In this moment of rising tension, the anti-war movement has to get organised around the country
Donald Trump is taking the world to the brink of war. His missile launches on Syria, widely applauded by politicians and commentators around the world, the mega bomb drop on Afghanistan and now his brinkmanship with North Korea form an emerging pattern of aggressive behaviour.
To describe this as dangerous is understating the case. In 10 days of making foreign policy, Donald Trump inflamed the war in Syria, reignited anger across Afghanistan, pushed relations with Russia and China to crisis levels and gone to head to head with North Korea, possibly the most intransigent regime in the world. We haven’t seen such arrogance and unilateral action since the Bush era and the early days of the “war on terror.” And just like Bush’s provocations, Trump’s actions have raised fear and tension around the world.
The difference is, the history of the war on terror has already made the world a much more dangerous, incendiary place.
Sixteen years of bombs, drone strikes, special forces ops and open occupation have created chaos across the Middle East and central Asia, generated huge hatred of the West and helped to spread terror networks from Islamabad through the Middle East to Tripoli and beyond.
Relations with Russia and China were already at a low point when Trump came in to office. Partly this was a result of the series of provocative Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria which have drawn the great powers into more and more open opposition. But steady Western military build-ups in eastern Europe and Asia Pacific have further stoked tension.
Trump’s attack posture is terrifying, but it is not unpredicted. Trump is an unhinged individual, wildly unsuitable to be a president anywhere, let alone of the world’s largest military power.
But he is not acting alone or simply on impulse. The most alarming thing about recent developments is that they represent something of a plan.
The last few weeks have in fact seen the US foreign policy establishment reassert control over the Trump administration.
For some time, Washington foreign policy insiders of all stripes have been convinced that Barack Obama’s foreign policy was too weak and in particular had allowed Russia too much leeway in the Middle East and in eastern Europe and China too much influence in the East.
So now we have a worst case scenario in which a concerted turn towards more interventions around the world is headed up by the most reactionary, xenophobic and unpredictable president in US history.
Hawks are delighted. Former Bush adviser Zalmay Khalilzad applauded Trump’s Afghan bomb drop and urged the president to go further and target terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan.
“If we are attacked from those places … They would be legitimate targets for a response.” Conservative China expert Daniel Blumenthal welcomed Trump’s turn, explaining that “displays of American power matter. A lot,” and described the strikes on Syria and Afghanistan as “very much messages to Xi and Kim.”
The whole history of the war on terror up to now tells us that apart from the sheer horror they create, military interventions exacerbate existing divisions, generate new conflicts and deepen tensions on a world scale.
Western military confrontation with North Korea can only end badly. The recent apparently failed missile launch proves — if proof were needed — that the threat of military action is not going to have the effect of forcing the regime to de-escalate.
As one Korea expert said of Pyongyang: “Since they have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose, they win every game of chicken.”
Further escalation against North Korea by the West therefore runs the real risk of actual military confrontation which would have devastating immediate consequences and unknowable wider outcomes.More generally, Trump’s new aggressive posture can only accelerate China’s militarisation and push Russia towards retaliation.
Theresa May’s shameless and uncritical support for Trump makes it crystal clear that our government is going to try to follow him into battle. In this moment of danger, the anti-war movement has a responsibility to redouble its efforts and move back towards mobilisation.
The huge protests against Trump in the US, here and elsewhere around the world are a clear sign that such mobilisation is possible. It will require us getting organised in every town and city around the country. It will require us to win the argument that the frightening instability and violence we see around the world is more than anything the result of 16 years of catastrophic Western foreign policy. But these are things we can and must do.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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