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Show Me Something New in Trump’s Foreign Policy

Photo by Daniel Lobo | CC BY 2.0

“Trump, the Insurgent, Breaks with 70 Years of American Foreign Policy,” the New York Times declared on December 28.  The article, by Mark Landler, describes foreign leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismayed at an erratic and uninformed (Landler does not use the word “stupid”) President who not only does not know what he is talking about, but whose public statements and tweets frequently contradict and undercut members of his own administration.  Our long-time allies no longer find the US “reliable,” Landler writes, and, in some cases, have begun charting courses independent of Washington.

This is all well and good—or bad, rather—and if Landler had stopped there we would have few grounds for objections.  But Landler departs from reality in his closing paragraphs.  Landler writes that Trump “holds a radically different view of the United States’ role in the world than most of his predecessors” and has broken with the “rules-based postwar international order” the US has upheld for the past seventy years.

Hogwash.  Even before the coming of Sauron the Orange-Haired to Washington, the US was a lawless, imperialist Leviathan.

Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) provides a fine takedown of the Times story.  Johnson calls the Times story an example of “Trumpwashing”:  “whitewashing, obscuring or rewriting the broader US record by presenting Donald Trump as an aberration.”

We have seen this before.  Before there was “Trumpwashing” there was “Bushwashing.”  President George W. Bush received the same treatment in print as Trump is receiving now.  The liberal bien-pensants saw Bush’s policies, as they do Trump’s today, as a radical—and dangerous—break with America’s high-minded international conduct in the past.  I remember reading pieces the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. ran in the New York Review of Books during the Bush years.  Schlesinger, the Dean of American liberalism, would wring his hands over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, extraordinary renditions, trial by military commissions, and the invasion of Iraq.  Schlesinger condemned these as violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions and violations of American traditions.  Schlesinger was partly right.  Violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions they definitely were.  Violations of American tradition, not so much.  Johnson points to

dozens of non-“liberal,” non-“rules-based” coups, invasions, bombing campaigns, assassinations, extrajudicial murders and so forth.  The number of actions carried out by the US not sanctioned by even the thinnest pretext of “international order” is too long to list.

Seen in this light, Trump’s actions are as American as apple pie laced with preservatives.  Even Trump’s slogan “America First” is not a break from the past.  America first—when has it been any other way?  The US has always put itself first; at least if by “America” you mean the interests of US corporations.

This brings me to a pet peeve.  There’s a question asked over and over by anxious liberals:  when will Trump voters realize they have been conned and turn on Trump?  Trump voters (so the argument goes) have got to realize sooner or later that the new GOP tax law robs them blind while transferring billions of dollars to the wealthiest Americans.  Trump folks have got to realize that the coal mines are not going to reopen and that the manufacturing jobs candidate Trump promised to bring back from overseas are not coming back.

If Trump supporters have not realized by now that this is class war, then they’ve got to catch on as 2018 gathers steam and the Republicans come for their Medicare and Social Security.

Don’t they?

Don’t count on it.  Trump supporters won’t turn on Trump any more than Obama supporters turned on Obama.

In terms of style, there is a huge (“yuuuge”) difference between Trump and Obama.  Trump is a wild man who knocks down your front door, bounds into your living room, and takes a crap on the carpet.  Obama, witty and urbane, entertains you for hours with learned discussion of world and domestic affairs, but when he leaves you notice your silverware is missing.

That’s style.  What about substance?  The liberal-left ought to have hated Obama’s foreign policy and mobilized against it.  Instead, the antiwar movement folded its tents once George W. Bush left town, secure in the knowledge that a man of peace now occupied the Oval Office.  How’d that work out?

Obama can take credit for some good things, like the Iran deal and the Paris Climate Accord.  But Obama also failed to carry out his promise to close the US prison at Guantanamo.  Obama continued the US war in Afghanistan.  In 2011, Obama ended the US troop presence in Iraq, but a few years later sent the troops back.  Obama initiated bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria.  He sent Special Ops forces to Syria.  He launched 10X as many lethal drone strikes as George W. Bush.  (Donald Trump looks set to top that number.)  Obama helped overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, even though Gaddafi was defanged since giving up his nuclear program (neither Gaddafi’s downfall, nor Saddam’s, has escaped the attention of Kim Jong-un of North Korea.).

So, no, don’t expect Trump voters to turn on Trump.  Liberals stuck by Obama and conservatives are sticking by Trump, even as Trump and the GOP shaft them.  Our rulers, on the other hand, know that loyalty is for suckers.  The White House and Pentagon are not weighed down by inconvenient notions of loyalty.  The US was best buds with Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq War, even supplying the chemicals for the poison gas Saddam used against his own people.  Nevertheless, the US did not hesitate to oust Saddam in 2003.  Manuel Noriega, Panama’s similarly brutish strongman, had enjoyed a comfortable place on the CIA payroll since the 1960s.  But when Noriega grew too big for his britches he was overthrown in 1989 by what irony-impaired Washington planners had dubbed Operation Just Cause.

I am not defending Donald Trump.  I’d prefer Barack Obama in the White House.  Hell, at this point, I’d even prefer Hillary Clinton.  The point I am making is that Trump and Obama and their predecessors have all carried on the American foreign policy tradition of militarism and imperialism.  Ignore Trumpwashers, even if they write for the New York Times.  Trump is not a break from the past.  If progressives can learn that, it may keep us from going back to sleep after Trump leaves the White House.  Even then, we will have to keep fighting for peace.

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Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at Chapierson@yahoo.com.

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