Trump has challenged the Europeans on the issue of contributions to NATO, provoking speculation that NATO’s future might be at stake. From NATO’s Secretariat the reaction was strong. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Trump that the West is facing its “greatest challenge to security in a generation”, and America’s “going alone is not an option”. [i]
NATO’s former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Sir Richard Shirreff’s recent book, War with Russia, was described by the Sunday Times as a “Top Ten Bestseller”.[ii] It gives a chilling account of how Russia has become increasingly militaristic, embroiling itself in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Sir Richard (born in Kenya) criticised British Government’s paltry spending on defence.
Here is the power of the military. But the military is only part of a bigger complex.
The Military-Industrial-Financial Complex
The American President and a military man, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961, alerted the Americans to guard against the influence of the military-industrial complex. He knew how the MIC marshalled political support for increased military spending in the interest of their profits.
In his U.S. Imperialism And America’s War Machine: A Destructive Apparatus, (2013) William C. Lewis argued that Corporate Imperial Militarism controls U.S. society and wages destructive occupations abroad to serve the capitalist interest in wars – making and selling arms to kill people for profit.[iii]
To the Military Industrial Complex must be added the Banking-Financial dimension.
At the beginning of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had initially adopted a policy of neutrality. But Morgan Bank, which funded over 75 percent of the financing for the allied forces during the War, pushed Wilson out of neutrality sooner than he might have done. [iv]
In her All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power, Nomi Prins, drawing on original presidential archival documents, shows the intimate link between the White House (the State) and Wall Street (Finance Capital). Prins should know. She has worked as managing director at Goldman Sachs, as a Lehman Brothers strategist, and as a Chase Manhattan Bank analyst. Then she left the world of finance. “I was probably soul-searching a while before I left … when I got to Goldman Sachs I realized that the nature of how business was done was not something I wanted to be involved with”. [v]
The triumvirate – Industry, the military, and finance capital – are behind wars and the pervasive culture of militarism in the build-up of the Anglo-Saxon and European Empire. To take one recent example, Britain sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first year of Saudi bombardment of Yemen. In a recent (November, 2016) debate in the British Parliament, the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, called on the Prime Minister to halt those sales because of the “humanitarian devastation” caused by a Saudi-led coalition waging war against rebels in Yemen. In her defence, Theresa May said Britain must go on selling these arms to “keep people on the streets of Britain safe”.[vi]
The state in Britain and the arms industry go hand in hand. Theresa May should know that as more people flow out of the Middle East because of the wars the military-industrial-financial complex promotes, the less safety there is for the “streets of Britain”.
Europe, Vassal of USA
Paul Craig Roberts is an American economist, journalist, and now a well-known blogger. He was the US Assistant Secretary of State under President Reagan in 1981. He is critical of mainstream politicians, including Bush and Obama, especially in their handling of the “War on Terror”, which he views as threatening constitutional civil liberties and right to privacy of ordinary Americans.
In his “America’s Conquest of Western Europe: Is Europe Doomed By Vassalage To Washington?” he shows how the Second World War ended in Europe being conquered not by Germany but by the USA. The US used not the military but the financial muscle, the mighty US Dollar. The US Establishment encouraged the integration of Europe into the EU. The EU created its own currency. Smaller countries such as Greece, Portugal, Latvia, and Ireland who can no longer create their own money have been looted by the private banks from whom they borrow to finance their debts.
Why, Craig asks, do these governments, despite expressed wishes of the people (like in Greece) continue to remain in the European Union? His answer is: “… that Washington would have it no other way. The European founders of the EU are mythical creatures. Washington used politicians that Washington controlled to create the EU”. These “pseudo-governments” are obliged to privatise public assets, run down social welfare, and cut retirement pensions in order to pay their debts to German banks. It is no wonder that during Obama’s last farewell tour of Europe, he described Chancellor Merkel as “my closest international partner these past eight years.” [vii] He ended his tour by offering advice to Trump: “Stand up to Russia”.[viii]
Trump’s Imperial Legacy From Monroe Doctrine To Today
Before we come to assess Trump’s foreign policy, it is important to provide a brief historical context of where the US comes from and where it is going.
In 1783 the 13 American colonies declared independence from England after a bitter war that lasted eight years. Alexander Hamilton writing in the “Federalist Papers” was already talking about the emergent America as a world power – particularly in relation to the western hemisphere, principally in North America. This was later extended to Latin America in 1823 under the Monroe Doctrine, which declared that any effort by Europe to take control of North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the time the Spanish and Portuguese Empires were collapsing, and their colonies were vying for independence.
In his “The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in 19th-Century America” (2011) Jay Sexton shows how the doctrine evolved over time. At the time of its formulation, there was fear not only of European threat to the US but also of the USA breaking apart.
What followed then was the expansion of US Empire in Latin America and the Pacific. It is a chequered history where the Europe retained hold over some countries in the region… to this day. Here are some highlights of Euro-American imperial conquests before the First World War.
In 1842, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Hawaii, Britain was warned to keep out, and the US annexed Hawaii.
In early 1843, England reasserted its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. No action was taken by the US.
In 1862, taking advantage of the American Civil War (1862-1867), the French invaded and conquered Mexico. The US denounced it as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and in 1865, it stationed a large army on the Mexican border, and encouraged a revolution against France’s stooge, Maximilian, who was executed by the Mexican nationalists. France pulled out, and Mexico became a virtual colony of the US – to this day.
In 1898, the US intervened in support of Cuba during its war for independence from Spain. Under the terms of the peace treaty from which Cuba was excluded, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines, andGuam to the US in exchange for $20 million. Cuba came under US control and remained so until it was granted formal independence in 1902.
In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt became US’s 26th President. By this time the US was well past the civil war and imperialism was in full force. The Americans believed that they have a “manifest destiny” to redeem the world from the evils of European imperialism and spread “the special virtues of the American people and their institutions”.[ix] In 1904 Roosevelt extended the Monroe Doctrine (called the “Roosevelt Corollary”), asserting the right of the U.S. to intervene in Latin America in cases of “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing” by a Latin American Nation. Under his “speak low and carry a big stick” foreign policy, Roosevelt proceeded to virtually colonise any Latin American nation that failed to pay their debts to European and US banks and business interests.
Let us fast track to more recent times. There have been a series of US interventions in Latin America during the cold war period and in recent times to fight revolutionary movements and/or to carry out “regime changes” in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Dominical Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Grenada, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.[x]
Here are a few instances of these:
After theCuban Revolution (1953–1959) when Fidel Castro established ties with the Soviet Union, the US invoked the Monroe Doctrine to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America.
The above account can be multiplied several times over if we were to include the other regions of the Global South – the Middle East (including Iran), Asia, and Africa. It is this imperial legacy – the “Imperial Burden” – that Trump is expected to carry.
Trump’s Foreign Policy Challenges
Would Trump succeed in carrying the imperial burden? It is too early to say, but it will, undoubtedly, be a compromise between what he and his inner circle of policy advisers intend to do, and what the military-industrial-financial Establishment complex wants him to do.
We do not yet know exactly who will be in Trump’s inner circle. As usual with anything connected with Trump, there is a huge hype in the media for and against his tentative appointments. Of course, I too would be concerned if he appoints John Bolton for Secretary of State. Bolton is a hard-core militarist and a confirmed neo-Con.[xii]
Let us look at some specific issues.
His first hurdle would be the massive anti-Russian hoopla mounted by the US, the UK and the European Union.[xiii]
Overall, Trump is for peace and diplomatic resolution of international conflicts. This has unleashed reactions bordering on hysteria. Jonathan Powell, writing for the British paper, the Guardian, said, “The US is dangerously exposed by an isolationist Trump”.[xiv] Owen Jones, also writing for the Guardian, said, “Our crisis is existential … Trump’s victory is one of the biggest calamities to befall the west”. [xv]
Trump had said during the election campaign that he would try to renegotiate the nuclear deal agreement with Iran, and increase US sanctionsagainst Iran. He has since then retracted a bit, but the pressure from some of his inner circles and from Israel may cause some hurdles for him.
On the Israel – Palestine conflict, Trump has given assurances to Benjamin Netanyahu. At the same time, however, he has said that he would “love to be the one” to make peace between the two.
Trump is likely to take a tougher stand on Cuba than Obama, and possibly take a more interventionist position in relation to the rest of Latin America.
On mega-trade agreements – such as the TPP and the TIPP – Trump has said that he would get rid of them. He well might. But TPP and TIPP are only partly trade deals. Essentially, they are part of the US strategy to isolate Russia (in the case of TTIP) and China (under TPP). China and Russia are seen as military threats. Trump is a “nationalist” (as defined in an earlier blog in this series), and has taken the anti-TPP-TTIP position, as he has in relation to the NATO. But this is not the last he has said on these mega-regional trade deals.
Some Concluding Remarks
The years 2017 to 2020 are likely to shatter many shibboleths of the past years. The stage has already been set by events like the Brexit, Trump’s incoming presidency, the anti-Russian hysteria among the Euro-American Establishment, the rise of populist right in much of Europe, and above all, the deepening financial and global systemic crisis.
We still have to see the end of the gruesome wars in the Middle East, and their military-security consequences. The geopolitics of the East Asia region are shifting the balance of forces in favour of China. We need to watch how the US will react to this unfolding scenario.
There will be continuing struggles in keep Europe intact and to hold on to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Already NATO is under severe strain; Europe led by Germany and France might try to create a European Security organisation, but I think it will fail; and in time to come the European Union will fragment.
An accidental nuclear exchange in some of the hotspots of the globe cannot be ruled out.
[viii] https://www.thestar.com › News › World
[ix] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny
[x] See: Timeline of United States government military operations. The list through 1775 is based on Committee on International Relations (now known as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_military_operations
[xii] The Neocon (shortened form of Neoconservatism) is a political movement born in the US in the 1960s that advocates vigorous promotion of American national interest in international affairs, including use of military force. The movement had its intellectual roots in the monthly magazine Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism
[xiii] On 18 November, British Prime Minister, Theresa May, vowed to keep pressure on Russia amid fears over Donald Trump’s “alliance” with Vladimir Putin. On 23 November, EU Parliament approves resolution – “At war with Russia” – to counter alleged Russian propaganda against Europe. Of course, Obama, and with him, the entire US Establishment, have had ceaseless violent verbal attacks on Trump since Day One of the US elections, and still continuing.