The America First policies that were espoused by Trump throughout his presidential campaign seem to have been cast into the streams of history. However Trump is not the first US president who upon being inaugurated had a swift and perhaps unexpected change in foreign policy direction. Similar changes of heart can be attributed to both Bush and Obama. For Micheal Glennon, a professor and expert in international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, the problem lies within the bureaucratic system itself and the nature of what is in effect the deep state. The deep state is where a significant concentration of power is to be found in the nations institutions who more often than not follow their own agenda with no democratic accountability.
Institutions of such a nature comprise the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon and the US military among others. The same rules apply to other agencies in other spheres such as the US Treasury. Indeed such organisations may be found not only within the confines of the nation state but may also take supranational connotations. Examples thereof are NATO, the IMF, Europol, INTERPOL and the European Union itself. These institutions are marked not only by a lack of democratic accountability, but more often than not are institutions defined by internal cultures that in some sense are associated and nurtured in the context of their constitutions and by the theories beholden to their relative field, not to mention the agency indicative of their employees. Naturally the kinetics of group think are also not to be discounted in the way these organisations form their policies.
The distribution of power (Intellectual power or expert specific power) here becomes key not only in the interpersonal, but also in the interagency relationships. The CIA for example is the specialist in intelligence gathering and therefore represents the unquestioned expert in assessing risk. They are the exclusive bearers of a collection of secretive information to which they alone are privy. While Trump on the other hand may be a great business man and Obama a great lawyer, both irrespective of their inherent abilities lack access to the key information and therefore the expertise by which the other members of the national security council are legitimised in their day to day business. This enables institutions to manipulate both the political parties and the individual politician to their tune or more specifically to their agenda.
Joseph Stiglitz, the renowned economist and academic, eloquently recalled a meeting between the then newly elected president Bill Clinton and the top brass of the US treasury in which a somewhat bemused Clinton was informed by the heads of the FED exactly how US policy would continue to be practiced throughout his tenure. Glennon equally cites the ire expressed by Obama and his inner circle when being told by the US military that for the war in Afghanistan he had two options: either he could add some more troops to the conflict or he could add a lot more troops to the conflict.
And yet things still feel different somehow under the current Trump administration. His sudden change of orientation is consistent, we are told, with his election campaign in which he repeatedly shifted his position, blurring the lines of reality, factors which underscore his impulsive and psychologically unbalanced mindset. Even the Russians of late are purported to have expressed a regret at the passing of the more certain Obama era, declaring US-Russian relations to be at their lowest ebb for decades following the ascendency of Trump.
From the Russian position must we consider that the Obama administration wrecked untold havoc across the Middle East. His administration defied the wishes of the Kremlin with the Libyan intervention, which not only removed the Gaddafi government illegally by going well beyond the UN resolution obtained to patrol a no-fly zone, but which has subsequently unleashed an horrendous civil war across the country depriving Libyans of their basic rights. Additionally, the US role during his incumbency sought explicitly to destabilise the Assad regime in Syria, with the US as in Libya seeking to exploit the Arab spring in order to remove one of the United States long term nemesis. The Obama led administration in one instance committed over $500 million with which to arm the so called “moderate opposition“ only for all those members they had been working with to join militant jihadist groups. While the US carried out numerous drone strikes and airstrikes which in the same vein as Trumps’ recent Tomahawk strikes on the Shayrat airbase contravened international law. The West we assume out of inconvenience never mentions that 100 Syrian soldiers were killed in an airstrike, after Russia had brokered a first Aleppo cease fire some 6 months ago. A strike that naturally compromised all successive attempts to implement a ceasefire thereafter. The ethical and morality behind this strike need to be questioned against the Trump strike, this debate in the West is sadly lacking.
Even Trump’s deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula bares more than just a striking resemblance to Obamas pivot to East Asia which likewise followed on the heels of George W Bushes similar policy. In figures the Obama administration sought to place 60% of its navy in the South Pacific region. Trump’s little fleet by comparison is insignificant. The Russians for their part must judge the implications of the Ukraine conflict for themselves and attribute its level of national importance. At the time the Ukraine was clearly another domain in which East-West tensions were brought to breaking point. With the US and the West in general sending emissaries to address the Maidan uprising pledging US support for the demonstrator’s cause. These actions appear to negate the impromptu nature of the Ukraine crisis especially in the light of the works by US strategic thinkers such as Brzezinski and Friedman. That the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs was recorded debating with the US ambassador in Kiev the future heads of the Ukrainian state, further credence must be given to the view that the US had interfered in the affairs of a sovereign state in order to serve its geopolitical interests much to the detriment of Russia.
All the above examples provide evidence of two recurrent themes. One, that irrespective of the president and the party he represents a continuous policy dictate may be discerned and two, that this policy is by its consistency ipso facto independent of a change of US leader. Where the current administration unquestionably differs from the previous one is in the dissemination of information pertaining to these events. The current tensions in Syria and Korea for example have left an indelible mark in the public’s perception of the current crisis. But is this equitable with reality? From the Chinese security perspective are they more worried by pronouncements made by Obama’s pivot towards the South China Sea? Or by Trump sending a much smaller fleet? Naturally an additional expansion by Trump is not viewed approvingly from Beijing, nonetheless Obama’s desire to place 60% of the US navy in the East Pacific would at the time have invariably generated greater disquiet in Beijing . How this disquiet failed to manifest itself across either the global media scape or into the consciousness of the cosmopolitan citizen is perhaps telling of how precisely and prudently we have come to be manipulated by our elites. Equally Obama’s strike that killed 100 Syrian soldiers and sealed the fate of the Aleppo cease fire failed to grip the world imagination and consequently it has become irrelevant au courant discourse, exactly at a moment in time when we would assume, given the hyperbole circulating across the news channels, that a semblance of perspective is indeed called for.
The use of fear
The concept of fear as a political tool is one that has been well documented throughout history. This doctrine of fear has been used to justify not only repressive crackdowns in the war on terror, but it is one that has also legitimised the longevity or existence of institutions that otherwise should now be defunct. A clear example of such an organisation is NATO who created a perception of imminent threats first via its “war against Organised crime” and subsequently by adapting its mission to confront “terrorism” once its mandate, ie the protection of Europe from the Soviet Union, had been served with the demise of the latter in 1991. Furthermore, the public promotion of angst and panic have been used to create the conditions in which a citizenry will agree to the most abhorrent of state actions. As Hermann Goring, a prominent propagandist of his time, noted “The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country”.
Usually fear is constructed, as Goring articulates, by manufacturing the image of a hostile and menacing other that threatens the destruction of the inner group. It is a simple psychological ruse that plays on two aspects inherent in human thought, one, a spiralling dynamic in which fear swiftly leads to a conclusion of imminent destruction in the perceiver if action is not taken against this threat and two, it plays on the confirmation bias within the individual through which he as one of the inner group habitually views the actions of himself and those of similar ilk to be ethical and just. This allows for an individual to acquiesce to a call for war in the face of imminent danger. The emphasis in this more traditional use of fear is placed on an imminent threat by another.
However, at times a rather inverted use of fear has been apparent. In the 70s the Nixon administration for example sought to bewilder their global adversaries by making it hard to pin down exactly what Nixon might do next. Like Trump, the former president was exemplified as irrational and impulsive, in short psychologically unstable. Haldemann in his posthumously published diary coined the term “madman theory” to describe the game plan. Information was leaked to suggest that the president was drinking and during these bouts would consider the deployment of nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union in fits of rage. It was a game devised to garner a sense of apprehension in their counterparts to subdue Communist actions across the world for fear of a sudden escalation in hostilities that could end with catastrophic consequences. Soviet decisions therefore would be constrained by a possible finite causality, ie nuclear mutual destruction. Is this the key to understanding the amplification behind current events in the media? Current events that in no way suggest any digression from US foreign policy over the last two decades and beyond, but nonetheless are relayed to us decidedly more ominious. Are we indeed witnessing the revival of Nixons “Madman theory”?
Certain is that Trump was defined as unstable throughout his road to the White House, but equally certain is that the deep state is where the true power lies in devising foreign policy. When we combine all these factors one must presume that our media is being specifically used to garner fear. If America’s own public is afraid of his actions, indeed are unable to evaluate his next move, can you imagine what Trumps adversaries must be feeling? It appears the deep state via the media are gaining capital from Trump’s mythical irrationality. A suggestion of the game at play may be found in the lack of restraint with which those around Trump encourage his actions. Hilary Clinton herself called for even more to be done against Assad, while the missile attack seems to have been advised to Trump. Any sign of seeking to restrain a madman before events spiral out of control are decidedly absent.