August 12, 2020   5 mins
August 12, 2020   5 mins

Two centuries ago, the British statesman John Bright warned against “following visionary phantoms in all parts of the world while your own country is becoming rotten within”.

It is symptomatic of how diseased American strategic thinking has become over the past 30 years that so few Americans in a position to influence the direction of US foreign policy would have the guts or insight to issue a similar warning today.

That cannot be said of President Trump’s nominee to become ambassador to Germany, retired US Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor. It’s a selection that sends a clear message in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor’s selection sends a clear message in the run-up to the 2020 election

Macgregor, who has previously been on the shortlists to be either US national security advisor or Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, would be that rarest of creatures in Trumpworld: an appointee actually in line with the policies the President campaigned on in 2016.

In him, Trump would at long last have a high profile advocate for foreign policy positions that arguably won him the election four years ago. Macgregor has been a staunch supporter of the President’s efforts to finally bring a real and lasting peace to the Korean peninsula. He has also long been an outspoken proponent of a worldwide US military drawdown, in particular calling for a serious rethink of the benefits of NATO.

President Trump has consistently called on America’s NATO partners, especially Germany, to increase their defence expenditures up to 2% of GDP. In that regard, he is not dissimilar from his presidential predecessors: both George W. Bush and Barack Obama regularly expressed frustration with NATO member countries for not spending more of their budgets on defence.

Like the President, Colonel Macgregor recognises that, in aggregate, the EU has a larger population and economy than the U.S. and is perfectly capable of defending itself. Unfortunately, the cold war defence alliance has, in the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, transformed itself into a global policeman, and a reckless one at that: the disasters of Iraq, Libya and Syria have not only undermined regional stability, they have also hampered efforts by Trump to make peace with North Korea and come to a modus vivendi with Russia.

But in some respects, Macgregor has gone even further than the president and will doubtless spell out some hard truths to the German government if he becomes the next US Ambassador to Berlin. Just last year, he called NATO a “zombie”. Even more controversial during a period of bogus “Russiagate” fanaticism, Macgregor has inconveniently reminded us that “the promises given to President Mikhail Gorbachev by President George H. W. Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Francois Mitterrand, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and their foreign ministers in 1990 — not to expand NATO eastward; not to extend membership in the NATO alliance to former member states of the Warsaw Pact—were ignored.”

This strategic commitment has not just been ignored with impunity over decades, but recently exacerbated, given America’s decision to place more US troops right on Russia’s doorstep in Poland. Indeed, NATO’s ongoing eastward expansion to Russia’s borders — encouraged by successive Democratic and Republican Administrations in Washington alike — has revived tensions with a bellicose Moscow, an irresponsible threat inflation that has revived the perpetual gravy train that flows to the Pentagon.

Macgregor, who holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, will hopefully restore some coherence to Trump’s foreign policy. He has long been a critic of the militarisation of US foreign policy, while also calling for long needed reforms in the US armed services. His credentials on that score are unassailable: Macgregor was awarded a Bronze Star with a V device for Valor in the first Gulf War for his heroic leadership in the Battle of 73 Easting, but he remained a staunch critic of the Iraqi occupation after his retirement from the armed forces in 2004.

Under normal circumstances, in a normal country, the elevation of someone of Macgregor’s stature would have been hailed by the press and foreign affairs commentariat. Alas, we are a long way from that now, and so, predictably, Macgregor’s nomination has set off a round of ad hominem attacks designed to derail his confirmation.

We’ve seen this movie before. Rather than address a nominee’s core competencies, the establishment engages in character slurs, asserting racism or the standard canard, anti-Semitism. For example, back in 2012 when President Obama nominated another war hero with contrarian views that threatened to upend to the bipartisan consensus, Chuck Hagel found himself on the receiving end of unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism by leading neo-conservatives, such as William Kristol, Eliot Cohen and Jennifer Rubin.

The focus on only a handful of Macgregor’s past statements are just a pretext for the real reasons his nomination is drawing fire. First, he is a target because his views run 180 degrees counter to those who compose the DC foreign policy “blob”, namely those working in government, think tanks, and academia, none of whom have ever been held to account for its many grave failures over the past 20 years.

Even worse, many of these same Establishment figures are now predictably reaching out to Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden. A report last week quoted unnamed “individuals who work for conservative think tanks in Washington” who have acknowledged “informally speaking with members of the Biden team in recent weeks.” The former Vice-President himself has spent his entire career in the beltway, and reflexively shares the prevailing biases of the Washington foreign policy consensus.

That’s certainly not Douglas Macgregor. He is one of the leading figures of Washington’s small and besieged but growing and determined, counter-establishment. In addition to his role as a contrarian commentator on Tucker Carlson’s popular broadcast, Macgregor is a member of the board of the Committee for the Republic which has long served as the social and intellectual nexus of DC’s counter-establishment.

The counter-establishment is rightly deemed a growing threat to the militarist status quo and plays a crucial role in pushing back against the bipartisan foreign policy that is instinctively predisposed to militarism and open-ended fiscal commitments to the Pentagon. Equally fundamental is that this group reflects the growing views of the American public which, according to recent polling, revealed a national voter population that is largely sceptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas.

Indeed, since the election of Donald Trump, DC ruling elites on both sides of the political aisle have made it abundantly clear that in their view the only people who are qualified to run for the presidency are those who refuse to question the status quo. Through incessant leaks against Trump and the dissemination of stories of dubious reporting (coincidentally, always occurring whenever a troop reduction anywhere is publicly mooted), they are seeking to ensure that never again will an outsider with heterodox views challenge the existing militarist status quo in a manner that subverts their foreign policy objectives.

Macgregor, if he had his way, would reduce the number of generals and colonels — and, of course, the huge amount of dollars now allocated to the Pentagon. President Trump, whether we approve of him or not (and the authors most assuredly do not) has not had, until now, a single high ranking member of his administration who understands, much less cares about what American imperial overreach has done to its own citizens. In Doug Macgregor, he finally will have a figure who will make this case very forcefully — and on an influential European stage.

The case for Macgregor’s confirmation is clear: after 20 years of endless wars during which they have been buffeted by three recessions and a global pandemic, the American people want the US to step away from the frontline and seek to solve problems at home. Macgregor’s appointment would move us closer to that goal. Were his nomination to be subverted, however, then we would see who really pulls the strings in Washington. It would also illustrate that, regardless of who wins the 2020 election, the country is likely to continue down the path to perpetual, ruinous warfare.

Marshall Auerback is a market commentator and a research associate for the Levy Institute at Bard College.