On War, Trump Has Largely Been an Appeaser

W.J. Astore

For all his tough-guy posturing and his attempts to pose like Winston Churchill, President Trump has largely been an appeaser to the military-industrial complex and its insatiable appetite for wars and weapons sales.

Trump, frowning (he thinks) like Churchill

Yes, it’s good news that Trump is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, though roughly 2500 troops will remain in each country when Joe Biden takes office in January. In short, Trump isn’t ending these wars; he’s merely reducing the number of boots on the ground. His Acting Defense Secretary, Chris Miller, described it as a “repositioning of forces from those two countries.”

Repositioning! Perish the thought that the U.S. military might retreat or even withdraw. The answer is to “reposition” those deck chairs on the USS Titanic and its imperial wars, never mind the sinking feeling you may be experiencing.

Meanwhile, Trump recently announced more weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including F-35 fighter-bombers and Reaper drones, worth $23 billion to U.S. weapons manufacturers. When it comes to empowering merchants of death, the United States is indeed number one.

Throughout his four years of office, Trump courted the Pentagon and the Complex by throwing money at it. He hired Complex functionaries like General (retired) James Mattis and General H.R. McMaster and Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper to run things for him. The result was predictable: more of the same, such that Trump never kept his campaign promise to end America’s wasteful wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Perhaps this was because Trump didn’t want to be blamed if things went south (as they probably will) if he’d ordered all U.S. troops out of these countries. Trump, like most Americans, hates to be labeled a loser. But what he needed to be reminded of was that these countries were never ours to win to begin with. The answer to “Who lost Afghanistan?” is not the president who finally “repositions” all U.S. troops from that country. The answer is Bush/Cheney, Obama/Biden, Trump/Pence, and, assuming they keep the war going in Afghanistan (and elsewhere), Biden/Harris.

Fighting needless and wasteful wars on the periphery of empire makes sense only to weapons makers and warmongers. Ditto making massive weapons sales, especially to unstable areas. The “Made in America” label used to be seen proudly on everything from clothing and shoes to engines and steel; now it’s affixed mainly to weapons and wars.

Before he took office, Trump promised a new approach, an America First approach, that would end the folly of perpetual wars that cost trillions of dollars. In this he failed. Because when it came to the Pentagon and to weapons makers, Trump chose appeasement rather than confrontation.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals.

36 thoughts on “On War, Trump Has Largely Been an Appeaser

  1. A Roman Emperor, Severus is famously said to have given the advice to his sons: “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, scorn all others” before he died on 4 February 211.

    We have here in America adopted the advice of Severus. The soldiers themselves are not enriched, the MIC is and if you attain the rank of General or Admiral you can transition into a “civilian” career with the MIC.

    At least from the little I have seen on MSDNC and CNN the usual suspects are all upset about The Trumpet’s plans to draw down the troops.

    A rational person might ask – How much more training do the Afghans need??? I was drafted in Sept 1969 and in April 1970 I was sent to Vietnam as a combat infantryman, 7 months. We have been “training” the Afghans for 20 years. You would think at some point long ago the “training” would be finished.

    The Afghan government will collapse like the South Vietnamese did, or maybe they can a cut a deal and temporarily survive a Taliban takeover.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. And we will continue to see incidents of “well trained” Afghani personnel turning their assault rifles on US and Afghani “government” overlords. The analogy with the “ARVN” looks like a good one.

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  2. I saw a news headline today that Biden is telling his inner circle he doesn’t want to go after Trump. I assume it’s because he thinks it’s divisive and we need “come together”. I think if he doesn’t want to prosecute – fine, while I wouldn’t agree with it, it’s a decision he can make.

    But the unwillingness to even investigate and report what was/wasn’t done in a previous administration leads to disasters like Afghanistan. Obama failed from the outset in not wanting to look at the Bush administration’s wars. I am still disgusted by the lost history that the Taliban offered up Bin Laden and Al Qaeda if they had been given a way to do so without violating their code of honor. The US ignored it, told us we had to fight the Taliban, and here is the US a generation later in the same damned war.

    It appears war is really the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’ve been saying for years now that “it just isn’t done”–pursuing any charges of war crimes or simply malfeasance of one stripe or another within the MIC on the watch of one’s predecessor. A prediction that Biden would refrain from any such actions against Trump and his whole boatload of corrupt handmaidens was easier than pie to make. If it turns out Trump can only pardon himself on the way out the door in his own demented mind, I’m predicting right now Biden will issue the Presidential Pardon, a la Ford/Nixon. In the name of “not being divisive,” you know. [envision puking face here]

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        1. I AIN’T gonna wager on this! But the next few months will definitely be interesting. I confess I haven’t a clue whether the Constitution says a bloody thing about a POTUS issuing a self-pardon! Any scholars out there care to chime in on this? Mr. Obama, are you out there??

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          1. Clarification needed: Are you wagering that Trump will SUCCESSFULLY pardon himself? Clarification of that: respected legal scholars NOT allied with GOP will have to opine, by majority (we may need a neutral arbiter on this), that the pardon is legit. I can’t wager on outcome of a case concerning this at SCOTUS level, ‘cuz we know where they’re at these days. I’m not doing a weasel-dance around this language-wise, it’s just a complex situation. If your bet is that a self-pardon will pass this test, then yes, I’ll double down!

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  3. I heard a soundbite from the (fleeting?!) Acting Secretary of War on CBS News Radio just this afternoon in which he virtually (but not quite) stated that the US is “declaring victory and coming home” from Afghanistan and Iraq (and Somalia, in theory)!! Hot damn, this is going to be interesting. Rounds of “peace negotiations” with the Taliban always seem to peter out with no substantial results. Which has been the US side’s unspoken objective, really, so it can try to justify its ongoing presence. Just like when Israel and the Palestinians were in formal talks off and on over the decades. Conveniently for the Israeli War Industry–and the country’s been on a war footing since its official founding in 1947 or ’48, really–peace is always out of reach!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely in no way defending the indefensible Agent Orange, but his choices were appeasing the MIC and appeasing the MIC. Since Ike, or likely before that, the MIC is more powerful than any Presidential administration. Thus, Ike’s departing warning. The military gets what it wants, period. Some Presidents embrace that reality (LBJ, Nixon, the Bushes, Obama, et. al.), while others try to stand against it (Carter, for the most part). Actively countermanding the MIC’s desires can be hazardous to a President’s health (JFK). After 11/22/63, Presidents have universally fallen into line, sooner or later.

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    1. After all, maintaining Empire is the number one responsibility in the POTUS Job Description–the one that doesn’t need to be printed out and publicized; it’s just A GIVEN.

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  5. Michael Tracey @mtracey – “It would be premature to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.” Wow, I can’t believe I can get paid lots of money from think tanks and defense contractors to express this opinion. I’m a Senior Fellow of Never Withdrawing Troops Studies at the Serious Business Institute”

    I don’t get paid any “belief-tank” money to express this opinion, but if I could advise President Trump — or any other US President — regarding the endless alibis offered up by the legion of stuffed-shirt, greasy-pole climbers over at the Five-Sided Black Hole on the Potomac, I would say that any directives to them regarding boondoggle troop deployments abroad need only boil down to this:

    If you could have, you would have; but you didn’t, so you can’t. Time’s up.”

    The only thing “premature” about these limp dicks (or the female equivalent) is the ejaculation they experience at even the thought of another career-boosting “deployment.”

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    1. As the grandfather of my first wife once said, “You don’t shoot your prize bull for crappin’ on the lawn,” and “military intervention” is the cash cow of cash cows. Doesn’t matter how it shakes out, how many die, or how much damage is done, just keep it rolling. And as there hasn’t been an anti-war movement in the US since the fall of Saigon, I think it’s safe to say that as long as the American public continues to believe “our way of life” can be threatened by – well, anyone who can burn an American flag in front of a CNN camera crew – it will have zero interest in the machinations of the MIC.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If CNN can’t find a burning flag to photograph and exploit, not to worry. They’ll either supply their own burning flag, or simply make up a story and say they saw one when they didn’t. At the tail end of a recent Jimmy Dore Show — more on that in another comment — CNN gets a deserved ass-kicking:

        [Begin Partial Transcript]

        Jimmy Dore: “Black is White. Up is Down. [Trump] could be risking troops by bringing them home. Because everyone knows that they could slip off the plane when they land in the United States. What? He is risking the lives of troops by taking them out of a war? And by the way, that will never be censored on Twitter. But they’ll censor President Trump. But they’ll never censor that. Ever. But they’ll censor you if you try to tell the truth about Joe Biden. But pro-war, advocating for death, will never be censored on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else.”

        [13:22] CNN’s Gloria Borger: “I think what he [Trump] wants to do as Abby is saying is drop a problem in Joe Biden’s lap. And if you know the history of Joe Biden he has not been one who is for robust military intervention. [!!!]”

        Jimmy Dore: “Tell that to the people of Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria. Tell that to those people. Tell that to those people, that he’s not one for military intervention. She is just straight up lying. That’s as big a lie as I’ve ever seen on television, and that’s really saying something. That’s as big a lie as Trump has ever told. What she just said is a bigger lie than anything Trump has ever said. Joe Biden isn’t for military intervention? What are you, nuts? No, you’re not nuts. You’re just a paid liar. You’re a paid propagandist. Joe Biden was for the Iraq war before the war, during the war, after the war, after it was clear it was wrong, he was still for it. He shamed the Democrats who were against the Iraq war. And that’s why she’s paid to come on and lie. Because that’s what she does. That’s what they do. They’re paid liars. Isn’t it nice. You can get women to lie just as much as men. Isn’t that great? She wanted to show you, it’s not just Trump. We can all do it.

        [15:06] “Crazy warmongers. They don’t give a damn about the troops. They care less about the troops than Trump does. They don’t give a shit. They’ll have your kid killed, somebody else’s kid killed, as long as they can keep coming on television. Whatever CNN wants me to say, I’m: ‘Is Trump for bringing home the troops? Well then, we’re against it. Is Trump for clean water? Then we’re against it.'”

        [End Partial Transcript]

        Some people do not lend much credence to anything they see and hear on CNN. They have good reason for their unwillingness to suspend hard-won disbelief.

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        1. That was a revealing segment on CNN, Mike. Three women, one of color, all arguing against troop withdrawals, all complaining that this will hurt Biden and endanger (!) the troops.

          Absurd. But I guess it works for CNN and the MIC.

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          1. I only watch snatches of CNN International for poetic examples of shameless chutzpah (unmitigated gall) on the part of US government officials and their sycophant media stenographers. Consider the following snippet I caught just the other day:

            Don Lemon CNN ALERT
            TRUMP ADMIN. REMOVES SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIALS AND INSTALLS LOYALISTS, TRIGGERING ALARM AT PENTAGON
            NOW PLAYING
            Former defense secretary: Trump’s ‘putting in yes-people’

            Don Lemon: “Why would a lame-duck president get rid of so many people and install loyalists at this stage?”

            Secretary William Cohen: “Well, he has 71 days to go and he can do a lot of damage. I think that most of all, what he is seeking to do is what he has done in virtually every other institution in our government. That is to discredit the intelligence community by saying he didn’t believe the intelligence community on the activities of Putin in the election. He has certainly tried to politicize the department and that’s what he’s doing now. He’s putting in ‘yes’ people who, he believes, will follow any order he gives, including some things that are illegal.”

            As you may recall, Bill, during the Clinton Administration’s savage bombing of Belgrade, Serbia in 1999, NATO’s supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, kept trying to publicly pressure Clinton into committing ground troops. According to Wikipedia, “Clark received a call the following evening from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, who said he had been told by Secretary Cohen to deliver a piece of guidance verbatim: “Get your fucking face off the TV. No more briefings, period. That’s it.” Apparently, Secretary Cohen thought he should have some less insubordinate ‘yes-men’ of his own.

            Additionally, when it comes to discrediting the self-styled “intelligence community” no one ever did it better than Clinton and Cohen when the CIA gave them bombing co-ordinates for the Chinese embassy in Belgrade because they didn’t have a up-to-date map of the city. Late night comedians immediately began joking that the initials “C.I.A.” stood for “Can’t Identify Anything.”

            Naturally, CNN’s talking-face Don Lemon mentioned nothing of this background so that former Secretary Cohen could go on spewing his self-serving claptrap with only a few old farts like me taking notice. The NATO bombing of Serbia damn near got us into a hot war with Russia and China both. But Bogus Bill got his feelings hurt when the Chinese (busy stoning our embassy in Beijing) refused to take his phone calls.

            So CNN’s Gloria Borger somehow cannot remember Senator — and, later, Vice President – Joe Biden’s cheerleading history in all this decades-long mayhem? Jimmy Dore got it perfectly right. She remembers, all right. She simply chooses to lie because it pays well.

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          1. I did a transcript of the show here.

            I consider the opening segment featuring Jimmy on Tucker Carlson one of the best synopses of rare presidential opportunity that I’ve ever heard. I have thought and said these same things myself over some period of time, like the last four years especially. But — irony of ironies — it falls to Donald J Trump — of all US presidents since WWII — to actually end a needless, pointless war. Just the historical precedent that this would set offers Trump the chance to genuinely make a difference. But no orders specifying numbers of troops (the usual Pentagram trap) will ever work. No phony numbers. Just the one word “ALL,” meaning “no non-zero numbers left behind.”

            I’ve also saved a copy of another piece of similar advice that the rapidly diminishing President Donald Trump would do well to heed: See: “I might have voted for Trump if he had done anything to bring down the Deep State, but he’s supported it for four years!”, by David Haggith, RT.com (November 10, 2020).

            As we used to say in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club: “Time to either shit or get off the pot.” And since Donald Trump seems destined to get off the presidential pot anyway — at least for the next four years — then he ought to shit all over every needless, pointless deployment of US troops anywhere outside of the continental US and Hawaii. And if that causes a “problem” for career warmonger Joe Biden (in the little time he has left to even know that he has a problem) then well and good.

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  6. Well, I guess “Home by Christmas” refers to December 25th in some US administration other than the present one or the next. As former UN Weapons Inspector, Scott Ritter writes: By failing to withdraw ALL forces from Afghanistan, Trump has killed the Afghan peace plan, RT.com (November 18, 2020). Mr Ritter explains:
    . . .
    Even if the forces of Islamic extremism could be defeated by the US and contained by the Taliban, the reality is that the Taliban will not agree to any final peace settlement which allows for a continued military presence on Afghan soil. The Trump peace plan had all US forces leaving Afghanistan by May 2021, a timetable which appeared to be written in stone regardless of the reality on the ground inside Afghanistan. But Trump was not re-elected; Joe Biden will be the US President come May 2021, and there is virtually no chance that the timeline agreed to between Trump and the Taliban will be adhered to. [emphasis added]

    Indeed, the incoming Biden administration will, almost immediately after assuming power on January 20, 2021, be pressured by the Pentagon to reinforce US forces in Afghanistan (i.e., halt the drawdown and actually dispatch thousands of new troops to the region), a move that would put the ongoing peace process at risk. This act of self-sabotage would play well with the many critics of the US-Taliban peace agreement, who believe that the deal was little more than political cover for Trump’s desire to get out of Afghanistan, and not reflective of “genuine” US and regional security concerns. Joe Biden may claim that he is desirous of an end to the “forever war” in Afghanistan, but unless he adheres to the Trump plan of complete withdrawal by May 2021, the US will be fighting not only an angered Taliban, but also a resurgent Al Qaeda and Islamic State, for years to come. [emphasis added]

    Got me thinking about all those:

    Hidden Fingers

    “Drawdown,” not withdrawal
    “Leaving” just to stay
    Keeping on to keep on
    That’s the US way.

    Reasons not required
    Rationales will do
    Any sort and every
    More that starts with “few”

    Proles will wrinkle foreheads
    Still they comprehend
    That the endless bullshit
    Means that this won’t end

    Troops not home by Christmas
    Trump shot off his mouth
    Biden can’t distinguish
    North from East from South

    Presidents not needed
    Others will decide
    Generals and bankers
    Everything to hide

    Learned it back in grade school:
    “Figures do not lie,
    But liars often figure”
    Ways to make more die

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2020

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  7. Best line of this post: The “Made in America” label used to be seen proudly on everything from clothing and shoes to engines and steel; now it’s affixed mainly to weapons and wars.

    Unless I’m mistaken, the American public was overwhelmingly pacifist, isolationist, and/or antiwar (take your pick) in the 1910s, the 1930s, the early 1970s, and again in the early 2000s. One worked, the others didn’t. Time again?

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      1. “Let the losers and the suckers sign up for the military. As long as I ain’t conscripted, who gives a damn? And surely they’re ONLY killing Bad Guys anyway, right?” This Just In: an investigation is underway in Australia of one of their military units reportedly killing 39 Afghan civilians without cause. It’s pathetic that Australia is still a partner in what I call “the Coalition of the Lickspittles.” But of course they’ve had a rightwing gov’t in place Down Under for some time now.

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    1. I guess it would never occur to those in the “foreign policy establishment” that what our allies have been thinking about the continued US presence in Afghanistan might be “Why the heck are they still there?” and that their confidence in the US (especially as regards any future “joint punitive actions”, a line from “The Searchers”) leaked out and dribbled away long ago.

      (Gen. Turgidson’s remark about spending less time worrying about history books also comes to mind.)

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      1. Trump has been working for four years now to undermine NATO–to which I don’t object, of course. But he didn’t try to withdraw the US from the organization. (Contrast this with his attitude toward World Health Organization.) What would NATO be without the Big Boy calling the shots? And the member states dare not withdraw, for fear of losing “protection” afforded by the US nuclear arms umbrella. Biden, we may be confident, will move to shore up NATO, to try to repair whatever damage Trump may have actually done. Because, you know, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia: they all border on the NORTH ATLANTIC!!

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    2. My fellow Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich tries to put the best face on a ludicrous imperial enterprise that never had any relation to US national security in the first place. Afghan girls in school and Afghan women in “Parliament” simply doesn’t cut it as an excuse for war when so many American girls and women could stand getting a decent education with the money wasted blowing up Afghan girls and women in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Anyway, Bacevich does get in a good line at the end, one that (presumably educated) CNN women talking heads would do well to grasp: “If Trump succeeds in ending this particular “endless war,” he will be doing Biden a favor. On that I would agree.

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      1. We just have to keep waiting for “conditions” to get better, Mike. After all, how can you withdraw when conditions are getting worse?

        Thus, once again, the U.S. military decides (or tries to sell the notion) that reinforcing failure is a brilliant option. We’re so resolute!

        Stay the course! Cries the Captain of the USS Titanic. You want to admit we’re failures by reversing course?

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        1. I’ve noted this before, but as the late Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge once told me about why the Sri Lankan government declined the US military’s offer of “assistance” with that country’s indigenous Tamil insurgency: “If the Americans come, they will just draw an arbitrary line through a temporary problem and make it permanent.” In many ways, this truism always seemed to me like the Third Reich’s policy of always-advancing-everywhere, regardless of any real-life conditions in vast, wintertime Russia: “Wherever the German soldier plants his boot, there he must remain.” So much for 70% of the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in WWII.

          From a recent Crosstalk program on RT.com: “Bullhorns: Trump vs the generals” (November 16, 2020):

          George Szamuely: “And so that’s what we have here. The military has decided we will maintain a military presence, in perpetuity, everywhere we are at the moment and in future military missions. So anything that the president does when he says we need to withdraw, we will sabotage. We will leak all sorts of stories in the media, tell the media what they want to hear: ‘Trump is erratic’ ‘Trump is insane’ ‘Trump is narcissistic’ ‘Trump doesn’t have any understanding of strategy,’ and therefore we just create the atmosphere in which any withdrawal becomes out of the question because its either ‘assuaging Trump’s insane ego’ or — worst of all — ‘HELPING THE KREMLIN.’ And we know the “links” between the Kremlin and Trump. So these people are really very very dangerous and should have been cut down to size many many years ago.”

          In short: the US military long ago decided that it will go everywhere and stay always and forever, regardless of any “conditions.” So only a fool would trust a single word-like noise that comes blaring out of the giant Pentagram Propaganda Mouthpiece. “Cutting them down to size” — 50 state militias and a Coast Guard — seems long, long, long, long, long overdue. Time to start the necessary business of demobilizing from WWII now. No more of anything even remotely suggesting “more.” They’ve had way too much of everything already. “Much much less” would seem like a much healthier diet for the US military, America, and the world

          I’ve saved a transcript of the entire program here. A real keeper in my estimation. Peter Lavelle, George Szamuely, and Dmitry Babich deserve a lot of credit for this.

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