External Affairs

Trump’s ‘Principled Realism’ Signals Renewed American Imperial Offensive

Trump-America is American imperial power with the gloves off, the mask of soft power removed.

US President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

US President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

US President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly signaled little fundamental change in the US’s imperial stance towards the world, despite the ‘America First’ rhetoric derided by establishment critics as ‘isolationist’ during and after the 2016 election campaign, including Trump’s inaugural address in January 2017. The American commander-in-chief used the speech to a global audience to address his increasingly frustrated voter base at home – many of whom are critical of Trump’s deal with the Democratic party leadership over the ‘Dreamers’, illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children by their parents. As his support erodes in practically all parts of the electorate, and as the legitimacy of American political and financial elite declines, Trump is talking tough and beating the war drums, closing down diplomatic pathways in dealing with major global crises. The threat of war, the downgrading of diplomacy and extolling the virtues of a global ‘national awakening’, augurs ill for the future of world politics, undertones of fascistic worship of ‘strength’, ‘nation’ and ‘God’.

Trump’s equivocation over who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville – when he openly attacked anti-fascists and defended white supremacists and neo-Nazis brandishing machine guns and assault rifles at a ‘peaceful’ protest – acquires greater significance in light of his UN speech.

It is ironic that Trump should use such language and brandish reckless threats of violence at the UN, the charter of which has built-in the principles of Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials – crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.

Trumpism is a kind of social Darwinism at home and abroad: unregulated corporate power at home with heavily armed militarised policing; armed and dangerous states abroad eschewing diplomacy, loosening the bonds of international norms; underpinned by a survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

Trump appeared more clearly to define the meaning of a heightened skepticism over the operations of international institutions, urging greater levels of nationalism and national sovereignty. In a speech packed with bombastic rhetoric and threats of military annihilation against the 25 million people of North Korea, sharp criticism of ‘murderous’ Iran, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba, Trump represented the US as a lethal mix of ‘shining example’ to the world and a global leader enforcer, dragooning other states to carry their share of the burden of fighting “evil”, terrorism and “rogue” regimes.

The US remains exceptional, therefore – both as exemplar and crusader – a far cry from the rhetoric deployed in the 2016 elections.

Climate change, ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people in Myanmar, Russia, China and the Israel-Palestine question were missing from the speech.

Contradictions also abounded in a wide-ranging ramble dubbed by White House spin doctors before-hand as ‘philosophical’ – authoritarian regimes threaten international order, Trump claimed, while calling for more strong states pursuing self-interest in world politics; sovereignty was lauded amid military threats against states who fail to yield to US diktat; promoting Saudi Arabia in Middle east politics while attacking unnamed states represented on the UN Human Rights Council (which includes Saudi Arabia); attacking supporters of terrorism while continuing to back numerous Gulf states widely known to be the largest funders of political Islamists.

US President Donald Trump participates in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, US, September 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

US President Donald Trump participates in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, US, September 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Although there was little that was new – especially in style – there appeared to be an emerging clarity of vision about Trump-America’s role in the international system. There seemed to be a desire to extol national strength – the US Senate just backed a massive $700 billion Pentagon budget – but within a system of international institutions that the US will cajole, threaten and coerce into more closely aligning with its own ‘vital interests’. The UN was founded precisely to align with (Anglo) American power – and largely did in its early years, until the newly-independent colonies joined the international body in the 1960s and began to exercise their sovereignty. The American imperial establishment was not then and is not now interested in anyone else’s sovereignty. This is what Trump means by America First – not too dissimilar from most GOP presidents and, for that matter, Democratic ones.

But it’s a far cry from election promises and claims – about the obsolescence of NATO, of the South Korea and Japan security agreements, and no further ‘meddling in the middle east’. The Trump administration has rowed back on all those fronts – Saudi Arabia has been sold billions of dollars of arms, backed in its illegal war on Yemen, and allowed to continue backing terror groups in Syria and Iraq. NATO troops are amassed in greater numbers in the Baltic states and on the Russian border, conducting massive military exercises; oil and gas agreements in east and central Europe reduce reliance on Russian supplies, increasing pressure on the Putin regime. THAAD missile systems have been deployed in South Korea amid aggressive rhetoric promising ‘fire and fury’ and virtual genocide against the people and regime of North Korea.

Trump has been variously seen by some on the Right as a ‘blunt instrument’ (Steven Bannon, until recently chief strategist in the White House) or an ‘empty vessel’ (American Greatness, including Michael Anton, currently serving on the National Security Council), as one who would potentially shake up domestic and world politics by redefining the US’s role and self-concepts. This would be a US redefined by white identity plutocratic-populism and the return of people of colour and women to their ‘proper’ role – with white heterosexual males apparently returned to a mythical golden age. Economic nationalism would be pursued to wage greater economic and military competition against ‘threats’ like China, and to release US corporations from environmental, labour, health and safety and other federal regulation.

All this underwritten by police forces at home urged to use military weapons and greater force, and boosted by even greater American military power abroad.

Trump would be, to those right-wing intellectuals, a vehicle to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’, place Wall Street in charge at home, and rebuild the coercive state, placing the Generals in charge overseas.

Trump-America is American imperial power with the gloves off, the mask of soft power removed. Trump renders more clearly visible American elite power’s true self, engaged in a Darwinian struggle for mastery.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London and columnist for The Wire. His Twitter handle is @USEmpire.

  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    Really? Is this guy serious? Inderjeet Parmar is a pedagogue at a third rate place here in London. His students aren’t being snapped up by McKinsley or anyone else. One actually cleans toilets in my area.
    Trump was never, even to Bannon type nutjobs, the guy to deconstruct anything at all. Why? Deconstruction is just a silly made up word associated with the idiocy of Heidegger and that soi disant Left which actually was nothing of the sort.
    A dismantling of the ‘Therapeutic State’ might make sense. But that isn’t what Trump is doing. He is talking to deeply stupid people in Alabama- not as deeply stupid as Inderjeet Pamar obviously- because most Alabamans wouldn’t wipe their arse with a PhD from the Uni where he professes rubbish.

  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    Really? Is this guy serious? Inderjeet Parmar is a pedagogue at a third rate place here in London. His students aren’t being snapped up by McKinsley or anyone else. One actually cleans toilets in my area.
    Trump was never, even to Bannon type nutjobs, the guy to deconstruct anything at all. Why? Deconstruction is just a silly made up word associated with the idiocy of Heidegger and that soi disant Left which actually was nothing of the sort.
    A dismantling of the ‘Therapeutic State’ might make sense. But that isn’t what Trump is doing. He is talking to deeply stupid people in Alabama- not as deeply stupid as Inderjeet Pamar obviously- because most Alabamans wouldn’t wipe their arse with a PhD from the Uni where he professes rubbish.