Is Donald J. Trump the heir to Robert F. Kennedy, the beloved hawk-become-dove who turned against the Vietnam War in the few years before his assassination in 1968? His unapologetic decision to draw down still further America’s military role in Syria – and this in the broader context of a longstanding opposition to “endless wars” – suggests he is. More so, oddly, than any Democrat. We’ll put to one side the debate about the merits of the later RFK. To many he was an electrifying champion, to others a melancholy demagogue.
Both scions of overbearing tycoons, both notorious for making enemies and refusing to back down, both at odds with the bellicose wings of their own parties, the biggest difference between Kennedy and Trump, foreign policy-wise, is that only Trump has been permitted by history and circumstance to act. As both men learned, there are also limits to what can be done, though the Kennedys tended to learn the bloody way – which cannot, to his credit, be said of Trump. Yes, he lost face (and John Bolton lost his job) over the botched and probably sabotaged Afghanistan withdrawal but the Kennedy brothers only cottoned on to what a military-industrial complex was capable of after a botched invasion. Allen Dulles walked the plank for that one.
Under the obnoxious Tayipp Erdogan, Turkey may be a ratbag state but it is a paper NATO ally and is as entitled to control its borders, and those seen to be assailing them, as the United States. The Kurds have rightly won praise and admiration for combating ISIS but they are not America’s Gurkhas, oathing on the Stars and Stripes and philosophically devoted to freedom’s cause. Far from it. At organisational root, they are self-interested, PKK-aligned communists in search of real estate. They use the US and the US has used them. The arrangement has worked passably well but it has a shelf life.
What Trump is chipping away at – as relentlessly as Kennedy did on the campaign trail in 1968 – is the idea that America can or should garrison every miserable bolthole where potential enemies gather and scheme. You don’t have to be an isolationist, an appeaser or a starry-eyed peacenik to support that. It’s an idea whose time has come. What is truly remarkable is that Trump has cornered his 2020 Democrat rivals into a Lyndon Johnson impersonation contest. Not even old Joe Kennedy could have rigged that for his boys. The President’s off-the-cuff address yesterday on this subject may be his finest; it was certainly his most Bobbyish. (Watch).