Under normal circumstances, I would describe what I am experiencing as a “crisis of confidence” regarding the sudden eruption of serious foreign policy challenges facing the White House. Unfortunately, “normal circumstances” swelled up and died like a suicidal puffer fish more than two years ago. The U.S.’s current foreign policy varsity squad is comprised of torture advocate Mike Pompeo, the notoriously wrong John Bolton, his war criminal sidekick Elliott Abrams, the vacancy known as Mike Pence and, of course, Man Who Knows Everything He Will Ever Know Which Isn’t Much, Donald Trump.
One must have at least a degree of confidence for a crisis to exist, or else it’s like trying to grow radishes on a runway. I have no confidence whatsoever in these men. Crisis? I think I’m just terrified. For all his serial horrors, Trump is well behind George W. Bush when it comes to racking up an international body count. A series of events have piled up in recent weeks, however, that could provide him an opportunity to catch up with dazzling speed.
We begin in Vietnam, graveyard to millions murdered in what was the gold standard for illegal U.S. wars before the Bush family began and then escalated a 28-year-long killing spree in Iraq. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are meeting there this week to discuss nuclear disarmament and other matters, and a number of factors will be in play.
The primary factor, of course, is Trump himself. It is hailing bricks at the White House right now, and the president is starved for the kind of fawning headlines he believes are his due. This desire could easily influence the sort of deal he may strike. A September summit between North and South Korea produced meaningful progress toward ending hostilities on the peninsula. Trump could bolster that progress or blow it all to pieces, depending on his mood. That mood is likely to be affected by today’s public testimony before Congress by former Trump attorney and bagman, Michael Cohen. This is not a comforting thought.
The monstrous John Bolton was slated to attend the Vietnam summit, but ultimately chose to skip it in order to concentrate on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Fortunately for no one anywhere, Elliott Abrams is already on the case, and has been busy about his work. The much-covered convoy of “humanitarian aid” that has sparked violence at the Venezuela-Colombia border, according to NPR, was in reality a Trojan Horse meant to assist the overthrow of the Maduro government:
The U.S. effort to distribute tons of food and medicine to needy Venezuelans is more than just a humanitarian mission. The operation is also designed to foment regime change in Venezuela — which is why much of the international aid community wants nothing to do with it.
Humanitarian operations are supposed to be neutral. That’s why the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations agencies and other relief organizations have refused to collaborate with the U.S. and its allies in the Venezuelan opposition who are trying to force President Nicolás Maduro from power.
“Humanitarian aid has been turned into a spectacle to justify a military intervention of our country,” Maduro told a news conference in Caracas last week.
The U.S. has its fingerprints all over this aid convoy, likely intending it to be a deliberate provocation, notwithstanding the corporate news media’s credulous coverage of it all merely being trucks filled with food and bandages. The war Maduro warned of may not be far off. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on Monday to the Lima Group of Latin American governments in Bogotá, announced, “There is no turning back. All options are on the table.” Speaking directly to the Venezuelan military, Pence went on to say, “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit, no way out. You will lose everything.”
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My Spidey Sense is tingling here, and I am not alone in my suspicions. With the 2020 election season already underway, Trump and the Republicans are under siege from all directions. With outspoken political newcomers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) teaming up with grizzled veterans like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to push bold new policies like the Green New Deal, the GOP has seized upon “Socialism Bad!” as a campaign lifeline.
It would greatly serve the purposes of Trump and the Republicans if the U.S. found itself in a shooting war against an actual socialist government in Venezuela, aided and abetted by the aforementioned credulous corporate news media, which always welcomes some faraway bang-bang to boost ratings. The “War on Socialism” would be tightly wrapped around “Support the Troops!” and, once again, we’re off to the races. Is it merely wild talk to suggest Republicans might use war and death to boost their electoral challenges? Perish the thought.
On the Russia front, Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet last week and dared the U.S. to enter into a new arms race. With the collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Russia fears the U.S. might picket Europe with new nuclear missile sites, and has been flaunting a new hypersonic missile as a warning. On Sunday, Russian state television broadcasted a list of U.S. targets that would be incinerated in a nuclear exchange.
Here’s the funny part about that, if you don’t mind stretching the definition of “funny”: The list of targets was Bill Clinton-era old. One target, the Fort Ritchie military training center in Maryland, has been closed since 1998. Another, McClellan Air Force base in California, has been closed since 2001. It begs the question: Does Putin have so little regard for Trump as an (ahem) opponent that he believes he can be cowed by a target list that was current back when Titanic was a box office hit? I’d take that bet.
Secretary of State Pompeo did not bathe in glory when he went to Poland recently to try and rally various governments worldwide to join the U.S. in making war with Iran. Many European allies found the summit annoying and insulting, either sending low-level envoys or no one at all. Iran has been complying with the nuclear treaty negotiated with the Obama administration despite Trump’s decision to cancel it, so the casus belli was far from evident to those in attendance.
Pompeo tried to claim the event was not about fomenting an Iran war, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blew his cover with a since-deleted tweet that read, “What is important about this meeting, and it is not in secret … is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” Netanyahu later claimed the word “war” was mistranslated, but yeah … oops.
Vice President Pence, who has been awkwardly ubiquitous in this sudden surge of global crises, attempted to rally the summit’s attendees with lofty language. “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” he said, “and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.” This was met not with the expected applause, but with an ocean of prolonged and deliberate silence.
The news is no better elsewhere around the world. “India launched an airstrike on a target within Pakistan early Tuesday,” reports The Washington Post, “in the most serious escalation in hostilities between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in two decades.” Six years of ongoing conflict in Ukraine has devolved into trench warfare which has claimed some 13,000 lives to date. Migrants continue to flee the violence and economic chaos in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which no wall will ever fix. The list goes on.
Mike Pompeo. John Bolton. Elliott Abrams. Mike Pence. Donald Trump. These are the men standing the lighthouse rail to guide us through dangerous and uncertain waters. “Crisis of confidence” does not do it justice. This is a multipronged calamity waiting to happen simultaneously in a dozen countries at least, and our foreign policy A-Team is comprised of men with blood on their hands and wind between their ears. Crisis of confidence indeed.