Survival in the Age of Trump is today on many minds. For some, the issue is whether our whimsical, volatile president will undo 70 years of alliance (read: empire) building here and now. For others, it is whether he will finally realize his campaign promises to be the Great Disrupter and fulfill the wishes of the vast majority of the American public to live at peace with the world.
The turning point was Donald Trump’s announcement a week ago on Twitter that he ordered the U.S. military to withdraw the 2,000 or so American ground troops from Syria. This was initially greeted with skepticism by our dissident community and also by one international actor which is very interested in avoiding confrontations, not to mention armed conflict with the United States on and over Syrian territory, namely the Russian Federation.
But the shrill denunciations that the announcement precipitated among US political elites and media, followed by the resignation of the US Secretary of Defense, “mad dog” General James Mattis the day after the announcement, made it plain that the withdrawal order will be implemented within thirty, sixty or, at the outer limit, ninety days. Moreover, the US military further released to the public the news that following the removal of US ground troops in Syria the American air offensive in Syria would come to an end. And it was confirmed that the President had ordered the American military presence in Afghanistan to be halved, meaning the departure of 7,000 soldiers according to a timetable still to be defined.
In summation, it was an eventful week. The President effectively had kicked over the beehive of his enemies in the nation’s capital. He had gone against virtually the entire foreign policy Establishment across the land, and against the mainstream media. High decibel speculation erupted in the press on where next this President will draw down American troops and what that means for the entire posture of the US global “alliances.” Will the troops stationed in Japan and South Korea questioned by Trump since the electoral campaign be next to undergo a haircut?
Western commentators on the Trump administration are calling him not merely a juvenile in the White House but a “crackpot” and someone utterly “unpredictable.” His alleged unpredictability makes him all the more dangerous to national security in their view. This personality trait also makes him a blood brother of Vladimir Putin, whom our media constantly accuse of unpredictability, though his every action may easily be anticipated by anyone who follows closely his public speeches.
Of course, none of Trump’s latest moves was truly “unpredictable.” Withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan was embedded in his 2016 electoral platform. Since taking office, he has acted to implement nearly all of his campaign promises with respect to domestic policy. Now that the midterm elections are behind him and his control of the Senate is assured, Trump has undertaken to realize his promises on foreign affairs.
It is to be noted that the most controversial of his electoral pledges, to normalize relations with Russia, remains off the table. Considering how the Democrats and his opponents within his own party have made Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, the cudgel in their attacks on his presidential powers, we may expect that any move on Russia will come at the very end of Trump’s “to-do” list if it remains there at all.
The Russians’ skepticism over Trump’s announced pullout from Syria has not been dampened notwithstanding the departure of General Mattis. Indeed, the scenario of two steps forward and one step back seems to be a valid description of actions of this administration. During yesterday’s surprise visit to American forces stationed in Iraq, Trump mentioned in passing that they may be used for operations in Syria “against ISIL.” We may assume that their interventions will have more varied objectives than combating terrorism across the border.
If we step back from the specifics of the past two weeks and look at the foreign policy impact of Donald Trump’s presidency more broadly, we are faced with a number of conflicting facts. These contradictions may explain how he been able to hold onto power…and to stay alive thus far while going up against the Deep State in ways that put the entire structure of American global hegemony in peril.
At times, everyone in turn, foes and would-be friends, see before them a Trump they can support even if they revile him for his other facets exposed at other moments. I, for one, have gone through a cycle of repulsion and admiration. Repulsion was strongest following Trump’s utterly unacceptable, if not insane speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 threatening North Korea with annihilation. Admiration for his bravery came in the past week following the announcement on withdrawals.
For those of us who would like to support this President in his foreign policy initiatives, the problem is the way he justifies his actions: they are founded on lies and prevarication. Moreover, he clearly does not give a hoot about the lot of us. He is not open to advice from us….or anyone else outside a very circumscribed number of loyalists with whom the shares ideas, when he is not simply following his own “gut instincts” in the tradition of captains of the entrepreneurial, as opposed to corporate business world from which he hails.
However, it is also true that in his own way, Trump the Great Disrupter is doing far more to achieve the dismantlement of the American Empire than any of us. We in the dissident community have not found our audience. The broad public in the United States and in Europe does not “get it.” There is among us vast concern over possible accidents, leaks at atomic power stations. A new Chernobyl or Fukishima is lurking around the corner. Hence, the rising strength of the Green Parties, which have common environmental objectives but no common foreign policy. And yet, the dangers of nuclear war which have been rising year after year and will become most acute if and when the US installs nuclear armed cruise missiles in Europe, as seems highly likely, go unnoticed by our slumbering public.
Donald Trump is the Ugly American incarnate. More so than even Dick Cheney or George Bush the Younger. His boorish manners and in-your-face self-promotion puts to shame the servile European, Japanese and other spittle-lickers who have profited from their associations with Washington at the expense of their compatriots. These would-be friends of Washington have nowhere to hide from the disgrace Trump metes out to them before their own peoples. All of this is good and necessary medicine to set the world on its way towards a multipolar future. Far more than we “American dissidents” have been able to muster.
Therefore, I can only say “godspeed” to Donald Trump in the New Year 2019. May he willy-nilly continue to do God’s work.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018