Many anti-war pundits have been worried at some of the more bellicose rhetoric that Donald Trump and some of his new cabinet picks have been uttering against Iran and China. Whilst this rhetoric certainly bears scrutiny, like much of Trump’s language, there is far more than meets the eye.
Trump strikes me as something of a pre-ideological politician in an age where rabid ideologies, especially neo-liberalism are ravaging much of the earth. Neo-liberalism’s greatest foreign policy flaw is addressing non-existent threats by weakening other nations, rather than focusing on strengthening the home-front.
To understand this, one ought to look at the comparative state of the military strength and sophistication of France vis-à-vis Prussia at the beginning and end of the 18th century. In 1700 France was not only the largest, but also the most sophisticated army in Europe. Prussian leaders noticed this and began a military build-up that resulted in one of the most sophisticated armies in Europe, whose method of operations was developed in a rapid period of time during the 18th century.
The rivalry in Europe between France and Prussia continued after the Napoleonic wars. Prior to the 20th century, the zenith of this rivalry resulted in the Franco-Prussian war, the Prussian victory leading directly to the formation of the German Reich in 1871.
Had neo-liberalism existed in the 18th century, one could imagine Friedrich The Great of Prussia claiming that Paris needed regime change because of corrupt Bourbon leaders that were reigning suffering upon the French people. This of course didn’t happen (the French took care of that themselves). In order to weaken France, Friedrich simply strengthened Prussia.
Ironically, it was the liberal French First Republic which in the 1790s began exporting revolution throughout Europe and as she did on May the 9th 1945, it was Russia who ended the madness of ideological warfare and helped Europe return to a state of normalcy after 1815.
Trump is far more like Friedrich the great than like Robespierre. When Ronald Reagan mercilessly lambasted the Soviet Union he talked of the country being ‘evil’. When Bush spoke of Saddam, he called him a supporter of terrorism. When Obama speaks of Assad he’s ‘massacring his own people’. Of course these were all lies, but it demonstrates the negative rhetoric with which American leaders generally refer to countries they see as challengers to western hegemony.
By contrast, when Trump talks about China and Iran, he’s doing the opposite; he’s complimenting them! When speaking of China Trump said ‘they’re beating the hell out of us’. He went on to call America trade negotiators stupid whilst praising the Chinese for essentially taking the Mickey out of the Washington establishment.
When speaking about Iran, Trump has stated his admiration for the strength of ‘Persian negotiators’ and criticised Obama for cutting ‘the worst deal in history’.
Whilst actions speak louder than words, the unique tone of Trump’s rhetoric compared with his predecessors, cannot be ignored. If translated to policy making, it would suggest that Trump is saying he wants to build America up rather than bring China and Iran down. With Russia he is stating this quite clearly when saying that America ought to join Russia in modernising her nuclear arsenal, though also making it clear that he sees Russia as a partner rather than an opponent.
With China and Iran, the concept of partnership is largely absent, but the tone of America needing to wise up rather than China and Iran needed to be brought done, is quite remarkable. Patriotism after all isn’t a blind dogma which means one has to whitewash or ignore one’s country’s shortcomings. One can be patriotic and deeply critical of the status quo. Trump fits this definition almost entirely.
Whilst Bush, Hillary and Obama made Iraq, Libya and Syria weaker than ever before, I do not think Trump intends to weaken China or Iran. This would be an almost impossible task anyway. He wants to make America great again and if his rhetoric is any indication, it will not come at the military expense of any other country.