Donald Trump

Show Business Patter Aside, Trump's a Fairly Conventional Militarist

How Trump's UN speech fits into his foreign policy.

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Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/Newscom

In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump displayed both his show business chops and the contradictions inherent in his foreign policy choices. Many of those choices are far more mainstream than Trump's rhetoric, or the commentary on it, suggests.

Trump says he wants a July 4 military parade that mirrors the French's Bastille day festivities, with a celebration of military strength. That's certainly different, but not substantively, from Trump's predecessors, who were often laudatory of and deferential to military leaders.

Trump is reportedly looking to expand the drone war. Obama did a good job maintaining an illusion of accountability for the CIA's drone program. Trump may dispel this illusion, but he's not changing the nature of the program—it was always a dangerous program with little transparency and no effective accountability.

Since his election, Trump's foreign policy has not looked that much different from his predecessors. On Afghanistan, for example, Trump made the decision to stay, as did Presidents Obama and Bush. He merely couched it in different language.

Trump talks about the need for Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense and contribute more to NATO, yet he has embraced NATO as well as its ill-advised expansion.

His administration had taken the same meddling posture as past establishment foreign policy figures when it comes to respecting the rights of sovereign countries to govern their own affairs.

At the UN speech itself, Trump intoned that Americans "do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government."

Yet, later in the same speech, he praised U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and insisted that the internal situation in Venezuela was "completely unacceptable" and that the U.S. could not "stand by and watch."

"As a responsible neighbor and friend, we and all others have a goal, Trump told the U.N. "That goal is to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy. I would like to thank leaders in this room for condemning the regime and providing vital support to the Venezuelan people."

Remarkably, Trump recently said explicitly that the military option was on the table for the South American country.

The interventionist stance on Venezuela Trump expressed at the United Nations could have easily been articulated by most of his predecessors. The difference, as always, is largely rhetorical.

In his speech, Trump also blasted Iran as part of a "small group of rogue regimes" and said the U.S. would "totally destroy" North Korea if it had too.

Rhetoric aside, his approach toward Iran and North Korea has been relatively tame. Trump has so far declined every opportunity he's had to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. There's been little substance behind his anti-Iran showmanship.

On North Korea, Trump has made efforts to engage China on the North Korea and to, in general, seek diplomatic solutions. His rhetoric may be more colorful than his predecessors, but here even his rhetoric is not all that different.

At the UN, Trump said the U.S. could destroy North Korea. Obama, too, has noted that the U.S. could destroy North Korea with its arsenal. It's a true statement and one of the facts acting as a deterrent to a North Korean nuclear strike.

Nevertheless, Trump's UN speech lead to predictable responses from foreign leaders, not just from countries like Iran but from European allies too.

"It was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said.

American presidents have been very good at masking destructive U.S. foreign policy in lofty rhetoric. Trump isn't. But that should be welcomed as an opportunity to make U.S. foreign policy less destructive. Hiding flaws in rhetoric had never been a real solution.

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  1. American presidents have been very good at masking destructive U.S. foreign policy in lofty rhetoric. Trump isn’t. But that should be welcomed as an opportunity to make U.S. foreign policy less destructive. Hiding flaws in rhetoric had never been a real solution.

    Au contraire, Ed: when the issue is keeping the public quiet and obedient, hiding flaws in rhetoric has been a fantastic solution.

    1. In this particular context, I don’t think Trump will lose votes by using stronger language against American…should I call them enemies absent a declaration of war? Maybe adversaries is the right word.

  2. You’re really forcing the argument here.

    His argument for a military parade is really some tinpot third-world dictatorship crap. The US doesn’t need a military parade, like the French, Chinese, or the old Soviet Union, because everyone knows our military superiority. This speaks to him being a tacky and petty man more than anything.

    And I can’t help but find it strange that you think that imposing sanctions on Venezuela is ‘militarism’, but your own publication had a front page cover story that encouraged trade sanctions against Russia for ‘feelz’. Are you guys militarists or are you kind of stretching the definition of militarism to also include sanctions, hoping to support your pre-conceived conclusion?

    Trump isn’t really all that far off from his immediate successors with regards to militarism, but he is slightly different in good ways (ending CIA program backing Syrian militants; wanting detente with Russia before the media and Congress stopped him; resisting increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan before Congress and the military pushed back) and in bad ways (bombing Syria in order to appear ‘presidential’ and eventually relenting and increasing troop numbers in Syria).

    1. Agreed that this post uses clever rhetoric to mask real differences. Did Bush or Obama threaten to invade Venezuela? No. With regards to North Korea, Trump has repeatedly said that NK will not be allowed to obtain a functional nuclear ICBM and has repeatedly threatened “fire and fury such as the world has never seen” if North Korea doesn’t comply with his wishes. He has deliberately refrained from saying specifically that he will start a “preventive war”, a la George Bush in Iraq, but he uses similar inflammatory rhetoric. Finally, he’s been so hostile to the Obama’s administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, and has repeated so many of the false arguments made against the agreement by the usual suspects that if doesn’t cancel the agreement all the hardliners will accuse him of backing down.

      It isn’t “clever” to normalize Donald Trump. He isn’t normal.

      1. No one is ‘normalizing’ anyone. I said he is no different in his militarism than his predecessors. And in certain ways he is better and worse.

        You may not be aware, but the rhetoric on North Korea has not really changed over the past sixteen years. Since Clinton, American presidents have threatened Korea with destruction.

      2. Actually, on a historical basis, he is fairly normal. In any era previous to the rise of Progressive Internationalism, an intrnational annoyance like the Norks and their nutball ruler would be told flat out “Behave, or in a year you won’t exist”.

        Like many common Diplomatic tactics of the day, it was amoral, but it worked. Getting the UN to write letters of protest does NOT work.

      3. It isn’t “clever” to normalize Donald Trump. He isn’t normal.

        He’s the President. I’m fairly sure he isn’t concerned if a commenter at Reason thinks he is not normal.

        1. He’s the President. I’m fairly sure he isn’t concerned if a commenter at Reason thinks he is not normal.

          Trump is the swooniest ever.

        2. Why are you bolding quotes instead of italicizing?

          1. Makes them YUGE!

          2. Hate the way italics look.

        3. I’m sure if the comment was high-profile enough you’d warrant a mention in a @realDonaldTrump tweet.

      4. “Did Bush or Obama threaten to invade Venezuela?”

        Not Venezuela, but both effectively sought democratization of other dictatorships through the use of US resources, military, financial, or both. And both bungled that up in all instances.

        “fire and fury such as the world has never seen”

        Shock and awe?

        It isn’t “clever” to normalize Donald Trump. He isn’t normal.

        He isn’t acting normal, he’s acting presidential (unfortunately).

        1. I highly doubt the US invades Venezuela.

    2. Trump said the military option is on the table in Venezuela, he went well beyond suggesting sanctions. You’re really stretching there, and in any case, Ed wasn’t the person who wrote the article you’re complaining about, so I’m not sure what your point is. I don’t know why some people have trouble grasping that not all Reason writers have the exact same positions on every issue.

      1. Does a long essay that appears on the cover of the publication seem to convey a message?

        1. That message, to me at least, is not “every one of our writers agrees with this writer 100%!!!”

      2. I don’t know why some people have trouble grasping that not all Reason writers have the exact same positions on every issue.

        I think you do know why.

        1. BECAUSE OF HEATON!!!
          HEAAAAATOOOOOOOON!!!!

      3. Trump said the military option is on the table in Venezuela

        The military option is on the table for ALL international situations. That’s reality. If Europe causes us issues, we’ll militarily attack them, also.

        1. I think that saying something is “on the table” is a bit stronger than saying it’s something that could conceivably happen if the situation changed considerably.

  3. You guys might want to stop invoking the 100 million deaths lie to support your claim that free market capitalism is superior to the Danish Welfare state. That’s because Dear Leader, the current head of the most capitalist country on Earth, is getting ready to start a war that will result in no more than 10 to 20 million casualties, TOPS!, depending on the breaks.

    Somehow this is all Obama’s fault.

    1. There is no lie about communism. And Trump isn’t causing anything. The nutcase in NK is doing that just fine.

      You really need to just get put. America doesn’t need communists here.

    2. Robespierre Josef Stalin|9.20.17 @ 1:15PM|#
      “You guys might want to stop invoking the 100 million deaths lie to support your claim that free market capitalism is superior to the Danish Welfare state.”

      Why? Because lefty imbeciles like you really hate the truth?
      Fuck off, slaver.

    3. You guys might want to stop invoking the 100 million deaths lie to support your claim that free market capitalism is superior to the Danish Welfare state. That’s because Dear Leader, the current head of the most capitalist country on Earth, is getting ready to start a war that will result in no more than 10 to 20 million casualties, TOPS!, depending on the breaks.

      So, what he MIGHT do is 1/5 as bad as what Marxism HAS done?

      Nice argument, comrade.

    4. Comrade Roach Pierrre: You might want to wander over to the comment section for RT; I think you will find a more accommodating crowd of deluded Stalin lovers along with a good number of anti Semites and holocaust deniers to please your fucking palate.

  4. I would hope Trump’s new rhetoric would inflame people against the horrible actions we are doing abroad. Sadly, for the people who are offended by Trump it seems to be because he is Trump. They believe his actions are unique to him and not a continuation of the actions of many previous Presidents. Others just agree with him anyway.

    I wonder if someday a war will come to our homeland and if that will finally be what needs to happen to kill off our terrible hawkishness as a nation.

    1. FFS, we’re the good guys. You assholes sound like a bunch of progtards. Did you root for the Soviet’s during the Cold War too?

        1. He’s outed you, ya commie, America, love it or leave it, pinko.

          /sarc

          1. Seriously, even the song “America the Beautiful” contains the line “God men thine every flaw.”

            Even a 100% American eagle-baseball-and-hot-dog song like “America the Beautiful” can admit the country has flaws, so what’s Elias’ problem?

            1. “God *mend* thine every flaw”

              And “every flaw” indicates there’s more than one!

              Bunch of traitors.

              1. Also,

                “Confirm thy soul in self-control,
                Thy liberty in law!”

                Wait, are they saying Americans might sometimes have a self-control problem?!?!?

            2. Big difference between admitting flaws and calling for defeat of our country on our own soil to teach us a lesson. Fuck him, and anyone else who feels that way. In fact, anyone who believes we need to lose a war on our own soil is a fucking traitor and deserves to be executed as such.

              1. I am not calling for it. I am wondering if anything short of that would actually curb our hawkishness. I am never advocating for war.

    2. Oh please. How many casualties erupted from wars that Obama started compared to those started by his predecessor? This “everybody does it” line from you all is the biggest bullshit yet. There’s a difference in voting for someone like Bernie Sanders or Joe McDermott and some Republican neocon. Sorry.

      1. I’m sorry that you don’t consider the lives of the people who died during Obama’s 8 years as valuable.

        1. I regret this comment. Too passive aggressive, I apologize.

          I don’t believe that you can justify someone else’s unjust military action by saying that someone else was worse. Also, you immediately jump to defend Obama in a situation where I did not bring him up at all. He was president, true, but this trend goes further back and is not purely limited to the executive branch. There is a heavy willingness of the American’s to go to war lately, largely it seems because we don’t seem to be affected much by it anymore.

          1. Go to war lately? We have been at war for nearly 16 years….continuously.

            Literally unprecedented in American history. Even the war to gain Independence from England was only 8 years and that was against the most powerful nation on the globe at the time.

            1. I’m using lately to be around post 1900 hundred or something. Really it’s just a weasel word on my part to not have to give a more specific timeframe.

              1. No biggey. I still cannot believe we have been at war for 16+ years. Its nearly a whole generational time frame.

                1. More than half my life. Feel free to hate me.

          2. Dude, don’t apologize to amsoc.

            1. Usedcarslaes is AmSoc?

              1. Scratch that. I didn’t scroll up far enough.

              2. Usedcarslaes is AmSoc. I’m Tulpa.

      2. Robespierre Josef Stalin|9.20.17 @ 1:34PM|#
        “Oh please. How many casualties erupted from wars that Obama started compared to those started by his predecessor?”

        “Afghanistan: Obama’s War”
        […]
        “Why is Afghanistan, as Bob Woodward correctly termed it, Obama’s war? Del Castillo’s sharp pencil work shows that during the period 2002-2013, $650 billion have been appropriated for the Afghan war effort, and a whopping $487.5 billion of that (or 75 percent) took place after President Obama took office (see accompanying chart).”
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..40540.html

        “Under Obama: 75% of Casualties in 13-Year Afghan War; 55 More in 2014”
        […]
        “Of those 2,232 deaths, 1,663 ? 74.5 percent ? occurred since President Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009. The deadliest years for U.S. personnel were 2010, when 495 were killed; 2011, when there were 404 casualties; and 2009 when the death toll was 306.”
        https://www.cnsnews.co m/news/article/ali-mey er/under-obama-75-ca sualties-13-year-afg han-war-55-more-2014

        Hmm. Cherry picking, lying and stupid? Lefty alert!

      3. Oh please. How many casualties erupted from wars that Obama started compared to those started by his predecessor? This “everybody does it” line from you all is the biggest bullshit yet. There’s a difference in voting for someone like Bernie Sanders or Joe McDermott and some Republican neocon. Sorry.

        Well, Obama led to massive nuclear proliferation (gee, why would ANYBODY eschew nukes when they can always see what happened to Libya when they did so) and a global refugee crisis.

        Yes, THAT is a success indeed…

    3. It would be ok if only Hillary….

  5. Nevertheless, Trump’s UN speech lead to predictable responses from foreign leaders, not just from countries like Iran but from European allies too.

    TDS knows no borders.

  6. Obama did a good job maintaining an illusion of accountability for the CIA’s drone program.

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

    He did nothing of the kind.

    -jcr

    1. Maintaining an illusion of accountability is a sick thing to do in the first place.

      So Obama was good at being a sick fuck. Nice to know Reason approves of such behavior.

      1. Nice to know Reason approves of such behavior.

        How do you get that from this piece? I would not read “Obama did a good job maintaining an illusion of accountability” as a compliment to Obama.

  7. Since his election, Trump’s foreign policy has not looked that much different from his predecessors. On Afghanistan, for example, Trump made the decision to stay, as did Presidents Obama and Bush. He merely couched it in different language.

    A binary “stay or go” is hardly the most reasonable metric for sameness of foreign policy. We’re all over the world. What we do maybe be different, in different places, or at the same place at a different time, given a change in administration.

    By most accounts, Trump has markedly changed rules of engagement. I don’t recall Obama, or even Bush, administration officials talking about “annihilation tactics”. Likely strategic and tactical goals have changed too.

    Obama had peak troop levels to 100k. Trump has them still around 10k. Is that “the same”?

    At the UN speech itself, Trump intoned that Americans “do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government.”

    Yet, later in the same speech, he praised U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and insisted that the internal situation in Venezuela was “completely unacceptable” and that the U.S. could not “stand by and watch.”

    There are many ways to be not the same as Americans while not being a country wide gulag like North Korea, or a socialist starvation state like Venezuela.

    1. This is one of Ed’s lazier articles.

      He usually reports and analyzes. This time, the point seems to be in characterizing Trump, and the analysis rarely matches the characterization. Sad.

      SJWs Poison Everything. Even the few good writers at Reason. Standards plummet when you share a blog with Progressitarian TDS Sufferers.

  8. “It was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said.

    The only “right” speech to that audience would be “We are pulling out of this criminal organization. We are also demanding you to leave this building within 30 days. We will establish a useful international organization”

    1. “and all of your cars have been impounded.”

    2. Is there a petition for that?

  9. Trump says he wants a July 4 military parade that mirrors the French’s Bastille day festivities, with a celebration of military strength.

    Yeah, fuck you, you ignorant baboon – we don’t celebrate July 4 as our independence day because that’s when we helped the French kick the crap out of the British, we mark our independence from the day in 1776 when we said we were free as a matter of natural law. My rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come from the fact that I exist, not because some government generously bestowed some privileges upon me. So fuck off with your threats of using military force against me if I get too uppity and fail to be properly grateful for the bounteous blessings of my lords and masters, because that’s what a military parade on the Fourth of July is – a threatening reminder that the government has powers it shouldn’t have and can’t be trusted with because they don’t even understand the difference between power and authority.

  10. Independence Day parades (usually featuring numerous current and former members of the military) already take place in cities and towns across the country now.

    The only way his statement could have been any more banal and redundant would be if he added “and after the parade is over let’s have a nice national barbecue.”

    1. and put up some American flags to be patriotic….

      Good point DD.

    2. Hey now, what if Trump is bringing the beer?

  11. If Trump did nothing but read box scores in front the the UN, Iran would call him the Great Satan. It’s their shtick.

    1. At least now if the Iranians get ready to revolt, we have a president who will actually encourage them t overthrow those mullahs. Unlike Obama.

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