Of Hawks and Tomahawks: A President who came in from the cold
“Sometimes, it is better to study a text for its meaning than for its truth”. Spinoza
Power dynamics and their self-revelatory nature were much in evidence in the decision taken by President Trump to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlip province in NW Syria, giving him a rare popularity boost. These missiles cost US$ One million each. The payload for the missiles is manufactured by the American private sector, the delivery and guidance systems are provided by the US Navy. Every missile launched gives the manufacturer obscene profits. It is interesting that the launch was limited to 59 missiles, this being a prime number. There are international laws and conventions which guide the mechanics of a sovereign state taking offensive action against another. None of them was adhered to: the President’s macho decision to launch the missile attack on a sovereign state was an unilateral one.
The UN, being an internationally consecrated body to safeguard and validate these laws and conventions, was ignored. The UN was founded in the aftermath of WW II. A similar international body preceded it, founded after WW I, called the League of Nations. It failed, because the then powerful nations – Japan, Italy – unilaterally declared war on Manchuria, which was part of China and Abyssinia (current Ethiopia) respectively. The League was unable to take effective action, either to prevent this aggression or penalise the aggressors. The result was that the credibility of the League was questioned. When issues of greater moment later arose, the League was toothless and collapsed. It could not prevent WWII, which started with an unilateral attack on Poland by Germany. 34 million, including 20 million Russians died in WWII. One of the greatest crimes inflicted on humanity was to have allowed the League to collapse.
President Trump, the hawk armed with a Tomahawk has two areas of concern for his governance, one, his domestic agenda and managing the sub-set, the political turmoil in the White House and, second, of the turbulent international situation. His domestic agenda was xenophobic, a full throated “America first” policy and conducted with upholding a withdrawal of all progressive measures taken to support the weak and vulnerable – women,
The primary aim of the domestic agenda was the abolition of Obamacare. Within 50 days of his taking oaths, Congress indicated that it was not in favour of this naive and unpopular proposal. Trump, who never held elective office, was learning that business was not the same as politics. He suffered the indignity of withdrawing the proposal, and that too in his honeymoon period! A successful abolition would have provided leverage to get his other proposals accepted and also provide him with enforced budgetary savings which would have enabled him to finance other parts of his domestic agenda. These openings are now staunched. The failure to carry through abolition, has placed Trump’s balance legislation proposals in limbo.
WALL ALONG SOUTHERN US AND MEXICO BORDER
The second component of his domestic agenda, was to build a wall along the Rio Grande, separating the Southern US from Mexico. This is a 2,000 mile stretch, its construction is currently estimated to cost about US$ 12 billion. Trump had no idea how this was going to be financed, expecting Mexicans to do it, which the Mexicans scoffed at. This was Trump’s bluster, passing off as policy.
The third proposal was tax reform. This is a highly regressive proposal, the rich having to pay less taxes and the middle classes more, the main revenue coming from a Border Import Tax, which the WTO will not agree with. It is unlikely that it will be passed. The fourth proposal is for a US$ One Trillion budget, to be spent over ten years on infrastructure- roads, bridges, airports. While this investment is highly necessary, Trump has no idea of how it will be financed. When pull comes to push, Trump was all bluff and bluster. The fifth proposal was to impose a ban on travellers from selected Muslim majority countries from coming to the US. This was imposed as an Executive Order but the Courts rejected it.
TWO FACTIONS OF WHITE HOUSE
A critical sub-feature in implementing Trump’s agenda is Trump’s inability to have a working White House. The White House has two factions, bitterly railing against each other. One is Steve Bannon, the ideologue keeper of the conscience of the conservative Republicans. He is the chief strategist of the White House, unsparing in his criticism of those, he felt had reneged on the Republican agenda, the main culprit being Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Trump. A White House divided against itself cannot stand. Although differences between the two have been papered over, it is obvious that eventually the son-in-law will gain the upper hand. Colleagues who cause schisms on ideological grounds are unforgiving. Bannon will continue to be humoured but retained, on the earthy management principle laid down by President Lyndon Johnson for retaining Edgar Hoover – the dangerous head of the FBI – “it is better to keep him in the tent pissing out, rather than having him outside, pissing in”.
The second main area for Trump’s concerns are foreign policy. The US has a particular responsibility since her war budget is more than the total of the war budgets of the next eight nations, which include Britain, France, China and Russia. Trump’s domestic agenda achievements are minimal in the eighty days of his administration. There were mutterings of impeachment, of Trump overstaying his welcome. He faced a grave possibility of being sent out into the cold. A US President is unhampered by any restrictions on actions on foreign issues. The chemical attack by Syria on Khansheikhoun was a god-sent. Trump – toxic masculinity personified – sent in his 59 Tomahawks, first taking the precaution of informing Russia, and when the Chinese President was being entertained by him.
President Trump came in from the cold.
The writer is a former member of the Ceylon Civil Service.