Colin Powell Is Right: Our Foreign Policy Is in Shambles

On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria interviewed two former secretaries of state: Colin Powell and Madeline Albright. The moment that stood out was when the former called out his colleagues in the Republican Party.

Powell defined himself as a “moderate Republican who believes that we should have a strong foreign policy, a strong defense policy, but we have to look out for our people.” While Powell sacrificed his ability to be a bipartisan leader by kowtowing to the Bush administration on the invasion of Iraq—something he later called a lasting blot on his record—he still maintains some gravitas with the GOP. That is why his statement on Sunday should carry some weight.

In calling on Republican members of Congress to “get a grip” and say something when they see things that aren’t right, Powell stated that our foreign policy is in shambles. That is a major problem for a party that has typically identified itself with the idea that the primary purpose of the federal government is defense.

Regardless of what party you belong to, it is impossible to argue with Powell’s point that our foreign policy is in shambles. The latest news on two fronts put an exclamation point on that reality. As Martin Longman has already noted, the president is pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria, while Turkey begins a military offensive in the area. In doing so, he is basically abandoning our longtime allies, the Kurds.

But the problem with the Trump administration isn’t merely that the president makes bad decisions. He also creates chaos in the way he makes decisions. For example, at this point, Fox News is reporting that the announcement about Syria “completely blindsided” the Pentagon. That appears to be true, given that several congressional Republicans were hesitant to believe the news. Notice that on Monday morning, both Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio tweeted that “if press reports are true.” But the White House had already issued a public statement on Sunday night.

It appears that Trump didn’t consult with the Pentagon or Republican leaders in Congress, but made an impulsive decision immediately after a telephone call with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.

The other place our foreign policy is in shambles is something many of us could have predicted when Trump embraced Kim Jong Un. Days before negotiations were to begin again in Stockholm last week, the North Korean dictator tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. According to the Washington Post, the talks didn’t last long.

North Korea on Sunday gave the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its approach to nuclear negotiations if it wants the talks to continue…

The statement came a day after the sides met in Stockholm to restart the talks after an eight-month stalemate — and then disagreed publicly over how they went. The Trump administration described the working-level talks as “good discussions.” The Foreign Ministry called them “sickening.”…

“Ahead of what is likely to be a bumpy election campaign for Trump in 2020, it appears that the North may be hoping that the combined effect of the ticking clock and American fears of long-range missile and nuclear tests in the year ahead will stimulate a significant shift in U.S. strategy at the eleventh hour,” O’Carroll [chief executive of the Korea Risk Group] said in an analysis posted on the NK Pro website.

The president’s phone call with the Ukrainian president, along with his suggestion that China should investigate the Biden’s, has broadcast to every country around the globe that his foreign policy has been captured by his own political interests. It is hardly surprising that other leaders will step up to the plate to capitalize on that reality in pursuit of their own interests.

Meanwhile, we have the attorney general traveling the globe to pressure our allies into signing on to conspiracy theories to undermine our intelligence services and the secretary of state is engaged in yet another probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Colin Powell is right. Our foreign policy is in shambles, primarily because this president is incapable of assessing what is in our country’s national interests due to his obsession with his own personal interests. To the extent that congressional Republicans stand by while that continues, they will demonstrate that they join the president in caring more about their own power than they do about a strong foreign policy. The result will be that yet another pillar of the GOP will go up in flames.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.