War on Terror Unites Trump and the Establishment

It’s conventional wisdom that Washington, DC is a city marked by gridlock. Republicans obstructed President Obama’s agenda on principle, as Democrats are attempting to do now with Donald Trump. To give even an inch is a sign of political weakness. Trump is, admittedly, a polarizing figure, and there is certainly plenty of dissent in today’s political environment on a host of issues. The War on Terror, though, continues the same trajectory it’s been on for the better part of this century. President Trump, like President Obama before him, has mainstream support for his terror policies and approach to the conflicts in the Middle East.

The incredibly hawkish nature of the Obama administration’s foreign policy legacy has been well documented, and Trump is picking up right where he left off. He launched his first drone strike within days of being sworn in as president. There are reports that Trump is giving authority for these strikes over to the CIA and will tolerate more loss of civilian life – essentially giving the reins of an already non-transparent lethal program over to a group of people who lie for a living. And, of course, there is the infamous botched raid in Yemen by American Special Forces which took the life, among others, of a Navy Seal and an eight year-old American girl on January 29th.

It make sense that the Trump Administration would spin the raid and their larger foreign policy decisions in a positive light. But they also have allies in places you might not expect. Usually a Trump antagonist, MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough has praised Trump for the nomination of General James Mattis to the position of Secretary of Defense. Other mainstream outlets like the New York Times have also supported the decision. Mattis was supposedly a moderate pick. His actual policy history suggests otherwise.

The Brookings Institution has also had positive things to say about foreign policy in the era of Trump. Brookings is a gold-standard of sorts for DC think tanks and the Washington establishment, and they generally do strike a pretty centrist, nonpartisan tone. But sometimes a middle ground is no ground at all. In a post on February 10th, two Brookings scholars asserted that "while his domestic policy ideas seem quite outside the mainstream, his national security team is performing much better than it is being given credit for." In the section on the Middle East, there is no mention of the raid in Yemen, or the ongoing drone wars, which we know now have been greatly expanded, or blowback, which seems to be a non-controversial concept in the foreign policy world, but rarely enters any public debate on the matter.

Another Brookings scholar, Daniel Byman, does talk about the Yemen raid in a podcast but offers only faint condemnation of the carnage. He laments that the event was politicized and calls on Democrats to get behind the president, whom he predicts will opt for more of these small raids by Special Forces. That’s easy enough to say when the victims are largely anonymous and far removed from one’s circle of empathy. We don’t politicize the death and injury our foreign policy causes enough.

Policy absolutely should be debated and determined on a cost-benefit analysis. But what constitutes a cost or a benefit is hardly universal. It seems crass and inhumane to take collateral damage and perpetual war as a given and then go from there. Trump was supposedly an antiestablishment candidate. On this issue, though, he is squarely within the Washington consensus.

Jerrod A. Laber is a Program Manager at the Institute for Humane Studies. He is a Young Voices Advocate.