President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated slogan of «America First» is not a substitute phrase for American isolationism but a call to arms for aggressive unilateral military action on a global scale. Unlike the pre-World War II «America Firsters», among whose ranks could be counted Trump’s father, Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s administration and the ranks of his followers are rife with those who believe in American exceptionalism and a robust «forward projection» of military might.
It is true that Trump campaigned on a platform of eschewing America’s traditional military alliances, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), however, his administration’s pushing for superiority in nuclear weaponry and a 350-ship naval fleet. Recently, Trump said to a raucous crowd of right-wingers attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that his vision of a U.S. military means that «nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody». Trump added that he will preside over «one of the greatest military buildups in American history».
Military buildups and advocacy of extreme nationalism has not ended well for nations that have gone down that route. Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan are a few cases in point. The Trump administration’s criticism of the United Nations and other international bodies means that it will brook no criticism for taking unilateral military action, even if it violates the UN Charter.
Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo’s first trip abroad was to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In Turkey, Pompeo, a fundamentalist Christian, appeared to get along well with officials of that nation’s conservative Islamist government. On the same day that Pompeo arrived in Turkey, Ankara announced that it had smashed a «sensational» terrorist plot, seizing 24 suicide belts and explosives and arresting four men. The «terrorists» were said to be taking orders from a group operating in the Syrian conflict zones. Such language from the Turkish government usually indicates that the so-called «terrorists» arrested were Kurdish members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has Kurdish allies inside northern Syria. Anyone who disagrees with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a «terrorist» in the eyes of Ankara. In fact, the Hizmet religious movement of exiled Turkish businessman Fethullah Gulen is called the «Gulenist Terrorist Organization» or «FETO» by the Ankara government.
Trump always proclaims that the United States will conduct its international policy based on bilateralism rather than through «coalitions» or multilateral institutions like NATO and the UN. That is potentially bad news for the Kurds who stand to be sold out by Washington, just as they were in the 1970s by the Richard Nixon/Henry Kissinger administration. In the interest of good relations with Turkey, the Kurds could easily join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a chief American enemy in the war-torn region.
Pompeo’s next stop was Riyadh, where he gave the CIA’s George Tenet medal to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in honor of Nayef’s support for «counter-terrorism». The award stunned several CIA officers who understand, from human and signals intelligence, that Nayef has been one of the chief supporters of radical jihadist terrorist groups in Syria. Nayef is also the chief architect of Saudi military operations in support of its puppet government in Yemen. To combat the pro-Iranian Sh’ia Houthis of Yemen, Saudi Arabia has funneled military assistance to Sunni Yemeni groups linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The CIA medal for someone like Nayef was a crude joke to Middle Eastern leaders like Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who all have been on the receiving end of Saudi «counter-terrorism» activities.
The dangers of Trump unilateral actions were highlighted in his first special operations mission a few weeks after his inauguration. A U.S. Special Operations Command attack on a suspected AQAP headquarters in central Yemen did not kill AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi but ended up killing several children, including the 8-year old daughter of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a onetime Pentagon adviser who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2011. The botched U.S. attack appears to have been a unilateral action by Trump because even the Saudi puppet Yemeni foreign minister in Riyadh, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the attack. Mekhlafi and the Riyadh-based Yemeni president-in-exile Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi withdrew permission for the United States to carry out any such future operations in Yemen.
It really does not matter what the Yemeni government-in-exile says to Washington, because Trump and his senior advisers reject the opinions of other nations. During a post-inauguration phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump threatened to send U.S. troops into Mexico to take care of "bad ‘hombres’ down there». It is believed that Trump was referring to narco-kingpins. Later, Trump referred to U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mass roundups of illegal immigrants in the United States as a «military operation,» even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly were in Mexico City trying to assuage the Mexican government over Trump’s unilateral pronouncements threatening military action against Mexico. Kelly responded to Trump’s claim by stating that there would be no military operations in dealing with illegal immigrants. Permanent damage has been done to the traditional Pan American system and the Washington-based Organization of American States has seen Trump drive a final nail into its coffin.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former chief of Exxon-Mobil, threatened China about its control of islands in the South China Sea. Tillerson warned, «We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed». Tillerson made no mention of coordinating such action with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That is primarily because China has shored up its relations with three major ASEAN nations: Philippines, which has major claims in maritime zones contested by China; Indonesia, which has some minor claims; and Cambodia, which does not have claims in the South China Sea but is locked in some maritime territory disputes with Vietnam, which is in contention with China over some South China Sea islands. Tillerson’s threat against China was purely unilateral and it may have had more than geo-political underpinnings. The South China Sea is known to have massive oil and natural gas reserves, which would, of course, whet the appetite of the former chief of Exxon Mobil.
Trump can also forget about Australian cooperation in any confrontation with China since he insulted Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in another bombastic post-inaugural telephone call. Trump called an agreement worked out between Turnbull and President Barack Obama, in which the U.S. would accept the resettlement of Middle East «boat people» refugees interned on Nauru and Manus Island in the Pacific in return for Australia taking in Central American refugees, as a «dumb deal». The Australian government was incensed and the phone call resulted in the worst breakdown in U.S.-Australian relations since the CIA engineered a coup against Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Obama’s military «pivot to Asia», which saw the U.S. increase its military profile in Australia in preparation for a showdown with China, was all-but-dead with Trump’s phone call with Turnbull. Rather than cooperate with Washington in a confrontation with China over the South China Sea issue, Australia responded to Trump’s withdrawal from the anti-China Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by signaling a willingness to participate with Beijing in the Chinese-led «One Belt, One Road» initiative and China’s proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The post-World War II ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-U.S.) alliance was dealt a mortal blow with the Trump-Turnbull feud.
Trump’s administration is chock full of individuals who brandish unilateral military action credentials. From chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who sees an imminent war with China and who has also been involved in efforts to unseat Pope Francis I from the Holy See’s papacy, to trade adviser Peter Navarro, who also foresees a conflict with China, the stage for imminent wars is set.
Trump has threatened to take Iraq’s oil; suggested he could tear up the international nuclear accord with Iran; and implied backing for a one-state solution for Palestine, where the Palestinian people would be subjugated as third-class residents of Israel. Trump will do all these on his own. As Winston Churchill once said, «There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – and that is to fight without them.