Letter from the US: Trump’s foreign policy tactical shifts bring prospect for more war

The disarray among politicians of both major parties on display in last year’s election campaign has intensified in the first two months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Charges and counter-charges are hurled between the Democrats and the Trump administration, prompting Congressional investigations that may bring in the FBI, CIA and other spy agencies.

One charge raised by the Democrats is that Trump is colluding with Russia against US interests. Some even say he is a puppet of Vladimir Putin. This serves the Democrats in two ways, domestically and in a dispute over US foreign policy.

Domestically, the Democrats are raising the alarm — “The Russians are coming!” — in an attempt to divert and co-opt the deep opposition to Trump’s ultra-reactionary racist, misogynistic, climate change denying and anti-poor policies. The Democrats hope to become the vehicle for anti-Trump sentiment, ensuring it runs along safe channels that don’t threaten the status quo.

Deepening racism

They also want to deflect attention from the reality that the Democrats have been part of the bipartisan policies that have set the stage for Trump. One example is the Obama administration’s vast increase in the deportation of undocumented immigrants — earning him the moniker of “Deporter in Chief” from his victims.

Deportations (with Republican support) reached about two million people during his reign, more than the total of all previous administrations combined.

As Obama did this without fanfare, most non-Latinos were not even aware of it. Trump has taken over the deportation machinery Obama set up and is openly unleashing a greater assault on the undocumented, fanning the flames of intolerance and racism.

Another example is the Islamophobia that the Bush and Obama administrations pushed after the September 11, 2001 attacks to justify the “War on Terror”. Largely Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa were targeted, starting with the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and widening to Libya, Yemen and Syria. Trump, however, has raised hatred of Muslims to a new level.

Before Trump’s inauguration, Obama, Hillary Clinton and even Bernie Sanders raised the idea of “working with” the new administration. Democratic Senate leader Charles Schumer went so far as to defend Trump’s nomination of notorious racist Jeff Sessions for attorney-general. Schumer said Sessions was a good Senator to work with, had changed and was no longer racist.

Mass protests

The day after Trump’s January 20 inauguration featured the huge Women’s March against Trump in nearly 700 cities — the largest demonstration in US history. Marches in Washington, DC and New York alone drew more than 1 million participants. Many more protests of Trump on various issues have continued.

There were two recent ones. Tens of thousands turned out for International Women’s Day on March 8, part of the International Women’s Strike that took place in more than 30 countries.

In recent years, there have been only modest March 8 actions in the US. The difference this year was the election of Trump and his reactionary agenda.

On March 10, Native Americans marched for their rights in the capital. They demonstrated that the months-long struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota has awakened a new fighting spirit among Native Americans.

With an upsurge on the streets, the Democrats fear they will be left behind. They switched gears from “working with” Trump to an oppositional stance. Their hope is to corral this new movement into the “safe” channels of trusting the Democrats to stop Trump.

This is the context for the Democrats’ charge that Trump colluded with Russia to influence the US elections and foreign policy. The charge reeks of hypocrisy.

Of course Russia wants to influence US policy toward it, and no doubt “meddles” and hacks just as every other country with the power to spy and exercise influence does.

US power

But the US, as the world’s most powerful country, has far outstrips Russia in this respect. Historian John Coatsworth wrote in a 2005 edition of ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America: “In slightly less than a hundred years from 1898 to 1994, the US government has intervened successfully to change governments in Latin America a total of at least 41 times.”

A political scientist at Carnegie Mellon University has also calculated that Washington intervened in presidential elections in other countries 81 times between 1946 and 2000.

What the Democrats’ offensive represents is one side of a tactical debate in the ruling class. Since the overthrow of the Soviet Union by its ruling bureaucracy and the re-establishment of market capitalism, US policy has been to challenge, step bystep, Russia militarily. To achieve this, former countries of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and some former republics of the USSR have been brought into NATO.

Washington is also pressing to incorporate Ukraine into NATO, completing the military buildup on Russia’s western border. This has met with stiff resistance from Russia.

Hillary Clinton ran as the proponent of this aggressive military stance against Russia. Before the election campaign, she proposed establishing a “no fly” zone in Syria, which would be enforced by the US Air Force. This would mean a direct military challenge to Russia, which was backing the Assad regime with its planes.

Either Russia would back down, or there would have been a clash. Obama rejected her advice as too dangerous.

In his campaign, Trump proposed a shift, from mainly targeting Russia to targeting China. This shift in tactics reflects the view of a growing section of the ruling class.

The Democrats drive to increase the military pressure on Russia may be designed to try to hold together the European Union, which is in danger of disintegrating, by strengthening the NATO military alliance.

At bottom, this is a desperate attempt to maintain the old “world order” in Europe that emerged after World War II. In this order, the US dominated the European imperialist nations, which enjoyed some of the fruits of this alliance but became vassal states to the US.

Trump and his advisors downgraded the importance of NATO, and have called into question the old “world order” in Europe. This view supports a more aggressive stance towards Europe, and especially Germany, as part of a new economic nationalism counter-posed to “globalism.”

In this view, Russia, which does not compete much with US capitalism economically, is not the main enemy. A deal with Russia could also open up Russia to US penetration of its vast oil and gas reserves. Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon chief, had already begun to set this in motion before coming Trump’s Secretary of State.

Tactical shift

An editorial in the March edition of Marxist journal Monthly Review summed it p: “[V]arious sections of the U.S. ruling class are increasingly panicked by the decline in U.S. power in the world …

“Losing confidence, they have demonstrated a growing support for the use of heavy-handed military means to maintain the U.S.-dominated global order, enlisting the population as a whole in a patriotic quest for increased geopolitical dominance.

“Whichever party was to occupy the White House after the elections, all the indications were that a more aggressive military posture abroad was in the cards. The main dispute … was whether primarily to target Russia or China.

“In this respect, the Trump administration’s grand imperial strategy of directly confronting China, the world’s fastest growing economic powerhouse, before it is too late from the standpoint of U.S. world hegemony, is a change in emphasis rather than broad aims.

“It promises an even more aggressive, nationalist-imperialist posture, one in line with the Trump administration’s overall ‘America First’ stance…”

In other words, Trump’s posture and tactics means more war.