Uncle Sam Wrestles The Bear

A Comprehensive Analysis of Presidential Foreign Policy

Fabian Gonzalez-Cortes, Staff Writer

The Quagmire

The Bush administration set the trend for the next decade of U.S. foreign policy when it used evidence that the intelligence community widely assessed as unreliable to justify the invasion of Iraq. The US overthrew Saddam and imposed a democratic government with a Shiite leader in a Sunni majority nation. The Shiite leadership sparked violent conflicts between the government and  Sunni population. In the following election, a Sunni leader was elected but the U.S. disregarded the democratic elections. Saudi Arabia and Iran saw the chaos and began to place their bets. Saudi Arabia sided with the Sunni militants, which later came to encompass ISIS to the west. Iran sided with Shiite militias to the east.

The Clinton State Department

It’s worth noting that the mistake of disregarding the democratic elections was committed by the Obama administration. All subsequent failures in Libya and Syria were also direct errors on the part of the Clinton State Department. The U.S. made the decision to arm Libyan rebels and conduct airstrike operations against Muammar Gaddafi. After toppling Gaddafi, literal tons of the same arms used in Libya were smuggled through Turkey and repurposed for the Syrian Civil War.

These arms went to the “moderate” rebels who aimed to overthrow Bashar-Al Assad, the secular dictator of Syria. It’s alleged that Assad used chemical weapons near Aleppo, and this was the main justification for U.S. action against the regime. The U.S. was vocal of its support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) despite its blatant self admitted cooperation with the Al-Nusra Front. In May of 2013, the BBC published this headline: UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’. The claim is consistent with reports of casualties faced by Assad forces as a result of the attack and suggests that rebels coordinated with the U.S. to frame Assad for the attacks.

The U.S. put up the illusion that it was escalating airstrikes against ISIS. Within one week of Russia conducting airstrikes, it had eliminated 40% of ISIS’s infrastructure. More than the U.S. had been capable of doing in months. Whether this was because the U.S. was reluctant to actually conduct meaningful strikes or it prioritized other military targets is up for debate, but Russia demonstrated its commitment to defending Assad.

These systemic failures and blunders of foreign policy paved the way for the spread of ISIS into Libya and the growth in their support in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Essentially, the U.S. armed, funded, and trained radical jihadists against the Assad regime because of its ties with Russia.

the U.S. armed, funded, and trained radical jihadists against the Assad regime”

Towards the north, Kurds have proven to be effective and fierce fighters, managing to push back against ISIS in northern Syria and make significant advancements on the Daesh stronghold of Mosul in west Iraq. The Kurdish Peshmerga are determined to retake Mosul within the next three months but are expected to sustain substantial losses in the attack.

Turkey and the Kurds have for a long time had a hostile relationship. The U.S. has provided small arms support to the Kurds in the past, but now Hillary Clinton wants to take further steps, like providing heavy arms and artillery to the Kurdish Peshmerga.

This puts the U.S. in a dilemma, either it continues to support Turkey and Erdogan’s oppressive islamic regime or we continue to arm his enemies who have made great strides against ISIS in securing their freedom. Turkey has been a sorry excuse for an ally and as a player in the conflict. As an ally, they shot down a Russian fighter and escalated tensions with the superpower. The nation also has a horrible human rights record, taking massive steps to suppress free speech and other traditionally western freedoms. As a local player, they have taken military action against our Kurdish allies and funded ISIS by purchasing their oil.

Two things are very clear, the U.S. can’t justify military intervention in the area, having proven to be incompetent at best; and that the Obama administration, alongside the Clinton State Department, had absolutely no idea what they’d been doing as far back as the Iraq war. The wound that was Iraq festered and infected the surrounding tissue of what was Turkey, Syria, and Libya. Now, Russia is stuck cleaning up the geopolitical mess that the U.S. created. The possibility of an uncooperative Clinton administration threatens to escalate tensions with Russia in the coming months.

Presidential Candidates vs. Russia

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have displayed starkly different approaches to foreign policy. Russia has become a key talking point for Clinton as outrage over Russian and Assad regime airstrikes on civilian targets in Aleppo receive increasing publicity in western media. Donald Trump’s approach to Russia is more nuanced, unlike his contradictory statements about direct action against ISIS. The fact is, neither candidate can justify outstanding intervention in the conflict.

Using the opportunity brought upon by the WikiLeaks emails, Clinton expertly pivoted on the menacing premise of Russia’s interference with the democratic elections of the U.S. (sort of like how she conspired with the DNC to interfere in the democratic primary elections against Bernie Sanders). She’s since enhanced her anti-Russian rhetoric by proposing a no-fly zone over Aleppo and other parts of Syria and taking a militant stance in the Ukrainian conflict.

The Obama administration has continuously meddled in Russian affairs, most actively in Ukraine when the U.S. sent armored vehicles and other non-lethal combat support equipment to the new Ukrainian government against Russian backed rebels to the east. Russia moved into the Crimea after a widely criticized status referendum vote which overwhelmingly supported the annexation of the area by its residents. Trump sparked another round of internet outrage when he said with complete certainty that Russia would advance no further into Ukraine despite having annexed the Crimea.

Any further attempt to justify intervention in Ukraine would come off as indisputably disingenuous. Russian support for Donetsk rebels in the east can be rationalized by the growth of political power at the disposal of xenophobic anti-ethnic Russian politicians at the height of the pro-EU protests in Kiev. The U.S. would have to peddle the age old talking points about maintaining stability in the region in order to convince the average american that escalating a proxy war with Russia on two fronts is a valid proposal. This would be Clinton’s plan.

Trump on the other hand is realistic in his expectations, deciding to tone down anti-Russian rhetoric in exchange for a cooperative approach. This, of course, is a surprising retreat from his initial threat in the second Republican debate to cut off diplomatic ties with the superpower. Somehow, it’s a radical proposal that the U.S. engage in coordinated actions in the best interest of the middle east and Ukraine.

Clinton maintains that enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria while simultaneously aiming to depose Russia’s ally in the region is in the best interest of american foreign policy. Is Clinton prepared to be responsible for downing a Russian aircraft that enters Syrian airspace? That’s a question only she can answer, but we can’t be ignorant of the implications of the proposed no-fly zone.

The U.S. desperately needs a precise and consistent foreign policy. No one can truthfully assert that either presidential candidate will provide either one of these things as Trump’s exhibited lack of inconsistency and Clinton’s exhibited recklessness are the antithesis of precision and consistency. America has a difficult decision to make November 8th, but if foreign policy is of greatest importance to you, neither candidate is a genuinely exceptional choice in this regard.