By Scott Kirwin
For connoisseurs of schadenfreude this election provides a veritable smorgasbord. High on the menu will be watching the anti-war wing of the Democratic party vote for Hillary Clinton, full-fledged supporter of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mastermind of a third in Libya, and instigator of a fourth in Syria. It’s no accident that several architects of the Iraq War have come out in support of her candidacy including Colin Powell and Robert Kagan.
In contrast her opponent Donald Trump has opposed all of these interventions, promising to deter America’s enemies using the same strategy that President Reagan did in the 1980’s, “peace through strength.” Liberals since Jimmy Carter have viewed this strategy as a warmongering, pro-war strategy and instead advocated for a more conciliatory, less antagonistic approach characterized by UN speeches and reset buttons. On the face of it the liberals would appear correct, since building up arms and strengthening the military can logically be viewed as a prelude to war. But appearances are deceiving, and Reagan’s approach guaranteed an unprecedented era of peace between the US and its conventional rivals, the Soviets and later the Russians, and the Chinese. As leaders from Sun Tsu to Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew, an opponent is unlikely to attack while you are in a position of strength. It is only when he perceives weakness, an opening that he can exploit will he then strike. An unspoken assumption of the “peace through strength” strategy is that is a defensive strategy in contrast to the rearmament of Germany in the 1930s that increased the likelihood of war.
Trump like most rank-and-file Republicans has strong isolationist tendencies. After the debacles in Iraq and Libya, as well as the likely failure of the “good war” in Afghanistan, the GOP is unlikely to support any intervention abroad that does not directly threaten the American homeland. Trump’s rhetoric to our allies about them “free-riding” or needing to “pay for our protection” is this isolationist view given a voice. But these isolationist impulses will be countered by increased defense spending and boosted manpower and upgrades in America’s defensive capabilities at bases and facilities closer to home. Such a build up would send a clear warning to Russia and China that while the US refused to be drawn into every dispute between nations in the world, it reserved the ability to fight when doing so was in its interest. It would then be up to Russian and Chinese leaders to decide how far they could push the Americans before that army was unleashed upon them.
The “peace through strength” strategy has its limits. Osama Bin Laden realized that no amount of conventional arms could stop an unconventional war, and his successes with terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and East Africa in the mid-1990s proved him right. It was only after the spectacular success of the 9-11 attacks that the US learned to direct its conventional resources to remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and employ a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy to attack al Qaeda that Bin Laden’s organization was degraded. The COIN strategy has evolved into a more effective anti-terror strategy dependent on special forces, ground intel, and executed by drones.
Democrats since Lyndon Johnson have forgotten the importance of “peace through strength” in deterring our adversaries. Obama’s conciliatory stances in Europe have encouraged Russia to meddle in Ukraine after annexing the Crimea, threaten our allies in Eastern Europe, support the Assad regime even after it crossed “red lines” by using chemical weapons against civilians. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has resulted in China annexing the South China Sea and encouraged North Korean nuclear ambitions. His willingness to appease or issue empty threats simply encourages our adversaries to push us as far as they can.
Refusing to set boundaries and punishing our adversaries when they cross them encourages them to push even further. Eventually the US will be pushed so far it will have no recourse other than war. And this is the state of affairs that Hillary Clinton, liberal hawk, has a good chance of taking over from President Obama.
The pro-Hillary media has gone out of its way to demonize Trump with “keep the nuclear codes away from him” memes, but it’s much more likely that their candidate will be the one to use them.