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Monday, May 02, 2016

Imperialist thug

by digby

I wrote about Trump's foreign policy for Salon this morning:

So Maureen Dowd officially weighed in on the probable general election match-up this past week-end with her standard take on everything: politics as a never-ending battle between macho men, effeminate boys and masculine girls. Normally this breaks down for Dowd as the tiresome Daddy and Mommy party split with the swaggering, manly Republicans vs the timorous girly-men Democrats. She flips the script when a Democratic woman is running, portraying her as a steely battle-ax squaring off with a needy, epicene male.  This is how Maureen Dowd arrived at the laughable notion that Donald Trump is a "dove" compared to Hillary Clinton's  "hawk".

Maureen Dowd's puerile, genderized cartoon version of American politics is nothing if not predictable. In fairness, however, others have come to the same conclusion for different reasons.  But however it's arrived at, it's completely absurd. Hillary Clinton may be hawkish, depending on your perspective. But Donald Trump, by any comparison, is not a dove. He's not even a hawk. He's a bloodthirsty, prehistoric bird of prey.

Let's first dispense with Trump's main claim to dovish "prognostication", the insistence that he spoke out against the Iraq war when everyone else was enthusiastically jumping on the bandwagon. That's a very brave tale except for the fact that nobody found a scintilla of evidence of it being true.  Here's what Trump was saying in January of 2003, before the invasion:

Cavuto: If you had to sort of breakdown for the president, if you were advising him, how much time do you commit to Iraq versus how much time you commit to the economy, what would you say?
Trump: Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing, we’re going in, we’re not going in, the — you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur. He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk. We have to — you know, it’s sort like either do it or don’t do it. When I watch Dan Rather explaining how we are going to be attacking, where we’re going to attack, what routes we’re taking, what kind of planes we’re using, how to stop them, how to stop us, it is a little bit disconcerting. I’ve never seen this, where newscasters are telling you how — telling the enemy how we’re going about it, we have just found out this and that. It is ridiculous.
That's hardly a scathing indictment of the war. In fact it sounds like he's for it he just thinks they should do it more efficiently. Indeed, that concept forms the basis of his "unpredictability doctrine" in which the most powerful nation on earth transforms itself into a guerilla army that only travels at night, "takes out" the enemy and then sends the world the bill.  That line of criticism is common in his stump speech today in which he extols the virtues of maverick Generals MacArthur and George Patton as men who can get the job done and get it done quickly. And the job, you may have heard, is winning. He's not particular how they do it.

But perhaps you think he means something other than military victory when he says that. And you'd be  right. He wants to "send messages" too and let's just say they aren't messages of peace. In California this past week-end he repeated this lurid tale about another of his favorite Generals who knew how to win, "Black Jack" Pershing in the Spanish American War. The story goes that Pershing was trying to put down a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines and Trump likes to tell th story of how Pershing easily dealt with the problem:
“They took the 50 [Muslim insurgents], they lined them up. They took a pig and then took a second pig and they cut the pig open and they took the bullets from the rifles. And they dumped the bullets into the pigs and they swashed it around. Then they took the bullets and they shot 49 of the 50 people. The fiftieth person, they said, ‘Take this bullet and bring it back to all of the people causing the problem’ and tell ‘em what happened tonight. And for 42 years they didn’t have a problem with radical Islamic terrorism, folks, OK believe me.”
There is no word on why they needed two pigs to get the job done. And there's also no word on why he says at some stops that they didn't "have a problem" for 25 years and at others for 42 years. But it doesn't matter since the story is apocryphal at best and a hoax at worst.  Regardless, you have the front runner of the Republican Party openly celebrating a war crime.  But then, he's all for summary execution of American soldiers too if they get out of line too so it's not as if he's unusually bigoted about it.

That is not the only war crime Trump endorses, of course. This is a man who reiterated his full support for torture, just last week in Indiana: 
 “They asked me, What do you think about waterboarding, Mr. Trump?’ I said I love it. I love it, I think it’s great. And I said the only thing is, we should make it much tougher than waterboarding, and if you don’t think it works folks, you’re wrong."
Somebody finally told him that torture is illegal so he now adds a disclaimer about how we have to "strengthen" the laws to allow for more torture. It's unknown if he understands the history of "legalizing" torture in the Bush administration but it doesn't really matter. One can be fairly sure there will always be some people who are willing to do such wet work if some kind of legal authority can be produced. After all, no members of the Bush administration or the CIA were ever so much as reprimanded and they left a long paper trail showing how to legalize it, so there is little exposure for those who carry out such orders.  Torture has been illegal in America for a very long time but it didn't stop them from doing it before and it's reasonable to assume that a President Trump will find a way.

His love for war crimes knows no bounds:
"ISIS is our No. 1 threat. I would knock the hell out of them. I like to do one thing at a time." 
Asked about the possibility of civilian casualties, Trump initially pointed to civilians being used as human shields before suggesting the families of terrorists should be targeted. 
"I would do my best, absolute best — I mean, one of the problems we have or one of the reasons we're so ineffective, you know, they're trying to, they're using them as shields. It's a horrible thing But we're fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. 
When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. But they say they don't care about their lives. You have to take out their families." 
That speaks for itself.

And then there is the nuclear issue. He has confusingly said that nuclear proliferation is the world's greatest challenge while also suggesting that countries such as Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia should have them so as to save the US from having to provide military protection.  And he won't rule out using them. Even against Europe:
"Look, nuclear should be off the table, but would there a time when it could be used? Possibly," Trump said. 
Matthews asked Trump to tell the Middle East and Europe that he would never use nuclear weapons, but Trump continued to evade. Asked again if he'd use nuclear weapons in Europe, Trump held firm. "I am not—I am not taking cards off the table," Trump responded.
This does not sound like a dove. Or a sane person.

Some people will undoubtedly try to separate these violent, sociopathic comments from what they hopefully perceive as his more "isolationist" worldview. (The fact that he plans to vastly increase military spending escapes their notice.) But this January article in Politico by Thomas Wright  shows that his foreign policy philosophy something else entirely.

Wright went back over three decades and examined Trumps rhetoric and found that Trump has been saying exactly the same things in exactly the same way for 30 years. He's not opportunistically jumping on the zeitgeist or following a trend. For instance, he gave an interview 26 years ago to Playboy and was asked what a president Trump would do if he were president. He said:
“He would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t trust the Russians; he wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing. ... We’re being laughed at around the world, defending Japan. 
We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing a hundred and fifty billion dollars year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about 15 minutes if it weren’t for us. Our ‘allies’ are making billions screwing us.”
In that Playboy article he said he thought Gorbachev didn't have a strong enough hand and expressed disgust for the Tienanmen Square protesters,“when the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak ... as being spit on by the rest of the world.” His admiration for Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un is well known.

In 1988 he told Oprah Winfrey that "Kuwait should pay the United States 25 percent of their oil profits because the United States “makes it possible for them to sell it" and “the United States would make a hell of a lot of money from those nations that have been taking advantage of us.” Quite simply, it appears that Donald Trump wants to "make deals" for the US to sell its "protection" to the world. And if they refuse to pay, well the world will just have to bear the consequences.

This is certainly a break from the post WWII foreign policy consensus which should always be subject to reassessment and adjustment. But he was saying exactly the same things at a time when the world was in a completely different place. These ideas are not responsive to globalization or a need for post-Cold War realignment. He literally hasn't had a new thought about any of this since the 1980s.

They certainly aren't dovish and they aren't isolationist and it would be a mistake to confuse them for anything but what they are: a belief in American global dominance:
“The first thing you have to do is get them to respect the West and respect us. And if they’re not going to respect us it’s never going to work. This has been going on for a long time. I don’t think you can do anything and I don’t think you’re going to be successful unless they respect you. They have no respect for our president and they have no respect for our country right now.” 
This is the simple-minded philosophy, formed decades ago and suspended in amber, of an imperial thug. It's hard to imagine anything more dangerous.