Many in Washington’s foreign policy establishment have expressed great alarm that Donald Trump may use torture and military power indiscriminately after he assumes the presidency on January 20, 2017. Trump has repeatedly said he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS” and in a March 2016 debate indicated that he would issue orders for US troops to conduct interrogation practices worse than waterboarding. Trump confidently stated that interrogators would not refuse such orders even if they constituted war crimes. “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me,” he said. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Trump’s reckless policies should frighten the US public. However, the public should be more frightened that these are US policies, not Trump policies. Indiscriminate bombing and torture have been an integral part of US foreign policy since 1945 and have rarely been opposed by the military or the public. The US experience in Vietnam was replete with torture and civilian bombing, the Phoenix Program and Hanoi Christmas bombings just two of countless examples. More recently, “accidental” bombings of hospitals and barbaric and gruesome practices such as rectal feeding have been vigorously defended by government officials and passively digested by the American public.
Thus, the US public and corporate media are wasting precious time and energy worrying what the president-elect may do, while ignoring the disastrous policies Trump will inherit on day one. It remains to be seen if the mainstream media and public will be tougher on Trump than they were on the Obama administration’s militancy, including the drone assassination campaign or the unconstitutional and illegal use of US military force in Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Much has been written about Trump’s disdain for the media. Obama will have set a dangerous precedent there, too, by using the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined in order to silence whistleblowers.
If Trump continues these policies, the fickle corporate media will probably lambaste him rather than reflect on how they were cheerleaders for egregious acts under Clinton, Bush and Obama. As Gore Vidal pointed out in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, “Clinton, in his frantic pursuit of election victories, set in place the trigger for a police state that his successor is now happily squeezing.” Both Bush and Obama made existing policies worse after entering the Oval Office. Thus, confronting the dangerous policies that Obama will bequeath to Trump is vital. The short list of ills would include: a state that does not require any type of service from its citizens; a privatized military at the beck and call of an imperial president; the restriction of constitutional rights, most notably freedom of the press; an economy hamstrung by theexcessive cost of maintaining 800 US military bases across the globe; an unconstitutional drone assassination campaign that has already killed eight US citizens without due process; never ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen; alliances with tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Central Asian states; support for the apartheid regime in Israel; excessive levels of domestic police brutality; an epidemic of gun violence; criminally high college tuition; and the dismantling of US industry and infrastructure. Nobody can blame Trump for any of this … yet.
But the most pernicious aspect of US policy that Trump will inherit is irrational US military worship. In relation to how much money has been spent on improving its fighting capacity, the US military has been woefully ineffectual since WWII: a draw in Korea, loss in Vietnam and now the forever wars epitomized by Iraq and Afghanistan. Recognizing “victories” in Grenada, Panama or in the first Persian Gulf War may comfort a few, but others doing the math should be appalled by the waste of life and treasure. Thus, relying on the architects of this mediocrity as advisers is fraught with danger. Highly respected military men like Colin Powell uncritically supported Bush’s wars as secretary of state. As Air Force Chief of Staff in 1962, Curtis “Bomb them into the Stone Age” Lemay advised Kennedy to use nuclear force against Cuba and the Soviets. When Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, Gen. Alexander Haig, then secretary of state, ignored the constitutional succession of power and claimed he was in charge. Unfortunately, when good advice has been given — like Gen. Eric Shinseki’sassertion that 500,000 troops would be needed for an invasion and pacification of Iraq — it has been ignored by the commander-in-chief.
Consequently, the biggest danger of a Trump presidency is not Trump. It is a declining US military state torn asunder by weak education, no collective sacrifice toward a common goal and a passive mainstream media. Violence has reared its head domestically in the militarization of the police and an epidemic of mass shootings. The Nobel Peace Prize president has upped Bush’s bombing of four countries to seven. But rather than focus on these drastic facts, the corporate media and public are hysterical over the potential policies of a man who has not yet served one day as president.
Trump is taking the reins of a dangerous system that has received the tacit approval of the US mainstream media and public. It is not too late to stop obsessing about what Trump might do and look closely at what his predecessors have done. In doing that, measures could be taken to demand Congress and the media do their job in ensuring Trump does not make a disastrous situation worse.