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Why Donald Trump will always be at war

Americans live as if they’re constantly at war, constantly under some degree of threat, and therefore always at the ready to defend themselves


 
In this May 2004 photo, a group gathers around a GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast (MOAB) weapon, on display at the Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Fla. U.S. forces in Afghanistan struck an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, April 13, 2017, with a GBU-43B, the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military, Pentagon officials said. (Mark Kulaw/Northwest Florida Daily News/AP/CP)

In this May 2004 photo, a group gathers around a GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast (MOAB) weapon, on display at the Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Fla. (Mark Kulaw/Northwest Florida Daily News/AP/CP)

Last week, upon launching a cruise missile strike against Syria, Donald Trump “became president.” That’s the narrative that emerged from mainstream opinion-makers in the United States, at least, and proof positive that it remains the case that no man in America becomes president before he blows something up.

Perhaps that’s unfair. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has played the part of global hegemon—the world’s leading power. In this century and a significant part of the last one, this job has included ensuring global security, stabilizing the world economic system, and setting trends in the arts, culture, sport, and so on. That’s the tl;dr version of the story, at any rate.  Of course, there are important exceptions to that, but let’s set those aside for now.

READ MORE: Donald Trump’s war and the ‘Madman theory’

Part of the hegemon’s job is to manage threats to global security. It’s not by accident that the United States has hundreds of military bases around the world and has engaged in routine military intervention all over the planet since the 1940s, including operations that have been acknowledged and (surely) plenty of clandestine affairs. Technically, America hasn’t declared war since 1942, as part of a series of declarations between 1941-1942 during the Second World War, but they’ve engaged in plenty of combat nonetheless.

It’s no surprise, then, that President Trump has approved military strikes and raids as commander-in-chief, including one in Yemen in January. The question isn’t if Trump will have to use U.S. military force around the world, but where will he use it? And how much of it will he use? With the hopelessly sanguinary conflict in Syria continuing with no end in sight, nuclear threats from North Korea, an increasingly assertive Russia, a civil war in Yemen, chronic instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, and several other global security challenges, one can be forgiven for worrying that the answers to these questions might be: “all over the place” and “plenty.”

For context, recall that under President Obama, the Central Intelligence Agency launched 100 strikes by the end of 2009 and the numbers climbed from there, with plenty of so-called “collateral damage”. And yet, Obama resisted deep intervention into the civil war in Syria despite mass suffering and the humanitarian crisis that has accompanied Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sustained assault on his own people. Trump’s intervention in response to a gas attack—which in a born-again moment changed the president’s mind about attacking the Russian-backed dictator—was measured, as far as these things go. In essence, he fired off some expensive fireworks, dented a shed, and “proved” to the world that he is no Russian puppet.

RELATED: Why Donald Trump wants to ‘rebuild the military

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Syrian war planes left the base hours after the attack to conduct an airstrike on the same town Assad had earlier gassed. If the Trump strike was meant to send Assad a message, it’s possible he didn’t receive it—or didn’t care. Meanwhile, the U.S. military messaging continues: a naval strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson sailed near the Korean peninsula following North Korean missile tests, which prompted a perfunctory if unsettling warning from Pyongyang.

Americans live as if they’re constantly at war. The rise of the surveillance state, domestic and global security threats, and vulnerable U.S. interests overseas have brought about a kind of security homeostasis in which the body politic is constantly under some degree of threat and therefore always at the ready to defend itself. David Byrne was right: “This ain’t no party/ this ain’t no disco/this ain’t no foolin’ around“—and this is the environment into which Donald Trump has entered as both president and commander-in-chief.

Consequently, Americans and individuals around the world, affected as we are “by every twitch and grunt” of the United States, have reason to be concerned. Trump’s mercurial personality and obvious lack of preparation for the job he’s found himself in are threats to U.S. and global security—again, this ain’t no foolin’ around. Lives are at risk. The fate of nations are at risk. The global order is at risk. And while there are plenty of reasons why international relations might beg for a re-ordering in the 21st century, Donald Trump is not the leader who ought to be leading the effort.

READ MORE: Donald Trump imagines America is under siege

It appears that Trump is deferential to men in uniform (and to his daughter?). In January, Trump changed his mind on the use of torture, saying he would leave the decision to General James Mattis.So far, Trump has shown restraint—and even prudence—when it comes to military activity, which suggests that he’s listening to more level-headed folks than when it comes to domestic policy. But it’s early days as his administration approaches the arbitrarily significant 100-day mark, and global security is only going to become more complicated as time goes on—at the very least, there’s no evidence that suggests matters are improving—at a time when Trump and his team have done little to signal that they have a grand strategy for dealing with current challenges (especially Syria).

We are also left with the question of who’s in charge when it comes to military affairs. Who has the ear of the president? To whom is he ultimately going to defer in the long run? These questions reveal a kind of catch-22: while one might prefer to have a civilian ultimately in charge of the military, one might also prefer that it not be Trump. Yet the alternative is to have the generals calling their own shots, or else either noted military strategist Ivanka Trump or lunatic millenarian conspiracy theorist Steve Bannon.

None of these options are particularly appealing, of course. While folks can protest, write or call their representatives, or engage in other forms of resistance, there is little that can be done while the major players make their decisions and shape the future, while the rest of us hope that some wisdom will emerge from the chaos. That’s life during wartime.

David Moscrop is a political scientist and a writer. He’s currently working on a book about why we make bad political decisions and how we can make better ones. He’s at @david_moscrop on Twitter. He lives in Vancouver.


 

Why Donald Trump will always be at war

  1. This isn’t new with Trump.

    The US has been at war for 93% of it’s history

  2. There was not one single day in the presidency of Barack Obama where the US was NOT at war. Barack Obama dropped 26000 bombs during his Presidency…or about 350 per year…or about one per day. This does not count the bombs and munitions provided to proxies, or munitions other than bombs used by the United States.

    • I had read 26000+ bombs were dropped by Nobel Peace prize winner Obama just in 2016. That would be about 3/hour.

      • You are correct, I was wrong. 26000 bombs dropped by Obama in 2016….so say about 200000 during his presidency.

  3. Obama had all these countries on ice throughout his tenure, and in comes Trump and breeds life back into these countries again. North Korea was almost asleep,(Obama had the leash on him too) until Trump decided he wanted to spread his autonomy in the region, Bingo, he wakes the country of NK up, and the people wrap their arms around kim jun, it couldn’t be a better timing for the NK leader, he was pining away in his corner of the world. Now Trump got the Mid east awake too, which makes for a great recruiting tool for the terrorist groups, by doing drive by bombing attacks, known as preemptive air strikes from warships..

    • Huh???
      4 of the 5 nuclear bomb test accomplished by NK were under Obama’s watch.
      Ice? Asleep? Hardly! NK exponentially increased their nuclear science/funding while Obama did NOTHING!

      Funny using the handle carpet bomber. You’d think you would be more up to date.

  4. President Obama – Turns out I’m really good at killing people ….

    • Not nearly as good as Dubya……but then he’s white.

  5. This article grossly lacks context. It’s the equivalent of stating that the West has been at war with Islam for the duration of Islam’s existence, without explaining that Islam has initiated all of it’s conflicts with the West. It’s true but grossly inaccurate.
    Take the Cold war, for example. At the end of WWII, the two great Allied powers dismantled much of their machine of war. America destroyed thousands of airplanes, scrapped hundreds of ships, melted down millions of artillery pieces and used them to make machines of industry and agriculture. The Soviets did the exact opposite. America then responded to Europe’s pleas to protect them from the Soviets, which they did admirably in spite of a great deal of European ingratitude. (Yet ask any 40-75 year old resident of the former East Germany if they’re happier that they were “liberated” by the Red Army, or if they wish Patton had pressed on beyond the Elbe.)
    The Soviets spoke longly and loudly of peace, yet we learned from the East Germans after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Soviets were constantly trying to create conditions favorable to an armored invasion of Western Europe facilitated by the use of tactical nuclear strikes. There was never a time when the Soviets were not trying to create the right conditions to start and win a war in Western Europe.
    Those historical facts make this article somewhat nonsensical. The USA is constantly at war because there are states that are actively seeking to harm the West, and erode Western influence in the world.
    The question then becomes very different. If you don’t want the USA to be the most powerful nation on earth, who would you prefer? China? Iran? Russia? North friggin’ Korea? Do you really think Sweden has the ability to replace America as the great hegemonic power?
    In-friggin’-credible.

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