In a key foreign policy speech on the campaign trail, Donald Trump vowed that war and aggression would not be his first instincts as president. While that drew measured praise from many non-interventionists, the new administration has already begun to crush any hope for a more restrained foreign policy.
Just a few weeks into his presidency, Trump has already shown great willingness to recklessly exert American military force abroad. As one of his first acts in office, Trump ordered a failed military operation in Yemen, where for the last two years the US government has assisted a Saudi-led coalition in a war that has slaughtered thousands of civilians and non-combatants. In line with prior US involvement in the country, the botched raid resulted in additional civilian casualties and failed to advance American interests in any conceivable way.
Continued aid to the Saudis, a long-standing US policy, betrays a glaring hypocrisy in the president’s agenda. In his inaugural address, Trump promised to “unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” It is impossible to square that claim with America’s bosom-buddy relationship with Saudi Arabia, arguably the greatest booster of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” in the world.
Hawks abound in Trump’s cabinet, especially when it comes to Iran. During its second week in office the administration made a scandal out of a fully legal, run-of-the-mill Iranian ballistic missile test, claiming it violated the JCPOA nuclear deal. Michael Flynn, then Trump’s National Security Adviser, said Iran was “on notice” at a press briefing, but failed to specify what that actually meant. Flynn has since resigned after becoming embroiled in a diplomatic scandal.
On a brighter note, statements from Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis suggest the administration will respect the JCPOA. If the cold war status quo with Iran goes hot, however, maintenance of the nuclear deal will become somewhat of a moot point.
Aside from Iran, Yemen, Syria, Israel, North Korea and a number of other important foreign policy areas, there is at least one issue that draws optimism from peaceniks: Russia.
During the presidential race Trump took much flak for his talk of detente with the Russians, a position long anathema in the corridors of power. Yet even here, optimism is souring.
In her first appearance at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Feb. 2, US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, castigated Russia for its continued presence in Crimea, claiming the territory still belongs to Ukraine.
Haley apparently was not briefed on this issue, as Russia has kept its Black Sea Fleet at a naval base in Crimea since 1783, and will likely to continue to do so for some time to come. Though Russia did annex the territory in 2014, Crimeans within days voted to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation in a free and fair referendum (Gallup and Pew later conducted surveys which confirmed that the results reflected public opinion).
Crimeans wanted no part in the American-backed coup that was then taking place in Kiev, especially as the post-coup government launched a war on Russian-speaking separatists from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Haley, meanwhile, presents Crimeans as victims of “Russian aggression.”
Haley is picking up right where her hawkish predecessor, Samantha Power, left off. She joins a chorus of Russophobic hysteria emanating from top GOP hacks, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as from members of the liberal “R2P” (“Responsibility to Protect”) camp.
One can only speculate on the origins of Haley’s talking points, but they are clearly at odds with the president’s avowed position on Russia. According to anonymous sources in a report from CNN, the National Security Council approved of Haley’s remarks, but they were not choreographed by the White House.
President Trump has inherited the foreign policies of his immediate predecessors and appears poised to continue them. Despite his professed desire to “drain the swamp” in Washington and to reverse various policy disasters, so far Trump has shown no sign that he will make good on his promises. Just last week, in fact, Trump announced plans for a $54 billion hike in military spending, added to a budget which already outstrips the world’s next seven largest militaries combined. The hike alone represents 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget.
In spite of such dismal prospects, however, non-interventionists should be prepared to encourage and praise any and all productive moves from Trump on the foreign policy front, especially those involving Russia. The imperial press is on bullshit overdrive and powerful forces are lining up to prevent rapprochement from taking place; it is more vital than ever to emphasize the importance of peace with our nuclear-armed rivals. War with Russia must be taken off the table for good.