Historian Howard Zinn once said that, “The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project.” He delivered this line in a speech back in 2008, discussing when he first learned the notion of American foreign policy as a bombardier in World War II. While Zinn is no longer with us today, his statement is sadly correct. American interventionism has always been a bipartisan effort. In the era of Donald Trump, this is dangerously true.
While past US administrations have differed on certain practical policies, the framework of America’s role in the world is largely shared by Democrats and Republicans. This framework goes beyond American Exceptionalism. In the era of Trump, the continuity of bipartisanship in foreign policy holds strong.
Trump’s recent strike in Syria, and escalating tension with North Korea, are causes for concern among many liberals and progressives. Trump is certainly behaving in a belligerent way. The cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase was a direct provocation, in violation of international law. An aircraft carrier group has been deployed to Asia to potentially threaten North Korea if they continue nuclear tests.
We have never been closer to a major world conflict as we are right now. While Trump has drastically escalated America’s hegemonic belligerence, we must be candid. Trump is not the progenitor of these actions. America has a long history of interventionist frenzy leading up to 2017. Much of America’s belligerence now is blamed squarely on Trump and Trump alone. Past administrations however, set the groundwork for Trump’s actions. This was a bipartisan effort as well.
Barack Obama set the stage, unfortunately, for Trump on foreign policy. While Obama seems more reasonable compared to Trump, we can’t deny the fact that Obama did nothing to ramp down America’s interventionism in the world. Obama launched several interventions across the Middle East. People from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia felt the sting of American bombs.
Looking at Obama’s record, we see that his policies were merely a continuation (at best) of George W. Bush. While Obama took credit for “removing” troops from Iraq, we must remember that he never wanted to remove those troops. Obama tried to convince the Iraqi government to allow US troops to stay longer, and the Iraqis refused. Obama credited himself for this “achievement” anyway, even though he never intended to ramp down America’s illegal occupation.
The Obama Administration ramped up drone strikes across the world. These strikes occurred in seven countries, often defying the sovereignty of these nations in doing so. The Obama Administration never really asked for permission to conduct these strikes. The drone strikes were also highly ineffective. Over 90% of the strikes killed civilians.
Obama set the stage for Trump’s action in Syria, and possible further actions in the Middle East. The Obama Administration had set out a policy of regime change in Syria since the Arab Spring broke out. Even after the Assad government supposedly gave up its chemical weapons in 2013, the official policy line of was that Assad “must go.” This policy line, set by Obama, disregards the notion that America has no say in Syria’s political future. While Syria’s fate should be decided by Syrians, Obama pushed for regime change.
The Obama Administration, like many so-called liberals in the DC establishment, always embraced the interventionist role of America in the world. While Obama and his neo-liberal allies espoused more flowery rhetoric, there was no significant policy change regarding the Bush Administration. From the so-called War on Terror to Gitmo, Obama maintained (and expanded) Bush’s policies. The same can now be said of Trump, visa-vi Obama. Trump isn’t breaking from Obama’s foreign policy, if anything he’s escalating it.
It was Obama that sank America’s fangs into the wounded Syria. Tensions with Russia are also a continuation from Obama. While many liberal and progressive voters may not have supported Obama’s continuation of Bush policies, the neo-liberal elite in Washington supported him all the way. The reason foreign policy is the main source of continuity between both Democratic and Republican presidencies is the enduring hold of the Washington Consensus.
While neo-liberals and neo-cons have often shared minor operational tactics in American foreign policy, the place of American hegemony has never been questioned. Neo-cons often frame this as preserving American power and dominance in the world. Neo-liberals frame it as a need to enforce “justice” and civilized norms. Either way it is framed, the central proposition of hegemony exists. Both neo-liberals and neo-cons agree that America is the world’s only indispensable nation, and military force is how this is maintained.
While many liberal and progressive voters are shocked by Trump’s militaristic bluster, Democrats and so-called liberals in DC have largely supported Trumps actions. While some have raised minor questions, the central framework is not in dispute. Trump did a good thing to strike Syria, showing American strength to send a “signal” to other nations.
The so-called liberal media nearly ejaculated at the sight of the cruise missiles being launched from warships. From Brian Williams to Fareed Zakaria, the establishment media praised Trump’s militarism. The same war fervor espoused by the mainstream media in 2003 before the US illegally invaded Iraq were evident after the Syrian strikes. It’s unnerving how little our political establishment has learned since setting the Middle East ablaze.
Anyone who questions America’s righteous intention in the world is branded extreme. Neo-liberal Democrats are mercilessly attacking fellow Democrat, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard for daring to question the American narrative on Syria. The fundamental premise of American foreign policy action is flawed.
Godlike attributes are placed upon the United States, as a holy crusader seeking only justice through strength. No attention is paid to the millions of causalities inflicted upon other nations by American policy. These casualties are either ignored or given erroneous justification. America is not exceptionally good, nor is it exceptionally evil. America is not exceptional at all. America is a nation of humans with great power, and they wield that power the way any nation past or future would.
Donald Trump is undoubtedly a disaster for both America and the world. He has pushed us toward the brink of a major conflict in the world, be it with Iran, Russia, Syria, or North Korea, perhaps all the above! Yet, he is merely continuing a policy framework set before him. The true bipartisanship in Washington has always been foreign policy. Donald Trump is now at the helm of this bipartisan tradition.