WHY HAS THE US GONE MAD?


By Alexander Unzicker


[This article published on April 1, 2018 is translated greatly abridged from the German on the Internet, www.heise.de. Dr. Unzicker is a physicist, lawyer and a non-fiction writer.]


We are part of the empire


That the German chancellor is not ruler of her acts in foreign policy is irritating for us citizens. A few like Daniele Ganser speak openly of the American empire. But who can seriously doubt that the highest decision makers can be influenced or extorted after the disclosures by Edward Snowden (Merkel’s cell phone)?


It is time to say more openly that Germany is part of the US Empire, even if a comparatively liberal province…


Fake News


A lie can travel around the globe three times before truth puts her boots on. –
Mark Twain


Donald Trump blames scapegoats for an escalating strategy increasing for years. As Glenn Greenwald correctly explains, the constitutional order in the US was dismantled after the attacks of September 11. Amy Goodman’s “Government Liars” is a very impressive book on the crimes of the Bush administration. Since Bush, the Deep State of the US has reflected the large picture of US foreign policy (cf. Ray McGovern).


Upheavals in seven countries including Iran are on the agenda, as Wesley Clarke said openly. Some are already finished. Others will be added. Couldn’t arms-, oil- and other dirty industries simply be satisfied with unhindered enrichment since Trump is willing to rescind all reasonable laws?


War on Terror and War on Bankruptcy


Still, this does not explain the aggressiveness with which tensions were built up in the last years with a lecherous delight in war. Why does the US permanently seek new conflicts, send terrorists to Syria, organize the Ukraine coup d’etat, escalate with North Korea and threaten bombing wherever it suits them? This aggressive madness that strikes Iran and Russia at the moment must have a cause.


Some assume Putin’s clear reelection was one reason or the latest Russian nuclear weapon test. But this hardly explains the irrational long-term conduct. The real reason for the hysterical nervousness could be that the US is bankrupt.


Before the accusation of “conspiracy theory” is raised, these are obviously only speculations. No one knows all the connections exactly. Still, we must go to the root of irrational behavior. A doctor who reflects on the causes of the psychosis of a patient is not a “conspiracy theorist.” Ernst Wolf’s analysis of the causes may be right. A war is launched to divert attention from the collapse of the financial system. No one obviously has an idea how the deficit of $20 trillion will ever disappear. “In any case, the US will not be a `normal’ state bankruptcy because the petro-dollar system still upholds the US dollar as an international reserve currency. That Russia and China are initiating the end of this system probably makes Washington really nervous – without anyone admitting their nervousness. The military budget exploding on credit and the rapid personnel change in the White House where just war/ war-mongering neocons fill nearly all the positions must make everyone else nervous.


The danger that a war could start from the West through a pretext may not be great but cannot be ignored. Salisbury recalls the lies about the Iraq War. A scenario like the fake Russian cyber-attacks is unfortunately not unlikely in a time when almost every event or exaggerated non-event is blamed on Russia or omnipotent hackers. Putin is culpable, at least he allows it. War-mongering connected with irrationality is always an alarm signal.


Resistance


…Peace is a hundred times more important than all other news. Everyone should recognize today that a ballot every four years is not enough. The peace demonstrations will hopefully experience an upswing, even if they are slandered in the media as “right-wing” or ignored.


For me, the point is reached where I can no longer observe the social rule “no discussions about politics.” The threat to peace must become a theme of our daily communications. The fate of all humanity is at stake with the instrument of war. Disarmament must become a theme again. Documentary films about Hiroshima and “The Day After” should be shown in classrooms.


Civil society must influence its representatives. We need courageous district attorneys who prosecute violations of international criminal law, soldiers who resist orders violating Art 26 of the German Basic Law, a constitutional court that does immediate justice to its responsibility in case of emergency and a consciousness of society against war that becomes the incalculable risk for irresponsible elites, not with us!


Whoever carelessly endangers the peace should be called to account. The most recent absurdities have shaken many people. Explain the connections to your compatriots or matriots.



THEORY AND PRAXIS OF US FOREIGN POLICY


US President Trump made one foreign policy mistake after another and weakened the role of the US as a global power in his first year. Still, maneuvering has a tradition. His predecessors fluctuated between nationalism, militarism and moral mission consciousness.


By Olivier Zajee


[This article published on 1/11/18 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,  http://monde-diplomatique.de.]


A year after Donald Trump’s election as US president, the columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote about the “jubilee of the end of the world” in the New York Times. Trump’s presidency is a nightmare; the unthinkable has become the daily routine. [1]


Goldberg’s attack was not the only furious litany by representatives of the East Coast establishment to Trump’s address. The differences of opinion between the traditional elite and the present government have made US domestic policy into the scene of a permanent cultural war. Conservatives full of hate, populists and progressives do not spare one another any ugly low blows.


With horror, the international partners and rivals of the US follow the events from a distance. Is the release of all the demons Trump’s exclusive responsibility? That would give too much honor to the eccentric billionaire. In truth, the decay of the US debate culture goes back to the time before his presidency. Donald Trump is by no means the author of this extreme polarization. He is only its most visible product.


The great breach that marks the cunning, brutal, stubborn, incalculable and self-referring Trumpism weak in decision-making is not entirely true for US domestic policy. This breach will have much more intensive consequences for international relations. For a long while, a relative consensus prevailed in US foreign policy in principles, values and value orientations.


Zbigniew Brzezinski, ex-advisor of President Carter, once summarized this consensus in the formula; the US is an interest-guided but benevolent sovereign. With its worldwide military presence, the US had a claim to a higher measure of security than all other countries. The chances of success for its projects would rise if the world recognized that the US strategy strives for international community with common interests. [2]


A US president who doesn’t give a damn about treaties


Donald Trump sees the world as a chaos and “humans as the most pernicious of all the animals.” [3] From his perspective, Brzezinski who died in May 2017 seemed like an overrated oracle of a past era. Will the new world order not be an order of a new world anymore? Trump is intent on fulfilling certain promises to his voters, for example that the US will be far superior militarily to its rivals and that the country will be the clear winner in future bilateral trade agreements.


Trump does not believe multilateral security partnerships can be useful to US interests. By Trump’s decree, the US withdrew from the already negotiated Transpacific Trade Agreement (TPP) before it took effect. Trump undermines the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico and sows doubt about the free trade agreement with South Korea. He questions the advantages of NATO by reproaching the European treaty partners and particularly Germany that they are freeloading or jumping on the bandwagon.


In the thunderstorm of this systematic questioning, the fundamentals of the great strategy seem to totter that emerged out of an arrangement of the great powers after the Second World War – on first view in any case. US diplomats must inactively sit back and watch the upheavals. Two-thirds of the posts in the State Department are still unfilled. Trump declared they were “completely unnecessary.” [4]


Foreign policy experts react to this disdain with deep contempt. The president has no vision, no key ideas and no strategy, they declare.


Theory and Praxis of US Foreign Policy


Interestingly enough, both the liberal institutionalists of the Democratic Party and the heirs of republican Neocons under Bush junior seem to agree with David Ignatius in the Washington Post that the problem with Trump’s foreign policy projects is that he “probably does not have any.” [5] This formulation raises the crucial question: Will Trump bring US diplomacy to a purely egoistic course that has nothing to do with the moral mission of the US? Will he simply stumble without a compass and map and only trusting his instinct?


One main problem of every political analysis is that many commentators assume a long-term continuity of US foreign policy that is now endangered by the Trump administration. So Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president and US trade commissioner, complained “Trump’s foreign policy represents a breach with the foreign policy line followed by US presidents since Harry Truman. Trump’s predecessors always knew intelligently that US interests and multilateralism were two sides of the same coin. [6]


This statement is both true and false. Analytically, one must distinguish between the plane of ideology (or vision) and practical politics. In a practical political regard, the talk of a stability of US foreign policy across the parties is a myth. Rather, Trump’s presidency is another brief turn in tactical cross-party swings between maximalism and retreat that US diplomacy carried out for a long time.


Dwight D. Eisenhower ended an early activist phase of US foreign policy in the first years of the Cold War. Then, comparatively unnoticed, John F. Kennedy joined the foreign policy activism in 1961. Richard Nixon’s presidency stood from 1969 in the sign of a hesitant and contradictory retreat or withdrawal. Toward China, Nixon practiced a détente policy while beating the drum for a crusade against communism in South America.


Ronald Reagan described himself as a maximalist and condemned the supposed foreign policy reserve of his predecessor administration under Jimmy Carter. To Barack Obama, “nation-building at home” was more important than “regime change” in other countries. He broke from the maximalist activism of Clinton and Bush, two presidents who were more alike in their foreign policy than often claimed.


Recognizing the plane of the great strategy or foreign policy vision is a vital alongside this tactical turn of the pendulum. Ultimately, visionaries have influenced US diplomacy again and again. There were moralists like Thomas Jefferson (president from 1801 to 1809) or Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981) for whom America should be a shining example for the rest of the world as a “city upon a hill” in the tradition of the Puritan fathers.


Now and then, isolationists like Warren Harding (1921-1923) and John Quincy Adams (1797-1801) governed who refused “to seek monsters in the distance.” There were balance theoreticians like Richard Nixon (1969-1974), imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), internationalists like the messianic Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) and the pragmatic Barack Obama (2009-2017).


The political scientist Walter Russell Mead distinguished four schools of US foreign policy. The Hamiltonians, named after the first Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795) stand for realism and today for the confession to free world trade. The Jeffersonians, named after President Thomas Jefferson, emphasized democracy and basic rights in America. They wanted to limit engagement in foreign countries to cases where that was the only way to safeguard US interests.


Jackson and Wilson


The Wilsonians understood foreign policy following President Woodrow Wilson as morally established. They want to promote democracy and peace in the world. For Jacksonians, named after President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), nationalism and militarism are in the foreground. [7]


Donald Trump’s ideas are mostly charged to the school of the Jacksonians today. This is the key for understanding his domestic- and foreign policy praxis, it is said. Just after his assumption of office, he hung a Jackson portrait in the Oval Office. Two months later, he made a pilgrimage to the historical estate of the 7th US president in Nashville, Tennessee.


Many people are upset over Trump’s veneration of Jackson. They see in Jackson a slaveholder and the culprit for the Trail of Tears, the expulsion of Native Americans from the Southern US states in 1831 when several thousand persons died. Fro Trump, on the other hand, Andrew Jackson is a folk hero, a forerunner in the struggle against the corrupt political East Coast establishment and defender of the middle class that made America “great.”


The reference to Andrew Jackson does not adequately explain Trumpism. Jacksonian is more politics than philosophy, more praxis than vision. Whether Donald Trump is now a Jacksonian or not – behind the mask of his rude crudeness, the 45th US president continues the foreign policy course of an America that only knows partners, not friends.


If the Trump presidency means a breach in international relations, this is more on the plane of visions than in the political style or praxis (choice of friends and enemies, influence in international organizations etc.). Trump does not want to export democracy. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum criticizes “Trump’s dark promise of return to a mythical past.” [8] In other words, Trump practices heretical treason on the liberal order of the West.


Many commentators share this assessment including David From, former speechwriter of George W. Bush or European Union council president Donald Tusk. The latter described Trump as an “existential danger” for a transatlantic Europe.


The editorial writer Charles Krauthammer, a Neocon, summarized the reproaches: “President Truman crafted the vision of a free world with open trade and a defensive alliance of mutuality. All our presidents have shared this idea – up to today. Seen this way, Trump is the counterpole to US exceptionalism – and the destroyer of the moral project established for more than 200 years of a universal nation that follows universal values – according to Jefferson.


One should differentiate on the plane of vision. US president Trump betrays US ideals. But which ideals does he betray? In its present form of liberal interventionism, these ideals were always only a part of America’s foreign policy paradigm. A first and very different foreign policy consensus existed from George Washington’s presidency (1789-1797) to William McKinley’s presidency (1897-1901). The US should limit itself to ruling the North American continent, gaining profit through trade and not entering in any alliance obligations.


When the US first rose to an important economic power of the world in the late 19th century, they converted their economic prosperity into political influence and now also understood themselves politically as a global actor. The Spanish-American War in the Caribbean began in 1898.


At that time, a new consensus of US foreign policy arose that both a nationalist and a moral side. Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency stands for the national and Woodrow Wilson for the moral.


Roosevelt’s domestic policy was progressive. In foreign policy, the 26th US president was a convinced interventionist and often a war-mongerer and imperialist. On the other hand, Wilson is often characterized as a typical idealist. When Wilson went to war in 1917 against the German Empire, he did that in the name of law and the idea of Americas’ moral superiority. Nevertheless, the “warrior” Roosevelt and the supposedly idealistic “preacher” Wilson should not be represented as great counter-figures. [10]


The speech of the Roosevelt advisor Albert Beveridge from January 9, 1900 on the “defense of American imperialism” demonstrates this. He sketched America’s mission as follows: “God appointed us to be master organizers to give an order to the world ruled by chaos. He breathed the spirit of progress into us to overcome the forces of reaction everywhere in the world. He made us experts in governing so we rule over wild and weak people. If this power did not exist, the world would fall back in darkness and barbarism.” [11] These words sound more like universalist idealism than real politics.


Conversely, ambivalences exist regarding Wilson’s idealism as the political scientist Stanley Hofmann explains. “Wilson is an exemplary figure, on one hand, because his noble ideal of a non-Machiavellian morality of the statesman ended in a tragedy and on the other hand because he often acted as a complete Machiavellian defender of US interests.” [12]


Thus, describing Neocons as “Wilsonians in boots” is misleading. In fact, Wilson drafted the 14 points program for a new peace order in Europe in the middle of the First World War. But he never hesitated to enforce US interests with all severity.


“Wilsonism” always came in boots. One only needs to think of the US interventions in Mexico (1914-1916), in the Dominican Republic (1916-1924) and in Panama (1918-1921). Therefore, Wilson and Roosevelt stand for two completely different approaches in US foreign policy and not for its overarching continuity.


The nationalist aspect may be in the foreground with Roosevelt and the moral aspect with Wilson – but these two factors were never entirely separated in US diplomacy. Nationalism and morality are ultimately connected to one and the same exceptionalist, interventionist and – more or less – imperialist direction and are not opposites.


This orientation internalized by the US elite is the foundation of the second consensus of US foreign policy that gradually replaced the first isolationist consensus of the 19th century. This second consensus shared by republicans and democrats was never seriously put in question since the beginning of the 20th century. It survived without problem the pendulum swings of different US presidents between foreign policy maximalism and retreat.


This continuity had a simple reason. The core of Rooseveltian imperialism, the Wilsonian idealism, the Trumanian realism and the Clinton human rights diplomacy were already contained in the philosophical and spiritual foundations of the American republic since 1776.


Thanks to its flexible interpretation, the second consensus – a synthesis of economic prosperity, moral mission and striving to be a super-power – could be realized in fact in a relatively frictionless way. On the theoretical plane, both the US “realists” and the “idealists” like to emphasize what supposedly separates them.


To assess the possible long-term effects of Trump’s presidency, one has to set it in relation to the second consensus. While Donald trump is obliged to the economic prosperity and super-power position of his country, he is the first US president not to invoke America’s moral mission. He drops the third main element of the US foreign policy of the 20th century – and approaches the foreign policy consensus of the 19th century, that of presidents George Washington and William McKinley and the Monroe Doctrine.


Everything suggests Trump likes the role of taboo-breaker. In the foreword to his inaugural address, he wrote: “From now on, the politics of this country will never be the same.” Dismissing this announcement as typical Trump boasting would be careless and rash…

Trump returns to old isolationism
NOTES

(1) Michelle Goldberg, ‘Anniversary of the Apocalypse’, The New York Times, 6 November 2017.
(2) Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (new edition), Basic Books, New York, 2005.
(3) Gail Sheehy, ‘The insurmountable trust deficit’, Newsweek, 27 September 2017.
(4) ‘Inside Trump’s Head: an exclusive interview with the President, and the single theory that explains everything’, Forbes, 14 November 2017.
(5) David Ignatius, ‘The real problem with Trump’s foreign policy plans? He may not have any’, The Washington Post, 10 October 2017.
(6) Robert B Zoellick, ‘The Peril of Trump’s Populist Foreign Policy’, The Wall Street Journal, 29 November 2017.
(7) Stephen Sestanovich, Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama, Knopf, New York, 2014.
(8) Speech on 4 July 1821.
(9) See Joseph Joffe, ‘America self-contained’, The American Interest, vol 9, no 5, May-June 2014.
(10) Phrase coined by G John Ikenberry.
(11) Hamilton never became president.
(12) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World, Knopf, New York, 2001.
(13) Anne Applebaum, ‘Trump’s dark promise to return to a mythical past’, The Washington Post, 20 January 2017.
(14) Charles Krauthammer, ‘Trump’s foreign policy revolution’, The Washington Post, 26 January 2017.
(15) Evan Thomas, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Empire, 1898, Little, Brown and Company-Back Bay Books, Boston and London, 2010. See also HK Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956.
(16) John Milton Cooper Jr, The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (MA) and London, 1983.
(17) Senator Albert J Beveridge, Senate of the United States, January 9, 1900, Congressional Record, vol 33, part 1.
(18) Stanley Hoffmann, Duties Beyond Borders: On the Limits and Possibilities of Ethical International Politics, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1981.
(19) HR McMaster and Gary D Cohn, ‘America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone’, The Wall Street Journal, 30 May 2017.
(20) Nathan Hodge and Julian E Barnes, ‘The Cold War Pits a US General Against His Longtime Russian Nemesis’, The Wall Street Journal, 16 June 2017.
(21) Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book V.
(22) ‘Inside Trump’s Head’, op cit.
(23) Colum Lynch, ‘Nikki Haley and Trump’s Doctrine of Diplomatic Chaos’, Foreign Policy, 28 June 2017.