FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump Never was a Noninterventionist

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.

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail