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Donald J. Trump the Hawk

Donald Trump is no peacenik. Leave aside Trump’s proclamation that he “love[s] war” and unpredictability, and that he is more “militaristic” than anyone. Forget that he wants to enlarge the military and that he refuses to forswear first use of nuclear weapons. Ignore his bellicosity toward Iran and China or his promise to support Israel unconditionally. Pay no attention to Trump’s 2002 endorsement of the invasion of Iraq and his imploring Obama to invade Libya and overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

All we have to do to see the real Trump is examine his allegedly dovish statements.

Trump takes heat every time he expresses a wish to get along with Russia. This in itself would be good: the United States and Russia could destroy the world with their nuclear weapons. But the ruling elite disagrees. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact alliance, U.S. rulers have provoked Russia by incorporating its former allies and republics into NATO and enabling a coup against an elected Russia-friendly president of Ukraine, jeopardizing Russia’s naval base in Crimea.

But would Trump really pursue peaceful relations with Russia? It’s not so clear. When asked about his views on Russia at the recent joint appearance with Hillary Clinton, he noted that Russia is “fighting ISIS,” which he implied puts the United States on the same side. “I believe we have to get ISIS,” he said. “We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved.”

Note the words before we can get too much more involved. Trump’s statement indicates that working with Russia is merely a matter of priorities. First  ISIS, then … what? More intervention, presumably against Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad.

After all, Assad is an ally of Iran, which Trump demonizes daily. We have no reason to think that if he presided over the defeat of ISIS, Trump would continue to cooperate on Syria with Russia, which like Iran would still have influence in the Middle East. Thin-skinned nationalist Trump is unlikely to suffer what he regards as impertinences from these nations, which resent having an American president define their places in the world.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Trump’s wish to cooperate with Russia against ISIS raises the question: why is defeating ISIS a proper function of the U.S. government? Trump would say ISIS is a threat to Americans at home. But this only shows that he has learned nothing from the catastrophic neoconservative foreign policy he claims to repudiate. Terrorist acts against noncombatant Americans, including the 9/11 attacks, have been provoked by U.S. intervention in the Muslim world: support for tyrants, invasions and occupations, bombings of seven countries, and the underwriting of Israel’s wars on the Palestinians and Lebanese. This indicates that the best way to eliminate or minimize the (grossly exaggerated) threat of terrorism in America is to replace the bipartisan interventionism that Trump pretends to oppose with the noninterventionism and free trade that Gary Johnson advocates.

Instead Trump wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. He wants to torture suspected terrorists. He wants to kill the relatives of those suspects. That would only inspire more terrorism. Trump has obviously learned nothing from the wars he once supported and now falsely claims to have opposed.

Revealingly, although Trump says the U.S. government should not overthrow Assad (now), he faults President Obama for not attacking Assad’s regime in 2013 when it allegedly crossed Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons in the war raging in Syria. (Significant doubts exist over the claim that it was Assad who used those weapons.) Obama wisely refused to attack Syria, despite the urging of Secretary of State John Kerry and the war party. But what did he do instead? He took up Russia’s offer to work together to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons. Shouldn’t that have pleased Trump? It might have — if Trump was a person who engaged in coherent thought rather than anything-goes talking-point opportunism.

How revealing, incidentally, that the war party despises Obama for working with Vladimir Putin to remove the chemical weapons peacefully. The hawks apparently hate to lose any chance to unleash American military power against the people of the Middle East.

Contrary to popular misconception, Trump is a conventional interventionist who merely tries to differentiate himself from the others. With doves like that, who needs hawks?

 

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Sheldon Richman, author of Coming to Palestine, 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.

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