The other day President Trump told his audience at a rally in Ohio that US troops are leaving Syria “very soon.” “Let others take care of it,” he said, “it’s time to build up our own country. It’s time to bring them home.”
The foreign policy Establishment, the military, and the pro-jihadist “humanitarian interventionists” of the liberal-left (e.g., Nicholas Kristof), went ballistic. Oh noes! You can’t do that! What about Bashar al-Assad, the Very Bad Dictator who’s been protecting religious minorities from US-funded head-choppers? He’ll be left in power, and we can’t have that! The Democrats on Twitter reacted by denouncing Trump – because wars are bad only if Republicans start them.
While the counterintuitive moral posturing of the Nicholas Kristofs of this world probably has a minimal impact on the decision-making process in the White House, the US military does indeed have a say – and they, along with their civilian allies in the sprawling national security bureaucracy, aren’t afraid to contradict a sitting president. As the Washington Post gleefully reports:
“President Trump on Tuesday repeated his desire to quickly ‘get out’ of Syria, even as his top commander for the Middle East outlined the need for an ongoing military presence there.
“‘A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us,’ said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of U.S. Central Command. Upcoming efforts, he said, include the military’s role in ‘stabilizing [Syria], consolidating gains’ and ‘addressing long-term issues of reconstruction’ after the defeat of the Islamic State.
“The two spoke simultaneously in Washington. Votel, joined in remarks at the US Institute of Peace by the administration’s top diplomatic envoy to the U.S.-led coalition against the militants and by the head of the US Agency for International Development, discussed the need to align military operations with those of diplomatic and aid activities on the ground.
“Barely a mile away, Trump told a White House news conference that ‘I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.’”
The issue was addressed at a meeting with the President and various national security officials, and it ended with Trump instructing the military to prepare to leave. However, he did not set a date, and news reports have it that he was persuaded – against his better instincts – to allow the troops to stay “a little longer.”
Yes, it’s always “a little longer,” isn’t it? Victory is right around the corner. Except when it isn’t.
The President is surrounded by his enemies – the permanent albeit unelected government that really runs the country. He ran on an “isolationist” (i.e., traditional American) platform: “America first.” The Iraq war was a preventable disaster, he said, promising no more regime change. Once he got into office, however, it’s not that he forgot his promises – it’s that he began to realize that the ship of state is not easily turned. The vast apparatus that is the American Empire has been set on its course since the end of World War II and the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union: no one person can succeed in turning it completely around. A president can announce policies, but as far as getting them implemented by underlings – well, in this case, good luck with that.
Trump is at war with his own government on the foreign policy front as well as many other fronts. That’s what the Mueller “investigation” is all about. With the entire political class, the government bureaucracy, and the media against him – and determined to oust him – Trump is isolated in the Oval Office and unable to actually implement many of the policies he prefers. This is not to say he’s perfect – far from it! – but he’s subject to extraordinary political pressure. Add to this the inertia imposed by the imperial traditions of a city – Washington, D.C. – that have shaped US foreign policy for the last seventy-five years or so.
Yes, Trump has a way of upsetting the Powers That Be which is fun to watch: his Korean peace initiative and the announcement of an upcoming meeting with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un has the foreign policy Establishment in a tizzy. Even the alleged “non-interventionists” denounced it as potentially “dangerous” – which just goes to show how subjective emotionalism (i.e. Trump Derangement Syndrome) can distort one’s thinking in ways that aren’t pretty.
The smoke had barely cleared after that explosion when Trump unveiled yet another foreign policy bunker-buster: a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin. At the White House.
This was enough to send the Louise Mensch crowd – which now consists of the entire Democratic party base – into a frenzy: here, at last, was the “proof” that Trump is “Putin’s puppet.” The smirk on Rachel Maddow’s face got even smirkier. And Trump’s outgoing National Security Advisor, having just been fired, launched an attack from the dais of the Atlantic Council:
“Mr. Putin may believe that he is winning in this new form of warfare," he said. "He may believe that his aggressive actions in the parks of Salisbury, in cyberspace, in the air, and on the high seas can undermine our confidence, our institutions, and our values. Perhaps he believes that our free nations are weak and will not respond. He. Is. Wrong.”
The clear implication here – understood by all the many cretins in that audience – is that Putin believes this because he has Trump in the palm of his hand. The President, they believe, is a traitor to the Empire – and, in an important sense, he is.
The Empire is the creation of the political class, which resides on the coasts and is centered in Washington. It is the creature of the City: middle America has no role in it, except in a negative sense – to serve as cannon fodder in their wars. The Country party is “isolationist” and always has been. Kept from the centers of power since the run-up to World War II, with Trump’s election the Country party has found its champion – but he’s too beleaguered to carry out the kind of fundamental change that his followers and well-wishers expect. And he has no real philosophy – only some good instincts (and plenty of bad ones) that come to the surface often but not consistently.
As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face: we won’t rid ourselves of the burden of empire overnight. It took decades for the political class to create this monstrous excrescence, and it will take at least that long for an organized effort to free us from the burden it imposes. And this is the key: an organized effort. A lobby for America First to counteract the militarist lobby is absolutely essential: that’s the factor that’s been missing since 1940. Trump can’t do it alone: he needs a grassroots campaign to back up his anti-interventionist instincts. The Country party must rise to meet the task – or lose out to those City slickers with blood on their hands and larceny in their hearts.
The War Party will do everything in its power to stop the Trump-Putin summit, because it’s the most hopeful sign yet that the tide is turning against them. The threat of nuclear war hasn’t gone away: indeed, it’s greater than ever. Think about it: an accident – a misreading of instruments, a rogue commander, a misunderstanding of some kind could launch a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia, with the potential to end all life – all life! – on earth.
The stakes could not be higher.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.