In a 1967 speech, Martin Luther King Jr. called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He identified economic profit as the motivator of this violence. The record of Washington’s international aggression since then has been horrendous, as tacitly recognized even by Donald Trump in his promises, before and after the 2016 election, to end the United States’ “endless wars.” Trump nonetheless takes his place in the pantheon of violent U.S. presidents who have, since King’s judgment, left millions of people dead in the Global South in the wake of incompetent military escapades and cruel economic warfare.
What distinguishes Trump’s foreign policy is a pronounced nihilism borne of the decline of U.S. empire, which appears clearer under his administration than any other. Alfred McCoy, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin and the author of In the Shadows of the American Century (Haymarket Books), told The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill in July 2017 that Trump is “accelerating perhaps markedly, even precipitously, the U.S. decline.” McCoy predicts that China will overtake the U.S. both militarily and economically by the year 2030, but he claims Trump is a byproduct, and not the root cause, of this erosion of dominance.
In foreign and trade policy, the Trump administration has lashed out not just at rival states but also Washington’s allies, which only reinforces the appearance of waning imperial influence. U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change, the U.S.-Russian intermediate missile treaty, and Trump’s threats to not renew the START agreement limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads offer prime examples, according to Conn Hallinan, a columnist with Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. To this list we can add Trump’s pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Iran nuclear agreement and the Palestinian peace process.
Image on the right: This file photo shows US guided missile destroyer USS Mustin, which intruded into Chinese territorial waters in South China Sea.
At the same time, the administration has demonized China—for all its domestic economic woes and the high U.S. death toll from COVID-19—while increasing U.S. military operations and surveillance in the South China Sea,