Tonight I heard a fellow on the radio talk about Trump’s prospective foreign policy team. He sounded oh-so-serious. I guess you can imagine his remarks easily enough: our national security is too important to be left to amateurs. Trump has to surround himself with the best people. Family members and cronies won’t do. The subtext, of course, was that Trump does not have experience with foreign and defense policy. If he does not have ‘old hands’ around – the best people – he’s liable to make serious mistakes that could place our whole country in serious danger.
I make no claims about Trump’s foreign policy expertise, but let’s review some basic developments during the last sixteen years. No one said George W. Bush’s foreign policy team was inexperienced. Colin, Condi, Rummy, Wolfy, Dick the C, and Dubya himself all had smarts, credibility, and experience. Everyone thought, “Our country’s in safe hands.” Next thing you know, this A-team of geniuses starts a war that we now routinely call “the worst foreign policy blunder in the whole history of the United States.” I have not heard one commentator mention another blunder that comes even close. No one can think of one.
Well even experts make mistakes, right? But wait a minute, after they made that mistake, they did something that we cannot even call a mistake. Their next program was just plain evil. They set up a worldwide torture regime, and, amazingly, tried to keep it a secret. When people came in and said, “Hey, what are you doing here?,” they said, “Oh well, gee, we’re hanging people up on walls and other stuff to keep our country safe. Now don’t bother us anymore, because you don’t know what we might do to you.” Even after they got caught, our foreign policy experts asked about our enemies, “Why do they hate us so?”
Torture gets to be boring after a while, so the crew that eagerly strapped people to waterboards or forced them into little boxes decided to retire. They turned their equipment, black sites, and prison camps over to another A-team headed by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates. The new president, after eight years of Republican stupid shit, decided to develop a new doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit.” The president figured when he went public with his complex, profound doctrine that he’d better make it, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”
The new president, after eight years of Republican stupid shit, decided to develop a new doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
I guess you can see why he would make that his top principle, after his predecessors fucked up so brazenly. As Hillary Clinton said at the time, though, “‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle worthy of a great nation.” It also assumes that not doing stuff is not stupid. As Obama has demonstrated more than we care to remember, not doing good stuff may be more stupid than doing stupid stuff. To put it more succinctly, “Know when to get up off the pot.”
In the end, Obama’s foreign policy people have been far more amateurish than amateurs would have been. Amateurs know what they don’t know. Smug, self-confident professionals make the worst mistakes, because they don’t know the limits of their own knowledge. Thus we have eight more years of failure after failure in our foreign and defense policies, and a team that insists everything is going just fine. Check in with John Kerry to see if he has ever expressed any doubts about how his Syria policy is going.
So don’t tell me we need an A-team to help Donald Trump with his national security policy. Our best and brightest don’t have such a great record, going all the way back to Vietnam. Let’s bring in a few chimpanzees and orangutans. At least they have good spatial perception and pattern recognition. They sure couldn’t do worse on the world’s chessboard.