Menace Man: Trump Loves the Drumbeats of War

“Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”

— Donald Trump October 1, 2017

On September 18 Presidents Trump and Macron met in New York and said a few words in front of the media. It was a love-fest, with Trump pouring out a honey-stream of compliments and one of his observations was that Emmanuel Macron is “doing a terrific job in France.  He’s doing what has to be done.  He’s respected by the French people,” which was one of his more dubious statements of recent weeks.

Some 53 per cent of French citizens disapprove of President Macron, which is exactly the same as Trump’s domestic disapproval score (pre-Puerto Rico), so it can’t be claimed that either of them is “respected” by a majority of their country’s deeply polarized populace. (Although it must be said that Macron is the direct opposite of his counterpart, in that he is highly intelligent, has the welfare of all his people at heart, and proposes a well-constructed legislative program;  he also speaks better English.)

The depths of Trump ignorance are verging on the unfathomable, but it isn’t that aspect of his psychotic character that is disturbing to the point of danger for the world as a whole. The scary thing is his rapturous enthusiasm for blasting trumpets, roaring aircraft, rumbling tanks and all the paraphernalia of martial belligerence.  He said he loved the Bastille Day parade in Paris and “we may do something like that on July 4th in Washington, down Pennsylvania Avenue . . .  We’re going to have to try and top it . . . we had a lot of planes going over and we had a lot of military might, and it was really a beautiful thing to see.”

When a soldier I participated in many parades and still like to hear bands and see smartly marching troops. The general public in almost every country in the world likes them, too.  But.  BUT:  I have grave doubts about a nation’s leader who gets so worked up and excited about parades being “a lot of military might and . . . really a beautiful thing to see.”

The day after proclaiming his enthusiasm for the pomp and pageantry of war, President Trump attended the UN General Assembly and announced that if the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea . . . Rocket Man [President Kim of North Korea] is on a suicide mission for himself.”

Four days after his feverish diatribe, in which he also threatened Iran and Venezuela, Trump ordered B-1 Lancer nuclear bombers and F-15 Eagle fighters to fly close to North Korea’s eastern coast in a display of military provocation, exactly as he and his predecessors directed there be confrontational fandangos by US combat aircraft and missile-armed warships along the coasts of China and Russia.

Did Mr Trump really think that publicly insulting President Kim and sending nuclear bombers to fly by his country’s seaboard would make him bend his knee and bow his head and say he’s terribly sorry but he got it all wrong?  Naturally, there was quite the reverse effect, with North Korea announcing September 26 that “Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take counter-measures including the right to shoot down US strategic bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”

In his UN speech Trump menaced Venezuela, of all places. To be sure, the Venezuelans have had a tough time over the past few years, after the oil-price collapse destroyed its economy they have had presidents who have displayed a mix of ignorance, ultra-nationalistic hubris and blustering incompetence.  (Remind you of anyone?)  The country has enormous problems and can’t be called a democracy, but then, neither can that faithful Trump ally Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t have any political parties at all.  And Venezuela presents no threat whatever to the United States.

Yet Trump vowed that the Venezuelan people would “regain their freedom, recover their country and restore their democracy”, and declared to all the world that he was ready to take “further action” if the government “persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule”.

What action will the martial Trump take about Iran and North Korea and Venezuela?  His threats have been malevolently intense, so what comes next?

This is the man who said in February that “We have to start winning wars again. I have to say, when I was young, in high school, and college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. We never lost a war . . .  America never lost. And, now, we never win a war. We never win. And we don’t fight to win.”

In fact the US lost the war in Vietnam that it was fighting while Trump was draft-dodging, but he believes he’s going to win Washington’s next war, when he decides where to wage it. He has already approved a futile new strategy in Afghanistan where “we will fight to win.” But US troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years, and over two thousand of them have been killed.  Mr Trump might be determined to win his war in Afghanistan, but its few thousand raggy-baggy Taliban insurgents have proved undefeatable for a very long time and are still fighting.  The US has spent over a trillion dollars on the war, so far, and the Taliban control over forty percent of the country.

The Taliban in Afghanistan haven’t got any aircraft or rockets or submarines or nuclear weapons, but North Korea has all of these things, albeit in rather more modest quantities than the US, which has a higher military budget than Britain, China, France, India, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia combined. Washington has 1,367 deployed, instantly ready-to-use nuclear weapons, and it would take only one North Korean nuclear bomb or rocket to prompt a Trumpian “fire and fury” answer.

Trump’s belligerent tweet that “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” is a direct threat of annihilation. He then declared that his military option would be “devastating for North Korea” and that he is ready to go.

The President of the United States is hell-bent on ultimate military confrontation, and might be able to punish or even invade Venezuela and Iran, but they aren’t going to retaliate with the nuclear option — unlike North Korea.  His goading of Kim is bringing our world ever-closer to nuclear catastrophe, but he disparages the advice of wiser people who advocate mediation. His sarcastic Tweet that “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” had the distinction of insulting friend and foe in equal measure.

China made its stance clear on September 26 by stating that “blindly flaunting one’s superiority with words to show off and mutual provocation will only increase the risk of confrontation and reduce the room for policy maneuvers. A war on the Korean Peninsula will have no winners and would be even worse for the region and regional countries.”

President Putin advised Trump not to “succumb to emotions and drive North Korea into a corner. Now more than ever, everyone needs to be calm and avoid steps that lead to an escalation of tension.”

But Trump’s latest Kim-bashing Tweet tirade that “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail” is a spine-chilling indicator of what he has in mind. The nuclear war drums are beating along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Back off, Trump, before you drag us down to catastrophe.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.