The empire’s degree of evil is one thing to analyze. Its incompetence is another, and that’s what I have a few comments on.
No matter what the motives of those in the empire’s driving seats, its actions in the Middle East in this century reveal immense incompetence. The latest example is that Trump triggered a Turkish invasion of Syria (against Afrin at the moment) when it became known that he was building a 30,000 man border force with a large Kurd component. It is certain that Trump didn’t want this reaction from Turkey, but he got it anyway.
This conclusion is virtually self-evident, but for support for it, see here and here for extensive commentary by an expert, Joshua Landis. Be aware that he is a non-interventionist, having written “Let me add here that I am strongly opposed to foreign military interventions, because they generally only bring further disaster. We do not need academic studies to convince us that the foreign military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan have turned out to be disasters.”
Commenting on the Turkish invasion, Professor Gareth Stansfield writes “It’s time for the west finally to face an uncomfortable question – what is it that they want to achieve in the Middle East, beyond glib statements promoting peace, stability and democracy?” Perhaps this is a disguised call for the U.S. not only to define its goals but impose them with force. However, it also says that the U.S. has been incompetent after 17 years of aggression in the region without clear goals and without having achieved anything that delineate what those goals might have been.
All I have to add is my conviction that such disasters are rooted in our institutional arrangements, and they have appeared frequently in our history under what is ordinarily regarded as a Constitution that was a model of political wisdom for its time in generating beneficial social results. The American Civil War (1861-1865) occurred under this form of government, for example.
It may be argued that ours is a government that was designed to do exactly what it has and to become exactly what it has become, an empire. Maybe, but is this empire necessary for the market order that has produced our great benefits? Absolutely not. Or has this growth in government retarded the benefits of that market order? Without a doubt.
Bush and Obama have also displayed a high degree of ineptitude and lack of skill in conducting their foreign policies. In my view of how government works, incompetence is the normal state of affairs. The whole system of democracy, representation, centralization of power, checks and balances and monopoly of power ordinarily produces poor results. Occasionally, through accident, design, luck and effective statesmanship, something good is worked out; but this is not your typical outcome.
The incentive system present in the government arrangement is the basic reason why it tends strongly to produce the opposite of what it is supposed to produce and what it claims it is producing. Competition to gain and (mis)use political power does not result in society-wide benefits. It results in an accretion of centralized power and its increasing misuse. Individuals inside the system may seem to be sincerely interested in doing some “good” things, but it’s always as they see the good. The fact is that they cannot administer power for “good”. They are too limited even to know what that “good” is, much less know how to use power to bring it about. And, let’s face it, they are far from selfless servants and neither are their constituencies and donors. Self-interest in the presence of power is toxic, and it will overcome any checks and balances.
Building up a government with central powers like ours is no guarantee that people will know how to use them or can even recognize what might be suitable ways to use them. These are “natural” facts, in my view, and they explain why we constantly observe poor results. This view is probably well-known in libertarian circles. It’s far from known and accepted broadly in our society. If it were, government would be extremely limited.
Trump and his circle are clueless on the Middle East and Afghanistan, just as their predecessors were. This is not to say that an expert placed in their position would do much better because the situations within which power is being administered are extremely complex and changing constantly. Non-ergodic processes are involved. This too is a fact of nature, and it explains why Bush, Obama and Trump all are inept, incompetent, clumsy, and unskilled when they come up against these processes.9:42 am on January 27, 2018