Trump Is Not an Isolationist—Just Listen to His SOTU

Trump wants to expand U.S. dominance and empire—and he has little resistance in Congress.

Gregory Shupak February 6, 2019

President Donald Trump arrives before delivering the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Along­side the chants of U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” in which both Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans par­tic­i­pat­ed, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address revealed a deep truth. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is not, as a wide range of media out­lets have claimed, iso­la­tion­ist. Rather, it is sim­ply re-adjust­ing strate­gies for achiev­ing and main­tain­ing a vio­lent U.S.-led glob­al cap­i­tal­ist hege­mo­ny, which should not be mis­tak­en for aban­don­ing the project.

The U.S. goal is to dominate the region through its proxies in Israel and in the pro-American governments of most states in the Middle East.

Trump repeat­ed­ly bemoaned the involve­ment of the Unit­ed States in fool­ish wars.” Yet, he also boast­ed of his administration’s mas­sive increas­es to the mil­i­tary bud­get, which came in at $717 bil­lion for 2018 and are slat­ed to include anoth­er $750 bil­lion in 2019.

He took cred­it for the sup­pos­ed­ly impend­ing with­draw­al of U.S. ground forces from Syr­ia and draw­down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But he bragged about exit­ing the Inter­me­di­ate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that the Unit­ed States signed in 1987 with then-Sovi­et Rus­sia to cur­tail the two coun­tries’ nuclear build-ups and reduce the risk of nuclear war. Trump said that if the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia can’t agree to a new ver­sion of the INF, pos­si­bly one that includes Chi­na, Amer­i­ca will out­spend and out-inno­vate all oth­ers by far,” sug­gest­ing a will­ing­ness to re-start an arms race. While he cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied a war on the Kore­an penin­su­la as unde­sir­able, evi­dent­ly a nuclear con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia doesn’t con­sti­tute a fool­ish war.”

The polit­i­cal cen­ter of grav­i­ty of the speech showed an unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to impe­r­i­al fiat. In his SOTU, Trump reit­er­at­ed his impe­r­i­al decree that the pres­i­dent of Venezuela is par­lia­men­tar­i­an Juan Guaidó. Two weeks ago, the Unit­ed States offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized the legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment of Venezuela, and its new inter­im Pres­i­dent, Juan Guaidó. We stand with the Venezue­lan peo­ple in their noble quest for free­dom,” Trump said to bipar­ti­san applause, despite the fact that 80 per­cent of Venezue­lans had nev­er heard of Guaidó until two weeks ago.

Trump went on to claim that the Venezue­lan government’s social­ist poli­cies have turned that nation from being the wealth­i­est in South Amer­i­ca into a state of abject pover­ty and despair.” Yet, ille­gal sanc­tions enact­ed by the Unit­ed States, Euro­pean Union and Cana­da have played a crit­i­cal role in Venezuela’s cur­rent cri­sis. These sanc­tions have also led to the deaths of Venezue­lan cit­i­zens, accord­ing to both a Unit­ed Nations spe­cial rap­por­teur and FUN­DALATIN, a Venezue­lan human rights group with spe­cial con­sul­ta­tive sta­tus at the UN.

White House Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor John Bolton left no doubt about U.S. motives for involve­ment in Venezuela when he told Fox Busi­ness last month that régime change would be good for Amer­i­can busi­ness inter­ests. Flori­da Sen­a­tor Mar­co Rubio, one of the key play­ers in the effort to over­throw Maduro, also cit­ed alleged ben­e­fits to the U.S. econ­o­my as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for U.S. involvement.

The impe­r­i­al dik­tats Trump issued in last night’s address didn’t end in Latin Amer­i­ca: They extend­ed all the way to the Mid­dle East. He claimed his admin­is­tra­tion has act­ed deci­sive­ly to con­front the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror: the rad­i­cal régime in Iran,” despite the total lack of evi­dence for such a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment. To ensure this cor­rupt dic­ta­tor­ship nev­er acquires nuclear weapons,” Trump con­tin­ued, I with­drew the Unit­ed States from the dis­as­trous Iran nuclear deal.”

Trump declined to note that, accord­ing to the Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency, there was nev­er any cred­i­ble evi­dence” that Iran was work­ing on a nuclear weapons pro­gram. Democ­rats declined to cheer these com­ments, pre­sum­ably because the Iran nuclear deal is gen­er­al­ly seen as one of the Oba­ma administration’s sig­na­ture for­eign pol­i­cy achievements.

Trump cel­e­brat­ed inflict­ing on Iran what he called the tough­est sanc­tions ever imposed on a coun­try,” mea­sures with dev­as­tat­ing effects on Iran­ian civil­ians. The efforts to crush Iran and Venezuela are con­nect­ed. Offi­cials in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion told The Wall Street Jour­nal that the gam­bit in Venezuela is not only about U.S. efforts to remake that coun­try but also all of Latin Amer­i­ca, par­tic­u­lar­ly the left-wing gov­ern­ments of Nicaragua and Cuba with whom Venezuela has part­nered. The paper reports that the Trump gov­ern­ment is wor­ried about “[r]ecent inroads made by Rus­sia, Chi­na and Iran” in Latin Amer­i­ca and that “[p]art of why U.S. offi­cials express con­cern about Iran’s influ­ence in the region is that Iran is a major backer of Hezbol­lah, and its South Amer­i­can oper­a­tions are a sig­nif­i­cant source of cash.”

Along­side his blus­ter toward sup­posed ene­my states, Trump also boast­ed about his administration’s deci­sion to move the Unit­ed States’ Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and declare the city Israel’s cap­i­tal — a long-time goal of the U.S. Right. That maneu­ver served as a key plank in the administration’s efforts to per­ma­nent­ly smash Pales­tin­ian aspi­ra­tions through what Trump calls the ulti­mate deal,” a plan to iso­late the Pales­tini­ans region­al­ly — and com­pel them to pre­tend that a dis­con­tigu­ous, non-sov­er­eign frac­tion of the West Bank con­sti­tutes a state and sur­ren­der the right of Pales­tin­ian refugees to return to their homes.

The U.S. goal is to dom­i­nate the region through its prox­ies in Israel and in the pro-Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments of most states in the Mid­dle East. For that to hap­pen, the dis­pos­ses­sion of the Pales­tini­ans has to be nor­mal­ized so that friend­ships between Israel and oth­er U.S. allies in the region can deep­en, a process that has been under­way for years. Such a pro‑U.S. region­al bloc could weak­en the forces Amer­i­can plan­ners and their Mid­dle East­ern part­ners see as obsta­cles, name­ly Iran and its allies, par­tic­u­lar­ly Hezbol­lah. One of those pro‑U.S. dic­ta­tor­ships, Sau­di Ara­bia, was con­spic­u­ous­ly absent from the SOTU as was the mur­der­ous war that the Unit­ed States, Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates are con­tin­u­ing to car­ry out (with Cana­di­an and British com­plic­i­ty) against Yemen.

A num­ber of the Democ­rats recent­ly elect­ed to Con­gress seem to see through the main­stream media’s con­cep­tion of Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion as iso­la­tion­ist,” and a few have pushed back on aspects of U.S. impe­ri­al­ism. Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Ro Khan­na reject­ed U.S. med­dling in Venezuela, and Min­neso­ta Rep. Ilhan Omar tweet­ed that A US-backed coup in Venezuela is not a solu­tion to the dire issues they face. Trump’s efforts to install a far right oppo­si­tion will only incite vio­lence and fur­ther desta­bi­lize the region.” Omar and Michi­gan Rep. Rashi­da Tlaib have both been out­spo­ken in their crit­i­cism of U.S. pol­i­cy toward Israel.

How­ev­er, these voic­es remain a minor­i­ty in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus. House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) applaud­ed almost all of Trump’s impe­r­i­al sabre-rat­tling dur­ing the SOTU. If the U.S. war machine is going to be reined in, the dri­ving force will have to come from out­side of Con­gress. It cer­tain­ly won’t come from the White House.

Greg Shu­pak writes fic­tion, non-fic­tion and book reviews. His most recent book is The Wrong Sto­ry: Pales­tine, Israel, and The Media. He teach­es Media Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Guelph.
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