Donald J. Trump unveiled his foreign policy program this past week in a speech in New York, claiming he wanted to put America first and would not go abroad in search of enemies, suggesting that foreign aggression would not be his first instinct.
That Trump was introduced at the outset of his speech by Zalmay Khalilzad does not inspire confidence he will actually fulfill his vision and reflects much deeper inconsistencies in Trump's rhetoric on foreign policy.
Khalilzad if you recall was a main U.S. emissary to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq who was a power-broker behind the scenes promoting leaders that would be amenable to U.S. interests. He served the George W. Bush administration as a National Security Council adviser, cultivating particularly close ties to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, who presided over the world's leading "narco-state" ranking near bottom on the world's corruption indexes.
In his recently published memoirs, The Power-Broker of Kabul blamed Barack Obama's pulling America's support from both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, Mr. Khalilzad cites as a "tragedy" Mr. Obama's decision to withdraw, "rejecting military recommendations to leave a substantial residual force in the country." That move paved the way for the terrorists of ISIS and opened the gates wider to Iran.
This myopic analysis exemplifies Khalilzad and neoconservatives' unwillingness to take any responsibility for the catastrophe unleashed by the Bush administration's 2003 invasion which Khalilzad championed as a member of the Project for the New American Century.
And Obama in fact did leave a considerable force in Iraq that included huge numbers of private security contractors and asked for $100 million in refurbishment for the gargantuan embassy which employed thousands of employees and was nearly as large as the Vatican.
In Afghanistan, at the same time, Obama with backing from Hillary Clinton, instituted a major troop surge modeled after the one promoted by Khalilzad and his cronies in Iraq. He intensified drone strikes and military training programs whose net effect has been to sow further violence and strengthen the Taliban. Does Khalilzad seriously think sending even more U.S. combat forces would magically change the situation, especially in light of Afghanistan's history as a "graveyard of empires" which as an Afghan-American he is surely aware of?
Khalilzad embodies an imperialistic world view in which the United States is the only force capable of engendering stability in Middle Eastern countries. He claims there are many decent people in the Middle East who "would not have had a platform or a voice but for our interventions," the Afghans and Iraqis seemingly being unable to produce good leaders on their own.
Khalilzad also exemplifies the connection between money and politics which Trump claims to be against. After Obama was elected, he founded an investment and advisory company, Gryphon Capital Partners which represented petroleum companies who competed for concessions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Khalilzad advertised his capabilities in serving as liaison to foreign government leaders. At one point, Khalilzad even faced a money laundering probe from the Justice Department.
Donald Trump has presented himself as an insurgent candidate challenging the foreign policy establishment, and he was attacked by figures like Lindsey Graham for even suggesting a more isolationist course and by the New York Times for invoking America First (whose history the Times distorts - see my previous column). However. Trump's choice of Khalilzad raises serious questions about the authenticity of his commitment to renewed isolationism and a transformation of U.S. policy.
During the 2000 election cycle, George W. Bush also claimed in a PBS debate to be concerned about "over-committing U.S. troops around the world," and emphasized the importance of the United States being a "humble nation." We all know now how that turned out. Given his track record and appeal to base nationalist sentiments, there is no reason to believe Trump would be much different.
Sadly, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton, may actually be worse than Trump on foreign policy. A devastating portrait of Ms. Clinton was provided last week in the New York Times Magazine which emphasized that Hillary was more hawkish often than the Joint Chiefs and figures like former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
As Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton championed the surges in Afghanistan and Iraq and war in Libya, gloating after Muammar Qaddafi had been lynched. She manipulated public opinion by claiming Qaddafi had killed ten times more people than he actually had.
"Hillary the Hawk" was also a key voice inside the Obama administration pushing for the arming of Syrian rebels and bombing of Syria after it was alleged but never proven that the Assad government had used chemical weapons. This was another possible act of political deception reminiscent of the WMD debacle with Iraq, though in this case the public rejected the demand for bombing.
Clinton's mentor on military affairs, Gen. Jack Keane, was an intellectual architect of the Iraq surge who is a well- compensated member of the military industrial complex. He sits on the board of General Dynamics and has been a strategic adviser to Academi, the former Blackwater.
"Hillary the Hawk" was also influenced by her father Hugh Rodham a staunch Republican anticommunist. After graduating law school, she actually tried to enlist in the Marines, and later appears to have made up a story that she had dodged sniper fire in Bosnia after her C-17 military landed at Tuzsla.
This places in her class of people like NBC anchor Brian Williams who fabricated a story about his helicopter being shot down in Iraq. It reflects a dangerous martial culture prevalent today in the United States at a time the country is engaged in military operations all around the world.
If the current front-runners hold up, American voters will be faced with a terrible choice of candidates when it comes to foreign policy. On side you have an unscrupulous billionaire who's warm up act is a central architect of foreign military interventions he purports to oppose; on the other an unrepentant war hawk who has deceived the public time and again.
Pity those of us on the left who want a sane and pacifist oriented foreign policy. We have no good horse to back in this race if Sanders does not make it, although we haven't really had one in any election in the recent past.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012).