September 11, 2001, was the day that "changed everything." And indeed, in New York City and elsewhere, it was hard not to feel just that. Unfortunately, the top officials of the Bush administration took advantage of that deep sense of shock (and awe) to advance a global shock-and-awe program all their own, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that launched 17 years of non-stop war, refugee crises, and so much else. And the world did change. Sadly, it changed in ways that Osama bin Laden, despite his hijacked air force and the damage it inflicted on iconic American buildings (and the thousands of people in them), would have been utterly incapable of accomplishing himself.
You might say that from September 12th on -- from the moment the air strikes of a small group of fanatics were greeted as if they had been carried out by a major power, as if it was truly "the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century" -- we were in trouble. War was almost instantly declared from the White House (initially on next to no one) and a Global War on Terror launched. In the process, this country was itself hijacked and, in the years to come, dispatched on what might be thought of as a strange American version of a suicide mission that ended up, more than a decade and a half later, with Donald Trump in the White House. Today, TomDispatch regular John Feffer, the invaluable weekly columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, suggests that Trump's presidential "doctrine" is, in turn, a kind of suicide mission from hell and who knows, when the plane goes down, just what it will smash into.
Think of this as the dystopian vision of twenty-first-century American life from an author who has already produced a riveting novel, Splinterlands, about the potentially grim fate of this planet. Coming in the fall from Dispatch Books is Frostlands, book two in Feffer's series about how we are, in fact, changing everything. Unfortunately, today's essay is not fiction. So buckle your seat belt, it's going to be an unforgettable ride. Tom
The Flight 93 Doctrine
Donald Trump's Kamikaze Attack on Globalism
By John Feffer
As presidencies approach their midpoints, pundits begin the inevitable search for that elusive creature: the doctrine. It's often a quixotic quest, since presidents rarely boil down their foreign-policy visions -- if they even have them -- to some pithy essence. Then there's Donald Trump.
Conjuring up the current president's foreign-policy doctrine is like arguing that the Teletubbies have a theology. After all, this president approaches global affairs the way a teenager with attention-deficit disorder might tackle War and Peace. To call Trump scattershot in his approach would be generous. He doesn't even have sufficient command of the relevant vocabulary to formulate a doctrine. His linguistic universe, with its "covfefe," big-league malapropisms, and contradictory pronouncements, often seems to come straight out of Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky."
Yet punditry abhors a vacuum, so the search for some sort of policy coherence never ends. Many observers have suggested that the Trump doctrine, stripped to its musculature, is simply a reassertion of American power in the crudest form. In The Atlantic, for instance, Jeffrey Goldberg canvassed Trump administration officials for their take on the president's doctrine and concluded that the most succinct formulation for it was: "We're America, b*tch." Another possibility: forget the doctrine; Trump is merely asserting his own authority in an increasingly empowered executive branch to do whatever comes into his head. In other words, we're not talking unilateralism but unileaderism.
A third possibility: that Trump is defining himself and his policies entirely in opposition to his predecessor. The Obama Doctrine, according to administration insiders, boiled down to don't do stupid shit. In his eagerness to reverse everything his predecessor ever did, Trump seems to have turned his doctrine inside out as well. His recent trip to Europe, with its falsehoods and gratuitous insults, not to speak of the near sundering of transatlantic relations, suggests that the administration continues to come up with new and creative ways of doing stupid sh*t on a daily basis.
There's truth in all of this, but something's still missing.
Although Trump's approach to global affairs seems to have no particular rhyme or reason, it does have a certain rhythm. It has an insistent, urgent beat, something like the notorious two-note theme of the movie Jaws. The president not only wants you to believe that the world is a dangerous place, but that those dangers are approaching at a terrifying pace. Only Trump, he would have you believe, can save you from those sharp teeth inches from your throat.
Let's call this approach Trump's Flight 93 doctrine, after an infamous article, "The Flight 93 Election," published in September 2016 in the far-right Claremont Review. According to its pseudonymous author, later revealed to be former George W. Bush administration staffer Michael Anton, liberals like Hillary Clinton were piloting America into catastrophe, aided, electorally, by "the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty." Only Donald Trump and his conservative backers -- like the heroes who charged the cockpit of hijacked United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 -- could avert such a tragedy. "A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian roulette with a semi-auto," Anton wrote. "With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances."
The analogy is, unfortunately, all too apt. Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard. It was heroism, yes, but at a very steep price. And playing Russian roulette with any kind of weapon rarely ends well.
No surprise, then, that, as the president spins the cylinder of the gun pressed to all our heads, the Trump Doctrine of non-stop risk-taking has turned out to be the most self-defeating approach ever adopted by a modern American president. In fact, it may turn out to be the last doctrine that the White House ever has the luxury to formulate.
The Uses of Doctrine
Doctrines are inherently conservative. Among the many ways the U.S. could deploy its forces and resources overseas, they spell out the one that is best believed to preserve the status quo of American power and at the same time advance a select number of national interests.
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