The candidacy of Donald J. Trump has upended American politics, and, indeed, has changed the political landscape in ways our liberal and conservative elites never expected and clearly abhor. He talks like an ordinary person, for one thing – a rarity in a realm where politicians routinely speak as if they are giving a speech before the Peoria Rotary Club. Unrehearsed and raw, he doesn’t do “talking points” – and this, I think, more than his controversial proposal to deport millions of illegal immigrants, has provoked the policy wonks and the “intellectuals” into paroxysms of contempt. It’s also what’s endears him to ordinary people, and makes them listen – perhaps for the first time – to what a candidate for the highest office in the land is saying about where America is today and where he wants the country to go.
Trump’s domestic platform, such as it is, doesn’t really interest me: his proposal to “temporarily” ban Muslims from entering the US is unenforceable and downright silly. (How can you know if someone is a Muslim?) The issue that catapulted him to national attention – immigration – has already been settled, for better or worse: with millions of illegal immigrants already here, largely as a result of US laxity in maintaining border security, the immigration restrictionists are about forty years too late. His plan to deport illegals will never happen.
It’s in the realm of international affairs that Trump has really made a significant and lasting contribution to the discourse. As Bill Schneider writes in a Reuters opinion piece: “Trump is repudiating the entire framework of US foreign policy since 1947.” That dramatic and unmistakable fact is being lost amid the theatrics of a campaign season that often resembles an episode of the Jerry Springer Show.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump explicates his consensus-busting view of America’s proper role in the world:
· On defending Korea and Japan – “[A]t some point, there is going to be a point at which we just can’t do this anymore. … at some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world.” “[I]f we are attacked, [Japan doesn’t] have to do anything. If they’re attacked, we have to go out with full force. You understand. That’s a pretty one-sided agreement, right there.”
This gets straight to the heart of Trump’s challenge to the foreign policy elites. Since the end of World War II, the US has occupied Japan. In effect, Japan is a conquered nation: and yet it’s an open question as to who conquered whom. As an economic entity, Japan exists to send cheap tariff-free exports to America in exchange for complete subordination to Washington’s imperial diktat. Only a few right-wing Japanese nationalists – and most of the inhabitants of Okinawa – object to that: as for the great majority, they are content to live prosperous lives under the American defense umbrella. Trump is quite right that this is a one-sided agreement: the Japanese don’t have to worry about defending themselves and they also get the economic benefits of having a strictly protected market while they hollow out our industrial base with cheap cars and precision machinery. This is the price we pay for the American empire – an imperium, as the Old Right writer and editor Garet Garrett put it many years ago, “where everything goes out and nothing comes in.”
· On protecting the Saudis – “The beautiful thing about oil is that you know, we’re really getting close, because of fracking, and because of new technology, we’re really in a position that we weren’t in, you know, years ago, and the reason we’re in the Middle East is for oil. And all of a sudden we’re finding out that there’s less reason to be. …[W]e protect countries, and take tremendous monetary hits on protecting countries. That would include Saudi Arabia, but it would include many other countries as you know. We have, there’s a whole big list of them. We lose, everywhere. We lose monetarily, everywhere. And yet, without us, Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long. … I would say at a minimum, we have to be reimbursed, substantially reimbursed, I mean, to a point that’s far greater than what we’re being paid right now. Because we’re not being reimbursed for the kind of tremendous service that we’re performing by protecting various countries.”
This must have sent shivers through the powerful Saudi lobby in Washington and the many politicians and policy wonks on the take. The Kingdom has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Washington ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt cemented the alliance in a meeting with King Ibn Saud in 1945 aboard the USS Quincy. US oil companies captured valuable franchises and the US military followed in their wake, with overflight privileges, military training programs, and a firm commitment by the US to defend the Kingdom against all comers.
Although the relationship has had its ups and downs, it has continued to this day essentially in its original form, due largely to the efforts of a well-funded Washington lobby backed by US oil interests, who are most interested in utilizing the US military to protect their profits.
Trump’s critique of US-Saudi relations threatens a self-interested claque of privileged plutocrats and their lobbyist supporters, just as his threat to cut off our other mostly useless “allies” from the gravy train has induced panic from Paris to the Potomac.