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Steering Trump Back to Endless War

By       Message Daniel Lazare       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   8 comments

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Well, that didn't take long, did it? The Trump administration hadn't even reached its two-week mark when it surrendered a major portion of its independence and fell in behind the reigning Washington orthodoxy. The turning point came at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday when Ambassador Nikki R. Haley blasted Russia for the upsurge of violence in the eastern Ukraine.

Haley's statement could hardly have been stronger. She not only assailed Russia for its "aggressive actions," but described them as "a replay of far too many instances over many years" when it has behaved the same. She called for a "clear and strong condemnation," declared that the crisis would not end "until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," and demanded the return of Crimea as well.

"Crimea is a part of Ukraine," Haley said. "Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine."

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This must be disappointing news for New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, who has long bashed Trump as a "Siberian candidate" and on Friday accused him of stirring up trouble with everyone except puppeteer Putin. "[T]he war with China will, it seems, have to wait," he wrote. "First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)" Thanks to Haley's stirring call to arms, it looks like Moscow is now in America's sights as well.

What does it mean? Simply that Trump's foreign policy has already lost an engine before it has gotten off the ground. The man is a bully, a racist, a xenophobe, and more than a bit crazy to boot. But despite all that -- or perhaps because of it -- he has shown an ornery streak in some of his thinking about foreign policy that placed him sharply at odds with Washington's vast pro-war establishment. He favored a rapprochement with Russia, for example, as well as a new approach in Syria in which the problem of Bashar al-Assad would be put off in order to concentrate on fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda.

As he told the Times last March: "Well, I thought the approach of fighting Assad and ISIS simultaneously was madness and idiocy. They're fighting each other and yet we're fighting both of them. You know, we were fighting both of them. I think that our far bigger problem than Assad is ISIS, I've always felt that. Assad is -- you know I'm not saying Assad is a good man, 'cause he's not, but our far greater problem is not Assad, it's ISIS."

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This was not very different from what Bernie Sanders was saying about the dangers of U.S.-imposed regime change in Syria, but utterly at odds with Hillary Clinton's insistence that Assad had to go because he was somehow aiding ISIS and Al Qaeda, when in fact he was engaged in a life-or-death struggle with both entities.

One Slim Reed

So amid all the bluster and braggadocio, racism and Islamophobia, there was one slim reed to hold onto: Trump seemed to be capable of at least a modicum of realism when it came to one or two trouble spots around the globe.

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But then came the post-election back-tracking. On Nov. 18, Trump named Michael Flynn, a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his national security adviser even though Flynn is renowned for his fierce anti-Russian views. Two weeks later, he named the no-less-hawkish James Mattis as his Secretary of Defense. At his confirmation hearing, Mattis described Russia as a "principal" threat to U.S. interests and declared that the U.S.-led world order was "under the biggest attacks since World War II from Russia, terrorist groups, and China's actions in the South China Sea."

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After once predicting that Clinton's proposal for a Syrian no-fly zone would "end up in World War III," Trump also vowed to fix "what's going on in Syria" by building "safe zones ... so people can have a chance." Then, just this past Sunday, he telephoned King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of neighboring Abu Dhabi to obtain their political and financial support.

"The President requested and the King agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen," a White House statement said, "as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts." Where Hillary Clinton had called for just one no-fly zone, Trump was now committing to two.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Trump also gave the go-ahead for last Sunday's disastrous raid on a reputed Al Qaeda hideout in southern Yemen that ended with one American commando killed along with as many as 30 civilians, including the eight-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. citizen who was eliminated in a drone strike in 2011.

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Freelance journalist and author of three books: The Frozen Republic (Harcourt, 1996); The Velvet Coup (Verso, 2001) and America's Undeclared War (Harcourt 2001).

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