Major Statement

The foreign policy of the United States is increasingly carried out by the U.S. military. The militarization of U.S. foreign policy can be described as “a growing trend to view decisions on national security strategy, policies, and policy implementation from a military perspective.” Increasingly, issues pertaining to policy and security challenges are viewed primarily through a military lens, the result of which has been an increase in policy suggestions and solutions for which military capabilities appear to be the appropriate response. Our armed services are now sent abroad to fight wars, distribute foreign aid, provide humanitarian assistance, and engage in diplomatic and peace building missions. Yet, for many of the most pertinent issues facing the United States today, a militarized response is both ineffective and counter-productive.
Historically, the United States military existed to complete military missions, such as defeating Nazi Germany or driving Iraq out of Kuwait. America’s security strategy has been guided by logic and principles based upon defeating an enemy whose own security strategy is generally guided by the same logic and principles. These ideas, based upon the rules of warfare established in the Geneva Convention, created a relatively stable international system in which all the major actors have a vested interest in the system staying in tact. The players might very well jockey for position at the table, but no one stands to gain more than they would lose by flipping the table over.
The United States has no peer military competitor, a fact that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. It would be unwise to dramatically alter defense policy based upon a moment of relative stability amongst great powers, especially given our less than perfect record of predicting what the next war will look like and with whom it will be fought. It is well within the realm of possibility that military superiority will be a necessity to win the hypothetical war of tomorrow. It may even play a role in preventing the war of tomorrow from ever happening. Yet it will not alone win the real war of today. Our enemy today is one that understands the logic and principles of our defense policy knows how to use them against us. Their tactics are far from new. History is full of examples of asymmetric wars being waged, and generally speaking, the underdog tends to win. The failure of decision makers in our government to adjust for what the current global reality demands has resulted in an unparalleled military force that is exceptional at winning battles and incapable of winning wars.
The global war on terror (GWOT) will never be won by the United States military for one simple reason; you can not kill ideas with bombs. Nor can you kill ideas with drones, missiles, guns, navy warships, covert operations or special operations forces. Ideas can only be killed with better ideas. Yet across both republican and democratic administrations, foreign policy remains heavily lopsided in favor of the military, militarized responses, and militarized solutions. The military budget dwarfs all other categories of government expenditure, comprising over half the entire federal budget. The current administration has proposed yet another increase in the military budget, while cutting the already dismal by comparison State Departments budget by 37%. What enemy do we have that we need an increased defense budget to defeat? “An inequality of resources leads to an inequality in policy and as a corollary the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which is detrimental to U.S. national interests.” The governments heavy reliance on our armed forces to deliver foreign policy comes at a great cost in both blood and treasure. Because we have finest, most well-equipped, well-funded all-volunteer force in the history of the world, we feel compelled to use it. As Abraham Maslow once famously pondered, I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
The Great Seal of the United States portrays a bald eagle carrying both arrows and an olive branch. The eagles head is turned looking not towards the arrows, but towards the olive branch, signifying a preference for peace. If the arrows represent the Department of Defense, then the olive branch represents the State Department. Yet more often than not, and in no small part due to inadequate funding and resource distribution, tasks that traditionally fall under the realm of the State Department are being relegated to the Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration, Robert Gates, touched on this during a speech in 2007, saying “Consider that this years budget for the Department of Defense — not counting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan —is nearly half a trillion dollars, [while] the total foreign affairs budget request for the State department is $36 billion…. there are only about 6,600 professional foreign service officers— less than the manning of one aircraft carrier strike group.” (102) Current Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis implored congress to invest more in the State Department, saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military has such a deep understanding of the value of foreign aid and the work of the State Department, that 120 generals and admirals recently signed a letter to congress stressing the importance of the their continued funding. The result of asymmetric funding has resulted in the gutting of America’s soft power institutions and consequently, in the DoD assuming many of the burdens traditionally preformed by civilian agencies (102), from which has emerged the idea of the soldier-diplomatic by necessity. The earliest recorded examples of military diplomacy predate Alexander the Great. “The assistance of armies to the populations they had conquered was seen as a humane gesture to the vanquished — and, not inconsequentially, a means of winning some degree of loyalty to the new regime.” Post-World War II Europe witnessed perhaps the most intensive utilization of the military in civilian affairs. The Marshall Plan significantly influenced modern military doctrines of civil involvement and development of the international relief system, expanding the role of the military as never before. It is important to remember however, the the Marshall plan was truly a joint-effort between the military and the State Department, and that European and US governments painstakingly gained domestic support for the programs before they were implemented. In the years following WWII, soldiers were reintegrated into civilian life and the whole of government became focused on the domestic economy. The idea of sending troops abroad for military operations other than war (MOOTWA) became both unrealistic and undesirable. It wasn’t until roughly three decades later that the all-volunteer force was formed and its kinks were sufficiently smoothed out that MOOTWA once again became a viable option. Freed from the constraints that a conscripted military imposes on its government, and emboldened by the decisive success of Operation Desert Storm, successive administrations became increasingly likely to deploy troops for a wider and wider range of missions. Examples can be drawn from military operations in both the Middle East and Africa.
In Afghanistan, the American Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were developed to help build peace and security in the region and foster development. ‘Development’, is in the context of a PRT is described as; “not simply a set of projects; it involves capacity-building, sustainability strategies, and above all an understanding of how societies operate. The most successful PRTs have been those that are best attuned to recognizing Afghans’ conceptions of Afghans’ needs. A good PRT leadership strategy is to spend as much time as possible listening, rather than talking.” Not too much to ask from a a group on American boys from the mid-west, right? These PRTs were constructed of 80 soldiers led by an Army lieutenant colonel with one civilian representative from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Agriculture. The overarching strategy of counterinsurgency (COIN), which was employed by our military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, required our soldiers to engage in a vast array of non traditional military missions. “Military engineers dug wells and fixed sewer lines; civil affairs teams refurbished schools, attended meetings of local tribal elders, and started micro-finance programs for rural women; psychological operations distributed radio station in a box kits and scoured the country side for “credible voice” to put on call-in shows. Military agriculture experts encouraged Afghans to diversity their crops, and military medical teams staffed women’s health clinics.” You name it, our soldiers were doing it — to varying levels of success. “Stories abounded of schools built with no thought for whether they would have teachers, books, or students; bridges built three times in a row in the same place, only to be repeatedly demolished by local contractors who knew the next military unit that rotated in would repay them to build it again.(95)” Was it fair, or even reasonable of our government to ask 20-something year olds from Kansas to broker peace between tribal chieftains in the rural countryside of Afghanistan?
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created in 2007 as “a new kind of military command, designed to reflect the Pentagon’s emerging understanding of a more complex security environment in which prevention would be as important as cure” (84). The move was intended to centralize and coordinate American security interests on the continent. AFRICOM activities grew to consist of a wide range of projects traditionally undertaken by civilians working for USAID or the State Department. The activities include, for instance the construction of school classrooms in Chad; cattle vaccination in Uganda; activities to combat drug trafficking through the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative; and the construction of closed wells with solar pumps in Senegal, a task force to combat mosquitos, the creation of a news and information website aimed towards local audiences in Maghreb, and the construction of a maternal and pediatric care ward in Uganda. (84) From a Western perspective, many find it difficult to imagine how these magnanimous efforts could be construed as anything but a genuine display of US altruism. However, the reality is that many of these activities produced “at best suspicious reactions, and, at worst, elaborate conspiracy theories … that can have a profound impact on the way African militaries and individuals perceive and interact with American military personnel and policy makers.” Those who understand the checkered past the American government has on the continent, with its Cold War propping up of dictators while overlooking egregious human rights violations, find it less difficult to see how AFRICOM “couldn’t be viewed as anything other than simply the latest iteration of neo-imperialist engagement by yet another bunch of shady, secretive white men sporting khakis, polo shirts, and crew cuts.”
The question at hand is not should the United States be engaged in these kinds of operations. As the wealthiest nation in the world, foreign assistance is not only a critical instrument of American’s soft power, but also a moral responsibility. Rather, the question is what are the effects of a message of peace and cooperation being delivered by our armed forces? The medium through which a message is delivered has a significant impact on how that message is received. John F. Kennedy, it is widely believed, would probably not have won the presidential election in 1960 had it not been televised. Seeing the man is what convinced people to agree with him. That same line of thought can be transferred to the idea of the militarization of foreign policy. If soldier comes to you door to deliver a message, the message will sound very different than if a civilian came to your door and delivered the same message. The medium through which the message is deliver matters. What good does building a school do, if your child was accidentally killed in a raid by the same person building that school? Is it possible to receive a message of peace and cooperation from the same person who may have recently bombed your village?
As a nation, we harbor deep respect and admiration of our men and women in the armed services. From an American perspective, it is hard to imagine how one could see an American soldier in uniform and feel anything but secure and protected. In addition to that, our military often appears to be one of the only effectively functioning institutions within our government. It is no wonder we are so addicted to investing in it. If we have the finest, most well equipped military in the world, how can we not be safe? Immense investment in the military has given us the finest, most well equipped all-volunteer force in the history of the world. It is the best and most expensive tool our government has, but it is the wrong tool to counter many of todays most intractable problems. The militarization of our foreign policy is costing trillions of dollars, and garnering diminishing returns.


The Trump Doctr-un.

I was late on the bandwagon to denounce President Trump. While I did not vote for Trump, after he was elected I did feel he deserved a fair shot at the presidency, and held out hope that he would soon start “acting more presidential,” and perhaps even make good on his promise to surround himself with “the best people” to help guide policy making. These people I hoped, would reign in his more outlandish claims and steer him in the right direction. I understand that the right direction is subjective, but punishing for women for having abortions, implementing a Muslim ban, and building a wall, to the vast majority of reasonable people, are “wrong direction” ideas. I also believed that if all else failed the damage he could inflict would be mitigated by our system of checks and balances, and that our institutions would save us. As the past few weeks have unfolded, I found myself at first disappointed, then perplexed, astounded, and now, deeply disturbed.

I think it hit me when I was asked this question; if there were some national security emergency or foreign aggression, would I feel confident, or even comfortable, with how the Trump administration might the situation. The answer? Hell no.

I really dislike bandwagons, which is perhaps part of the reason I withheld judgment on Trump for so long. But its time for judgement. While no one expects complete theoretical coherence from any administration pertaining to foreign policy, no one expects complete incoherence either. Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, writes:

“In almost any other administration, much of the work of establishing basic foreign policy views would have been done already—not in the first month in office, but long before that, through working groups of policy experts convened by the campaign. The Trump campaign didn’t bother with that, either because they didn’t think it would help them win (which is probably true) or because they assumed that in the unlikely event of a victory they would quickly catch up (which was false).”

In the past four weeks, Iran has been “put on notice,” the one-China policy, which has been in place for over 40 years has been called into question, as has the NATO alliance, which Trump famously referred to as “obsolete”. Meanwhile, a Russian spy ship was detected 30 miles of the coast of Connecticut. The national security advisor has resigned, the story of which is still unfolding.The non-policy pertaining to the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been summed up by President Trump as this; “I’m looking at one state and two state and I like the one that both parties like.” Meanwhile, Trump has nominated David Friedman, who Politico referred to as “a pro-settlement activist who has referred to left-leaning Jews as “worse than Kapos,” a.k.a. the Jews who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust, because they urge Israel to make concessions for peace,” as the ambassador to Israel. Trumps son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a man with zero experience in policy or foreign relations, has been tasked with brokering peace in the Middle East. It has also been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been left out of the loop on key decisions, such as the raid in Yemen, and the travel ban, which undoubtedly have significant impact on foreign relations. Rumors are abound that no one wants to touch the position of national security advisor, due to both a lack of control over their own staff, and a strange power sharing arrangement with Trumps “Strategic Initiative Group,” a White House policy think tank which consists of his “inner circle” of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

A former member of the Obama Administration tells Kimberly Dozier of The Daily Beast:

“To put it bluntly, this is truly crazy… Being a racist and misogynistic political adviser is one thing, but when that person controls domestic and national-security policy, it’s time to break glass because of emergency. I shudder to think what is next, once Bannon’s operation is fully staffed up.”

American’s are not alone in our concern over the incoherent foreign policy of the Trump administration; it was the focus of the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, which was attended by both Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis. Robin Wright’s piece in the New Yorker provides an expert from the preparatory report:

“The preparatory report—written by an international team as the official “conversation starter”—uses stark language about the new American President. “The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions—and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking,” it says. “Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.” The report, “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?” adds candidly, “What is uncertain is how Trump’s core beliefs will translate into policy (and whether policies will be coherent).”

Many were concerned during Trump’s presidential campaign that he would retreat into isolationism, but that’s not quite what we’re seeing unfold. As Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry points out:

“All this suggests that the handwringing during the campaign about the potential for Trump to squander America’s global position by deliberately shifting the country toward a posture of isolation was misplaced. What is emerging is something else entirely; an abdication of our leadership by default.”

Why is this so dangerous? Two reasons, which James Kitfield for Politico succinctly explains:

“Trump revels in his unpredictability, but it’s a very costly and risky way for a great power to pursue national objectives, Schake says, because friends can’t synchronize their actions to support you, and adversaries don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behavior lie.”

The Power Behind the Throne

If you didn’t know who Steve Bannon was before January 20th, you probably do now. Steve Bannon is the former executive director of Breitbart news, and current Chief Strategist for President Trump. He’s also the man recently portrayed as the grim reaper on Saturday Night Live. A little background; Bannon grew up the son of working-class parents in Norfolk, Virgina. He went to Virginia Tech University where he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning. He went on to earn a master’s degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown, and an M.B.A. from Harvard. In the late 1970s, he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Bannon then went on to work at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker, before switching over to the film industry, where he produced about 18 movies. In 2007, Bannon helped to found Breitbart News; a news, opinion and commentary website that was at the time known for promoting tea-party ideology. When Andrew Breitbart unexpectedly passed away in 2012, Bannon became executive chairman, and took the website in an “alt-right” direction. As Will Rhan, for CBS reports:

“Slowly but surely, Bannon turned Breitbart into not only the most-read conservative web outlet but also the most incendiary one. It was happy to embrace fringe beliefs like birtherism and play footsie with blatantly racist notions of black criminality. It wasn’t interested in looking even faintly objective, instead inventing easily understood “narratives” of crusading conservative heroes and their many victories against the hated left. Buckleyite movement conservatism had always been tethered away from all that by its desire for “respectability,” the idea that it should be taken seriously by outsiders as a real intellectual force. Bannon’s Breitbart didn’t have such scruples – it was playing directly to its very specific audience – and it would follow that audience wherever it went.”

Sound familiar? Anyhow…

A quick look at the comments section of the website will tell you all you need to now about Breitbart’s audience. The website has become a platform and breeding ground for those who identify as the “alt-right.”

Bannon is a self-described nationalist and Leninist, who has been quoted as saying:

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

If President Trump has a political philosophy, it has not become apparent. I think Noam Chomsky put it best when he said that Trump “has no known ideology other than me.” What has become apparent, is that President Trump lacks a strong moral center, or even guiding set of moral principles by which he plans to govern. Throughout his campaign he repeatedly eschewed questions regarding his policy stances, replying instead that he was going to put together team of “tremendous” individuals, “the best people” to formulate policy for him. To the point of other people writing policy for him, he has kept his word.

To the horror of many, two weeks into Trumps presidency, Bannon’s role in the White House is becoming clear. Many speculate that he was the “mastermind” (for an extreme lack of a better word) behind the immigration ban. Steve Bannon also gave himself a security clearance usually held by generals, and a permanent seat on the national security council. He did so by writing it into an executive order, which was signed by the President. Amazingly, the President apparently did not know this was in the executive order, because he didn’t read it.

If you had any question before about Bannon’s power in the administration, now you know that he is writing executive orders which President Trump will sign. Blindly. It’s been reported that not only does President Trump not read books, but that he won’t read anything longer than three paragraphs. Perhaps if he did, he would also have known that Bannon referred to him as “a blunt instrument for us” before adding “I don’t really know if he gets it or not.” Yes, the President’s top advisor essentially called the President a tool.

Steve Bannon’s political philosophy seems to be based on fear mongering, anger, and the perpetuation of misinformation. In my opinion, he is a much bigger threat to this country than President Trump. President Trump is notoriously thin-skinned. If there were a way to get Bannon out of the White House, publicly crediting Bannon as “the brains of the operation,” and portraying Trump as nothing more than Bannon’s puppet would probably be a great way to do it.

Jon Stewart: The Modern Public Intellectual. No Kidding.

The term public intellectual has a rather antiquated sound to it, conjuring up images of a bygone era, where men sat around parlors wearing vests, smoking pipes and sipping beverages out of tiny cups whilst waxing philosophically and debating the politics of the day. A quick google of the phrase “public intellectual” will provide you with a list of names, which, unless you yourself are perhaps a public intellectual, you will probably never have heard of, and some of which you will even probably fail to be able to pronounce correctly (I’m looking at you, Abdolkarim Sorouch).

The definition of a public intellectual, it turns out, is debatable. According to the Collins dictionary, the public intellectual:

“Is an intellectual, often a noted specialist in a particular field, who has become well-known to the general public for a willingness to comment on current affairs.”

Berry Gewen of the New York Times, offers a more nuanced definition of the term, suggesting we:

“Go back to the original New York Intellectuals for guidance. Broadly, they viewed the public intellectual as someone deeply committed to the life of the mind and to its impact on the society at large. Irving Howe refers to the pursuit of “the idea of centrality” among the writers he knew, and the yearning “to embrace . . . the spirit of the age.” That is, public intellectuals were free-floating and unattached generalists speaking out on every topic that came their way (though most important for the New York Intellectuals was the intersection of literature and politics). They might be journalists or academics, but only because they had to eat.”

Richard Posner, both a public intellectual, and an expert on the subject of public intellectuals wrote a book entitled “Public Intellectuals; A Study of Decline.” Posners central thesis is as follows:

“With the rapid growth of the media in recent years, highly visible forums for discussion have multiplied, while greater academic specialization has yielded a growing number of narrowly trained scholars. Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene—one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals—compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademics whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse.”

These conceptions aren’t wrong, but they do in my opinion leave out a central aspect of what it means to be a public intellectual; all the emphasis is on the subject, or “the intellectual,” while the predicate, or “the public”, is addressed as a mere afterthought. The definition of public is “of or concerning the people as a whole; ordinary people in general; the community.” A public intellectual, therefore, should be able to communicate complex ideas to common people.

As Brad Amburn of Foreign Policy Magazine points out:

“Part of being a “public intellectual” is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public.”

Or, in the famous words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Taking into consideration all of the above, I argue that comedian and former talk show host Jon Stewart exemplifies what it means to be a public intellectual in the modern era.

Jon Stewart, born Jon Stuart Leibowitz in New York City, grew up in New Jersey with his three brothers, his mother — a teacher — and his psychiatrist father. Stewart attended the College of William and Mary, a small college in Williamsburg, Virginia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, making Stewart education, but not to the extent that one would consider him an academic — a moniker that would have disqualified him (in some circles) as a true public intellectual in the 1960s.

At 25, Jon moved back to Manhattan, with dreams of making it as a comedian. After years of performing on the standup comic circuit, he caught the eye of a producer for the David Letterman Show, who invited Stewart to perform on the show. Soon after, he was offered his own show on the MTV network, which would come to be called “The Jon Stewart Show.” Although his show was well received, it was ultimately cancelled. His next move took him to Los Angeles, where he worked as an actor before deciding Hollywood wasn’t for him. Back in New York, Stewart wrote and published his first of three books, a series of short stories entitled “Naked Pictures of Famous People.” The book became a best seller on the New York Times best seller list. In 1999, Stewart finally found his niche, when he took over “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.
By this time, Jon Stewart was well on his way to becoming a bona-fide public intellectual, bringing his own brand of political satire to mainstream audiences . As James Parker, for The Atlantic writes:

“Reverence for the news, however, news-idolatry, was eroding steadily—to the point where, by 1999 and the start of Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show, the only type of news one could take seriously was the fundamentally unserious. And so satire, which appears to be hocking loogies from the margins but in fact takes its bearings from a higher authority, came blushingly to occupy the middle. There was Jon Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, smack in the moral center, sitting like a barbed lotus between the blah on the right (Tucker Carlson) and the blah on the left (Paul Begala), destroying them both with divine satirical perspective and insisting all the while that he was just a comedian.”

On “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart delivered the news from the perspective of a critical outsider, shining a light on the absurdity of the media, taking to task politicians on both sides of the aisle, criticizing ill-informed policies, and raising the bar for what passed as political discourse. But the true genius of Jon Stewart, was his ability to deliver hard news in a way that made so many people laugh. The importance of humor as a means to infiltrate the minds of people cannot be understated. As Alice Gregory, for the New York Times writes:

“Humor gives (us) both permission and incentive to examine the world for its flaws, as well as a medium for reporting them back to us. Jokes bring pleasure that is intoxicating in a way that an argument almost never is. A joke forces you to agree with it, or at least reckon with its truth by acknowledging that it made you smile. Laughter is pre-analyzed agreement.”

Over the course of 16 years, Stewart became a touchstone for millions of Americans, a person one could look to for an intelligent take on a variety of issues. He became one of the most trusted names in journalism, a person who could be counted on to call out fallacies and contradictions many “serious” journalists failed to acknowledge. Jon Stewart conversed with over 2600 guests on his show, guests ranging from the President of the United States, to actors, comedians, writers, musicians, world leaders, administration officials, congressmen, senators, and of course, public intellectuals. In these interviews, guests were always met with Stewarts quick wit, the kind of wit that can only come with a certain level of intellect. He spoke truth to power in straightforward language, using satire as a vehicle to get people to pay attention to heavy and important issues. Anyone who can go toe to toe with such a wide variety of experts in their respective fields, and manage to make people laugh while doing it, deserves to be called public intellectual.

Since his retirement from The Daily Show, Stewart is still called upon to comment publicly on news stories of political and cultural importance. He has also directed a film, entitled “Rosewater,” a true story about an Iranian journalist working for the BBC, who was arrested and subsequently tortured by the Iranian government. Additionally, Jon and his wife Tracey, an animal welfare activist, have opened four farm sanctuaries, and worked to pass new legislation to benefit the lives of millions of animals. Just months before his retirement, in an interview with the Guardian, Stewart contemplated what he would like to do when he left the show:

“Whether it’s standup, the show, books or films, I consider all this just different vehicles to continue a conversation about what it means to be a democratic nation, and to have it written into the constitution that all men are created equal – but to live with that for 100 years with slaves. How do those contradictions play themselves out? And how do we honestly assess our failings and move forward with integrity?”

Spoken like a true public intellectual.