The Problem with Bird Box and US Foreign Policy

Bird Box, Government Shutdown, Kurdistan

I just watched that Bird Box movie that’s got everyone in a tizzy. I don’t really understand the tizzy, apart from maybe the comparisons its general premise has drawn to this year’s A Quiet Place (which I haven’t seen), but the movie, in my very humble non-movie critic opinion, was a’ight.

*Minor Spoiler Alert*

The movie suffered from the same thing all post-apocalyptic movies seem to. This thing is the very reason why I stopped watching zombie movies, aside from the fact that my ex-boyfriend watched almost nothing but zombie movies and ruined them for me.

In all of these movies, there’s a thing that happens or comes to earth, either by our own or alien making. Masses of people die across the planet, resulting in a ghost world full of run-down architecture and infrastructure and a few lone survivors. In the case of zombie movies, everyone who was once alive is now an undead threat, so as time goes on, the threat multiplies. The survivors’ goal is to just keep surviving. They usually end up in a community with other survivors where they, presumably, are safe to live out their lives with enough access to resources for them to do so. There’s no society or government, apart from the Lord of the Flies-esque one they may be able to assemble.

But…the thing that destroyed the rest of humanity is still out there. The problem is never solved. The world isn’t really given a chance to recover. Humanity is doomed to die out when the survivors do. Who knows whether that life is even a life worth living. Dreams of repopulating the earth aren’t even viable because, again, the thing that destroyed all of humanity is still out there.

Bird Box was a little different in some ways that I won’t give away, but overall, the goal is the same – keep surviving.

As a viewer, I’m not satisfied by these types of movies. The resolution is incomplete in that nothing actually gets resolved. Instead, you’re offered a sigh of relief knowing that your protagonist got to a safe haven – for now.

It’s like at the end of chick flicks or every real-life high school relationship. Remember at the end of Ten Things I Hate About You when Kat and Patrick make up when he buys her a guitar? The movie ends with them kissing in the school parking lot, but what happens after the movie ends? Kat goes to an East Coast school – that’s what. Maybe they naively try the long-distance thing, but inevitably, it doesn’t last. We all know it won’t last. They’re not going to get married and have babies and live happily ever after. Basic patterns of human behavior tell us that won’t be the case.

Movies end prematurely, always.

The story continues, but it’s not always as glamorous as we’d want it to be, nor does it necessarily fit the narrative the filmmaker or writer is trying to peddle. It makes for good entertainment, and best-case scenario, it can even teach us a thing or two about ourselves. We’ll have been better off having watched it.

Life keeps going, though. While we’d like parts of it to be neatly wrapped up, tied up with a bow and set aside in a closet somewhere, it doesn’t work like that. Everything we do has consequences, be them for ourselves or others. It’s the Butterfly Effect. It’s why time travel is so nefarious. It’s karma, good or bad. It’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It’s the setting of precedent.

It’s also the sad understanding that things very rarely are ever finished. There is no package to even wrap up with a bow because the incident and its repercussions cannot be contained. We’re left with a zombie movie. Life becomes a series of survived episodes that we learn to live past in the hopes that things will be better – not worse – than they were before. Still, every single thing that happens stays with us.

History tells us so.

That’s why French baguettes are a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, or why Indian people play cricket. It’s why World War II happened as a direct result of the supposed resolution of World War I. It’s why peace in the Middle East is so, so elusive, to the point that it seems nearly impossible.

When it comes to situations like the one in the Middle East, which is really a series of (global) situations, each formidable in their own right, it would be great if we could just say,

“Hm…we screwed this up. We’re all to blame. Let’s just start over and try it again.”

For a conflict that’s been brewing since the beginning of human civilization, that’s not a viable way forward. Millennia of actions and consequences have contributed to what’s going on over there today. Every time we “fix” something, we just create bigger problems in the region and abroad. As much as we try to shift focus from war-torn regions to the Western-style opulence of Dubai and the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, the wars never go away.

Right before Christmas, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned from his post, shocking everyone.

It wasn’t just that he resigned that was so shocking – people resign or otherwise leave this administration all the time. It was how he chose to do it.

In his resignation letter, which you can read here, Mattis emphasized that he was stepping down due to differences in opinion between Trump and himself regarding the nation’s defense strategy. Often hailed as “the adult in the room” when it came to handling some of Trump’s more inane ideas, like the military parade that, thankfully, never happened, Mattis’ departure is a bit unnerving.

General Mattis, a former Marine, has racked up 44 years of military service to our nation. He knows his stuff. His resignation letter made it clear that despite his apparent military expertise, his advice was not always held in esteem by the president, who as we all know, tends to just do as he wishes in spite of analysis, data, history, or prognostications. Mattis also made it clear that he was stepping down (not retiring, as Trump would later assert) because he did not like what he saw regarding the president’s relationships with and actions towards “countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” calling out specifically China and Russia.

Mattis’ resignation came on the heels of Trump suddenly announcing, on Twitter of all places, that he would be pulling out American troops from Syria and Afghanistan, which led many to believe that Mattis was leaving his position in protest.

At that point, can you blame him?

When the news – or rather, when the Tweet broke about Trump’s plans to remove American military personnel from ongoing war zones, neither the White House nor the Pentagon knew what he was talking about. Each referred reporters to the other, stating that they were unsure of the president’s plans. When neither the White House or the Pentagon are informed about a huge military operation, that’s not a good sign.

Understandably, this is a big deal. Trump declared that ISIS has been defeated (it hasn’t been), so we have no more reason to be in Syria (we do). He also claimed that other American presidents said they’d pull out and then didn’t, so he was going to just do it.

Well, who’da thunk – there was a reason why we hadn’t pulled out previously. It’s not just a simple matter of making a call. In fact, making that call is reckless and could cause more damage than us staying there, not to mention the fact that pulling half of American units from Afghanistan could put the remaining half in a precarious situation.

Speaking of making calls, Trump’s announcement that he’d be pulling out of Syria came immediately after a call with Turkey’s President Erdoğan. Turkey, who has been at odds with the Kurds, has obvious and known reasons for wanting the US out of Syria. The American military’s presence there has been largely cooperative with the Kurds, who have been the top ISIS-fighting force in the region. The US has also been successful at keeping Turkish forces at bay and preventing any hostile action against the Kurds.

So, let’s talk about the Kurds.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country to call their own.

Remember what we were talking about earlier, how actions have long-lasting repercussions? Well, the Middle East is a glaring case-in-point of just that.

Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, European powers carved up the land. Unfortunately, they did not take into consideration ethnic groups or existing land boundaries when doing so. Naturally, this created tensions between groups that we’re still dealing with in a very real and direct way.

The Kurds, whose land is often referred to as Kurdistan, live in a region that spans portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran (from east to west).  While there are several issues throughout this region, with larger powers having stakes in the region, ISIS remains a significant threat against Kurdistan.

Ultimately, the Kurds would like an independent state of their own, having voted on it as recently as this year, but understandably, that could be problematic to the nations currently within Kurdistan.

Having worked closely with the US military to keep ISIS at bay, Trump’s impulsive decision to pull troops out of Syria is terrifying for them. Turkey remains a threat to the Kurdish people and with the US out of the way, Turkey will have little reason to not attack them. Looking for an ally, the Kurds have turned to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a man known for attacking his own people with chemical warfare.

The greater implications of this decision, aside from further destabilizing an unstable region, are political. Trump made this decision and announcement without consulting his general counsel, let alone his allies in the region who would have to work in concert with the Americans. The removal of American troops puts their own troops at greater risk, so do they pull out with us? Do they send in additional troops to support the ones remaining in the region since the threat Trump claimed was gone is clearly still there?

Beyond that, it speaks to diplomacy. It would not be unreasonable for other nations to refuse to work with this administration going forward since we are no longer a reliable ally. This isn’t the only incident of us going back on our word or impulsively pulling out of a treaty or arrangement.

We’re erratic, and it’s not a good look.

Government Shutdown

In addition to the chaos that is the Middle East, the American government has partially shut down over a congressional dispute over funding for Trump’s border wall.

Talking about repercussions…

Trump seems keen to get this wall built, which doesn’t have widespread support amongst Democrats or Republicans, and he’s willing to shut down the government to do so.

The irony of this is that Trump ran on the campaign promise that he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border and that Mexico would pay for it.

Then, he shut down the government because the US didn’t want to fund it…

I was on Quora the other day and someone asked the question,

“Why is Trump asking the Democrats to fund the wall instead of Mexico? That is what I voted for. How can we convince him to keep his promise?”


As most of us know, you can’t convince someone to keep a promise they were never able to keep in the first place. Trump was never in a position to make Mexico pay for anything they didn’t want to pay for. It’s baffling that people ever believed he could do this, even after Mexico’s president flat out said he wouldn’t pay for the wall in between his giggles and expletives.

Now, as we head into the new year with no actual end in sight to the government shutdown and thousands of government employees unsure of when they’ll be getting their next paycheck, it has become clear (as if it wasn’t already) that promises made, even ridiculous ones, have consequences. We all laughed along with the Mexican president at Trump’s wall and his funding proposal. Now, it’s costing us actual money – money we can feel as Americans struggle to pay their mortgages and bills.

For a wall that America was never supposed to pay for, WE PAYIN’.

Trump’s approval rating is at an all-time low, which is saying something for a president whose approval rating has never been great.


And so, we press on, putting out one fire at a time, managing chaos without ever really getting ahead of it. Perhaps the best we can hope for in times like these are to find a community of survivors with enough resources for us to live off the land and off the grid. We can forget about the problems of the rest of the world until they inevitably close in around us, either in the form of warfare, disease, climate change, or zombies.

Shutting our eyes to a problem isn’t the answer, though. It’s time to take our blindfolds off and look for real solutions.

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