‘To carry through on Trump’s promise of realignment in American grand strategy will require a class, or counter-elite, to help him or future presidents like him’
“Merchants of death” was a sobriquet once applied to the arms industry, notably by the journalists F.C. Hanighen and H.C. Engelbrecht in the title of a book they published in 1934. Today the real merchants of death are not the arms dealers but those who sell the idea of war within America’s policy elite, both inside and outside of government. They possess a monopoly on respectability, and politicians who thirst for respect from the real governing class need little incentive to adopt the ideas of the smart set. Those who don’t play along get the treatment meted out to Ron Paul or Tulsi Gabbard—or Donald Trump.
Trump does not crave respectability. He supplies whatever desire for approval he feels from his own reservoir of self-esteem. This makes him seem arrogant and perversely proud of his ignorance, so far as his enemies see it, but in fact it means he is largely immune to the ideological virus to which virtually all other politicians are susceptible. Trump knows that the foreign policy establishment is bankrupt. And that’s what makes him a president who can actually give peace a chance.
Expert opinion holds that the U.S. should be deeply involved in Syria, even to the point of fighting a two-front war with Bashar al-Assad and groups like the Islamic State. The same experts believe that the U.S. should not plan to leave Afghanistan any time soon. On the contrary, in moments of candor, many a general and think-tank apparatchik will remind you that the U.S. has happily had forces in Germany and Japan for about 70 years, so why not Afghanistan, too? Toward Russia, our policy must be one of renewed Cold War. NATO should expand indefinitely. War with Iran is inevitable, at least as far as the Republican part of the foreign policy establishment is concerned. Saudi Arabia’s wars are our wars, too. And North Korea should cause us all to lose sleep at night.
Trump dissents from almost all of this, with the regrettable exception of his support for Mohammed bin Salman’s war in Yemen. He would like to get out of Syria and Afghanistan.