FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
Thomas Knapp
Pork is Not the Problem
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming and Solar Minimum: a Response to Renee Parsons
Jill Richardson
Straight People Don’t Need a Parade
B. R. Gowani
The Indian Subcontinent’s Third Partition
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: The Black Body in LA
Jonah Raskin
‘69 and All That Weird Shit
Michael Doliner
My Surprise Party
Stephen Cooper
The Fullness of Half Pint
Charles R. Larson
Review: Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”
David Yearsley
Sword and Sheath Songs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail