For all one’s doubts about Trump, his main appeal is that of restraining Washington’s war machine. As my friend Ron Maxwell, producer of two great war movies, writes, “Trump may be the only off ramp from non-stop wars of choice we’re likely to see in our lifetimes.”
The establishment Republican leadership that Trump is challenging is virtually addicted to perpetual war, while Democrats are so afraid of being called wimpy that they too end up supporting more wars. Just consider how many nations Obama now bombs. Yet Hillary Clinton would be even worse; it was she who pushed Obama into attacking Libya and was an architect of his Syria policy. Now she supports R2P—Responsibility to Protect—a doctrine that leads to new wars whenever any foreign government oppresses its own people. She also supports unilateral American attacks even though the UN document specifically states that only the United Nations Security Council may order such interventions.
Although Trump’s foreign-policy talk is all over the map, he dared to attack the Republican establishment’s consensus support for the Iraq War and, alone among major Republicans, talked of restraint in launching new wars. The vicious attacks upon him by Washington’s dominant hawkish neoconservatives corroborate the belief that Trump opposes new imperial wars. Trust their judgment about whom they oppose. Trump also was attacked by the discredited Republican 121 “foreign policy elites,” those who created, propagandized, and helped sustain our disastrous wars. This reaction to Trump shows how much Washington elites fear him.
Trump’s sheer joy for life, his instinct for “making deals” with enemies, and his desire for rapprochement with Russia would all check the establishment’s dangerous belligerence. He’d least of all want to risk nuclear war. Support for him among younger evangelicals has also fractured our own “Armageddon Lobby,” those who constantly want more Mideast wars because they believe they help bring about the “end times.”
Yet there’s also a great threat from Trump. As my friend Allan Brownfeld warns, “Civilization really hangs by a thread, just remember the spread of fascism and communism during the last century.” Think also of the up springing ethnic and religious chaos in other parts of the world. In America, Trump is letting loose the whirlwind, creating the conditions for racial, religious, and ethnic violence. One can well imagine a President Trump calling for mobs in the streets by shouting, “Won’t someone rid me of these disloyal enemies?” One thing would be worse than more unending, bankrupting wars—if Americans start fearing and killing each other. Like it or not, America is now a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural nation. We need those who unify us, not tear us apart.
Trump’s threats towards Americans of non-European racial or cultural heritage may cost him the election, unless he is able to convince immigrants, women, and millennials—among all of whom his negative rating is overwhelming—that his policies, compared to Hillary’s, are worth the cost of his personality. If Trump would follow through with cutting waste and Washington’s ever increasing, strangling regulations, then economic growth might alleviate much of the potential civil strife. Otherwise, bin Laden’s soul would shriek with joy as American cities descended into chaos as we started turning on each other in fear of immigrants, minorities, and those others who are “different.”
Trump also threatens international trade and prosperity. The manufacturing jobs he promises have been declining everywhere, even in China. The massive tariffs Trump proposes on Chinese and Mexican goods wouldn’t bring many jobs back to America; rather they would torpedo our prosperity and the world’s. The New York Times explained in “The Mirage of a Return to Manufacturing Greatness” that factory jobs have been declining just like agricultural jobs once did, mainly because of new technology.
It’s important to remember that presidents are constrained by the separation of powers—except when it comes to starting wars. Congress and the courts would be a brake on his more extreme programs, including trade and immigration. Farm states have a high proportion of senators, who represent agricultural industries that depend upon export markets and immigrant labor. Trump couldn’t just declare massive tariffs or block immigration without votes in Congress. During the campaign, we have primarily heard the pent-up voices of protectionism and nativism. But Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and all the financial and intellectual-property interests that profit heavily from exports would be a strong lobby against Trump’s starting a trade war.
Even if a Trump win cost Republicans their Senate majority, that’s not entirely bad. Remember that the worst policies—think the Iraq War and Obamacare—often come about when one party controls both the presidency and Congress. The alternative—a second Clinton administration beholden to government unions, extreme environmentalists, and minorities—would make our stifling regulatory state even worse.
For all his drawbacks and the constitutional constraints that would limit his power, a President Trump could create some very positive policies:
1) Cut defense spending for new wars. Ron Paul once suggested that only half the Pentagon budget is for defense, while the other half is for attacking foreign nations. There are hundreds of billions of potential savings in our trillion-dollar defense/intelligence complex. Trump now says he would increase military spending, so indeed no one may be willing or able to cut back our military machine. Still, he’d be more likely to do so than the Democrats. He originally said we could be defended at less cost.
2) Cut back on NATO spending. If Europeans want us to install anti-missile systems in Poland, let them pay for it. Remember the preposterous claims that the missiles were to save Europe from being attacked by Iran. Now Washington is stationing (and paying billions for) facilities in Romania capable of launching cruise missiles, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Missile Treaty. The NATO bureaucracy often seems to have its own foreign policy, primarily that of enhancing its mission by stroking fears of Russia. Trump suggests he would stop creating friction with Russia.
3) Get Japan and Korea to pay for their own defense. Our defense treaties need modifying; they were designed for the Cold War era. They would drag us into a war between China and Japan, even over some unpopulated rocks in the Pacific.
4) Work on an Israel-Palestine settlement. Most Jews oppose the illegal settlements that Washington helps to fund by allowing tax deductions for American donors. Netanyahu’s brutal occupation policies and his alliance with the most anti-democratic ultra Orthodox fundamentalists (many want Israel to revert to biblical law and to have a king) has split the American Jewish community. Most now want progress toward compromise and a two-state solution with the Palestinians. New possibilities for peace are opening up.
5) Support the Iran nuclear agreement. Republican congressmen are currently trying to block the deal with banking laws. Trump could get them to focus on rebuilding America instead of starting a new war with Iran by taking sides in Sunni-Shia vendettas.
6) Stop kowtowing to Saudi Arabia’s dictators. All the brutal theology of fundamentalist Jihadism is enabled by the Saudis, funded and spread around the world by their devil’s bargain with Wahhabism. Saudi Arabians helped fund ISIS, which springs from the same ideology. Why do we care if they or Iran are superior in the Muslim world? Indeed Iran, despite all the propaganda that it is a terrorist state, has done comparatively little to threaten the West. The Saudi dictators inspire little loyalty from their own people. They don’t even trust their own army. For their war on Yemen, they hire South American mercenaries. Their bombing is done with American air refueling, American navigation aids, and American cluster bombs.
Perhaps only Trump has the strength of will to cut the Gordian Knot in Washington. He may yet crash as a result of his chaotic management style, his penchant for promoting rivalries among his staff, and his vindictiveness. But today there is no doubt that he threatens the Beltway establishment—and that challenge is what most Americans want. Should he shock everyone by winning in November, we must trust our system of checks and balances to constrain his worst impulses.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.