The weekend’s news suggests that President Donald Trump’s pardon of a war criminal, former Army officer Michael Behenna, is not going to be a one-off thing but part of a broader trend of pardoning those accused or convicted of war crimes. While this policy presents challenges to the American armed forces—endangering discipline and cohesion, my focus here is on the impact on present and future allies. Simply put, this new stance will make it much harder for many countries to join the US in any future military campaign. Here, I take a quick look at what the allies provide and then focus on how pardoning war criminals is likely to affect future military cooperation.
by Stephen Saideman
The missile strike against the airfield in Syria raises far more questions than it answers (for an excellent initial take, see here). As I think about it, I have to be honest that my confirmation bias might be at work: that anything Trump does is wrong in my mind. Would I have approved of Hillary Clinton doing the same thing? Not so sure as I have become quite skeptical about the use of force, so let’s run through the situation itself before we get to the Trumpness of it all.
by Stephen M. Saideman
I am tempted to make this a daily feature: what have we learned about the Trump Administration on each day that scares us the most? But that will be exhausting as Jon Stewart suggested on the Colbert Show. Still, I think this might be a regular feature. So, which is it for the last 24 hours?
Is it the spat with Australia? No. That is just stunning, since it is incredibly hard to screw up that relationship. The Aussies are perhaps the people on the planet most like the Americans for a variety of reasons, and they still feel a keen debt for that World War II thing. They have showed up in every American war, no matter how misguided, even when other allies will not (Vietnam, Iraq 2003). But this does not quite scare me the most.
What does? Learning that President Bannon, oh, I mean, Rasputin, oh I mean the Trump Whisperer believes that the US will be at war with China in the next ten years. Why does this bother me so? Holy self-fulfilling prophecy, Batman! If one believes that war is inevitable, then one begins to behave in ways that make war more likely. Instead of trying to avoid war, one tries to find the right moment, the most opportune time for oneself. Oh, and since this is international relations, where the other side is aware and reacts, they start doing the same thing–making moves to put themselves in the best position to win. Usually, this means figuring out how to land a decisive first blow. Which means in a crisis, the US and China would be looking for opportunities to strike first and also fearing the first strikes of the other side, making it hard to manage the crisis. Neither side would be as willing to play for time to figure a way out because, hey, war’s gonna happen.
Whether it is the US launching a preemptive attack to hit Chinese forces before they hit American bases in the region or China launches first to hit American bases and ships in the area (sorry, Japan), it is easy to imagine the fears of first strikes and how exaggerated they become when war is seen as inevitable.
Yes, this screams to the IR scholar World War I. There is much controversy about the historiography of that war, but one thing that did operate at the time–the sense that war was inevitable, which encouraged all kinds of behavior that led to the war. So, yes, IR scholars are extremely nervous right now. The informal discussion revolves around the question of which war comes first: Mexico, Iran, or China. As it stands, I would prefer the first two wars to the third, which again reminds me of how low our expectations have become, thanks to Donnie Trump.
Returning to Bannon, he probably doesn’t mind a war or two, perhaps would not even mind the US losing a war with China, as his main goal is to break the United States in pretty much every way so that he can usher forth a New Order with white nationalists running everything (into the ground).
So, yeah, I am scared. How are you doing?