Bold Actions Are Not Proposals
More than a dozen journalists praised the Trump administration for its attack on Syria, one that did almost nothing to the capability of the Syrian military to continue to attack civilians. The same Congressmen who opposed President Obama's request to use force, praised Trump's attack, while Trump's own very well documented history of opposing involvement in Syria is mysteriously ignored. If logic fails, it is because the whole story is incoherent. Critics make strong arguments to the attack being an impulsive reaction to a challenge to his masculinity, a smokescreen to divert attention from allegations of Russian interference in the election, or an attempt to garner favor among male voters. Whatever the motivation, it cannot be explained in terms of a coherent policy toward the Syrian government. Legal arguments aside, the order appears to be a matter of pure fiat.
A coherent policy would have several defining characteristics. First, it would have a policy goal. At the moment, no such goal has been articulated. The use of chemical weapons may be a trigger, but no such declaration preceded the attack and the Secretary of State had just declared that the Syrian people would have to deal with the situation there, giving a green light to their oppressor to make that outcome more to Assad's liking. Second, there would be clear expectations for our allies and opponents in the Middle East and elsewhere. Publicly abusing our NATO allies with claims of unjust burdens and celebrating Brexit and denigrating the European Union does not inspire confidence in our allies and trading partners, while it encourages our opponents. Finally, the resources for implementing such policies would include staffing, planning, and international coordination for implementation. The lack of understanding about the basics of running a government is being revealed.
Clarity, especially in dangerous situations, is the best way to avoid unintended reactions. Having a policy that people understand, both Americans and foreign leaders, will do much to ensure our security. That is the responsibility of a leader. It is also an antidote to 'mission creep,' mistakes, misunderstanding and miscalculation.
Whatever the opposition does, one thing will be critical: there must be an articulate explanation of the alternative. Proposals need to be specific and attainable. Support has to be built at the base and the opposition needs to hold itself accountable for maintaining the discipline and focus necessary to implement clear policies, whether in Syria, North Korea, or in trade. We cannot afford an inarticulate, haphazard approach to foreign or domestic policy.
Beware of Incoherence
We have to teach ourselves to see through blather and incoherence and demand clarity and evidence in new ways. Our future and that of our children depends on securing better leadership, with a clear, inclusive vision for all of us. To have coherent policies, we have to find coherent leaders who can articulate policies that are more detailed than slogans or sound bites. Clarity is a matter of accountability and responsibility. Incoherence is a serious problem for a leader and more serious for the people he leads. Character matters. Reputation matters.
When leaders mumble, when they don't articulate a clear vision, when they obfuscate, are evasive and incoherent, they are not being good leaders. The tools of obfuscation include incoherence. Avoiding responsibility is a habit that makes problems worse and the future more uncertain. This is what we are facing now.
Our military is trained to assess their opponents and to consider the risks of engagement. We hope that their advice is heeded and weighed against the cost to Americans and our allies. In dictatorships, the interest of the public and the costs of military failures is borne by people who are treated as expendable and casualty rates reflect that indifference. A coherent policy will recognize these costs and benefits.
For additional information on how bad foreign policies are common to small coalitions like the one we have in place, read these books: