The War President

As American bombs fell on Syria and Afghanistan, one could feel a page turn in the history of the Trump administration.

Nearly one hundred days in and Donald Trump was finally getting some love. His legislative agenda in shreds, a failure to fill important lower-level posts, a high-profile resignation — none of this mattered anymore. The domestic incompetence was still on full display — a botched Easter Egg hunt? — but it wasn’t important. Trump had dropped literal bombs and Washington’s permanent war party was happy.

The pundits were ecstatic, almost gleeful. Brian Williams embarrassed himself and journalists everywhere when he waxed orgasmic about the Tomahawk missile strike. Fareed Zakaria blushed with excitement, proclaiming that Trump had become president the moment those missiles landed.

Just days later, the press corps continued its saber-rattling homage, cooing that the “mother of all mobs” had been dropped on Afghanistan. The MOAB — officially, massive ordinance air burst, but the military apparently gave it its nickname — was the largest conventional weapon in the American arsenal, an 11-ton weapon designed for large-scale surface clearance and anti-personal and anti-weapons use.

Trump and his emboldened military leaders used it against a relatively small insurgency and a system of underground tunnels, which should have raised questions. What was the justification, the goal? Doesn’t the use of this kind of weapon seem a bit disproportionate to the task?

Answering those questions, however, was not a priority. The New York Times has been attempting to find out more about the bomb’s use, but TV has only been too happy to offer the video on tape loop, and replaying Trump explaining how he told Chinese President Xi Jinping — complete with Trump’s almost pornographic description of the dessert at Mar-A- Lago. It would have been funny were it not so unseemly.

On the other side of the ledger, we got repeated — and false — reminders that Trump ran as an isolationist, a non-interventionist. His week of war, therefore, was a flip-flop. That may be true in a narrow sense, say on a specific response in Syria. But like Barack Obama before him, Trump was never opposed to intervention. One just needs to look at his cabinet and budget priorities. Generals run Defense and Homeland Security and head the National Security Council. And while Secretary of State Russ Tillerson is suddenly being described as a sober, experienced player, he has no government experience, only nominal international experience (in business, which has different goals), and no money or staff. Trump is pushing a massive increase in military spending — which was a campaign promise — while proposing to cut the State Department by about a third and failing to fill much of its infrastructure.

The press seems intent on separating the budget and his war-mongering remarks on the campaign trail from these latest military incursions. That is a mistake. This is all of a piece — and consistent with the Trump campaign, which called for a massive military expansion and all-out assault on the Islamic State. And it’s exactly what the permanent war party in Washington is jonesing for.

Trump may not be a neocon, but he is every bit as addicted to the accoutrements of war as the last Republican president. And now that he has the confidence — at least for now — of the permanent war party, we should expect more and more military incursions. Trump has said he’s handed much of his decision-making to his generals, a group trained to wage war and lacking the accountability to the American public that the Constitution was structured to protect.

Congress should reassert its authority over war-making matters, but it’s unlikely to happen — whether the Democrats retake the House of Representatives. The Democrats, after all, are as beholden to and enamored of the war party as the GOP.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. His latest book is As an Alien in a Land of Promise. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism; Facebook,; Instagram, @kaletwrites.

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017

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