Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Isolationist Trump vs. Imperialist Clinton

I said isolationist Trump would be less war-like than imperialist Clinton

His lonely push to get us out of “endless wars” confirms it

by Caleb Stewart Rossiter
(Director of the American Exceptionalism Media Project)
Just before the 2016 election I wrote a piece for the website of the American Exceptionalism Media Project called: Nil to Hill: Are Anti-Imperialists Right to Risk a Trump Presidency?

I applauded opponents of slavery who abandoned the moderate Whig Party, even though that helped the pro-slavery Democrats win the presidency in 1852 and 1856. Similarly, I applauded opponents of the Viet Nam War who called for voters to “Dump the Hump,” Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, even though that helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968.
These “Conscience” Whigs and anti-imperial Democrats wouldn’t back a lesser evil and so indeed elected a greater one. By holding firm, however, they built a new or reformed party that soon triumphed on their key issue. I argued that Democrats in 2016 had to play this type of long game against the evil of American empire by refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the risk of helping elect Donald Trump. But even in the short-term, I predicted, an isolationist Trump would wage war far less often than imperial Clinton.
Here was the core of my argument:
By refusing to back Clinton, anti-imperialists will be responsible for electing Trump.  On foreign policy, there is probably little added danger of doing so, even in the short term.  Trump is an unknown, an unguided missile with little understanding, interest, or theme in international affairs.  Clinton, though, is a proven imperialist with a dangerous, LBJ-style political bent for showing that her party can be as tough as Republicans.  She is a guarantee that the Long War will continue, leaving us trapped in a cycle of military support for repressive regimes that makes us the target for the terrorism of their radical Islamist opponents, leading to even more war and additional reaction from the Caliphate and then the United States. 
Sometimes the big issue requires temporary losses on the smaller ones, and the biggest issue of all is not what America can do for its own people, but what it is doing to people in other countries as the enforcer of a network of repression and war (pace, JFK’s speechwriters).  America’s major parties need to adjust at some point to the reality that a sizeable share of the electorate simply won’t support empire.  2016 may prove to be that time. 

The past three years seem to confirm both predictions, and that’s good news for people in the formerly colonized countries, and in America.

Prediction 1: Trump would be less likely than Clinton to start and continue imperial wars. Lyndon Johnson ran as the responsible peace candidate in 1964 against the supposedly rash Barry Goldwater, but then rashly invaded Viet Nam the next year with half a million troops. In contrast, Donald Trump as president has pretty much done exactly what he promised as a candidate: avoid new foreign wars (Venezuela, Iran, North Korea) and try to remove American combat forces from some of the endless old ones he inherited from President Obama (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya).

To do so the president has had to fight the Pentagon, the State Department, most of the Republican establishment, and at times most of the Democratic party and its allied media. In all seven cases Hillary Clinton could well have pushed or been pushed into the military option.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz sure seems to think so: “Had any other of the major candidates won, on the Republican or Democrat (sic) side, I believe that we’d be in two – or three – new wars: Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran. And it is the leadership of the president that has prevailed.”

And so does Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has called Hillary Clinton “the queen of the warmongers…(backed by) powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine.” This was in response to Clinton’s claim that Russia is “grooming” Gabbard, an anti-interventionist candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, for a third-party candidacy.

In 2002 Clinton voted to give President Bush permission to invade Iraq. This was the “smart” vote for Democrats who wanted to be seen as tough enough to the centrist voters they would need to become president. Her Senate colleagues and future presidential candidates John Kerry and Joe Biden joined her. But Clinton arguably lost the 2008 presidential nomination because of her vote. She was displaced as the choice of many liberals by Barack Obama, an openly imperial centrist Democrat himself, who said at an anti-war rally before the Senate vote as an Illinois state legislator: “I’m not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” For Obama, the intelligent wars were apparently Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the spin-off war from Libya in Mali.

As the recent slur on Gabbard shows, former UN Ambassador Samantha Powers got at least one thing right in her service to Obama. In an interview that got her fired from Obama’s 2008 campaign, Powers called Hillary Clinton a “monster” who is capable of “stooping to anything” and any “amount of deceit” to hold power.

Trump’s leadership against what he calls “endless wars” has been a solo act, just like his decision to reject the wisdom of both the federal bureaucracy and his political advisers on the Paris “climate” agreement. That decision protects Americans and Africans alike from the dramatically increased energy prices and power blackouts that would have resulted from this non-solution to a non-problem, the narrative of a fossil-fueled climate crisis. Similarly, Trump alone has driven long-needed trade corrections against unequal restrictions by the European Union and China.

Trump “turned around” an air strike on Iran that his military and foreign policy advisers had promoted as a response to Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. This averted a possible “Gulf of Tonkin” moment in a fog of claims and counter-claims, which was predicted to kill 150 people and could have started a full-scale war. For this, many usually anti-war Democrats lambasted him in concert with their allied media and much of the Republican establishment. 

Then, by getting out of Syria’s complex civil wars, Trump drove the liberal media fully around the bend. Many outlets incited soldiers and officers to comment on their disappointment in their commander-in-chief for abandoning our “allies” in the PKK, the Kurdish independence movement. The PKK is labeled a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union. According to the International Crisis Group, it has killed nearly 500 civilians and over 1,200 security personnel in Turkey since 2015. It is Turkey, the target of this terrorism, that in its role as a member of NATO is our sworn and reliable ally.

The Left and the anti-Trump media has been fawning in recent years over the “intelligence community’s” wisdom and unimpeachable credibility on Russia’s Facebook campaign to add more polarizing drivel to our plentiful domestic polarizing drivel. Similarly, the IC has been f»áted for its bloviating attribution of every bit of extreme weather to undefined (but implicitly fossil-fueled) “climate change.”

How soon they forget the IC’s brief that Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered at the United Nations in 2003 as the casus belli for invading Iraq! Literally every one of the dozens of the IC’s claims about “weapons of mass destruction” and Iraq’s support for terrorism was known at the time, and was admitted by the government after the fact, to be false.

But at least the IC is tasked to provide its opinions on national security issues. In contrast, the armed forces exist to apply violence and its threat to promote American interests, as defined by the President, period. They are warriors, not policy-makers. It is fundamental to our democracy that they implement the policies that are decided by civilians, rather than insert themselves into political decisions. Hence, their views on whether to fight for the PKK or help Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, let alone whether terrorist attacks on America are more or less likely if we stay in the Middle East to choose winners and losers, are not appropriate in the public forum.

By injecting the armed forces into the Syria debate, the liberal media are fomenting contempt for and even disloyalty to civilian control. That’s just as wrong now as it was when the late Senator Jesse Helms did it in 1994, musing that President Bill Clinton had “better watch out…he’d better have a bodyguard” if he visited military bases in North Carolina.

I recall a Christmas party a few years back at which the mother of U.S. soldiers in Iraq told me she wanted a war with Iran, because it was endangering her children with its aid to Iraqi factions. I told her that soldiers are sent overseas to protect America, not to have America make policies to protect them. I haven’t been invited back to that party.

Prediction 2: Anti-interventionism will gain among Democrats. Benjamin Franklin proposed for our national symbol the industrious, home-loving and defending wild turkey, as opposed to the wide-ranging, rapacious bald eagle. In 2010 I published a history of the tension between America’s non-interventionist and imperial impulses, The Turkey and the Eagle. https://www.algora.com/328/book/details.html

The core of the Democratic party appears finally to be rejecting its “Hard Eagle” policy of using our own military power and its “Soft Eagle” policy of allying with repressive regimes to maintain control in the developing world.

LBJ and his southern Democratic “Dixies” kept us in Viet Nam, where over two million people were killed because they thought they needed to show their toughness to win re-election. But most northern Democrats also backed the war until Nixon took office in 1969. The latest book to remind us that there was no other reason other than domestic politics for Kennedy and Johnson to fight the nationalists in Viet Nam is Our Man, a biography of Richard Holbrooke by Iraq war hawk George Packer.

Holbrooke was part of the first foreign service class to work on the war effort in the field. These State Department officials quickly judged the war unwinnable because of the fundamental appeal of the nationalists and the fundamental alienation of the people from our corrupt, French-created South Vietnamese ally. Yet they tempered their criticism of the war to retain their “effectiveness” and their careers. The tragic coda of Holbrooke’s career came when he begged Obama to let him handle the war in Afghanistan in 2009.

Shades of Viet Nam, Holbrooke again was in on a politically-driven presidential “surge” on behalf of a hopelessly corrupt and alienating ally. The die for this tragedy was cast the day in November 2001 that U.S.-backed forces drove the Taliban from the capital. The choice then, as 18 years later, is to declare victor and leave, or fight forever. In 2019 Trump almost pulled off a Viet Nam-style withdrawal deal over the head of the Afghan government. His instinct now seems to be to withdraw without a deal.

The successor to the Dixies was the Democratic Leadership Council of Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, which wanted Democrats to get political credit for helping President Reagan “win” in Central America’s civil wars in the 1980’s. The depth of that disaster is still felt today, in the flood of refugees from those devastated countries trying to get into the United States. 

Since 2016 much of the party and, as a result, all of its top-tier presidential candidates have moved away from Hillary Clinton’s imperial approach. Anti-imperialists should be able vote for whichever candidate wins the nomination. It is Clinton, not Gabbard, who is out of touch with the party’s base.

This is a remarkable development. Americans are besieged daily with propaganda for our efforts to maintain military dominance, and so political and economic dominance, around the globe. Televised sporting events constantly honor current and former members of the military service. Troops and veterans get discounts and special treatment at movies, in airport lines, and even at the civil rights museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. That’s where the great anti-imperialist Martin Luther King, who identified America’s three great interrelated evils as “racism, economic exploitation, and militarism,” was assassinated.

Canton, Pennsylvania, drapes images of servicemen, past and present, over its lampposts as part of a “Hometown Heroes” project. The Chincoteague, Virginia, waterfront park features clamshells painted red white and blue, reading, “To all veterans, thanks!” My DC gym has a table set up right now where we are invited to send thank you notes to members of our armed forces for “protecting our freedom.”

What are you thanking the troops for if you think that occupying Middle Eastern countries has nothing to do with our freedom and everything to do with our domination? If you conclude that it spurs as much vengeance on us today from ISIS as maintaining the House of Saud and Egypt’s dictator Mubarak did when al-Qaeda was formed 25 years ago to fight the “far enemy” that kept these “American friends” in power?

            So it’s a relief to hear Trump provide a contrary opinion to the latest rationale for the American empire, the humanitarian “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which was added to international duties by the UN at the behest of liberal interventionists. It was first used in the disastrous Libyan civil war that continues eight years on. R2P mimics the disarming humanitarian excuse that the British relied on for so long, as their empire took over the Middle East and East Africa in the 19th century just so they could “fight the Arab slave trade.” U.S. military expeditions in the Middle East and Africa were already being shrouded in humanitarian guise in Pentagon PR, to which R2P provided a welcome affirmation.  

R2P is the latest in a line of rationales for American empire that started with Manifest Destiny, a quasi-religious concept that took us across the country and then out to Hawaii and the Philippines and down through Central America in the late 19th century. Then, of course, came the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, under whose cover we displaced the European empires and extended our dominance to formerly colonized Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

With the end of the Cold War Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joked to a Senate Committee that “I need enemies” to justify the Pentagon budget. The H.W. Bush-Bill Clinton doctrine of combat with “rogue states” gave him those. This doctrine was replaced after 9/11 by the W. Bush-Obama “war on terrorism” and military enforcement of nuclear arms control that provides the basis for the Pentagon’s “long war” for control of the Muslim world.

A sign of the Democratic party’s movement toward non-intervention was the recent publication by the New York Times of an op-ed by Stephen Wertheim, The Only War to End “Endless Wars” -- First, America has to give up its pursuit of global dominance. Wertheim is a historian at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, named after President John Quincy Adams, who as the Secretary of State in 1821 delivered a seminal foreign policy address celebrating that America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

Adams argued that America’s success in replacing monarchy’s arbitrary power with democratic self-rule and individual rights would serve as “a light of admonition to the rulers of men; a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed.” In adapting Puritan John Winthrop’s 1630 citation of the Sermon on the Mount, Adams stressed that the light was not a war-torch: America would abstain “from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings.”

Why? Adams said that: “She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” Adams ended his speech not with the threat of intervention, but by invoking the example of the Declaration of Independence, saying to other countries: “Go thou and do likewise!”

Adams was clearly concerned that a permanent military state supporting global dominance would abridge America’s personal freedoms and intellectual vigor. His argument resembles Franklin’s in his plea for the Turkey rather than the Eagle. Similarly, Washington’s farewell address warns against “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world” because they produce ”a variety of evils” such as “overgrown military establishments which….are inauspicious to liberty…impostures of pretended patriotism…(and) mischiefs of foreign intrigue…(that) is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”  

Better, for America and other countries, Washington said, just to “give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example” of a nation based on justice, and assume a “respectable defensive posture.” Eisenhower struck the same chords in his own farewell address, warning about the impact on American liberty of the Cold War military-industrial and government science complex that was the result of a permanent war footing. It would be ironic if Donald Trump, whose nativist and nationalistic sentiments horrify American anti-imperialists, were to be the president who helped bring their vision to fruition. He certainly has started to free the Democratic party, if not yet his own, from the trap of empire.

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