Is Donald Trump going to be yet another American war president? Come to think of it, is there any other kind?
This is no accident. Tom Engelhardt has an insightful article at TomDispatch today about how Trump the blowhard is a product of blowback from America’s failed wars, notably Iraq. There’s much truth in this insight, since it’s hard to imagine demagogue Trump’s rise to power in a pacific climate. Trump arose in a climate of fear: fear of the Other, especially of the terrorist variety, but also of any group that can be marginalized and vilified. Think of Mexicans and the infamous Wall, for example.
In a separate post, Engelhardt noted the recent death of Marilyn Young, an historian who found herself specializing in America’s wars, notably Vietnam. He cited a New York Times obituary on Young that highlighted her attentiveness to America’s wars and their continuity.
Since her childhood, Young noted, America had been at war: “the wars were not really limited and were never cold and in many places have not ended — in Latin America, in Africa, in East, South and Southeast Asia.”
She confessed that:
“I find that I have spent most of my life as a teacher and scholar thinking and writing about war. I moved from war to war, from the War of 1898 and U.S. participation in the Boxer Expedition and the Chinese civil war, to the Vietnam War, back to the Korean War, then further back to World War II and forward to the wars of the 20th and early 21st centuries.”
“Initially, I wrote about all these as if war and peace were discrete: prewar, war, peace or postwar,” she said. “Over time, this progression of wars has looked to me less like a progression than a continuation: as if between one war and the next, the country was on hold.”
As George Orwell wrote in 1984, all that matters is for a state of war to exist (whether declared or, nowadays in the USA, undeclared). A war mentality is the driver for autocratic excesses of all sorts. It serves to focus the attention of people to various perceived enemies, whether from without or from within. It promotes simplified thinking and generates fear, and fear is the mind-killer. “Us and Them,” as Pink Floyd sang.
Aggravating simplistic and hateful “us and them” thinking in the USA is the lack of a major political party dedicated to peace. In the USA, we have two war parties. Trump knew this and readily exploited (and continues to exploit) it. He knows the modern Democratic Party won’t seriously challenge the war rhetoric that drove and drives America’s new militarized reality.
Why? Because the Democrats nurtured it. Recall that in 2004 John Kerry “reported for duty” by saluting the Democratic National Convention. Barack Obama in 2008 quickly morphed from a “hope and change” liberal to a drone-wielding assassin-in-chief while pursuing his “good” war in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton in 2016 proudly embraced Henry Kissinger and projected a harsh exterior as a hardheaded hawk. “We came, we saw, he died,” she famously chuckled about Libya and the death of Qaddafi. Even Bernie Sanders, with all his dreams, said little about cutting the Pentagon’s budget.
You can go back further and tag other recent Democratic presidents, such as LBJ during the Vietnam War or JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Candidate Kennedy wantonly exaggerated the “missile gap” in nuclear capability between the US and USSR (JFK had it backwards; it was the US that had clear superiority). Jimmy Carter took a different approach, but he too soon learned his lesson, ordering a huge military buildup (overseen by the Reagan Administration) and declaring the “Carter Doctrine” to safeguard Persian Gulf oil supplies as a vital US interest. That policy contributed in its own way to America’s recent disasters in the Greater Middle East.
Did Jimmy Carter, then, lead to Donald Trump? Indirectly, yes. America’s insatiable hunger for global resources (especially oil) and its desire for global power bred the conditions under which blowback came to America’s shores. Blowback helped to generate the fear and confused desires for revenge that Trump tapped with great success in his campaign.
Today, America’s state of incessant warfare is consuming its democracy, yet President Trump’s answer is to call for more military spending, more violent attacks overseas, and more walls at home, all in a vain quest to “win” again. Small wonder then that he’s ramping up military spending while ordering more attacks.
Trump knows what got him to the Oval Office, and it wasn’t his keen intelligence or gentlemanly charm or skill at diplomacy. Recall that his favorite generals, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, were all about “winning” even as they both wanted to wage the wrong wars (Patton was ready to take on the Soviets in 1945; MacArthur wanted to cross the Yalu River and invade China during the Korean War).
Will Trump, like his favorite World War II generals, seek to wage the wrong wars? Will he recognize that fighting the wrong war is a loss even when you “win”? Does he want to be a “war president,” and, if so, who will stop him?
8 thoughts on “Trump: Yet Another War President?”
Imagine the confusion and fright embedded in the back office conversations among the world’s diplomats and politicians regarding our new president and his questionable mental health? Just by chance, I happened to catch the Trump – Merkel presser where Trump offered; “I guess we have one thing in common?” referring to the claims of intercepted communications. The look on her face was priceless…and scary as all seven hells. What are US allies supposed to think when the POTUS behaves more similar to the North Korean Kim than the typical, democratically elected, leader of a western power?
Interesting side note on his claim Obama “wiretapped.” his campaign. It isn’t “tinfoil hat” territory to assume the US intercepts and stores all communications, including those to and from Trump Tower. Most of the commentary seems to be…” that would require a warrant and probable cause!” Like the NSA has given two-cents about the law since 9/11, right? I wonder if this will get pseudo-confirmed by way of his twitter trolling Obama? I’d like your take.
Thanks for the perspective.
I caught that look by Merkel too! It spoke volumes.
Trump’s claim is that Obama deliberately targeted and wiretapped him for the purpose of undermining his campaign. That appears to be a baldfaced lie.
His handlers are trying to walk it back, saying Trump didn’t mean it literally, and so on. It wouldn’t surprise me if the NSA swept up Trump’s phone calls, etc., just as it does with so many others. But the personal intervention of Obama to order the tapping of Trump to undermine his campaign? No — I don’t think so.
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Oh I agree completely. Obama seems clever enough to not even want to know of any nefarious nexus possibly involving Trump, Russia, etc.
Are we watching a massive trainwreck or am I being hyperbolic? Most concerning is many of Trump’s diehard supporters…I swear, he could get caught massaging a Russian oligarch in Gorky Park with a I heart Putin’s nuvo russia t-shirt on and so many would rationalize it all away.
The NSA has been sweeping up for some time now, Merkel was none-too-pleased a few years ago when learning of certain breaches of her own communications. So I thought Trump’s reference was a good one.
What Obama did verifiably do is explained in the following article:
So now we really have a problem with “dissemination,” trails of accountability for dissemination, and thus more calculated and often illegal and/or nefarious “leaking”.
Another good reference point for this discussion is Rick Sterling’s excellent article:
I appreciate your take on this. For me, the “soft-coup d’etat” would only be a marginally possible theory had Obama held office
peace out L
The point of the article isn’t to theorize about a coup, and what the article proposes has nothing to do with Obama retaining power as a personal beneficiary of a coup. What the article correctly points out is that Obama’s eleventh hour directive allows for much wider dissemination of NSA’s raw data and has and will continue to concomitantly result in nefarious, coverable leaking.
What is speculative is the idea that the purpose of Obamas directive was, in part, to make it easier for Trump to be fucked with…to put it in simple terms. The article refers to this as “almost like a soft coup”. I personally think the purpose of the directive is broad, but that doesn’t mean specific “advantages” weren’t part of certain ruminations.
Way, way back in the dark ages compared to Today’s Technology I worked security forces for the U.S. Air Force once when given a Tour by a Command Pilot onboard of an Alert B-52 H. I won’t disclose which Base, but anywho the Commander of the B-52 told me at the time they could pick up land-line phone conversations from his Avionics in the Cockpit, and also play havoc with all sorts of Communications in the event of you guessed it!. Jamming I assumed what He was alluding to…
“Is Donald Trump going to be yet another American war president? Come to think of it, is there any other kind?”
The obvious answers: “Yes” and “No.”
For an illuminating (if not depressing) discussion of the reasons why the Imperial Presidency and Makework Militarism persist and metastasize over time, see the following two articles by Derek Davison: Bacevich and Mearsheimer on Obama’s Legacy, LobeLog (January 17, 2017 ), and Bacevich and Mearsheimer on U.S. Policy in the Middle East, LobeLog (January 18, 2017). A representative example:
A joint interview with professors Andrew Bacevich and John Mearsheimer
JM: What I find most striking, given all of our policy failures—at least since 2001—is that there’s hardly any interest in changing what we are doing among people in the foreign policy establishment. You would think that after all of the disasters, people would want to go back to the drawing board and rethink the assumptions that have been guiding U.S. policy, especially in the Middle East. [empahsis added]
AB: In many respects, from their perspective, they’re not failures. It works for them. If you’re concerned about maintaining the status of the dominance of the United States military, if you’re concerned about maintaining very high levels of U.S. military spending, then things haven’t necessarily gone all that badly since 2001. The implacable determination of the national security bureaucracy to sustain itself poses a tremendous obstacle to even moderately fresh thinking. [empahsis added]
JM: I think you’re correct, but just to be clear, what you’re saying is that the criterion for success is not whether the United States achieves its foreign policy goals; it’s whether the selfish interests of the various individuals and organizations that comprise the foreign policy establishment are protected. [empahsis added]
AB: Think about it. I don’t know what four-star generals and admirals talk about amongst themselves, but it’s hard for me to understand how you could be a four-star general in the United States Army, or the Marine Corps, and look back at the last decade and a half and reach any conclusion other than that we have failed. We’ve failed our soldiers and Marines, we’ve failed the country. We have failed to accomplish what we set out to do. Take that judgment seriously and the senior military leadership today ought to be engaged in an honest accounting and a willingness to think otherwise. Yet I see zero evidence that the senior military leadership is willing to undertake, or is capable of undertaking, any such evaluation. “How can that be?” you might say. Well, the only explanation I can come up with is that they’re not all that unhappy with what’s been achieved. [empahsis added]
In other words, from the perspective of the individuals and institutions who comprise the Imperial Presidency and the upper ranks of the U.S. military officer caste, nothing succeeds like failure. So, failure we have gotten and failure we will continue to get. If failure had any real consequences — like impeachment and cashiering from the military with loss of pay, benefits, and pensions — we would have much less of it. But failure simply pays its perpetrators much better than anything we would normally call “success.” For Americans, Alice goes to “war” in Wonderland.
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