Don't Look to Militarists for an Antiwar Foreign Policy
Rallying around a proven militarist as the vehicle for opposing war and empire is ridiculous, and continuing to do this in 2023 is discrediting.
Matt Duss takes apart the silly attempts to paint Trump’s foreign policy as antiwar and anti-imperialist:
These pieces all rest heavily on the claim that Trump launched no new wars. That’s true as far as it goes. But it was certainly not for lack of trying. Trump might not have started any wars, but he massively inflamed existing ones—and came close to catastrophic new ones.
Some antiwar conservatives were inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt in 2015 and 2016 because he made some of the right noises about the Iraq war, but Trump’s foreign policy record once in office proved that they had made a serious mistake. As I have said before, Trump never opposed wars at the beginning when it matters, and it is only later after the war goes badly that he reinvents himself as a critic when there is no longer any political danger in opposing it. As he has shown once again with his calls for intervention in Mexico, he is not opposed to starting wars in the least.
It was a deeply regrettable error to think that Trump might have an antiwar agenda as president. After four years of seeing Trump wield the power of the presidency, there can be no excuse for persisting in that error. Rallying around a proven militarist as the vehicle for opposing war and empire is ridiculous, and continuing to do this in 2023 is discrediting.
If we are serious when we say that economic wars are wars, it’s also not true that Trump didn’t start any wars. His “maximum pressure” campaigns against Iran and Venezuela were attacks on the people of both countries. He also presided over the intensification of broad sanctions on North Korea and Syria. Broad sanctions are profound interventions in the affairs of other countries, and Trump’s Iran and Venezuela policies stand out for how crudely imperialistic they were. While the stated objectives were different, the basic contempt for the rights of other nations and the willingness to use collective punishment to compel their submission were the same. Trump’s foreign policy was the opposite of restraint.
Barry Posen had Trump’s number fairly early on. He recognized that Trump wasn’t a non-interventionist or “isolationist,” and he knew he definitely wasn’t a restrainer. Posen described the strategy behind Trump’s foreign policy as one of illiberal hegemony:
Breaking with his predecessors, Trump has taken much of the “liberal” out of “liberal hegemony.” He still seeks to retain the United States’ superior economic and military capability and role as security arbiter for most regions of the world, but he has chosen to forgo the export of democracy and abstain from many multilateral trade agreements. In other words, Trump has ushered in an entirely new U.S. grand strategy: illiberal hegemony.
Trump not only continued and escalated the wars he inherited, but when he was presented with the opportunity to end U.S. involvement in one of the most shameful wars in Yemen he refused. Despite flirting with the idea of withdrawing from both Syria and Afghanistan, he could not get the job done. He needlessly stoked a crisis with Iran that nearly got the U.S. into a new Middle Eastern war. As Duss reminds us, Trump needlessly brought the U.S. and North Korea close to war during the 2017 crisis. While he complained about allied contributions, U.S. security commitments only grew on Trump’s watch. Republican hardliners were mostly thrilled with the foreign policy they got from Trump because he governed like one of them.
Trying to turn Trump into an antiwar figure is absurd. All that it does is to identify the people making these arguments with a deeply corrupt demagogue who has already proven himself unfit for public office.