Trump was ideologically incoherent and crassly transactional. But the threat he posed to American empire and thus the gargantuan security state helps establish a motive for why US intelligence intervened in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
As president, Donald Trump lavished the rich with tax cuts and deregulation. Yet, contradictorily, he also threatened the structure of American global hegemony that does so much to keep the American one percent tremendously wealthy.
In fact, Trump undertook the most momentous rollback of American military and diplomatic power since the current architecture of American informal empire first took form at the end of World War II.
Trump campaigned on an end to “nation building” and then, amazingly, set about actually winding down America’s “forever wars” by simply packing up and leaving. Nor did he start any new wars.
Trump cut the number of US troops in Iraq by almost half. In Afghanistan, he cut the US occupation force by half and negotiated a framework for total withdrawal. He tried to end US combat deployments in both Somalia and Syria, and in both cases, despite Pentagon opposition and slow-walking noncompliance, Trump did manage to withdraw the majority of US personnel.
In Syria, bases abruptly abandoned by US special forces were taken over by Russians – a development that prompted the New Yorker to accuse Trump of the “abandonment of Syria.”
Worse yet in the eyes of the national security state, Trump went after US operations in Germany and South Korea, threatening highly strategic lynchpins in the global system of US military power.
He also made great strides towards normalizing relations with North Korea and producing a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula. In Libya, he declined to escalate and worked with Russia towards a peace settlement.
In Venezuela, he first allowed John Bolton and the CIA to attempt a color revolution-style coup fronted by pretty-boy Juan Guaidó. But when that effort faced resistance Trump grew bored, started making flattering remarks about “tough” Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his “good looking generals,” while complaining that his National Security Council director John Bolton wanted to get him “in a war.”
Understanding how Donald Trump threatened American empire and thus the gargantuan security state and its associated industrial complex of contractors and think tanks helps establish a motive for why the FBI and over 50 former intelligence officials actively attempted to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story, thereby putting their thumbs on the scale during the 2020 election.
It also helps us understand why, in 2016, the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Director of National Intelligence all signed off on the Russiagate narrative despite the lack of credible evidence.
And it helps us understand why, as Matt Taibbi has reported, over 150 private philanthropic foundations came together to create and fund the intelligence-adjacent Alliance for Securing Democracy, which in turn funded the spooky outfit Hamilton 68 which pushed the Russiagate hoax. In short, it helps explain why they hate him.
Trump described his foreign policy as “America First,” thus tapping into a more-than-century-long strain of American isolationism, or conservative anti-war sentiment. But his attacks on American empire were not ideologically coherent. He hated NATO but he loved Israel.
He increased pressure in Cuba, but did the opposite with North Korea. He increased the military budget even as he attempted to withdraw troops all over the planet. His reasoning, when given, was crassly transactional.
For example, six months into his administration, Trump met with the increasingly worried Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in a super-secure meeting room called “the Tank.” The meeting was an attempt to talk sense into the new president.
As the Washington Post described it, the Joint Chiefs tried to “explain why U.S. troops were deployed in so many regions and why America’s safety hinged on a complex web of trade deals, alliances, and bases across the globe.” The presentation involved maps and graphics intended to make the issue clear and simple.
Unimpressed, Trump called his generals “dopes and babies” and “losers” who “don’t know how to win anymore.” As his anger rose, he demanded to know why the United States was not receiving free oil as tribute for the US military presence in the Middle East. “We spent $7 trillion; they’re ripping us off,” Trump bellowed. “Where is the fucking oil?”
Despite active opposition from within his administration, Trump also attacked important treaties, ordering the United States withdrawal from: the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Paris Climate Agreement; and the World Health Organization (because Trump saw the WHO as soft on China at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic).
He withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a corporate free trade deal which had taken two years to craft and would have been the centerpiece of a US “pivot toward Asia.” With a barrage of punitive tariffs, Trump launched a trade war against China. Although it continued under Biden, Trump’s destabilizing economic confrontation with China came as a shock to business and political leaders around the world.
Accusing Russia of cheating, Trump terminated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. But he also held a cordial face-to-face summit with Putin in Helsinki that took his opposition’s Russiagate paranoia to unprecedented heights.
Trump withdrew from the Treaty on Open Skies, an almost 20-year-old mechanism for preventing weapons proliferation. He started to scrap the hard-won nonproliferation treaty with Iran and revised America’s Nuclear Posture Review to, insanely, allow an atomic response in case of cyber-attack!
Most shocking of all, Trump repeatedly expressed his wish to remove the US from NATO, which would have destroyed NATO if it had been done. If NATO fell apart, the entire US-centered global system – that is, the largest, most effective, complex, and expensive imperial project in world history – would undergo a seismic destabilization.
American empire is not inevitable, it is not natural, and it is widely resented. It only continues to exist because of constant, diligent, sophisticated leadership. Trump, like a toddler wielding a hammer, spent four years almost randomly smashing holes in that delicate structure.