Should Limiting North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions Be the Responsibility of the U.S. Government?

By Lawrence Wittner

(This article was originally published on History News Network)

In recent months, advances in the North Korean government’s nuclear weapons program have led to a sharp confrontation between the government leaders of the United States and of North Korea.  This August, President Donald Trump declared that any more threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  In turn, Kim Jong Un remarked that he was now contemplating firing nuclear missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam.  Heightening the dispute, Trump told the United Nations in mid-September that, if the United States was forced to defend itself or its allies, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”  Soon thereafter, Trump embellished this with a tweet declaring that North Korea “won’t be around much longer.”

From the standpoint of heading off nuclear weapons advances by the North Korean regime, this belligerent approach by the U.S. government has shown no signs of success.  Every taunt by U.S. officials has drawn a derisive reply from their North Korean counterparts.  Indeed, when it comes to nuclear weapons policy, escalating U.S. threats seem to have confirmed the North Korean government’s fears of U.S. military attack and, thus, bolstered its determination to enhance its nuclear capabilities.  In short, threatening North Korea with destruction has been remarkably counter-productive.

But, leaving aside the wisdom of U.S. policy, why is the U.S. government playing a leading role in this situation at all?  The charter of the United Nations, signed by the United States, declares in Article 1 that the United Nations has the responsibility “to maintain international peace and security” and, to that end, is “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.”  Not only does the UN charter not grant authority to the United States or any other nation to serve as the guardian of the world, but it declares, in Article 2, that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”  It’s pretty clear that both the U.S. and North Korean governments are violating that injunction.

Moreover, the United Nations is already involved in efforts to limit North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  The UN Security Council has not only condemned  the behavior of the North Korean government on numerous occasions, but has imposed stiff economic sanctions upon it.

Will further UN action have any more success in dealing with North Korea than the Trump policy has had?  Perhaps not, but at least the United Nations would not begin by threatening to incinerate North Korea’s 25 million people.  Instead, to ease the tense United States-North Korea standoff, the United Nations might offer to serve as a mediator in negotiations.  In such negotiations, it could suggest that, in exchange for a halt to the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the United States agree to a peace treaty ending the Korean War of the 1950s and halt U.S. military exercises on North Korea’s borders.  Giving way to a UN-brokered compromise rather than to U.S. nuclear blackmail might well be appealing to the North Korean government.  Meanwhile, the United Nations could keep moving forward with its Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons―a measure both Kim and Trump despise (and might, in their opposition to it, even bring them closer together), but is very appealing to most other countries.

Critics, of course, say that the United Nations is too weak to deal with North Korea or other nations that ignore the will of the world community.  And they are not entirely incorrect.  Although UN pronouncements and decisions are almost invariably praiseworthy, they are often rendered ineffective by the absence of UN resources and power to enforce them.

But the critics do not follow the logic of their own argument for, if the United Nations is too weak to play a completely satisfactory role in maintaining international peace and security, then the solution is to strengthen it.  After all, the answer to international lawlessness is not vigilante action by individual nations but, rather, the strengthening of international law and law enforcement.  In the aftermath of the vast chaos and destruction of World War II, that’s what the nations of the world claimed they wanted when, in late 1945, they established the United Nations.

Unfortunately, however, as the years passed, the great powers largely abandoned a United Nations-centered strategy based on collective action and world law for the old-fashioned exercise of their own military muscle.  Unwilling to accept limits on their national power in world affairs, they and their imitators began engaging in arms races and wars.  The current nightmarish nuclear confrontation between the North Korean and U.S. governments is only the latest example of this phenomenon.

Of course, it’s not too late to finally recognize that, in a world bristling with nuclear weapons, savage wars, accelerating climate change, rapidly-depleting resources, and growing economic inequality, we need a global entity to take the necessary actions for which no single nation has sufficient legitimacy, power, or resources.  And that entity is clearly a strengthened United Nations.  To leave the world’s future in the hands of nationalist blowhards or even prudent practitioners of traditional national statecraft will simply continue the drift toward catastrophe.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

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Playing Nuclear “Chicken” With Our Lives

by Lawrence Wittner

What kind of civilization have we developed when two mentally unstable national leaders, in an escalating confrontation with each other, threaten one another―and the world―with nuclear war?

That question arises as a potentially violent showdown emerges between Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Donald Trump of the United States.  In recent years, the North Korean government has produced about 10 nuclear weapons and has been making them increasingly operational through improvements in its missile technology.  The U.S. government first developed nuclear weapons in 1945, when it employed them to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and currently possesses 6,800 of them, mostly deployed on missiles, submarines, and bombers.

According to the North Korean government, its nuclear weapons are necessary to defend itself against the United States.  Similarity, the U.S. government argues that its nuclear weapons are necessary to defend itself against countries like North Korea.

Although, in recent decades, we have grown accustomed to this government rhetoric about the necessity to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent, what is particularly chilling about the current confrontation is that Kim and Trump do not appear deterred at all.  Quite the contrary, they brazenly threaten nuclear war in an extremely provocative fashion.  Responding on August 8 to North Korean threats, Trump publicly warned that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”  Later that day, North Korea’s state media announced that its government was considering a strategy of striking the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with mid- to long-range nuclear missiles―a strategy that a spokesman for the Korean People’s Army said would be “put into practice” once Kim authorized it.

This kind of reckless and potentially suicidal behavior is reminiscent of the game of “Chicken,” which achieved notoriety in the 1950s.  In the film Rebel Without a Cause (1955), two rebellious, antisocial male teenagers (or juvenile delinquents, as they were known at the time) played the game before a crowd of onlookers by driving jalopies at top speed toward a cliff.  Whoever jumped out of the cars first was revealed as “chicken” (a coward).  A more popular variant of the game involved two teenagers driving their cars at high speed toward one another, with the first to swerve out of the way drawing the derisive label.  According to some accounts, young James Dean, a star of Rebel Without a Cause, actually died much this way.

With news of the game spreading, Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician and philosopher, suggested in 1959 that the two sides in the Cold War were engaged in an even crazier version:  nuclear “Chicken.”  He wrote:  “As played by irresponsible boys, this game is considered decadent and immoral, though only the lives of the players are risked.”  But the game became “incredibly dangerous” and “absurd” when it was played by government officials “who risk not only their own lives but those of many hundreds of millions of human beings.”  Russell warned that “the moment will come when neither side can face the derisive cry of `Chicken!’ from the other side.”  When that moment arrived, “the statesmen of both sides will plunge the world into destruction.”

It was a fair enough warning, and only several years later, during the Cuban missile crisis, the game of nuclear “Chicken” played by Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy could have resulted in a disastrous nuclear war.  However, at the last minute, both men backed off―or, perhaps we should say, swerved to avoid a head-on collision―and the crisis was resolved peacefully through a secret compromise agreement.

In the current situation, there’s plenty of room for compromise between the U.S. and North Korean governments.  The Pyongyang regime has offered to negotiate and has shown particular interest in a peace treaty ending the Korean War of the 1950s and U.S. military exercises near its borders.  Above all, it seems anxious to avoid regime change by the United States.  The U.S. government, in turn, has long been anxious to halt the North Korean nuclear program and to defend South Korea against attack from the north.  Reasonable governments should be able to settle this dispute short of nuclear war.

But are the two governments headed by reasonable men?  Both Kim and Trump appear psychologically disturbed, erratic, and startlingly immature―much like the juvenile delinquents once associated with the game of “Chicken.”  Let us hope, though, that with enough public resistance and some residual sanity, they will back away from the brink and begin to resolve their differences peacefully.  That’s certainly possible.

Even if the current confrontation eases, though, we are left with a world in which some 15,000 nuclear weapons exist and with numerous people who, in the future, might not scruple about using them.  And so the fundamental problem continues:  As long as nuclear weapons exist, we teeter on the edge of catastrophe

Fortunately, this past July, in an historic development, the vast majority of the world’s nations voted at a UN conference to approve a treaty banning nuclear weapons.  Nations will begin the process of signing onto the treaty this September.  Although, sadly, all of the nuclear powers (including the United States and North Korea) oppose the treaty, it’s long past time for nuclear weapons to be prohibited and eliminated.  Until they are, government officials will remain free to play nuclear “Chicken” with their lives . . . and with ours.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.  He is the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). This article was originally published on History News Network.

Should We Keep Wasting Money on Missile Defense―or Invest in Something Useful?

By Lawrence Wittner

When Americans criticize wasteful government spending, they often fail to realize that the biggest sinkhole for public funds is what’s described as “national defense”―a program that, all too often, does little or nothing to defend them.

Take national missile defense, a program begun with much fanfare during the mid-1980s, when President Ronald Reagan realized that U.S. nuclear weapons could not prevent a nuclear attack upon the United States. According to the President, his Strategic Defense Initiative (lampooned as “Star Wars” by Senator Edward Kennedy) would safeguard Americans by developing a space-based anti-missile system to destroy incoming nuclear missiles. Most scientists doubted its technical feasibility, comparing it to using one speeding bullet to destroy another speeding bullet. Critics also pointed out that development of such a system would simply end up encouraging hostile nations to build more missiles to overwhelm it or, if they wanted to avoid the additional cost, to use decoys to confuse it. In addition, it would create a false sense of security.

Although “Star Wars” was never built, the fantastic dream of a missile shield took hold in Congress, which began to pour billions of dollars into variants of this program. And, today, more than thirty years later, the United States still lacks an effective missile defense system. The U.S. government, however, ignoring this dismal record, continues to lavish vast resources on this unworkable program, which has already cost American taxpayers over $180 billion.

One of the major components of the missile defense program is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Better known as GMD, it is designed to use ground-based “kill-vehicles” to destroy incoming nuclear missiles by colliding with them. In 2004, before any indication that GMD would work, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of its interceptors. Today, there are four located at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and 26 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and the Obama administration has given orders to increase the total to 44 by the end of 2017. The GMD cost thus far is $40 billion.

All of this might be viewed as water under the bridge―or perhaps water down the drain―were it not for the fact that a third GMD site is now being considered. Military contractors are ferociously lobbying for it, communities in New York, Ohio, and Michigan are actively competing for it and, given long-time Republican enthusiasm for missile defense, this expansion seems very likely to be implemented by the Trump administration. The cost? An additional $4 billion.

Is this a good investment? GMD, it should be noted, was designed to defend against a nuclear attack by Iran or North Korea. But, thanks to the Iran nuclear agreement, its nuclear program is frozen until 2030 or later. North Korea is also not a nuclear threat to the United States, for it does not possess long-range missiles. Of 14 North Korean missiles tested during 2016, some failed to clear the launch pad while others traveled distances ranging from 19 miles to 620 miles. Naturally, as a small-scale system, GMD would be of no value against Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal.

In fact, at this point GMD is of no value against anything. Thus far, the Pentagon has conducted 17 tests of GMD interceptors since 1999―all in conditions that should produce success. In a situation quite unlike armed combat, the people conducting the tests knew the speed, location, and trajectory of the mock enemy missiles ahead of time, as well as when they would be launched. Nevertheless, the GMD system failed the tests eight times―a 47 percent failure rate.

Nor has the GMD test record been improving in recent years. Quite the contrary. GMD has failed six of its last 10 tests and three of its last four. In mid-2016, a report written by three physicists and released by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that the GMD system is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public.” Indeed, they concluded, “the system is not even on a path to achieve a useful ability” to do so.

Why, then, despite the enormous cost and the lack of useful results over many years, is this project continuing? One factor is clearly the U.S. fear of hostile governments. Beyond this, however, as David Willman―a journalist who has done extensive investigations of GMD―has reported, lies “the muscle wielded in Washington by major defense contractors, which have billions of dollars of revenue at stake.” Three of them, in fact―Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman―donated $40.5 million to congressional campaign funds from 2003 through October 2016.

GMD “will not work,” U.S. Representative John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Willman. “Nevertheless, the momentum of the fear, the momentum of the investments, the momentum of the industry” carry it forward.

A key factor keeping billions of U.S. tax dollars flowing to this ill-conceived project is the desperation of declining American communities, anxious to attract the jobs a GMD installation would provide. The three communities vying to house the third GMD site are all in the hard-hit Rust Belt, and their public officials are eager to secure it. “Our community has been dying a little bit at a time,” an Ohio mayor explained. “So we’re hoping that the [local] site is selected.”

But if the only good reason for missile defense is that it provides a jobs program, why not invest those billions of dollars in jobs doing useful things? Why not invest in factories turning out solar and wind power components, high-speed rail cars, and inexpensive medicines? Why not invest in health care clinics, day care centers, libraries, schools, job-training facilities, community centers, concert halls, bridges, roads, inexpensive housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes?

This country has made useful investments before. With the political will, it could do so again.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? An earlier version of this article was posted to the History News Network.

The Great American “Welcoming” Break-Out: What’s Not to Like?

By Jerry Lembcke

My hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts is dealing with the sanctuary city issue. Officially, Worcester is not a sanctuary city but its Mayor, Joe Petty, has declared that it will not cooperate with federal law enforcement efforts to identify undocumented residents. One disgruntled city counselor, aching for a fight, is demanding that the city either formalize the Mayor’s position or get in step with federal practice; other council members, some openly supportive of the Mayor, seem content to leave the matter as is.

A February 1 rally at city hall turned out one of the largest public demonstrations I’ve seen here in twenty-five years. Despite the 6:00 pm darkness, 20 degree temperature, and falling wet snow, a thousand-plus people voiced their support for the mayor, loudly and stridently announcing that Worcester welcomes immigrants, refugees, and Muslims—Worcester is a “Welcoming City” shouted speaker after speaker.

Placards reading “Welcome Immigrants”; “We are all Immigrants”; “No Hate, No Fear, Everyone is Welcome Here”; and “Who would Jesus Deport” speckled City Hall Plaza. Many of the signs had American flag images or phrases associating Worcester with the best of America’s tradition of being a “welcoming” nation.

I went to the rally generally supportive of the Mayor trying to do the right thing, and in solidarity with my immigrant friends. My mood began souring when the first speaker invoked Worcester’s revolutionary legacy as the site of a first-reading of the Declaration of Independence. Wait a minute, I wondered, what’s that connection? Before I sorted through the issues of conquest and the genocide of indigenous people underway in the 18th century, that he seemed to have glossed over, he confected something about the first Thanksgiving that seemed (at my distance from the podium) to imply that it’s a holiday celebrating a great American tradition: welcoming immigrants.

As it progressed, much else in the rally was discordant with my sense of history, politics and political culture. There were numerous invocations of Christian religion—as in “welcoming” is the Christian way-to-be—with no recognition of the thirteenth-century Crusades against Islam as a legacy in the politics of the present. One speaker feared the besmirching of Worcester’s reputation as a City on the Hill were it not to welcome all who come. Another, channeling the old IWW slogan that an-injury-to-one-is-an- injury-to- all, declared that “A Ban on One Religion is a Ban on All Religions.” Hmm, I thought, banning all religions—how about that?

With the weekly city council meeting set to begin at 7:00, the assembly pressed into the building to pack the hallways in support of the Mayor who would uphold Worcester’s reputation as a city that welcomes everyone. My sense of their being something off-key about the event was additionally confirmed when a trumpet player standing high on the stone abutment to the City Hall entrance began playing the Star Spangled Banner—and then repeated it as the crowd moved slowly into the building. Standing now with toes and fingers that felt like icicles, I commented to the man next to me that I usually did not stand for the national anthem—with no sign from him that he got the sarcasm.

Something off-key, but what was it? It wasn’t until thawing-out that I remembered Yen Le Espiritu’s 2014 book Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees in which she calls-out the narcissism threading ways that Americans remember their wars. Using the war in Vietnam as a case study, she reassessed the “refugee” narrative of migrants’ resettlement in the United States. Viewing them as refugees, she argues, extends into the present the mythology that the ten-year U.S. military presence in Vietnam was a response to the fledgling nation’s request of assistance in repelling the foreign aggression of communism. In that narrative, the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 was a noble “rescue” mission by Americans to “save” helpless South Vietnamese from the communists. Framed that way, she says, the story of Vietnamese Americans is really code for the heroic altruism of Americans—a story-line she rejects.

Body Counts provides a template to help interpret events like that in Worcester that are being staged throughout the country. We are cast in these demonstrations as the principle actors, the welcoming good-people, hierarchically positioned as the providers and protectors for refugeed-subordinates subject to our discretionary goodwill. The script elides our previous role as participants—and it is a democracy in which we participate, a fact the same narrative proclaims—in the foreign and military policies that created the refugees in the first place. Most gratingly, the good-democrats, as cast in the performance as refugee-friendly humanitarians, are often the very politicians who marched lockstep with their party’s neoliberal regime-change policies that tossed millions of people into the streams of global migration. Can we really not see through their theatrics?

And ala the Vietnam case, the present story-line makes no distinction between the migrants displaced by the U.S. invasion, and the local mercenaries who served the occupation forces as flunky translators and informants. When the helicopters lifted off for the last time from Saigon in 1975, they carried mostly the comprador South Vietnamese who had sold themselves to the Americans—a fact obscured in the popular 2015 film Last Days in Vietnam. Now, we see the crocodile tears of liberal democrats attacking the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee character of the Trump administration as it, sniff, sniff, abandons the Iraqis and Afghanis who were bribed, err, promised eventual passage to the U.S. in return for their services.

The “militarized refugees” in Espiritu’s title refers to their use as props in pro-war propaganda, which is to say that even mere immigrants imaged as refugees help demonize the parties said to be responsible for their displacement making them targets of additional U.S. military strikes—a course leading to more refugees, of course. More perniciously, the sympathy for refugees that often translates into a righteous anger for their mistreatment that gets redirected from the Euro-American centers of power—which are, after all, viewed as refugee-rescuers in Espiritu’s decoding of the refugee narrative—to the post-colonial settings where it can only inflame the conflicts.

The instinct to welcome immigrants and refugees is a good one but the welcomings now underway across the land fit perfectly into the pattern of easily-exploited humanism described by Espiritu. The anti-war movement needs to approach the immigration issue more politically with a tactical approach designed to enhance its capacity to end U.S. wars of expansion and occupation that generate refugees—how does that rethinking begin?

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of VietnamCNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth and more recently Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. He can be reached at jlembcke@holycross.edu

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

A Peace Agenda for the New Administration

By Lawrence Wittner

The looming advent of the Trump administration in Washington threatens to worsen an already deeply troubling international situation. Bitter wars are raging, tens of millions of refugees have taken flight, relations among the great powers are deteriorating, and a new nuclear arms race is underway. Resources that could be used to fight unemployment, poverty, and climate change are being lavished on the military might of nations around the world―$1.7 trillion in 2015 alone. The United States accounts for 36 percent of that global total.

Given this grim reality, let us consider an alternative agenda for the new administration―an agenda for peace.

One key ingredient is improving U.S. relations with Russia and China. This is not an easy task, for these countries are governed by brutal regimes that seem to believe (much like many politicians in the United States) that a display of military force remains a useful way to deal with other nations. Even so, the U.S. government has managed to work out live-and-let-live relationships with their Soviet and Chinese predecessors―some of which were considerably more bellicose―and should be able to do so again. After all, the three countries have a good deal to gain by improving their relations. This includes not only avoiding a catastrophic nuclear war, but reducing their spending on useless, vastly expensive weapons systems and cooperating on issues in which they have a common interest: countering terrorism; halting the international drug trade; and battling climate change.

It is not hard to imagine compromise settlements of their recent conflicts. Behind the hard line Russia has taken in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and military meddling in what’s left of that country, lies NATO’s expansion eastward to Russia’s borders. Why not show a willingness to halt that expansion in exchange for a Russian agreement to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and other nations in Russia’s vicinity? Similarly, when dealing with the issue of war-torn Syria, why not abandon the U.S. government’s demand for the ouster of Assad and back a UN-negotiated peace settlement for that country? The U.S. government’s growing dispute with China over the future of islands in the South China Sea also seems soluble, perhaps within a regional security framework.

The three nations could avoid a very dangerous arms race and, at the same time, cut their military costs substantially by agreeing to reduce their military expenditures by a fixed percentage (for example, 10 percent) per year for a fixed period. This “peace race” would allow them to retain their current military balance and devote the savings to more useful items in their budgets.

A second key ingredient in a peace agenda is moving forward with nuclear arms control and disarmament. With over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine nations, including 7,300 held by Russia and 7,100 by the United States, the world is living on the edge of nuclear annihilation.

Although the Kremlin does not seem interested right now in signing further nuclear disarmament agreements, progress could be made in other ways. The President could use his executive authority to halt the current $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program, take U.S. nuclear weapons off alert, declare a “no first use” policy for U.S. nuclear weapons, and make significant reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. An estimated 2,000 U.S. nuclear warheads are currently deployed and ready for action around the world, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that only 1,000 are necessary. Why not cut back to that level?

The new administration could even engage in international negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Peace and disarmament organizations have pushed for the opening of such treaty negotiations for years and, this October, the UN General Assembly rewarded their efforts by passing a resolution to begin negotiations in 2017. Why not participate in them?

A third key ingredient in a peace agenda is drawing upon the United Nations to handle international conflicts. The United Nations was founded in 1945 in the hope of ending the practice of powerful countries using their military might to bludgeon other countries into accepting what the powerful regarded as their national interests. National security was to be replaced by international security, thereby reducing aggression and military intervention by individual nations. Critics of the United Nations have argued that it is weak and ineffectual along these lines and, therefore, should be abandoned―except, perhaps, for its humanitarian programs. But, instead of abandoning the United Nations, how about strengthening it?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this. These include eliminating the veto in the Security Council, establishing a weighted voting system in the General Assembly, and giving General Assembly decisions the force of international law. Two other mechanisms, often discussed but not yet implemented, are creating an independent funding mechanism (such as an international financial transactions tax) for UN operations and establishing a permanent, all-volunteer UN rapid deployment force under UN jurisdiction that could act to prevent crimes against humanity.

Of course, at the moment, little, if any, of this peace agenda seems likely to become U.S. government policy. Donald Trump has promised a substantial increase in U.S. military spending, and his new administration will be heavily stocked with officials who take a hardline approach to world affairs.

Even so, when it comes to peace, the American public has sometimes been remarkably active―and effective. In January 1981, when the Reagan administration arrived in Washington, it championed an ultra-hawkish agenda, highlighted by a major nuclear weapons buildup and loose talk of waging and winning a nuclear war. Ultimately, though, an upsurge of popular opposition forced a complete turnabout in administration policy, with Reagan joining the march toward a nuclear-free world and an end to the Cold War. Change is always possible―if enough people demand it.

[Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). A different version of this article appeared recently in the magazine Democratic Left.]

The Future of Peace under Trump

Doug Rossinow

No one knows what the foreign policy of President Donald J. Trump holds in store for the world. Who could have predicted the course of US foreign policy under Barack Obama or George W. Bush? Obama, it is true, went far toward fulfilling his pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq, and he has scaled down the US war in Afghanistan as well (something he did not promise to do in 2008). He has failed, however, to consistently press for a closure of the extra-constitutional Guantánamo Bay detention facility for accused terrorists. The persistence of the US military presence in Iraq is largely due to the rise of Daesh, which Obama did not anticipate and which, basically, is traceable to Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. That disaster, of course, was predicted by exactly no one in 2000, and it was only made possible by the shocking 9/11 attacks on America.

In light of this recent history, we can only expect the unexpected from foreign affairs during the coming four years.

From a peace perspective, the campaign of 2016 was rather dismal. The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, was so hawkish — enamored of Henry Kissinger and proud of pressing President Obama toward armed intervention in Libya — that she allowed a right-wing nationalist, in the person of Trump, to campaign as the peace candidate. Trump cogently criticized the policy of armed overthrow of Middle Eastern dictatorships. Trump pledged to maintain Obama’s resistance to deeper US military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Trump astounded everyone by declaring, before the South Carolina Republican primary no less, that Bush had deceived the country by waging war against Iraq based on phony claims about weapons of mass destruction. He declared that the US would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi still in power. The GOP voters of the Palmetto State rewarded Trump’s eerie echo of standard peace movement talking points with victory. Once he secured the Republican nomination, Trump had the antiwar lane all to himself. The corrosive effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the authority of America’s customary political elites have been more profound and widespread than many analysts understand. The collapse of confidence in US leadership has opened a path to power for a business tycoon who styles himself an outsider. Activists will mobilize to protest abuses of Americans’ rights and of the planet in the coming years. Whether they will need to protest new US wars is something we cannot know. If Trump turns his back on his antiwar campaign, he will spurn not only peace activists, but many who supported him as well. In that event, the peace movement will do well to reach out to disaffected Trump voters who inhabit the America where the wars of our century have taken a terrible toll.

Doug Rossinow is a former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s. He currently writes from Oslo, Norway

Peace in the Trump Era

With Donald Trump poised to assume the presidency of the United States, the editors of Peace & Change have decided to inaugurate a series dedicated to examining the implications of a Trump presidency. To aid us in this task, we have asked influential scholars to weigh in with their reactions, reflections, and analysis of the impending Trump era. These experts, from their unique scholarly and personal perspectives, will help to illuminate the multiple ways in which a Trump presidency might influence the prospects for peace. This series of guest posts will also raise new questions, point to emerging areas of inquiry, and suggest possibilities for scholars and activists to influence the discourse in the coming years. Ultimately, it is important that we dialogue about the future of peace, peace scholarship, activism, and the uncertainties of a Trump presidency.

We will kick off the series tomorrow morning with a post from Doug Rossinow, former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.