Monday, June 17, 2019

Trump and a Multilateral Coalition? Um, No

This morning, Steven Metz asked:

And sure, it might be my confirmation bias to say: hells no.  But let me explain why Trump is incapable of creating and leading such a multinational coalition.

First, Trump doesn't want to do so.  Sure, Bush and Rummy didn't want to do so either, but but fighting two wars at the same time required help in holding the fort in the lesser priority (alas, Afghanistan).  While Bush and Rummy and others seemed exasperated by alliances, Trump is far more hostile.

Second, Trump will make it very, very hard for the allies to get their domestic politics lined up.  In most democracies, legislatures need to vote in order to deploy their forces abroad.  This is hard even when the US President is popular--ask David Cameron about failing to get support for a Syria mission.  It is much harder when the US President is unpopular.  While all of these wars are seen as American wars, Iraq and Iran are very much so.  Politicians are far more likely to compete with each other in how distant they are from Trump.  This outbidding combined with coalition politics (is Canada the only Western democracy that has a single party owning a majority of seats?  That may not last past October) means it will be very difficult to get countries to join the US.

Third, this potential war with Iran is one where the US could not take yes for an answer.  Iran signed the deal, the US--under a new President--rejected it.  Last time, the US couldn't get France and Germany on board.  Who will join in now when the alternative--getting an agreement--was something the US spurned?

Fourth, um, what would the strategy be?  To be the coalition leader, the US would need to develop a strategy for winning a war against Iran and one that does not impose a very high price because, again, this is a war of choice.  How does the US defeat Iran?  Please, tell me how this war proceeds.  Because I have no clue.  Iran's military will not disappear overnight, and it is well set up to conduct an insurgency after the US eventually wins the conventional battle (who gave some Iraqi and Afghan groups really destructive IEDs?  Oh yeah).  In chatting with experts on this stuff, we are all flummoxed--what is the theory of victory? Wishful thinking?  Maybe allies will think about joining the US, but if the US can't provide a strategy, most (if not all) will stay out of it.

Fifth, having Israel involved might be toxic for many potential Arab allies.  Having the Saudis involved may be toxic for some Western allies.  And these two countries seemed to want to defeat Iran by recklessing throwing American soldiers and marines at the problem. 

Six, allies join in because they expect to get something back.  At the very least, they expect that their ally will support them in a time of need.  Can anyone count on Trump to either remember what an ally has done before or care about it?  No.   

Alliance warfare is damned hard.  It requires patience, empathy, finessing domestic tradeoffs, a decent plan for at least the first stages, and a plausible case both for the need for war and for a strategy to achieve victory.  I can't see how Trump and Bolton and Pompeo are up to providing any of this.  Do you?

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