By Ramzy Baroud
No matter how hard White House officials try, they cannot construct a coherent “Trump doctrine” that would make sense amid the chaos that has afflicted US foreign policy in recent months. But this chaos is not entirely the making of President Donald Trump alone.
Since 1945, the US has vied for total global leadership. The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, gave the US complete global hegemony. It became the force that stabilized and destabilized any region in the world as it saw fit — which always served the interests of the US and its allies. Political opinions and ideological strands in the US and globally were formulated around this reality.
Often unwittingly, we are all pushed into one of two categories: Pro- or anti-American. For decades, many critical voices warned of an uncontested unipolar world. Conformists fought back against the “un-American” and “unpatriotic” few who dared break ranks.
In the late 1980s, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” with the US and its Western allies having managed to defeat communism. He prophesized the end of “sociocultural evolution,” where a new form of a single human government can be formed. It appeared, however fleetingly, that all the obstacles before the US vision of total domination had been subdued.
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times imagined such a world in his bestselling book “The World is Flat.” He wrote, with the wisdom of a sage and the triumphalism of a victorious war general: “Communism was a great system for making people equally poor — in fact, there was no better system in the world for that than communism. Capitalism made people unequally rich.”
But history never ended. It just went through a new cycle of conflicts, problems and alliances of enemies and foes. Unchecked consumerism was hardly a triumph for the neoliberal order, but a defeat of a delicately balanced planet where global warming emerged as the world’s greatest enemy. US military power could hardly wait to rearrange the Arab world, as once promised by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Since then, the so-called “new Middle East” has become a horrifying nightmare that has traversed many countries and destabilized the entire region. Worse still, the US economy has crashed, taking with it the global economy and sending some of the smallest, most vulnerable countries into abject poverty.
The rise of Trump to power is an outcome of the chaotic years that preceded his advent. By the end of his second term, former President Barack Obama spoke of his success in stabilizing the economy and creating more jobs in a process of swift recovery, contrary to evidence. A US Federal Reserve survey last year concluded that nearly half of all Americans “did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense.”
Americans did not elect Trump simply because they are “racist,” as some have presumed, but because they are desperate. He knew how to exploit the many woes of his people with mantras such as “make America great again.” For most Americans, Friedman’s “unequally rich” paradigm seemed like detached, intellectual nonsense.
Expectedly, the greatest backlash to Trump’s chaotic politics emanates from the liberal and neoliberal forces in politics and economy that had assiduously defended the failing US order for many years. They continue to rebrand the failures of the past as either astounding successes or well-intentioned but unsuccessful endeavors to make the world a better place.
Consider a recent self-delusional discourse from the Brookings Institution to understand the complete lack of introspection. “No American president since 1945, whether Republican or Democrat, has broken so decisively with the American stewardship of the postwar liberal global order,” wrote Constanze Stelzenmüller recently, referring to Trump’s policies toward Europe and the rest of the world.
“In the service of the higher good of world peace, even the victorious superpower was willing to be bound to universal rules — a concession that admitted the existence of a worldwide community of humanity based on shared values rather than the principle of ‘might makes right’.”
This view is largely inconsistent with history. Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, “might makes right” became the new doctrine championed by every US administration. Iraq has been bombed by all US presidents since George H. Bush in 1991.
Trump represents a strange amalgamation of US military power, business monopoly and media savviness. He seems smart enough to understand that his country requires a change of course, but does not have the will, wisdom or skills to guide it in any other direction.
After six months in the Oval Office, he is presiding over the same old power struggle between neoconservative-type ideologues, who want to see more interventions to rearrange the world as they see fit, and the military brass, which wants the US military to reign supreme but on a steady and predicable course.
While Trump rejected the idea of regime change during his campaign for office, Politico reported on June 25 that his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “appeared to endorse subverting the Iranian regime” and the “philosophy of regime change.” Meanwhile, the battle between ideologues and the military brass, which had defined both terms of the George W. Bush administration, is back.
Foreign Policy magazine described that ongoing fight in detail in a revealing report on June 16. Top White House officials — led by Ezra Cohen, senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council — want to expand the Syria war, taking the focus away from defeating Daesh to target US foes involved in that proxy war, it was reported. Defense Secretary James Mattis wants to stay the course.
Given the impulsive way Trump makes decisions, the pendulum could swing in any direction without warning or logic. Contradictions in US foreign policy emerge almost daily. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley seems to be running her own show, independent of Trump’s administration. She recently declared that Muslim sites in occupied East Jerusalem are part of “Israeli territory,” before saying she is “unclear of official US policy on the issue.”
While chaos and contradictions abound, Trump’s allies are simply unable to sum up the “Trump doctrine.” A top administration official told Time magazine that it is a “combination of very good personal skills — one-on-one… defeating (Daesh) and … commitment to people that there are certain things that the United States isn’t going to put up with.”
While such a “doctrine” lacks any serious substance, previous doctrines are equally useless. None offer a real vision that is predicated on achieving a multipolar world based on mutual respect and adhering to an equitable frame of reference such as international law.
This chaos will continue to bode badly for the Arab world and the Middle East in particular. Since Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and the onset of the current turmoil, the region has been in flames.
Unable to offer a courageous diagnosis of the violence, the Trump administration is parroting the same old jingoism of defeating “Islamic terrorism.” Lacking a vision for peace and unable to win the war, the US administration seems to have no plan except inconsistent, self-contradictory policies, while blaming everyone else but never introspecting.
It turns out that the world is indeed not “flat,” and that history remains in motion, moving beyond the jurisdiction of a single country. But until the US leadership — Trump’s or any other — realizes this, the world in general and the Arab world in particular will continue to suffer the consequences wrought by imperial arrogance and impulsive politicians.