In a surprise visit to US forces in Iraq this week, Trump said he had no intention of withdrawing the troops in that country, who have been there for nearly 15 years since GW Bush invaded back in 2003.
Hinting at private discussions with commanders in Iraq, Trump boasted that US forces would in the future launch attacks from there into Syria if and when needed. Presumably that rapid force deployment would apply to other countries in the region, including Afghanistan.
In other words, in typical business-style transactional thinking, Trump sees the pullout from Syria and Afghanistan as a cost-cutting exercise for US imperialism. Regarding Syria, he has bragged about Turkey being assigned, purportedly, to “finish off” terror groups. That’s Trump subcontracting out US interests.
Critics and supporters of Trump are confounded. After his Syria and Afghanistan pullout call, domestic critics and NATO allies have accused him of walking from the alleged “fight against terrorism” and of ceding strategic ground to US adversaries Russia and Iran.
Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters have viewed his decision in more benign light, cheering the president for “sticking it to” the deep state and military establishment, assuming he’s delivering on electoral promises to end overseas wars.
However, neither view gets what is going on. Trump is not scaling back US military power; he is rationalizing it like a cost-benefit analysis, as perhaps only a real-estate-wheeler-dealer-turned president would appreciate. Trump is not snubbing US militarism or NATO allies, nor is he letting loose an inner peace spirit. He is as committed to projecting American military as ruthlessly and as recklessly as any other past occupant of the White House. The difference is Trump wants to do it on the cheap.
Here’s what he said to reporters on Air Force One before touching down in Iraq:
“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world. It’s not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States… We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.” He added: “We’re no longer the suckers, folks.”
Laughably, Trump’s griping about US forces “spread all over the world” unwittingly demonstrates the insatiable, monstrous nature of American militarism. But Trump paints this vice as a virtue, which, he complains, Washington gets no thanks for from the 150-plus countries around the globe that its forces are present in.
As US troops greeted him in Iraq, the president made explicit how the new American militarism would henceforth operate.
“America shouldn’t be doing the fighting for every nation on earth, not being reimbursed in many cases at all. If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price,” Trump said.
This reiterates a big bugbear for this president in which he views US allies and client regimes as “not pulling their weight” in terms of military deployment. Trump has been browbeating European NATO members to cough up more on military budgets, and he has berated the Saudis and other Gulf Arab regimes to pay more for American interventions.
Notably, however, Trump has never questioned the largesse that US taxpayers fork out every year to Israel in the form of nearly $4 billion in military aid. To be sure, that money is not a gift because much of it goes back to the Pentagon from sales of fighter jets and missile systems.
The long-held notion that the US has served as the “world’s policeman” is, of course, a travesty.
Since WWII, all presidents and the Washington establishment have constantly harped on, with self-righteousness, about America’s mythical role as guarantor of global security.
Dozens of illegal wars on almost every continent and millions of civilian deaths attest to the real, heinous conduct of American militarism as a weapon to secure US corporate capitalism.
But with US economic power in historic decline amid a national debt now over $22 trillion, Washington can no longer afford its imperialist conduct in the traditional mode of direct US military invasions and occupations.
Perhaps, it takes a cost-cutting, raw-toothed capitalist like Trump to best understand the historic predicament, even if only superficially.
This gives away the real calculation behind his troop pullout from Syria and Afghanistan. Iraq is going to serve as a new regional hub for force projection on a demand-and-supply basis. In addition, more of the dirty work can be contracted out to Washington’s clients like Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who will be buying even more US weaponry to prop the military-industrial complex.
This would explain why Trump made his hurried, unexpected visit to Iraq this week. Significantly, he said: “A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking”, regarding his decision on withdrawing forces from Syria and Afghanistan.
Since his troop pullout plan announced on December 19, there has been serious pushback from senior Pentagon figures, hawkish Republicans and Democrats, and the anti-Trump media. The atmosphere is almost seditious against the president. Trump flying off to Iraq on Christmas night was reportedly his first visit to troops in an overseas combat zone since becoming president two years ago.
What Trump seemed to be doing was reassuring the Pentagon and corporate America that he is not going all soft and dovish. Not at all. He is letting them know that he is aiming for a leaner, meaner US military power, which can save money on the number of foreign bases by using rapid reaction forces out of places like Iraq, as well as by subcontracting operations out to regional clients.
Thus, Trump is not coming clean out of any supposed principle when he cuts back US forces overseas. He is merely applying his knack for screwing down costs and doing things on the cheap as a capitalist tycoon overseeing US militarism.
During past decades when American capitalism was relatively robust, US politicians and media could indulge in the fantasy of their military forces going around the world in large-scale formations to selflessly “defend freedom and democracy.”
Today, US capitalism is broke. It simply can’t sustain its global military empire. Enter Donald Trump with his “business solutions.”
But in doing so, this president, with his cheap utilitarianism and transactional exploitative mindset, lets the cat out of the bag. As he says, the US cannot be the world’s policeman. Countries are henceforth going to have to pay for “our protection.”
Inadvertently, Trump is showing up US power for what it really is: a global thug running a protection racket.
It’s always been the case. Except now it’s in your face. Trump is no Smedley Butler, the former Marine general who in the 1930s condemned US militarism as a Mafia operation. This president is stupidly revealing the racket, while still thinking it is something virtuous.