There's a host of foreign policy issues on which it is the Washington establishment that offers a loony and dangerous position and Donald Trump is the comparative voice of sanity and restraint
Originally appeared at Consortium News
The Establishment so wants everyone to unfriend Donald Trump’s supporters on Facebook, there’s even an app to block them. That’ll teach them!
Yes, Trump plays a bully boy as he appeals to populist (good) – as well as nativist, xenophobic and racist (bad) – sentiments. The bad need to be meaningfully addressed and engaged rather than dismissed by self-styled sophisticates, noses raised. The good should be recognized and encouraged.
Focusing on the negative aspects of his campaign has blinded many people to what’s good in it – and I don’t mean good like “Oh, the Democrat can beat this guy!” I mean good like it’s good that some important issues – like the militarized role of the U.S. in the world – are getting aired.
Trump is appealing to nativist sentiments – as Pat Buchanan did in the 1992 campaign – but along with Buchanan’s “America First” arguments came a distrust of imperial adventures. Similarly, Trump recently said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “killed hundreds of thousands of people with her stupidity. … The Middle East is a total disaster under her.”
Now, I think that’s pretty accurate, though U.S. policy in my view may be more Machiavellian than stupid, but the remark is a breath of fresh air on the national stage. So, at times, Trump is a truth-teller, including when he says politicians sell themselves to rich donors and when he calls out “free-trade” deals for costing American workers their middle-class jobs.
But the mainstream meme about Trump is that he’s a total liar. The New York Times recently purported to grade the veracity of presidential candidates. By the Times’ accounting, Trump was off the scales lying. But I never saw anyone fact-check his assertion about former Secretary Clinton’s record of bringing bloody chaos to Libya, Syria and other Mideast countries. That’s not an argument that establishment media wants to have.
Of course, a few sentences after Trump’s comment about Clinton’s death toll, he turned to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the CIA station in Benghazi, causing Salon to dismiss him as embracing “conspiracies,” which is all that many people will hear, not the fuller context.
Shouldn’t someone who at times articulates truly inconvenient truths be credited for breaking “politically correct” taboos, such as acknowledging the obvious disasters of U.S. interventionism across the Mideast? Trump speaks such truths, as he did during the Las Vegas debate about U.S. wars:
“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.”
Frankly, that is a stronger critique of military spending than we’ve heard from Sen. Bernie Sanders of late. But Trump’s — or Sen. Rand Paul’s — remarks about U.S. policies of “regime change” and bombings are often ignored. It’s more convenient to focus on U.S. kindness in letting a few thousand refugees in than to examine how millions of displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and other countries lost their homes as a result of U.S. government policies.
A Long-Ignored Constitution
Some critics say Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants is unconstitutional (although that argument is debatable as a matter of law regardless of what one thinks of the morality and practicality of his idea).
But there’s also the question of how frequently recent presidents have violated the Constitution in recent years with hardly a peep from the mainstream media. News flash: the sitting Democratic president has bombed seven countries without a declaration of war. We’ve effectively flushed the Constitution down the toilet. Does that justify violating it more? No. But the pretend moral outrage on this score is hollow.
And there’s some logic to the nativist Muslim bashing. It’s obviously wrong on many levels, but it’s understandable given the skewed information the public is given. Since virtually no one on the national stage is seriously and systematically criticizing U.S. policy in the Middle East, such as the multiple U.S. “regime change” invasions and the longstanding U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, it makes sense to say that we’ve got to change something and that something is separating from Muslims.
Some sophisticates also slammed Trump for acting in the Las Vegas debate like he didn’t know what the nuclear triad is (the Cold War-era strategy of delivering nuclear bombs by land-based missiles, strategic bombers and submarine launches).
Well, I have no idea if he knows what the nuclear triad is or if he was just acting that way. But I’m rather glad he didn’t adopt the administration’s position of saying it’s a good idea to spend a trillion dollars to “modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal so we can efficiently threaten the planet for another generation.
People may recall that for all the rhetoric from President Barack Obama about ending nuclear weapons, it was President Ronald Reagan, after all his bluster about the Evil Empire and basing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, who almost rose to the occasion when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating nuclear arsenals.
For today’s mainstream journalists, it’s just easier to go with the flow and hate Trump, as all the major media outlets want us to do. After all, much of our political culture lives off hate. Apparently hate is what gets people to do what you want them to do. So you scare them by building up villainous bogeymen, such as Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin.
People were so encouraged to hate Hussein that many backed the disastrous invasion of Iraq. They were propagandized into hating Assad so much that U.S. policy helped give rise to ISIS. Putin has been transformed into such a comic-book villain that people who should know better talk casually about shooting down Russian planes and seeking “regime change” in Moscow.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the supposedly “reasonable” Republican “moderate,” says “it’s time that we punched the Russians in the nose.” Who cares about risking nuclear war? Don’t we all just hate Putin?
Now, many Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike – are demonizing Trump. Whatever he says is put in the most negative context with no expectation of balance. He has become the focus of hate, hate, hate. He’s a black-hatted, black-hearted villain. But why can’t we just view people for who they are, seeing both the good and bad in them?
Asking Why the Hate
Trump calls for a cutoff of immigration of Muslims “until we can figure out what the hell is going on” — which, given our political culture’s seeming propensity of never figuring out much of anything might be forever, but the comment actually raises a serious question: why are people in the Mideast angry at U.S. policy?
Says Trump: “There’s tremendous hatred [among Muslims toward the United States]. Where it comes from, I don’t know.” But Trump — unlike virtually anyone else with a megaphone — is actually raising the issue about why there’s so much resentment against the U.S. in the Mideast.
Virtually the only other person on the national stage stating such things is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, though his articulations have also been uneven and have been a pale copy of what his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has said.
Of course, what should be said is: If we don’t know “what the hell is going on!” — then maybe we should stop bombing. But that doesn’t get processed because the general public lives under the illusion that Barack Obama is a pacifistic patsy. The reality is that Obama has been bombing more countries than any president since World War II – by his own count seven – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Half of what Trump says may be borderline deranged and false. But he also says true things — and critically, important things that no one else with any media or political access is saying.
At this week’s Las Vegas debate, Trump said: “When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia.”
Granted, Trump’s comment was mangled and imprecise – he may have been referring to President George W. Bush’s extraordinary decision to let rich Saudis, including bin Laden family members, onto the first civilian planes allowed back into the air after 9/11 so they could avoid intensive FBI questioning and possible hostility from the American people – but Trump’s remark raises the legitimate question of Saudi Arabia’s relation to 9/11.
Yes, Trump says he’ll bomb the hell out of Syria, as does virtually every other Republican candidate. (Sen. Ted Cruz wants to see if “sand can glow in the dark,” phrasing usually associated with nuclear war.) But Obama’s already is bombing Syria and Iraq albeit without much media fanfare. So people think it’s not happening and thus believe that Obama’s passivity is the problem.
What Americans are right in sensing is that President Obama, former President Bush and the rest of the Establishment are playing endless geopolitical games and keeping them in the dark. As citizens in what is supposed to be a democratic Republic, they’re right to be sick of it. Many of the people supporting or sympathizing with Trump seem to sense that he may be the only one ready to tip over the furniture and make a fuss.
Trump, the Anti-Imperialist?
Trump touts his alleged opposition to the Iraq War, although I don’t recall him attending any of the anti-war rallies in 2002-03. But he apparently made a few critical remarks in 2003-04. Certainly nothing great or courageous. But it’s good that someone with the biggest megaphone is saying the Iraq War was bad.
People who are getting behind Trump thus may be reachable regarding the U.S. government’s proclivity toward endless war. And think for a minute about what a Trump-Clinton race would be like, given that she voted for the invasion of Iraq — and then promoted violent “regime change” in Libya and Syria. Trump might end up as the anti-imperialist candidate.
At least, Trump conveys the impression that he would act like a normal nationalist and not a conniving globalist. And much of the U.S. public seems to want that. And, if that’s true, it’s a good thing. It’s also a positive that Trump is energizing some people who had given up on politics.
Trump — apparently alone among Republican presidential candidates — is saying that he will talk to Russian President Putin. Having some sense that the job of a president is to attempt to have reasonable relations with the other major nuclear state is a serious plus in my book. He conveys the image of being a die-hard nationalist, but — unlike most of our recent leaders — not hell-bent on global domination. People who want a better world could use that.
No prominent Democrat has called for a serious reexamination of how the United States conducts its foreign policy. Hillary Clinton wins praise from arch-neocon Robert Kagan for what he calls her “liberal interventionism,” which he correctly assesses as virtually the same as neo-conservatism. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]
Though Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War, he has displayed little interest or sophistication about who’s fueling much of the extremist violence in the Middle East. He wants the Saudis to “get their hands dirty” when they have already done so by financing and arming brutal Sunni jihadist forces, including those tied to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Sanders doesn’t seem to understand that the Sunni jihadists are, in effect, paramilitary forces that the Saudis have supported since the 1980s when Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen were funded and armed to overthrow the Soviet-backed secular regime in Kabul. That conflict gave rise to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the modern jihadist movement.
A Missed Opportunity
During a Democratic debate right after the Paris terror attacks of Nov. 13, Sanders had a historic opportunity to address these issues in a serious way. He could have pointed out the contradiction between U.S. alliances with nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the “war on terror.” He could have explained the fallacy of seeking “regime change” against secular governments – as with Iraq, Libya and Syria – when that only invites chaos, bloodshed and extremism.
Sanders could have stressed how perpetual war not only is doomed to failure as a strategy against terrorism but is incompatible with the investments that he hopes to make in education, health care, infrastructure, the environment and other domestic priorities. He could have called for a thorough reappraisal of these misguided policies and energized the Democratic base.
But Sanders refused to engage in a thoughtful way on foreign policy, reverting back to his preferred topic: income inequality. Now he’s complaining about a lack of media coverage. Yes, the mainstream media is unfair toward progressive candidates, but you don’t do any good by refusing to engage in what is arguably the great, defining debate of our time.
The only significant candidate on the national stage who has seriously challenged the interventionist impulse was Rep. Ron Paul, who was demonized in 2008 in ways similar to what’s being done to Trump now. It’s true that the comparison is imprecise: Trump has provided few specifics on how he would approach the world differently from either President Obama or his Republican rivals. Many of his comments have been elliptical about his skills as a negotiator rather detailed about policies – and he has sounded bellicose when talking about the Islamic State.
If he got into office, Trump might be little different from other recent presidents – after all the State Department and Pentagon are staffed with bureaucrats who have risen through the ranks by toeing the establishment lines of neoconservatism and liberal interventionism. But Trump, as a world-wide deal-maker, might be more pragmatic than ideological.
In terms of economics, Trump is alone in the Republican field in defending a progressive tax and he has praised Social Security. Tom Ferguson has noted: “lower income voters seem to like him about twice as much as the upper income voters who like him in the Republican poll.” Trump has “even dumped on some issues that are virtually sacred to the Republicans, notably the carried interest tax deduction for the super rich.”
Trump has been blunt about the corruption in American politics. Writes Lee Fang: “Donald Trump Says He Can Buy Politicians, None of His Rivals Disagree.”
Is There Good in Trump?
So, can progressives pause for a moment and note that it may be a good thing that many discouraged voters – fed up with politics as usual – are finding someone who speaks to both their fears and their hopes, albeit in ways that are often confused and even offensive.
It’s important to stress: I have no idea what Trump actually believes. Backing him for president is probably akin to guessing what’s behind a door on “The Price is Right.” His political philosophy – if that’s the right word – is a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas. He could be even more authoritarian than what we’ve seen so far. But, in some ways, he is a welcome break from the Establishment’s ugly orthodoxy.
It’s also possible that he’s just putting on an act to lure the Republican anti-establishment wing and would revert to old establishment policies if he were to get into office – much like Obama has done – especially on foreign policy. After all, Trump says, “I was a member of the Establishment seven months ago.”
By the way, I have no personal love for Trump. I lived in one of his buildings when I was growing up in Queens. His flamboyance – as my dad and I were scraping by in a one-bedroom apartment – sickened me. I remember seeing the luxurious Trump Tower in Manhattan as a teen with my father. My dad joked that he’d own one square inch for the monthly rent checks he wrote to Trump for years.