Under the Trump presidency, the foreign policy of the U.S. seems to be in flux.

President Trump often sends out mixed messages on Twitter and in person so that other world leaders are left shaking their heads as they attempt to decipher where the U.S. stands on particular issues. For example, Pres. Trump greatly respects the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman and the Gulf monarchs, yet bans Muslims from certain countries to come to the U.S. Also, Nicholas Berry, Senior Analyst for the Center for Defense Information, notes, “Every Muslim country, from Indonesia to Morocco, is under some form of U.S. sanctions.” And these sanctions are not working, say some experts. Rather, these sanctions cause other nations to despise the U.S., and build resentment across the Muslim world, thus feeding terrorism.

Moreover, it appears the U.S. lacks a cogent and coherent foreign policy, particularly in that complex region known as the Middle East. As Lindsey Graham noted, “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily, and what we’re doing.” (See Juan Cole, “Global Specs Ops in Trump’s Pentagon: Elite Commandos in Record 147 Countries,” Informed Comment, Dec. 15, 2017).

Is this not a sad commentary on our present situation in a complex and fractious world?

In addition to our regular Armed Forces, we now possess 70,000 Special Operations forces, a number larger than the military might of many countries. These special forces are engaged in “Everywhere War” fighting “terrorists.” Although the term, terrorist has many meanings. For the U.S. military the word, terrorists, refers to “Muslim extremists.” These Special Operation Forces, including the C.I.A., conduct raids at night, drone strikes and clandestine attacks against enemies on the “kill-list” of the U.S.

Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of U.S. Special Operations Command notes that these Special Operations forces protect the U.S. and maintain “regional balances of power.” However, no one knows whether they are ensuring our safety and security or fostering conflict around the world. (Nick Turse, “Commandos Sans Fontières, the Global Growth of U.S. Special Operations Forces, TomDispatch, July 1,2018).

An example may clarify matters. On Oct. 3, 2015, a helicopter gunship used by U.S. Special Operations Command fired on the Doctors Without Borders hospital and trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan killing 24 patients, 14 staff and four caregivers. This hospital, a completely operational humanitarian one in a Taliban-controlled region, was in a few minutes reduced to rubble.

Are hospitals, the sick and injured and health care providers no longer safe areas? Is such action calculated to increase our “America First” agenda or will it help recruit more terrorists? Should we be in 147 countries around the world or are we doing more harm than good?

On Oct. 4, the White House rolled out its “America First” counterterrorism strategy that stresses “strengthening border controls, combating violent ideology and thwarting terrorist recruitment and radicalization. (Warren P. Strobel, “White House Unveils Counterterror Plan,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 5, 2018). This counterterrorism strategy builds on Obama’s plan, but differs from it in at least three important ways: (1) the decision to detain suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may backfire on the U.S. Why so? This site is so hated in the Muslim world that it may serve as a recruitment tool for extremist groups; (2) the new plan or strategy of the Trump administration speaks often of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Islam refers to the religion founded by Mohammad, the prophet. A more precise term would be” radical Muslim terrorism.” 

(3) Mr. Obama as commander in chief made decisions about making war and used a hands-on approach. On the other hand, Pres. Trump has handed over to his generals his own authority as commander in chief of war making. They have authority to raise troop levels and get added resources as needed.

The budget for the Defense Department is larger than that of all the countries in NATO combined. Hence, it’s no wonder that our budget for 2018 will be 1$ trillion in the red. (Kate Davidson, “Treasury Expects Its Debt Issuance To Top 1$ Trillion,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29, 2018). For this reason, Mitch Mc Connell wants to make cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Richard Penaskovic is an Auburn University Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies

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