President Trump: The Warmonger or the America First Realist?

Updated on July 9, 2020

A Myriad of Geopolitical Issues

President Trump has many foreign policy challenges staring him straight in the face. This is not to lay everything at the blame of his predecessor, but there are still many loose ends that need tying up and many fires that need to be put out. How Trump responds to all of these conflicts around the world will establish whether he will be yet another Republican warmonger or a more realist America first commander in chief.

North Korea is perhaps leaping to the most pressing of issues on Mr. Trump’s list of national security threats. The nuclear-armed regime said Tuesday that its missile launches were training for a strike on American bases in Japan. Three of the four missiles that were launched in the most recent North Korean test came down in waters that are part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The White House sputtered out a hawkish response, stating there will be “very dire consequences” for its actions. Japan now views North Korea as an existential threat, if they did not already. Under U.N. resolutions, Pyongyang is barred from using ballistic missile technology, yet, it continues to do so, and has ramped up its tests during the Trump administration. Six times in recent years, the U.N. has tried to halt the Hermit Kingdom’s use of ballistic missiles via sanctions, yet the missiles kept on flying.

On Monday, the first pieces of a missile defense system arrived at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, according to the U.S. military. China has voiced opposition to the placement of this defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD.

These missile launches in recent days were no doubt in response to the American and South Korean militaries performing joint exercises that always upset North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. It appears each time these military exercises are done, North Korea attempts to flex its muscles.

The North's missile launch was intended to “test the Trump administration's North Korea policy and the South Korea-US alliance”, South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo-Ahn said Tuesday. This could certainly be the case. And only time will tell what the new U.S.-South Korea alliance will look like as the country is in the midst of impeaching its current president, Park Geun-hye. But what is more likely the case is that these North Korean missile launches were a distraction from Kim Jong-Un’s purge of his family and senior leadership, most recently the murder of his half brother in Kuala Lumpur last month.

With tensions at sky highs, Malaysia’s government expelled North Korea’s ambassador on Monday. Then, Pyongyang announced on Tuesday that it was banning all Malaysians in North Korea from leaving the country.

Trump would be wise to not further fan the flames of conflict in Asia. There is already much to do in the Middle East. Where will Trump focus his sights abroad? At this point, it's anyone’s guess.

Which country do you view as a larger threat to the United States?

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A Pitiless Warmonger?

Ryan Cooper in The Week believes that Trump is a pitiless warmonger already. How he comes to this conclusion at this very early state in Trump’s presidency is preliminary in my opinion and lacks enough definitive evidence, but he makes some decent points.

Trump says many things that he later walks back or does not follow through on. It has been difficult to ascertain where he stands on some issues, especially on the world’s stage. He has said some promising things on the campaign trail that are in opposition to the status quo nation-building, democracy-promoting Republican foreign policy championed extensively since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Trump signaled that the Iraq war was a mistake and has criticized much of Obama’s foreign policy, especially the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran.

Trump’s early actions in Yemen, however, are not so promising. He has escalated America’s military role in the spiraling conflict on the Arabian peninsula’s southwestern tip. According to Cooper, Trump has now allowed the Saudis to bomb a port called Al Hudaydah, one of the last places for humanitarian aid to enter the desperate country. This will only further the suffering in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East.

“President Trump is every bit the warmonger his critics feared,” Cooper concluded in his piece. However, it is too soon to tell if Trump is a warmonger. He is certainly decisive. And perhaps a bit quick-triggered. But solely judging his short-lived presidency’s foreign policy as that of a “warmonger” is not a conclusion you can make quite yet. Supporting the Saudis, continuing to support them, and increasing our support of them are certainly troubling given their history of committing civilian atrocities in Yemen during its increasing presence there. Our support of Saudi Arabia means we support their bombing of civilian areas and limiting of food and water to the Yemeni population done in order to starve out the Houthi rebels.

War is a merciless game.

Trump’s decision to send the Navy Seals in to Yemen in a raid that killed 25 civilians and one Navy Seal in an attempt to take out an Al-Qaeda stronghold was not a good start. While the planning was undertaken during President Obama, President Trump gave it the green light. Let’s hope this sort of quick-trigger action is not Trump’s standard operating procedure. Obama used drones in order to limit his casualty count but still sent in many troops to faraway places though usually as a last resort. Bush invaded two countries with the full force of the U.S. military in the early 2000s and we are still in both of those countries today. Trump’s first major foreign policy move was to send in the commandos in a raid Obama found too risky.

If Trump continues down this aggressive pattern in the Middle East, he will only increase the nation’s massive debt, kill more American soldiers, and create more young terrorists angry at America. There are just too many chances for Trump to open up another front in the never ending war on terror. It is simply too easy now for the President of the United States to wage war at will without ever formally declaring war or garnering public support. Bombs can be dropped at will. Drones sent in the dead of night. Or even the Navy Seals can be sent wherever they are “needed.” This should all be rolled back.

President Donald Trump with Secretary of Defense James Mattis before the retired general was confirmed.
President Donald Trump with Secretary of Defense James Mattis before the retired general was confirmed. | Source

Or America First Realist?

Will Trump shake up the military industrial complex like he is shaking up the political status quo in Washington? He has been handed a mess in the Middle East that shows scant signs of improving.

David Haggith writes in The Great Recession Blog that the Middle East, “where global armageddon was predicted to take its center stage,” indeed “looks every day more like it will fulfill that forecast.” These hell-holes have gotten “hot under Bush, hotter under Obama, and Trump promises to turn up the heat even more in order to incinerate ISIS,” Haggith wrote. War is good for big business and big defense. These powers are aplenty in Washington DC and have a hold on many of our politicians and generals. But I challenge our generals to tell us what we are still doing in Afghanistan for instance, and what we are accomplishing there. That country is the graveyard of empires and we should depart now before we are there indefinitely like we are in South Korea and Germany.

In other areas of worry around the world for President Trump, NATO and Russia are stocking up arms near the Russian border in the biggest build-up since the Cold War. Just before Trump was elected last year, Britain announced it was sending fighter jets to Romania, the U.S. dispatched troops, tanks, and artillery to Poland, and other NATO countries pledged forces in the near future. These moves were made after October 2016 when Russia dispatched nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic exclave in between Poland and Lithuania. In that same month, two Russian warships armed with cruise missiles slipped into the Baltic Sea.

Since then, Russia has provoked the U.S. military by harassing ships at sea and flying by other fighter jets at close range. A dangerous game is being played by Putin who knows what he is doing and Trump, new to the game, will hopefully dial things down by reducing the defense budget and shifting our approach to Russia.

Russia’s communist neighbor, China, continues to dominate the South China Sea. Building islands and military installations on them, the Chinese are potentially restricting a very valuable trade route for much of the world. Trump has the potential to clash with China on this contentious issue, in addition to the conflict over Taiwan’s independence, China’s currency manipulation, and its relationship and leverage with the maniacal North Korean regime.

But as I wrote last month, Trump’s most important foreign policy task is dealing with the Iranian Republic. Trump has made clear his disdain for the nuclear deal, claiming he will end it or renegotiate the terms. The now-retired Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice” after they fired missiles that were technically allowed under the contents of the deal that was struck. If Trump takes toward the line of the hardcore neoconservative Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then we will see a more aggressive stance toward Iran and maybe even armed conflict. Netanyahu said recently that “Iranian aggression must not go unanswered.”

Trump’s foreign policy will ultimately be defined by who he listens to and he has many that are not open-minded toward Iran. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has accused Iran of being the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism.” Also, Trump’s new CIA chief, Mike Pompeo is one of the loudest critics of the nuclear deal and close ally of Netanyahu in the demonizing of Iran. If Trump listens to these voices in his national security circle, then we will be looking at continuing the wars and conflicts we are involved in and possibly adding more to the list.

Trump has said friendly things and edged closer to Netanyahu, who has made it clear he hates the nuclear agreement Obama helped negotiate and would prefer to see Iran bombed instead. Trump cannot listen to these dangerous voices like Netanyahu. He must listen to the American people. We don’t want more war. We don’t want constant war. We can’t have constant war. We want a sane foreign policy. We want you to do what you said and put America first.

Going to war with Iran would be catastrophic for our country. If not for the fact that it will bankrupt us and cripple both militaries, then for the reality that China and Russia could very well be on the other side with Iran in that war. That would be World War III.

We cannot have a warmonger, Mr. Trump. Please put America first and end the never ending wars in faraway places that do much damage to good soldiers. Don’t be too quick to act. Think things over. Listen to the right people. Weigh your options. Be objective. Not emotional. Then, decide.


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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from the PNW

      Unfortunately, I find your thesis very unrealistic. Events drive the Presidency, not the other way around. Other than Bush 43 invading Iraq, which was preemptive (and ridiculous), I can't think of an action taken by a President in the past 20 years that was not driven by some threat or overt act. Public opinion is a large part of that as well.

      We cannot withdraw from the world. I actually see our footprint in the Middle East as very light right now. Our forces in Iraq our minuscule and we've only sent one artillery battalion (USMC) to Syria. China is expanding. Russia is expanding its sphere of influence. Same with Iran. Europe can't negotiate their way out of any of this. Neither can Japan and South Korea. The U.S. must lead diplomatically. But all diplomacy has to be backed up by strength.

      Remember, it was Trump who called the Iran deal a "disaster." It was Trump who has stated his preference for Netanyahu. Then you see his proposed defense budget (which has some merit). I don't think Trump is seeking conflict, but it will probably be forced upon him. Not a fan of the guy, but I have to be fair in my analysis.


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