“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
The election season underway in the United States is already one of the strangest in living memory and the two parties haven’t even picked their candidates yet. In only a few short months what was billed as the clash of two dynasties, the Bushes and the Clintons, went from inevitable to impossible. Hillary Clinton, who still seems likely to be the Democratic nominee, has faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from a relatively unknown Independent Senator from Vermont that’s pushed her to the left on almost everything except foreign policy.
On the other side, Donald Trump used the voting power of often ignored groups on the fringes of the GOP to power an insurgency that the establishment was wholly unprepared for. The Tea Party and disgruntled working class white males who listen to Alex Jones, often pandered to by party honchos while their needs and desires are ignored, showed their disdain for the establishment and formed a big part of the reality television star’s early support.
Most commentators treated Trump’s appearance on Infowars late last year as a joke, but this misses the influence Alex Jones has on the far right (from militia groups like the Oath Keepers to doomsday preppers) and his growing audience. Many regular Infowars listeners probably identify as Republicans (although a greater percentage would probably call themselves Independents or “libertarians”) and can play a role in the Republican primaries. It can be argued that they have already shown this through the support many gave to Ron Paul in previous campaigns.
Now, with an eye to the coming convention in Cleveland,Ohio, Trump seems to be softening some of his positions (or at least his tone) to win over the party bosses. One of the realms he is doing this in is foreign policy, an area where there is some overlap in terms of Trump’s base and the neoconservatives who dominate the Republican Party’s foreign policy establishment. In truth, joining the mainstream on these issues isn’t very difficult when facing one opponent who calls for carpet bombing Syria and another, the so called “moderate” who has said if elected, he wants to “punch the Russians in the nose”.
Soon after claiming in an interview that he was his own best advisor on the US’s role in the world, Trump announced that he had put Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama in charge of his foreign policy team. The notoriously anti-immigration Senator is not known for his foreign policy views but he is on the record supporting torture and he did vote for the 2003 Iraq war, saying at the time that, “The goal of this Nation, I so strongly believe, is to be a preeminant world power, We have to understand what comes with that: The responsibility to be strong.”.
On Monday, March 21st, a further list of advisors was released by the Trump campaign, giving us an even better idea of what his foreign policy might look like. Besides a former Blackwater employee and a representative of Global Energy Capital, “a private equity firm that invests in energy companies”, () the team now includes, “Walid Phares, a neoconservative pundit and professor with ties to Lebanon’s right-wing, brutal Christian Maronite militias that carried out horrific massacres during the country’s civil war”.
Any remaining feeling after these announcements that Trump might actually be a non-interventionist were laid to rest by the speech he made at AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) later the same day where he reassured America’s armchair militarists that, while they may differ on some of the details, he is one of them.
The speech also reiterated that Trump is as ill informed as any Republican (and a great many Democrats) in regards to the Iran deal, one of the true diplomatic successes of the Obama Presidency. Coming out so strongly against the deal probably plays a dual role in terms of his campaign. First, it demonstrates the businessman’s perceived strength as a smart negotiator, second, it draws him into the mainstream of a party that has been against any detente with the Persian state since long before the negotiations even began.
Trump again insisted that the United States gave Iran $150 billion as part of the deal but this is simply not true. As explained by Politifact, much of the money, which was being held under sanctions targeting the Iranian government, is owed to foreign creditors. The American and other governments who worked to hammer out the agreement weren’t looking to “cash out” on the deal, but to ensure that the Iranian government wouldn’t seek nuclear weapons capability, a much nobler goal.
He went on to assure his audience that he would always favor Israeli interests above all others and would use America’s veto power to counter any UN resolution to bring an end the country’s occupation of Palestinian lands. Seemingly reneging on an earlier vow to be a neutral party to any negotiations, the audience cheered Trump’s promise that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if elected. This would likely be one of the final nails in the coffin of a long denied Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
This repudiation of his quite sensible earlier position, as well as the picks for his foreign policy team show Trump moving closer to the establishment as his path to the nomination becomes more clear. His only gamble, if you could even call it that, is making sure that voters know that he expects other countries to pay for the US’s imperial presence around the globe, probably not a deal breaker for most Americans, let alone his supporters.
This may have been the campaign’s plan all along or a reaction to the establishment talk of a contested convention. With a man like Trump, whose ethical code seems to comprise one word “win”, it’s really impossible to know for sure and there are numerous mainstream commentators who have made fools of themselves pretending otherwise.
It does appear likely that outsiders like Alex Jones will continue to promote Trump’s candidacy. Just last week, he took time out from his usual ramblings to claim that the former host of “The Apprentice” is at heart an “Infowarrior” who “knows more than he is saying” and is preparing to do battle with the “New World Order”. With this kind of endorsement it won’t matter to most of his fans if Trump continues to contradict himself all the way until November.
With Trump moving into the hawkish mainstream there is only one candidate in either party who has articulated foreign policy positions that stand apart from the Republican “neoconservative” line as well as the Democratic “humanitarian interventionist” one (and there is almost nothing that separates these two schools of thought) and that candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Sanders alone, refused the opportunity to address AIPAC by video conference (odd for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he could be America’s first Jewish president), was the only person in the race to show any sympathy for the Palestinians; his opponent Hillary Clinton was to the right of Trump in her pandering to the AIPAC crowd. During a speech in Salt Lake City where the Senator was campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s primary, the Senator made it clear that while he thinks Israel’s security is important, “peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
While his record is far from perfect on foreign interventions (he supported military action in both Kosovo and Afghanistan) the importance of his vote against the Iraq War can’t be discounted. As he himself has said, the war was one of the biggest mistakes in American political history. Besides, even timid defense of the rights of Palestinians is far better than what American citizens get from the mainstream media or most politicians on either side of the aisle
And it isn’t just the Middle East where the militarism of Clinton, Cruz and almost certainly Trump will continue to do lasting damage. The former Secretary of State’s tacit support for the ouster of the democratically elected Manual Zelaya in Honduras has also had unforeseen consequences, including contributing to a wave of migration that Trump has skillfully (and demagogically) exploited since announcing his campaign.
Of course, Clinton and her surrogates want to declare victory now but there is still a long way to go until the convention. It may be an uphill battle but Sanders is far from out of the contest. On the basis of his non-establishment bonafides alone he is much better opponent for Trump than Clinton could ever hope to be.
If the Senator from Vermont is not on the ballot in November, I don’t envy the choice that American voters on the left, so energized by the Sanders campaign, might be forced to make when choosing who to make their President. For the rest of the world, especially areas of conflict, the best that can be hoped for is that things remain the same.