Trump’s militaristic Foreign Policy

April 22, 2017

Trump’s Militaristic Foreign Policy

by Carl Bilt

Carl Bildt was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2006 to October 2014 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s EU accession. A renowned international diplomat, he served as EU Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN Special Envoy to the Balkans, and Co-Chairman of the Dayton Peace Conference. He is Chair of the Global Commission on Internet Governance and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

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After a series of foreign-policy U-turns, there is now talk of a “new” Donald Trump who is far more inclined to use military power than the Trump we saw during the 2016 US presidential campaign. That earlier Trump seemed to regard any use of US military force in Syria as pointless and dangerous, and called for the United States to ensconce itself behind new walls.

Now, suddenly, the Trump administration has launched a missile attack on one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air bases, hinted at taking military action against North Korea, and dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State redoubt in Eastern Afghanistan. All of this was accompanied by tweets from the president himself, declaring that the US will pursue its own solutions to key issues if other countries do not offer to help.

The international community – including China – seemed to understand why the US would strike the Syrian air base from which a hideous chemical-weapons attack was launched. But the Trump administration is still following an “America first” agenda. Having awoken to global realities, the administration is now adjusting its policies, sometimes so abruptly that one might reasonably worry that diplomacy is taking a backseat to bombs and tweets.

That concern is reinforced by the dramatic cuts to the US State Department budget, and to US funding for the United Nations, that Trump has proposed. At the same time, many key positions in the US diplomatic apparatus remain unfilled. Even America’s friends recognize that this is a dangerous trajectory. Bombs can only destroy. To build lasting peace requires compromise and coalition building – in a word, diplomacy.

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Is Henry Kissinger doing deals with Donald Trump now that Hillary Clinton out  of the picture? The Butcher of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is a much sought after Foreign Policy advisor. Trump is a danger to America and the rest of the world. –Din Merican

Another issue that demands diplomacy is North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic weapons needed to deliver them. So far, Trump has tried to pressure China to find a solution, by threatening to take dramatic unilateral action if the Chinese fail to rein in their client. But whether the Trump administration actually has any specific strategy with respect to North Korea, or the means to realize it, remains unclear.

Beyond North Korea, the UN recently warned that the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which rarely makes headlines, is “rapidly pushing the country toward social, economic, and institutional collapse.” The humanitarian situation is already dire for 60% of Yemen’s 30 million inhabitants: an estimated seven million people could be close to famine; and almost 500,000 children are at risk of severe malnutrition.

The war between Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Saudi-backed government and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rebel Houthi coalition has been raging for years, with no military breakthrough in sight. Former US President Barack Obama’s administration made repeated but futile efforts to broker a ceasefire; but it also reluctantly supported Saudi Arabia’s air campaign by supplying bombs. Trump appears set to provide such support far more eagerly.

One simplistic explanation for the Yemen conflict is that it was engineered by Iran. According to this view, US and Saudi intervention is meant to stymie the Islamic Republic’s geopolitical ambitions. And now that Trump has tacitly accepted the Iran nuclear deal, some of his advisers believe that it is necessary to apply pressure on Iran from elsewhere. As a result, US raids and sorties in Yemen have become more frequent in recent months.

But, in reality, Iran’s support for the Houthis is often exaggerated. And Iran, for its part, probably welcomes a scenario in which the US and Saudi Arabia are bogged down in the Yemen quagmire.

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After al-Qaeda in Yemen?

 Another possible justification for US engagement in Yemen is that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has found a foothold there. But AQAP thrives in an environment of destruction and despair, so there is little that can be done about the group so long as Yemen is being ripped apart by war.

Even as the UN issues stark warnings about an impending catastrophe in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition is preparing an offensive to capture the coastline around the port of Hodeida – a move that the International Crisis Group has warned would aggravate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Rather than stepping up the fight, the US should be pursuing further diplomacy and humanitarian-aid efforts. Indeed, the latter go hand in hand with the former. And, after all, it was Hadi and the Saudis who rejected the UN’s last attempt to broker a ceasefire.

To resolve the conflict, the rebels and the government need to re-engage immediately with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, who has furnished a roadmap for talks. In addition, the UN Security Council should do its part to support a political solution, by adopting a long-overdue resolution demanding that both sides agree to an immediate ceasefire, grant access to humanitarian aid, and return to the negotiating table.

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A Yemeni Shite Rebel

Diplomacy will require that all parties compromise. No one – except, perhaps, Iran – has anything to gain from further escalation. If Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe leads to a total collapse, millions of desperate people might flee the country, enabling AQAP and other extremist organizations to profit from disorder and despair.

America’s re-engagement with the world should be welcomed, but not if the Trump administration continues to view conflicts solely through a military lens. Yes, fighting is sometimes necessary; but diplomacy always is. Nowhere is this more obvious than in places like Yemen. The complete collapse of yet another country is the last thing the world – including Trump – needs.

7 thoughts on “Trump’s militaristic Foreign Policy

  1. War in the Korean Peninsular will devastating for South Korea and Japan and damaging to the global economy. Donald Trump must not think that war solves problems; actually ,it makes things worse. That same message must be given to the Russians and other totalitarian regimes. Resume talks with Kim.

    LaMoy, how to drive home some sense to members of military-industrial complex and the present occupier of The White House @1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. Don’t push your luck after the missile strike in Syria.–Din Merican

  2. No foreign country has ever struck the US Mainland. The one that came closest to was the then Soviet Union but it too held back to avoid mutual destruction. Now comes nuclear-powered North Korea. The US has to kow-tow to N.Korea and not the other way round because if N Korea hits US mainland, the myth of US unparallelled power will evaporate bringing utter shame to Trump and the long line of his predecessors. If attacked N. Korea may just do that – give America its own medicine.

  3. Din has just mentioned the three most important words: military-industrial complex (MIC). This is what the American economy and foreign policy are all about. Unlike the “poorly educated” (Trump’s words, not mine) Trump’s supporters, Din is obviously well-educated by George Washington University, an institution that truly knows the impulses of Washington. Din makes his alma mater proud.

    The vested interest of the military and the arms industry has long influenced American public policy. The term MIC gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. Today, the appellation given to it should be extended to military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC), adding the US Congress to form a three-sided relationship termed an iron triangle.

    In his 1958 essay, “The Structure of Power in American Society,” sociologist C. Wright Mills dissected the country’s “triangle of power.” It consisted, he explained, of corporate leaders, senior military men, and politicians working in concert, but also in a manner that merged corporate agendas with military designs. That combination, he suggested, was degrading the ability of politicians to moderate and control corporate-military imperatives.

    Consider the makeup of Trump’s administration, a riot of billionaires and multimillionaires. His secretary of state, former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, may not be much of a diplomat. Indeed, he seems uninterested in the advice of career State Department personnel, but he does know his way around corporate boardrooms. Trump’s national security adviser and his secretaries of defense and homeland security are all either serving generals or recently retired ones. In Trump’s inner circle, corporate executives do indeed sit with senior military men to decide what is to be done.

    Many people misinterpret Trump’s “America-first” as an isolationist policy. To Trump and his generals, an “America-first” approach actually means putting the military first, second, and third – exerting global reach/global power while selling loads of weaponry. According to General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, for instance, the country that poses “the greatest long-term threat to stability” in the Middle East is Iran, a sentiment seconded by retired general James Mattis, the secretary of defense.

    You might excuse the Iranians, as well as the Russians and the Chinese, for thinking differently. To them, the US is clearly the most destabilizing entity in the world. If you were Chinese or Russian or Shia Muslim, how might US military activities appear to you? Expansionist? Check. Dedicated to dominance via colossal military spending and global interventionism? Check. Committed to economic and ideological hegemony via powerful banking and financial interests that seek to control world markets in the name of keeping them “free”? Check. Wouldn’t that be a logical, if unsavory, assessment? To many outsiders, US leaders seem like the world’s leading armed meddlers and arms merchants, a perception supported by soaring military action and sinking diplomacy under Trump. Serious cuts in funding loom at the State Department, even as the Pentagon budget is being boosted. To outside observers, Washington’s ambitions seem clear: global dominance, achieved and enforced by that “very, very strong” military that Trump claimed.

    Today, the US military similarly praises itself as the “world’s best,” even as it imagines itself surrounded by powerful threats – China, Russia, a nuclear North Korea, and global terrorism, to start a list. Sold to the American people during the Cold War as a deterrent force, a pillar of stability against communist domino-tippers, that military has by now morphed into a potential tipping force all its own. Trump administration has reaffirmed America’s quest for overwhelming nuclear supremacy. It’s called for a “new approach” to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program – whatever that may mean, it’s not a reference to diplomacy. Even as nuclear buildups and brinksmanship loom, Washington continues to spread weaponry – it’s the greatest arms merchant of the 21st century by a wide mark – and chaos around the planet, spinning its efforts as a “war on terror” and selling them as the only way to “win.”

    It’s vitally important to recognize that Trump’s “America-first” policies are anything but isolationist in the old 20th century meaning of the term; that his talk of finally winning again is a recipe for prolonging wars guaranteed to create more chaos and more failed states in the Greater Middle East and possibly beyond; and that an already dangerous Cold War policy of “deterrence,” whether against conventional or nuclear attacks, may now have become a machine for perpetual war that could, given Trump’s bellicosity, explode into some version of doomsday.

    Consider this question on North Korea: Is Kim Jong-un the only unstable leader with unhinged nuclear ambitions currently at work on the world stage? I see that fat boy is feeling damn scared for the safety and security of his nation, and damn nervous from the constant threat from the US. If Trump really wants to solve the North Korea problem, he should keep his promise to sit down with the fat boy over a hamburger, have a mano-a-mano talk and promises to provide safety and security to North Korea. Maybe the fat boy would become “pro-America” instantly. But no, the MIC wants to use the North Korea problem to sell more weaponry. And South Korea and Japan are the biggest suckers.

    • LaMoy,

      Thanks for the compliments. Nothing gets down in DC. Washingtonians in general are cynical about Congressional and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue politics. Our standard response is a shrug. Sometimes, I wonder what makes American democracy work.Maybe you can say to us what works. –Din Merican

  4. Only China can tame N. Korea if it, (China), really, really, really wants to.

    My suspicion is China, (where the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” was played out), is playing a 3-Cornered Chess Game.

    China sees N. Korea, (perhaps unforeseen initially), as a Beijing Candidate bogeyman to keep the US on a constant simmer but not boiling over. The thing about China loosing control of Kim Jung Un is a false flag. China can do a regime change over there anytime it wants, given the military top brass in N. Korea always living on the edge of fear of being executed at the whims and fancies of the kid whose only claim to fame is a broom-head haircut.

  5. An ICBM takes about 30 mins to fly from Asia to USA. Now calculate the technolgy and money that has to be poured into building of that capability. Now do the maths. How many countries have that kind of resources to spare on ICBMs.

  6. To those who believed that the thrust of the President would be in creating new jobs for his millions of unemployed many of whom have now reached such lows that “despair is a daily reality”, that the President has opened not one but four new foreign threats is saddening but should come as no surprise.

    Now Russia is a threat, China is a threat, North Korea (a country that can barely feed itself) is a threat…and Yemen is a threat…and (wait for it) Somalis has “requested” US advisers…and, of course there is the threat of millions of Islamic Jihadists who hate our freedoms…

    It is not difficult to conclude that, on the evidence so far, it is business as usual for the insane war machine…

    So to the millions of unemployed Americans…the message from your President is becoming increasingly clear… your country is facing such serious threats that stay hungry and poor for a few more years while we deal with foreigners…

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