Trump, America First, and Venezuela

Trump, America First, and Venezuela

America First, as Trump proclaimed it during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, sounded good to some Americans (MAGA). Trump promised to put America’s interests first. He railed against all our allies who, according to his reckoning, had let America pick up the tab for far too many military operations over too many years. His followers, the Trumpers, also were led to believe that Trump intended to take care of the forgotten Americans who had lost their jobs to outsourcing and industrial migration.

To give some credit to Trump, he has tried to do this. Someone said on the news just today that the problem Trump has is that he is trying to bring back the America of 20 or 30 years ago and that the world does not do business the same way now (not an exact quote). Trump does seem out of step with economic changes that are most likely irreversible. He tried to save the Carrier plant in Indiana. That fell through. He tried to help Harley Davidson but made things worse. He celebrated when FoxConn said it would bring 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin, but today’s news suggests that that will not happen. Of course he also stepped all over his attempts to keep jobs in America with his tariffs.

Trump said he would deport illegal immigrants who were taking American jobs and using American benefits. Trump backed himself into a corner when he promised a wall that many think is a waste of money and which will not address the real reasons for high numbers of folks living here without proper documents. Despite the fact that just building a wall is an oversimplification of a more complex problem, to his “cult” members it said not only America First, but Americans First.

America First is a slogan that was not greeted with cheers by many other Americans who did not end up being followers of Trump. It harkens back to things that Hitler promised the German people that lead to World War II and the murder of 6 million Jews. It echoed the words of Nazi sympathizers in American who liked to repeat the slogan ‘America über alles’, because it echoed Hitler’s slogan for Germany. There are far too many authoritarian and genocidal memories to make this stance palatable to Americans who remember the history of the slogan. Did the President know about the connections to Nazism? His family immigrated to America from Eastern Europe so he probably did. It doesn’t matter if he makes the connection or not, and we cannot read his mind, but it matters to many Americans who don’t like the slogan and don’t like the isolationist positioning that goes with it.

But, this America First policy may have a lot to do with speculations about our future activities in Venezuela and with the drumbeats of war that are sounding, at least in the media. It happens that John Bolton, for one reason or another, did not hide his notebook from the press. The list on his legal pad had the mysterious entry 5000+ troops to Columbia. Guess where Columbia is? It’s in South America, bordered by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

This is John Bolton we are talking about, a man with a reputation as a war monger. If his list has an item that says 5000+ troops to Columbia, media sees that as a possible step towards intervening in Venezuela. Venezuela is an oil rich nation, but Nicolás Maduro, dictator-in-charge is either not good with economics (at all), or is a big time thief because his people, living in what was once a thriving economy and what is now a failed state, are starving. Oil is a commodity that has fallen prey to a set of market circumstances that have hurt its value. There is a lot of competition in the oil market these days and price per barrel rates have vacillated accordingly. Natural gas is readily available because of fracking and is cleaner to burn than oil, so that is helping to drive down the price of oil. Perhaps Maduro is not completely to blame but has still proved to be incompetent.

When Trump was running for the presidency he often chided America for leaving Iraq without taking over the oil and annexing those sites for America. He attributed the fact that we left the oil wells for Iraq (or perhaps ISIS) to the wimpy behavior of President Obama, who took the last troops out of Iraq. It appears that Trump would fit in well back in the Age of Imperialism.

It is not as if modern America has never been guilty of taking advantage of another nation; we have meddled often and deeply in the name of both democracy and capitalism. Since World War II many nations give space to American military bases, berths to our ships, and hangers for our planes, and not always out of the kindness of their hearts. But it’s not easy to steal oil  or annex oil wells. There is the problem of manning these operations, even if ownership is not disputed, the problems of shipping the oil, and the problems of optics, since the media sees all.

So, although Trump’s eyes may light up at the thought of all that oil, that is unlikely to be the reason that we are backing Juan Guaidó as the man to take Maduro’s place. He is the man the people of Venezuela want, but so far Maduro controls the military.

Perhaps the reason for tiptoeing so close to the regime change line has to do with Trump’s passion to stem migration from Venezuela and neighboring countries. People have been flooding out of Venezuela. Many have gone to Chili and Columbia. Current wisdom advises Trump that if he wants to stem migration he needs to attack the problems people are facing in South America from bad leaders, to violent gangs, to changes in climate that have made food production unpredictable. Add these problems to those that are plaguing oil markets and you have a perfect storm. People cannot stay where life has no quality, where food is scarce, and where their children are either starving, or forced to join a gang or die.

Trump’s America First stand has him withdrawing from international entanglements around the globe. He took us out of the Paris Climate Accord, decided not to join the Trans Pacific Partnership. He wants to leave NATO and the UN. His isolationist tendencies argue against American involvement in the affairs of South American nations. However, if propping up South American economies and cleaning up violent gangs will end the caravans of people so traumatized that they can’t wait to leave home, if it will end the lines of “undesirables” seeking asylum in America, then sending troops to Columbia sounds like something Trump’s people might suggest (or that Trump might suggest). Trump does not want brown people, people who don’t speak English, or people who are poor. He says there is no room for these people in America. He wants a wall to keep them out. But he may be hedging his bets on the wall by supporting a little regime change and a little military action to reverse the decline of certain South American or Central American nations.

Perhaps that cryptic note on Bolton’s tablet meant that sending 5000+ troops to Venezuela is imminent, especially since the first thing on the list had to do with Afghanistan, but experts say that sending troops into a large failed state like Venezuela would be like getting America involved in another Vietnam. Experts also tell Trump that a wall is not what we need to solve the problems of migrants who enter America illegally. However, once Trump decides that he know best, all the expert advice in the world will not sway Trump. He is busy listening to his gut, which he tells us he trusts more than he trusts experts.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – New York Post

This is a view from the cheap seats.

 

 

Donald Trump’s Way Back Foreign Policy Machine

It is dangerous to listen to someone like Donald
Trump whose nostalgia date (his way-back machine) is set to the 60’s and 70’s.
No problem if you’re just telling stories to your grandchildren but a “huge”
problem if you are the President of the United States. Donald’s idea of winning
– he said in this foreign policy speech – is our victory in WWII and he also
gives America credit for winning the Cold War. Donald is another worshipper of
the only “perfect” American President, Ronald Reagan. He likes an America that
is pugilistic and muscular.
Trump believes we haven’t won a war since World War
Two or the Cold War because we have been weak. He, perhaps, would have liked
Ronald Reagan to be made President for Life. Alzheimer’s, sadly, would have put
the kibosh on that. However, except for Saint Ronald (who if you studied real
history was way less than perfect) no one else has measured up. According to
Trump the weakest leader of all has been President Obama (who is never given
the honorific) and Hillary Clinton will be just as bad.
But what Donald Trump, stuck in the old days, cannot
see is that the very philosophy concerning the ways we participate in the world
has evolved.
We have learned not to go to war lightly – well no we haven’t but we, at least,
are not turning every skirmish into a world war, or every power hungry man into
an existential threat (OK, we’re not perfect at that either but we’re trying).
We have learned that nation building in far-flung corners of the globe is
expensive and not often appreciated or even successful, which doesn’t mean we
will actually refrain. We surely have had plenty of examples of the totally
unforeseen consequences of regime change, although from time to time we still
can’t seem to resist.  We especially can’t
help injecting ourselves into the chaos in the nations of our nearest neighbors,
often with horrifying results.
Donald wants to bring this all back along with
torture and secrecy and threats (even nukes). So while evidence suggests that
tactics that we and others have used in the past will not actually make America
great again, that the only thing resorting to these old military chestnuts can
do is enhance our reputation as “ugly Americans”, Donald Trump, still stuck in
that post-World War II glow, seems unaware of such evidence.
Trump blames Obama and Clinton for “the confusion,
chaos, and disarray” in the world but many of us believe that the Bush
administration opened the Pandora’s Box that has turned into the seething,
painfully transitioning Middle East we see and deal with today. Whether the
region tried to shake off their authoritarian leaders, or whether the Iraq war
had a domino effect, or whether Americas had our hands in their fall from power,
it is clear that the Middle East does not have a tradition of democratic rule
and that is not the setting it reboots to. Perhaps we need to flood the area
with reasons to join the developed world that make sense in relation to Muslim
beliefs.
However, I contend, that we are actually at the
point where war and the environment meet, because if we cannot work across
nations, and stay somewhat peaceful and stable as the inhabitants of this planet
we may be doomed. If we can’t work efficiently as caretakers and help create a
sustainable lifestyle for the exploding population, then confusion, chaos and
disarray will be the order of the day, every day. Old imperialistic and
militaristic strategies may have once made America feel large and in charge,
but these outdated attitudes towards our global neighbors, however
un-neighborly, are not what we need now.

 

We could go with America First and decide, as we see
our planet become a less hospitable place to live, to build those walls and
annihilate our enemies (or be annihilated, because people will fight back).
That’s one way to be sustainable, wipe out anyone who won’t accept our
leadership. But where is the challenge in that. It is far more interesting to
try to design global strategies that will give everyone a livable spot in a
world exhibiting rapid climate change. It is far more intelligent to keep
striving to colonize other planets than to turn this one into a radioactive
nuclear wasteland.
Earth probably doesn’t care if we take care of it;
it will live on without us. But if we want the Earth to support human life we
may need to start cooperating pretty soon now. We can’t just take a boilerplate
set of old war policies and rely on them to keep the flaws in human nature from
sucking us under. The nations who understand the risks to our planet need to be
strong, yes, but also cooperative, creative and nuanced; and we need a global design
for where we would like things to go here on Earth – and for that we need peace,
not war-mongering. The reason Donald Trump’s foreign policies, and in fact the
foreign policy stances of the Republican Party are dangerous is because they
will not meet the current and future needs of Americans or anyone else on Earth.
By Nancy Brisson