FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump Never was a Noninterventionist

by

Can Donald Trump’s foreign policy “doctrine” and presidential actions accurately be described as noninterventionist? Strangely, Glenn Greenwald thinks so. In “Trump’s War on Terror Has Quickly Become as Barbaric and Savage as He Promised,” Greenwald writes, “Trump explicitly ran as a ‘non-interventionist’ — denouncing, for instance, U.S. regime change wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria (even though he at some points expressed support for the first two). Many commentators confused ‘non-interventionism’ with ‘pacifism,’ leading many of them — to this very day — to ignorantly claim that Trump’s escalated war on terror bombing is in conflict with his advocacy of non-interventionism. It is not.”

I’m a big fan of Greenwald’s work, but I believe he is among the confused here. Whoever thinks Trump ran as a noninterventionist is plain wrong. All one needs to do to see this is to compare Trump’s campaign pronouncements with those of noninterventionist Ron Paul during his two runs for Republican presidential nomination. (Trump warned Republicans not to listen to Paul.)

 

For example, to this day Trump says he has not “figure[d] out what the hell is going on” with respect to “radical Islamic terrorism.” But any good noninterventionist would know, as Paul has repeatedly said, that terrorism against Americans and Europeans is a response to U.S. and NATO intervention in the Middle East. The noninterventionist answer to terrorism is nonintervention, not Trumpism. I see not even a prima facie case that Trump is or has ever claimed to be a noninterventionist. His “America First” appeal was not shorthand for noninterventionism. It was a nationalist slogan.

Greenwald’s own words undermine his claim. As evidence for Trump’s alleged noninterventionism, he cites Trump’s criticism of regime change in the Middle East. But while a commitment to noninterventionism logically requires opposition to regime change, opposition to regime change does not logically require a commitment to noninterventionism. One could have many reasons — pragmatic, financial, whatever — for opposing regime change besides a commitment to noninterventionism, and one could support intervention for reasons other than a desire for regime change. One could intervene, say, on behalf of a regime. How could Greenwald miss this?

Trump criticized NATO in his campaign, but, considering what he actually said, that hardly constituted noninterventionism. First he called NATO “obsolete” because, he said, it was not fighting terrorism. When he learned that a counterterrorism division had been established, he withdrew the criticism while taking credit for the “new” mission. (He seemed not to know that NATO was part of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which had counterterrorism as its stated rationale.)

Then Trump switched grounds and criticized the NATO members that do not spend the required minimum 2 percent on their militaries. (Trump misconstrues this as dues owed to NATO or to the U.S. government.) While he said he might not send the U.S. military to defend a NATO member that fell short of that requirement (he doesn’t say this anymore), this also did not constitute opposition to NATO per se, much less an expression of noninterventionism. In fact, he said he approved of NATO and the U.S. role as world policeman. Similarly, he has never said he would take U.S troops out of Germany, Japan, and South Korea, or close the rest of the 800 military installations scattered around the world.

Since taking office in January Trump has professed his love for NATO. In his address to a joint session of Congress he said, “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism.” Yes, he also said, “Our partners must meet their financial obligations.” But he quickly added, “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions [Trump takes credit for everything he regards as good], they are beginning to do just that.”

So I ask, where is Trump’s noninterventionism? He believes in multinational military action. At times he suggests that such action must always be linked to his expansive notion of “national interest,” but in his first major campaign speech on foreign policy he went further: “We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.” None of this comes close to noninterventionism. (Critics sometimes call him an isolationist, but that has more to do with his opposition to immigration, admission of refugees, and free trade. Noninterventionism is not isolationism because a noninterventionist can embrace open borders and free trade.)

Greenwald thinks some Trump critics conflate noninterventionism with pacifism. That’s hard to imagine. In his campaign Trump could never have been mistaken for a pacifist. He bragged about loving war and being the most militarist candidate in the Republican field (“Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.”). He also promised to “bomb the shit” out ISIS, to torture, to kill the families of suspected terrorists, and hike military spending to historic levels. No one mistook Trump for a pacifist. Anyone who equated noninterventionism with pacifism would have swiftly concluded that Trump was no noninterventionist. (Greenwald is right that noninterventionism need not imply pacificism in the sense of opposing even self-defense.)

Greenwald’s deeper point, apart from Trump, is that savage bombing of a country is consistent with noninterventionism as long as the policymaker is motivated by self-defense rather than altruism. Is this so?

While a noninterventionist could in principle support a defensive state war, it is hard to see how he could support the savage bombing of civilians and the things Trump promised to do, all of which would endanger the defending society by unnecessarily inciting hatred and creating enemies bent on vengeance — not to mention offending most noninterventionists’ moral convictions. Noninterventionists first and foremost should want to avoid war, which means, among other things, avoiding giving others reasons to attack. Abhorrence of war is motivated not just by an objection to humanitarianism by force of arms; it’s also an objection to the evils that necessarily attend all war — not only the cruelty and “collateral damage,” but also the state worship, the expansion of government at home (power- and profit-motivated mission creep), and the self-destructive frenzy of hatred for the Other. (For more on this and other considerations, see Gary Chartier’s “Violence, Wars, and States.”)

One need not be an anti-self-defense pacifist to hate war. The most “war” you can get out of principled nonintervention is the minimum force necessary to stop a serious threat. It’s hard to see how you could justify the destruction of an entire society without resorting to unlikely extreme hypotheticals. You certainly can’t get to Trump’s policy from there. (This is not the place to show, as Bryan Caplan writes, that “it’s virtually impossible to fight a war of self-defense. Even if militaries don’t deliberately target innocent bystanders, they almost always wind up recklessly endangering their lives.”)

“Each time Trump drops another bomb,” Greenwald writes, “various pundits and other assorted Trump opponents smugly posit that his doing so is inconsistent with his touted non-interventionism. This is just ignorance of what these terms mean.”

Maybe some pundits smugly posit that, but the principled noninterventionists I know do not. The reason his ferocious militarism does not contradict his foreign policy “doctrine” (such as it is) is that his doctrine has nothing to do with noninterventionism.

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail