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Trump the Hawk

If there is one useful thing to come from Trump’s bad decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, it is that it has once and for all killed off the idea that Trump was ever inclined to end America’s open-ended wars. I hope it also has put to rest the false assumption that Trump’s use of the phrase “America first” meant anything beyond a statement of generic aggressive nationalism. As a candidate, Trump was quick to denounce previous wars as disasters, but his complaint about these wars was that the U.S. wasn’t “getting” anything tangible from them. He didn’t see anything wrong in attacking other countries, but lamented that the U.S. didn’t “take” their resources. That is not what I would call an antiwar argument.

During the campaign he never called for an end to the wars that were still ongoing, but talked only about “winning” them. He explicitly campaigned on escalating the war on ISIS (and he has done that), and he never committed to ending U.S. involvement in any other conflict (and there is no danger he will ever do that). He picked up the phrase “America first” after he heard the phrase in an interview [1] with two New York Times reporters. He clearly didn’t know [2] where it came from or what it meant, but it sounded good and he ran with it. Trump was never the candidate of restraint [3] or peace or non-intervention, but if we judge him on substance rather than slogans he never pretended he was. He had the good fortune to run against a Democratic candidate with a consistently hawkish and poor foreign policy record, and if he was mistaken for something other than a hawk it was because his opponent would have made almost anyone seem dovish by comparison.

If his first instinct on Afghanistan was to withdraw, as he claimed in his speech, it must not have been a very strong instinct. It is one of the few times that Trump has managed to refrain from following his instincts as president, and it was the one time that he shouldn’t have. So much for the argument that Trump’s instincts [4] can make up for his lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge.

Just before the election, I gave [5] some of the reasons why I couldn’t possibly vote for Trump, and they seem worth revisiting this week:

He can’t be trusted and changes his positions to whatever suits him at the time, but his stated foreign policy views are mostly awful or incoherent anyway. Trump takes a number of positions that make him just as unacceptable as any previous Republican nominee from this century. He isn’t really antiwar, and he’s definitely not antiwar when it matters (i.e., before the war starts). He routinely denounces the results of diplomatic engagement, wants to bring back torture, rejects the nuclear deal, takes a shamelessly pro-settler view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and seeks to have an even more bloated military budget than we already do.

Trump’s hawkish positions weren’t a secret before the election, and he made no effort to conceal them. His hawkish policies as president shouldn’t come as a shock, especially when he had none of the relevant experience or knowledge he would have needed to push back effectively against the hawks that he surrounded himself with. As I noted [6] earlier this year, a president as ignorant and inexperienced as Trump is much more susceptible to being pressured and influenced by his advisers. He is the least likely to be able to challenge Washington’s prevailing assumptions about the U.S. role in the world. Even if Trump were interested in challenging those assumptions (and for the most part he really isn’t), he doesn’t have the knowledge or preparation [7] to do it.

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Trump the Hawk"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 23, 2017 @ 10:24 am

“He is the least likely to be able to challenge Washington’s prevailing assumptions about the U.S. role in the world.”

Here I agree. And i is not that he is being situational. He doesn’t appear to have the courage to say no to bad ideas or adhere to his campaign rhetoric and stated principles concerning the use of force.

However, I am not close to abandoning the Pres just yet. There is still plenty of rope to be had.

#2 Comment By Donald ( the left leaning one) On August 23, 2017 @ 10:58 am

Correct on all counts. I would modify slightly the criticism of Clinton. She was terrible and favored every Mideast war that came along and was all set to increase tensions with Russia. Michael Morell, her ex CIA booster and possible member of her Administration if she had won said on the Charlie Rose show that we should ” covertly” kill Russians in Syria.

But all that said, I can’t see Clinton being as wildly irresponsible as Trump has been in his statements on North Korea. For me that’s when the 25th Amendment should have been invoked.

#3 Comment By rayray On August 23, 2017 @ 11:33 am

“He doesn’t appear to have the courage to say no to bad ideas or adhere to his campaign rhetoric and stated principles concerning the use of force.”

I don’t remember Trump having any particularly consistent campaign rhetoric, much less principles (other than a racist bent). It’s always curious what people project onto this man.

#4 Comment By the maybe factor On August 23, 2017 @ 11:51 am

I’ve been reading you for a while now. You haven’t been wrong about too much. And you weren’t wrong about this. And you were equally clear-eyed about Clinton.

That said, I’d leave open the possibility of a major change before his presidency is over, if for no other reason than the very unreliability or mercurial quality you note.

#5 Comment By Michelle On August 23, 2017 @ 11:56 am

Given his bellicose type and bullying behaviors, I never held any hope that Trump would be less than hawkish. He made clear his desire to inflate the defense budget, his desire to negate the Iran treaty, and his desire to take over Iraq’s oil fields. He wondered why we couldn’t use nuclear weapons. Granted, he was often inconsistent about his foreign policy positions, in part because of his vast ignorant, but anyone who’d mistake this blustering I’d of a man for a peacemaker was always mistaken. With Trump, it always safest to assume that there is no there there–no abiding principles, no intellectual curiosity, and no character. His supporters have projected their own desires onto an empty canvas.

#6 Comment By WorkingClass On August 23, 2017 @ 12:21 pm

Umm – How about the U.S. conflict with Russia? Or am I only imagining that he promoted normalizing that relationship. He has been prevented from doing anything of the kind by both Democrats and Republicans in congress.

#7 Comment By Baldy On August 23, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

@ elitecomminc

If you aren’t close to abandoning him yet you never will be. Trump supporters are a loyal bunch.

#8 Comment By Phil Giraldi On August 23, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

I think the decisive FP issue that led me and many others to vote for him was his very clear pledge to work with Russia. Other issues like the Middle East are insignificant when compared to Killary’s stated intention to heighten the level of conflict with Russia generally speaking and in particular over Ukraine, which she wanted to admit into NATO. The consequences of that would be very serious indeed. At this point it is not at all clear whether Trump will be able to fix things with Moscow, but the relationship is undeniably at a low point, though that is largely due to the media and congress.

#9 Comment By Nicolas On August 23, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

A gaggle of Mises Institute associates, such as Lew Rockwell and Walter Block pushed for Trump election in no small part because they imagined him to be less militaristic. As Larison shows, that required a strong capacity for self-delusion. What else might one expect from anarchists for Trump?

#10 Comment By Alan On August 23, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

Was Trump really serious about working with Russia?
Or was it another of his lies because it pleased the base?

From January until the meeting in July he did nothing to further better relations.

He employed a cabal of anti Russian hawks.

The fact congress voted on escalating sanctions was the result of his inactions and weakness on carrying forward this issue

#11 Comment By Dakarian On August 23, 2017 @ 2:27 pm

rayray

“I don’t remember Trump having any particularly consistent campaign rhetoric, much less principles (other than a racist bent). It’s always curious what people project onto this man.”

He actually did. However, many people then read deeper into the words to then read what they ‘wanted’ out of him instead. The matter of Trump being anti-war is a big example since I also noticed early on that he didn’t actually make any such statements.

The trick is to not sync what he doesn’t like into what you think he does like. His negative statements are less about trying to bring an opposing agenda and more about being aggressive against an opponent. He bashed the Middle eastern wars not because he hated war but because he wanted to bash Obama. He bashed Healthcare to attack Democrats, not to advocate for a conservative alternative.

When you ignore his negative statements and focus more on what he positively says, his “here’s what I want.” rhetoric, you get a more stable political platform, for example:

He is for aggressive actions when it comes to war to defeat your enemies.

He is for a strong, heavily funded army.

He is pro-Israel.

He sees government managed healthcare as a positive, including focusing on making sure everyone is covered though he has no real focus on what exactly that’ll look like.

He sees regulations as a burden and is very much pro-business.

These are statements he has made clear during the campaign days and, honestly, has been pretty stable on them when he took office. When you get past the contradictory negative bashing he does and ignore what everyone ‘thinks’ he’s for, he’s been about as stable as other presidents as far as his platform goes.

Now his voice is being muddled by the competing voices in the white house (especially when either someone else says it or when Trump is reading from a script) and Trump is about as strong willed about fighting for his causes as a wet noodle (IIRC, he handled opposition to his business matters less with fighting and more with just yelling at folks and letting his rep do the heavy lifting or making use of the fact that as CEO his rule is law so he doesn’t have to FIGHT and instead just say what we’ll be doing.).

But at the core, he’s not as unstable as it seems. Now whether you like what that core is is another matter.

#12 Comment By One Man On August 23, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

Dakarian-you seem to think that what he says matters. It doesn’t. Look at his big campaign issues:

Build the Wall; what has he done to fight for building the wall? Nothing

Investigate Hillary; Nope

Ban All Muslims; He hasn’t even tried to ban all Muslims

Bring Jobs Back from China; Anything? Bueller?

Repeal Obamacare; He couldn’t even be bothered to strongly pitch his own Party.

He may not be “unstable”. But he certainly has shown no inclination to follow up on his promises.

#13 Comment By Kevin On August 23, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Dakarian: everything else you would say ( and I’d add a strong preference for “deals” over institutions and rules as instruments of foreign policy as another core value) but where did you get the idea that he was fighting for government managed healthcare?

#14 Comment By rayray On August 23, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

@Dakarian
Pretty reasonable argument and well said.

But I’m still skeptical that he thinks of much other than how Trump can look good today.

#15 Comment By Dakarian On August 24, 2017 @ 12:01 am

One Man says:
August 23, 2017 at 4:57 pm
Dakarian-you seem to think that what he says matters. It doesn’t. Look at his big campaign issues:

Build the Wall; what has he done to fight for building the wall? Nothing
—-

I said you can listen to find out what he wants. I DIDN’T say what he will fight for. Donald isn’t a fighter. He barks.. a lot. But rarely FIGHTS.

If he were CEO of the USA the Wall would be built, and it would be massive and have his name all over it. But he can’t fight for that wall. That’s why he’s yet to say “we don’t need the wall.”

—-
Investigate Hillary; Nope
—-

Negative attack. Remember? I said if it’s a negative attack on someone, it’s BS. You know all of those times he declares that he’s going to sue so and so?

He rarely sues.

If it’s a negative attack on someone, like bashing Hillary or declaring that Obama wasn’t born here or demanding that we primary Republicans or saying that he’s going to let the healthcare system fail or throwing out all of the immigrants or any other attack, it’s BS.


Ban All Muslims; He hasn’t even tried to ban all Muslims

That WAS the immigration ban. According to Guliani, Trump wanted a “Muslim ban that was legal.” Let’s not peg him as stupid enough to really think a paper that says “ban all muslims” is going to fly in court, so, according to his ally, he pushed to create a ban that is as close to what he wants as possible but stick.

Note, that ban is UP right now.


Bring Jobs Back from China; Anything? Bueller?

he hasn’t strayed from that. He just has no clue how to deliver it. Just like how he wanted healthcare that was “better than Obamacare and cheaper” and didn’t have a clue how to get it.. and no willingness to fight to get what he wants.

Again, he hasn’t FLIPPED on any of this. He just can’t pull it off.


Repeal Obamacare; He couldn’t even be bothered to strongly pitch his own Party.

Firstly it’s Repeal and REPLACE. He officially said he wants a better plan that covers what Obamacare covers but cheaper and without the mandate. He has never declared that he wants to just cleanly remove Obamacare.

And in that, he’s shown the same thing I said. He hasn’t changed his position and keeps saying he wants a new plan and, again, has no clue hoow to pull it off, and, again, has the fighting spirit of a wet noodle.

I could want the boxing Heavyweight championship. I have no clue how to train for it and I’m too scared to try, but I still want it.

===
He may not be “unstable”. But he certainly has shown no inclination to follow up on his promises.
—-

He’s not a flip flopper. He’s just incompetent, rude, easily distracted, ineffectual, ext.

But he’s no flip flopper. What he actually said he wants to deliver is what he will try to deliver. Just don’t have high expectations on ‘Try’
—-

Kevin says:
August 23, 2017 at 5:08 pm
Dakarian: everything else you would say ( and I’d add a strong preference for “deals” over institutions and rules as instruments of foreign policy as another core value) but where did you get the idea that he was fighting for government managed healthcare?

“https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-60-minutes-scott-pelley/”

do a search for ‘healthcare’ but from that page:

—“onald Trump: There’s many different ways, by the way. Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, “No, no, the lower 25 percent that can’t afford private.” But–

Scott Pelley: Universal health care?

Donald Trump: I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

—-

Now note that this doesn’t contradict his belief on regulations. He believes in an unregulated marketplace, but he still wants the government involved to make sure everyone is covered.

(source of that: [8])

sidenote: note that he sidesteps the ‘universal healthcare’ statement, neither for or against it. He’s a salesman, used to getting people to read more than what he’s said.

I could also pull from the debates as well.

What I wonder is why in the world do people think he’s going to care at all to push for a clean repeal bill?

(I saw a lot of that in the early months. it seems many realized this now but also realized the noodle strength and thus he’ll eventually sign anything from a clean bill to universal healthcare. )

rayray says:
August 23, 2017 at 5:49 pm
@Dakarian
Pretty reasonable argument and well said.

But I’m still skeptical that he thinks of much other than how Trump can look good today.

Our brains are complex. You have inner thoughts and outer thoughts, and thoughts that seem isolated but are caused by deeper thoughts.

(cue “Simple Trump brain” joke ha ha ha)

Personally, I believe deep down it is ALL about Trump. However, I believe his goal is not just raw profits but adoration of others. He’s willing to cheat you out of your deal to make a million then spend 2 million to make you love him.

And the idea of actually fixing the country is appealing since that’ll make him a legend.

I believe what he declared he wants for the country is what he would want for the country. I believe he believes it will actually work and he will want to do it because he wants to be the hero. Fight the Bad Guys, Save the family. Looking like Washington is looking VERY good today.

Again, this is detailing my theory of what he wants. Not what he will deliver.

#16 Comment By One Man On August 24, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

Since he can’t deliver, why should we care what he wants?

#17 Comment By CharleyCarp On August 24, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

The President didn’t just say he wanted better health care, he said he had a plan. He didn’t have a plan.

I did want to push back a bit wrt Clinton. She’d have taken office with a hostile Congress, and especially Senate. Her appointees to virtually all State and Defense appointments would be cross-examined for warlike tendencies, and only those who could satisfy virtually the entire Republican caucus would have been confirmed. At the end of the day, her military posture would be mostly a replay of Obama’s — Congress would acquiesce to a pretty low level of aggression in the Middle East, but wouldn’t ever affirmatively allow anything. There’s no way on earth they’d let her get away with anything Libya-like, or anything significant with Russia.

#18 Comment By Richard Bassett On August 24, 2017 @ 4:42 pm

If Trump did not concentrate our ME policy to defeat I.S., if he repeated Obama’s mistake in Iraq by not keeping a small presence there & in Afghanistan (who actually harbored 9/11 attackers) he would be called an isolationist. When Trump halts regime change which has only brought death and refugees he is called an isolationist. So is Trump an isolationist, a globalist hawk, or just America 1st?

A hawk in nature and in a NeoCon is normally stoic, Trump has too much personality to be anything other than a Jacksonian or T. Roosevelt–both patriots beloved by the people of their day if not the chattering class.

#19 Comment By One Man On August 25, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

I read and hear Trump being called all sorts of things, but “isolationist” isn’t one of them. Even if he WERE being called that, it’s probably the best thing said about him. I can’t imagine him late-night tweeting about it. Heck, I’d be tickled pink if being called an isolationist were the worst thing he’s done.