that Obama weakened. Surely this was the best way to put a stop to the international mayhem, right?
Well, not so fast…
It’s important to remember Obama’s foreign policy woes were a result of too much intervention, not too little. If you think Detroit is suffering from excessive government meddling, then it’s no surprise what’s left the Middle East in such shambles.
By the end of Obama’s second term, US special operators were in 70 percent of the world’s nations, a 130 percent jump since the days of George W. Bush, with over half of 2016’s deployment heading to the Middle East. Obama also expanded the drone program ten-fold. He used his executive might to engage in undeclared wars in Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and dropped over 100,000 bombs across seven countries, with over 26,000 in 2016 alone.
Trump’s strong-willed, tough-minded rhetoric on foreign policy and vow to reverse the backward eight years that preceded him made for an acceptable trade-off after the embarrassment of Obama.
Unfortunately, Trump has merely doubled down on the big-government mistakes of his predecessors. Americans should eye their executive’s job performance as any boss would examine an employee. With that in mind, let’s review Trump’s first year of foreign policy.
During his first year in office, Trump dropped almost 33,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria and 2,400 on Afghanistan. He almost tripled the number of strikes in Yemen to over 100. He greatly expanded each major overseas conflict America is engaged in. He also increased the government contracts needed to supply these bombs and the federal bureaucracy needed to drop them.
Trump called it a strategy to “bomb the sh*t” out of ISIS. Defense Secretary Mattis called it “annihilation tactics.” Voters looking to drain the swamp called it a satisfying delivery on one of Trump’s most important campaign promises. Weapons manufacturers probably called it a stimulus package.
Now, Trump calls on Congress to eliminate a seven-year old spending cap in order to increase military spending by $700 billion. Even though the military already takes up over half of federal discretionary spending and outranks the next seven largest military budgets in the world combined, Trump believes the department still lacks sufficient taxpayer funds.
Just like the war on poverty led to more poverty instead of less, the war on terror has led to more terror, not less. The same knowledge and incentive problems that plague the progressive regulatory apparatus also plague the military.
If life, liberty and property are the benchmarks by which to judge government action, US foreign policy is starting to look like one big, failed government program. Let’s look at these point by point.
Is our foreign policy protecting life? While Trump promised to bomb “the sh*t out of” ISIS — a murderous organization if there ever was one — he has also bombed the sh*t out of innocent bystanders, providing ISIS more ideological fuel in the form of American resentment and grieving family members. According to Airwars, a group that tracks airstrikes, Trump is breaking records for killing civilians with his fast and loose approach.
If civilian casualties are unavoidable, shouldn’t we be sure Pentagon bureaucrats are working diligently to minimize them? Just like the post office and the public school system, however, military failures are rewarded with more funding and naive optimism, instead of less.
How about protecting liberty? The Iraqis or Syrians certainly don’t have the resources to show up and destroy our political and economic liberty. The US government is a bigger threat to the average person’s Constitutional rights than impoverished people on the other side of the globe. These campaigns haven’t protected the liberty of those abroad either. They have destabilized already-shaky political institutions and empowered extremists.
What about property? Certainly no Yemeni thieves are going to show up in America and rob the taxpayers to the tune of $700 billion if we stopped helping the Saudis. After all, the military has no resources of its own, only those it receives from the private sector. Not to mention the property destroyed abroad, like schools and apartments.
It looks like “bomb[ing] the sh*t out of” them has become a mainstay of US foreign policy. But there’s a more accurate description for massive expansion of war abroad: socialism.
What are America’s 700-plus military bases abroad, endless domestic weapons manufacturing, and engagement in reckless (usually undeclared) wars if not state socialism writ large? The constant insistence on using our bloated military to “just do something” is an enormous drain on taxpayers and promotes a sense of entitlement for arms makers and Pentagon busybodies. How many future Platos or Teslas instead become nameless cogs employed — or worse, murdered — by the military?
This state-sponsored squandering of human and social capital, here and abroad, must end.
There is no more fatal a conceit than America’s attempt to centrally plan the entire Middle East geopolitical landscape. Ultimately, neither the Obama nor Trump foreign policies serve to protect life, liberty or property. The longer Americans worry about the creeping socialism of the welfare state but not the warfare state, the true nature and danger of socialism will be obscured.
Socialism isn’t always wearing a Che t-shirt and calling for a dictatorship of the proletariat. Sometimes it’s in a suit swearing to us that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction (or that Kim Jong-un is on the verge of using his).
There is no government activity more destructive to rule of law, property rights and free trade than military adventurism. There is no more powerful and devastating a socialist apparatus than the US military and there is nothing more destructive to liberty here and around the globe.
To provide a real alternative to the neoconservative establishment, Trump must, like Batman, find the wisdom to realize how similar he is to his enemies and adopt a less aggressive posture.
We should be trimming our bloated military, not enlarging another federal department.
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