The Unz Review • An Alternative Media Selection$
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
America Should Start Exploring How to End All the Wars It's Started
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information


Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • B
Show CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Thanks, LOL, or Troll with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used three times during any eight hour period.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters have greeted President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, the dropping of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and the dispatch of a naval task force in the direction of North Korea.

This spurt in belligerence over the last week has as much to do with domestic American politics as any fundamental new development in the rest of the world. Trump needed to defuse the accusation that he was too close to President Putin and too tolerant of a Russian ally like Bashar al-Assad. The resort to military action was largely in keeping with the old Pentagon saying that “defence policy ends at the water’s edge”, meaning that it is politics inside, not outside the US, which is the real decision-maker.

Whatever Trump’s precise motives, his sudden fondness for the use of armed force shows that what President Obama criticised as “the Washington playbook” is back in business as the guide for conduct of American foreign policy. “It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment,” said Obama in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly last year. “And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarised responses.”

The poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 87 people and the retaliatory firing by the US of 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase was the occasion, but not the cause, of the volte face in Trump’s foreign policy. Previously, he had defied the conventional wisdom of the powers that be in the US and in Britain and France on a host of issues, such as relations with Russia, Syria, China, Nato and the EU.

There was something comical about the outrage expressed by self-declared experts at Trump’s new departures. Anti-Trump forces interpreted any contact, however fleeting, between any Russian and any member of the Trump team, past and present, as a sign of possible treachery in a way that would have made Senator McCarthy sigh with envy.

Simple-minded though some of Trump’s declarations might appear, others were more realistic than anything said by Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain.

In Syria, for instance, the main problem for the US and its allies is and has long been that, though they would very much like to get rid of Assad, the only alternative appears to be anarchy or the empowerment of Isis and al-Qaeda clones. Clinton’s policy, insofar as she had one, was to pretend that there already existed, or could be created, a “third force” in Syria that would fight and ultimately replace both Isis and Assad. This is the sort of fantasy that is frequently common currency among think tanks and dedicated experts, often retired generals or diplomats working as TV commentators.

Trump’s summary of what was happening in Syria expressed during the presidential campaign was far more realistic. He said that his attitude was that “you are fighting Syria, Syria is fighting Isis, and you have to get rid of Isis. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful because of us, aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

There is nothing quite so frightened or ferocious in the world as an established order that is subjected to criticism questioning its core beliefs. Hence the embarrassing relief shown by so many world leaders, academic specialists and media commentators at the news that the direction and management of US foreign policy is returning to its old norms. Their optimism may be premature but they would clearly welcome a Trump administration neutered of any radical intentions.

Ignored in this is the fact that the militarised options favoured by “the Washington playbook” that Obama came to so despise have produced little but disaster in the post-9/11 era and are likely to do so again. Almost everything advocated by the Washington foreign policy establishment since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya and Syria in 2011 and Yemen in 2015 has created or exacerbated the conflicts. Note that none of these wars have ended or show much sign of doing so.

Obama could see what was going wrong, though he generally responded with stoic resignation rather than attempting to change the course of events. But his analysis of the weaknesses of the US foreign policy establishment and its policies is full of fascinating insights relevant to the more conventional policy on which Donald Trump is now apparently embarking. Goldberg says that Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.” He had similar misgivings about US links to Pakistan.

TV channels and op-ed writers who treat the expertise of Washington think tanks with such fawning reverence should reflect on the Obama White House’s view of these institutions. Goldberg, who spoke to Obama and his staff over a long period, reports: “A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as ‘Arab-occupied territory’.”

Remarkably, none of the foreign policy establishments feel that they have done anything very wrong in the Middle East since 9/11. If the governments they advise or belong to really wanted to bring to an end to the eight or more wars being waged in the great swathe of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, they would have made more effort to do so.


The Trump foreign policy has always been a contradictory mixture of chauvinism and isolationism, of making America great again and keeping out of other people’s wars. But the isolationist element in this appears to be waning, as illustrated by the US actions in Syria, Afghanistan and towards North Korea over the past week along with the more confrontational attitude towards Russia.

This is in keeping with prescriptions of “the playbook”, but is more dangerous than before because of the Trump administration’s tendency to shoot from the hip, particularly in the direction of Iran. Relief in foreign capitals that much authority is in the hands of experienced generals may be displaced. None of these soldiers were quite as successful or farsighted in Iraq and Afghanistan as their admirers now proclaim and they have a natural tendency towards resolving problems by force.

The only real way to prevent another mass killing, such as that of the 87 people killed by chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April or the 278 killed by bombs in Mosul on 17 March, is to bring these wars to an end. Measures that do not do so, but purport to deter the perpetrators or limit the suffering, are pure hypocrisy.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump 
Hide 19 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
  1. mikh says:

    “America Should Start Exploring How to End All the Wars It’s Started”

    Nice catchy title there, but as everybody (should) know by now, that does, in Cocky’s star-of-David -between -the Euphrates-and -the-Nile-world, not apply to all the wars for the Jews in the Middle East until the Yinon plan is fully implemented.

  2. Wally says:

    So then:
    Obama’s mongering is OK & excusable, Trump’s is not.

    Obama the War Criminal
    Butcherer of women and children.

    Obama Legacy

  3. Enough already with the gunboat diplomacy stuff. The Brits tried to teach us but we didn’t learn. At least they left the English language around the world when they went home. We’ll leave mega-death and chaos in our star-spangled wake.

    • Replies: @Arnieus
  4. Juche is a full-fledged religion in North Korea that worships Kim Il Sung as god, and his son, Kim Jong Il as the son of god. A false move now could unleash a jihad, a holy war or an oriental Jonestown minus the coolaid but with nukes. Tokyo, Seoul and a nearby US fleet should be concerned.

  5. We now know for sure that elections will not change Imperial aggression. Aggression will cease when the Empire collapses. The sooner the better

    • Replies: @Olorin
  6. dearieme says:

    “War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters”: alas, war-whoops and loud applause from far more people than that, including plenty of people who claimed to be anti-war when the subject was the warmongering of Obama and Hellary.

    No wonder American politicians love a war: a huge chunk of the American electorate seems to love a war, as long as they don’t have to fight themselves.

  7. Mark Green says: • Website

    Think tanks in Washington are not ‘Arab-occupied territory’. How silly. Like our two major parties, our news media, and our entertainment media, these are Zionist zones of influence, policy-formulation, and outright propaganda. Arabs are bit players within these fortified institutions. And even if/when they do buy in, Arabs must read from the same Israeli playbook.

    I’ve long noticed that Cockburn studiously avoids examining the real reason behind Washington’s devotion to taking out any country Mideast that threatens Israel. Again, he does not surprise or disappoint. How boring. What’s he doing here?

    • Agree: Felix Keverich
  8. “The Trump foreign policy has always been a contradictory mixture of chauvinism and isolationism, of making America great again and keeping out of other people’s wars…”

    I’m not sure how this is contradictory. First of all, he doesn’t put down other countries (a key tenet of chauvinism), he praises them — for doing a better job for their people than the U.S. government does for its people. Then he suggests making better trade and immigration deals. Hardly chauvinistic.

    And how is “staying out of other people’s wars” contradictory to making better trade and immigration deals for America? I would think they would go hand in glove.

    You have to love the diseased European left — they sure are an amusing bunch.

    On the one hand, they despise American might. On the other, they desperately want to use it for their own selfish interests, wherever they may be. Think of the Brits and the Falklands. After slagging off American militarism for decades, they really wanted those Sidewinder missiles didn’t they? Same thing now.

    Much of the pressure for U.S. involvement in the ME comes from European globalists, in particular our so-called “allies.” (along with YKW here in the U.S.) The Brits were absolutely overjoyed by Trump’s action in Syria. Exiting NATO would be the best thing this country ever did.

  9. Olorin says:

    So very true and perspicacious!

    Look at how aggression ceased after, for instance, Rome’s fall!

    That’s all it takes, and by golly, I don’t know why anybody didn’t think of this solution before!

    Just one more, and the storyline that human aggression operates according to geopolitical-narrative storylines will stop forever!

    End the war narrative, and the war narrative narrative…give us one big hemoclysmic eschatological climax…and the rest of human endeavor a lambish fluffy bunny rainbow farting unicorn denouement! Forever! I can hardly wait!

  10. “This is the sort of fantasy that is frequently common currency among think tanks and dedicated experts, often retired generals or diplomats working as TV commentators” – who are also working for military contractors, all of whom make much more money when there is more war.

    It’s true the wars are never won or lost, but never end. How would that be good for the profits and stock prices of the generals’ employers? Do officers own stocks in their future employers even before they join them after retiring from the military starting at age 42 with generous pensions?

  11. Flavius says:

    To paraphrase Reagan, was America better off on 9/10 or today, a couple of days after a cringe making media splash over our vaunted military dropping a 25,000 pound bomb on a pile of rocks in Eastern Afghanistan in order to kill less than 100 people. Except that this stupidity actually occurred, it is the stuff of satire, making Trump, for whom we had high hopes, the fool, a caricature of his oafish celebrity self. One can only imagine him in cowboy boots and ten gallon hat riding the damn thing to ground.
    There is a fair amount of truth in what Cockburn has written – the drivers of the imperial wagon forge on ahead, oblivious of the scorched earth and debris it has left behind. Same drivers, same Pentagon, same think tanks, same media solons, same, same, same – no accountability whatever.
    I quibble over giving Obama a virtual free pass for talking, or posturing, a virtuous game. Mallarkey to that. He was driven off Syria by an unexpected media uprising; and with regard to the Libya debacle, largely ignored by most media for the obvious reasons, the buck stops with him, the ‘President’ after all, despite the fact that he did it for the three harpies who were motivated, of course, by noble intentions.
    If we are going to face the ugly truth about Clinton, Bush, and now Trump, we might just as well face the truth about our Nobel Laureate President too: he talked the talk, oh how he could talk the talk, but in the Oval Office he was a pathetic reed blowing in the wind. He gets no credit whatever for putting himself in front of the wagon, none at all, because he didn’t.
    Other than that, good article.

  12. Truth says:

    Ending wars doesn’t create jobs or wealth opportunities, beginning them does.

    • Replies: @Talha
  13. Talha says:

    Bam! Or as Jason Liu stated; “it’s you versus you”.

    Technically, they could try more domestic stimulus options – replace old bridges, dams, etc. but pfffsssshh who needs those when you can bomb cave dwellers (or goats) for a cool $16 million – USA! USA!


    • Agree: Truth
  14. sowhat says:

    A lot of what happens with America in the Middle East has a lot to do with Israelis ear-bending in D.C. and AIPAC, IMO, should be throw the Eff OUT of D.C.. Politicians have a fit when there is the slightest suspicion of foreign governments meddling in our affairs and just look at the money that AIPAC’S 400-strong cadré spends influencing the U.S.! Look how much foreign aide we dole out to the apartheid nation. Utter BS! First, the U.S. has been duped. The Ashkenazi are NOT the chosen people of God. There are no Hebrews left from that group that once held God’s favor. But, He turned away from them because, according to the Good Book, they looked no different to God than their heathen neighbors. Israel, today, religiously, are Pharisiens, the ones Jesus had nothing but criticism for. And Jesus wasn’t a Jewish either. So, why all the love? It’s all about forming put license opinion,as always. This isn’t mine, but this article may she’d some much needed light on the subject of our totally screwed up foreign policy. :

  15. How many years has it taken an establishment shit bag like you to say this ?

  16. I have a very simple suggestion on how America could end all its stupid wars:

    Collapse economically.

    And I’d bet my hairy German butt that this will happen any way, regardless of what Trump or any other White House dweller might do.

  17. Arnieus says:
    @Robert Magill

    Robert. The East India Company a primary instrument of “the Brits gunboat diplomacy” was wholly owned and operated by the Jewish Sassoon family. The British navy subdued China in the Opium wars force them to import opium. Your basic drug cartel of the 19th century. The Bank of England is a predatory Jewish run central bank like the Fed. Powerful Jewish banking interests were more responsible for the British empire than the English. For the last 100 years American military has been shipped around the world subduing enemies of Jewish central banking (Germany, Japan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Korea etc. ) and guarding the poppy fields in Afghanistan. We are bleeding wealth and treasure for zionist domination. Trillions for the wars in the middle east pursuing the Yinon plan for greater Israel. The wholly Jewish owned western media propaganda machine won’t mention any of this. Get the picture?

    • Replies: @Eileen Kuch
  18. it is amazing how deep the fog is at foggy bottom. even the better pundits and reporters at the bottom are still bumping their way around in the fog. cockburn is a classic example.

    how does obama explain the contradictions between his insights and his actions? who legitimized the bush wars? who handed trump the moab? somehow cockburn cant stumble his way to these questions.

    the pentagon fights wars. this is what the pentagon does. if there are no wars, the pentagon has no job. it is not complicated.

    we dont give a shit about the people we bomb. quite the contrary, we hate them. they are sub human.

    quit stumbling around in foggy bottom.

  19. @Arnieus

    You’re 100% correct, Arnieus .. Just imagine an America that’s totally free of the influences you mentioned .. Immense wealth shared among its citizens, its infrastructure (roads, levees, bridges, etc.) in fine shape due to periodic repairs, no immense poverty, etc.
    Just as in empires past (especially, the Roman Empire), the American Empire is headed for collapse. The Roman and British Empires were the longest lasting, having existed for over 500 years. Rome’s empire was the longest at 700 years, followed by Britain’s at 500. The British Empire, however, covered more territory than any other, in its heyday. That was ended when the USA – in the latter 20th Century – established military bases across the world (there are approximately 900 such bases overseas).
    This never should’ve happened .. The USA’s Founders never foresaw their new nation eventually involving itself in so many far-off wars wherein it had no business. They only foresaw their creation from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and no farther. It was George Washington (and later, Thomas Jefferson) who warned the fledgling nation against entangling alliances, but Woodrow Wilson put an end to that when he dragged a reluctant nation into WWI in 1917.

Current Commenter

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone

 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments have been licensed to The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Commenting Disabled While in Translation Mode
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr