Trump Goes Nuclear: Or, How I Learned to Mobilize and Stop the War Machine

Dr. Strangetrump

A pivotal scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb finds George C. Scott’s jingoistic General Buck Turgidson laying out the dire options for U.S. President Merkin Muffley, as the nation hurtles toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

“Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching the moment of truth,” General Turgidson says, “both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation.

TURGIDSON: Now truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, post-war environments: One where you got 20 million people killed, and the other where you got 150 million people killed.

MUFFLEY: You’re talking about mass murder, General—not war.

TURGIDSON: Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops! Uh, depending on the breaks.

It turns out Kubrick’s dark comedy was more prescient than he realized. In the narcissistic, hyper-masculine, Donald Trump, we have a real-life Dr. Strangelove sitting in the White House. And this past week, he blatantly threatened nuclear rival, North Korea with destruction not once, but twice.

Trump cautioned North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons testing or it would “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The Predator in Chief ratcheted up his warmongering threats a day later, claiming the United States is “locked and loaded”—his most overt warning of pending military action against the North Korean regime, to date. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded to Trump’s initial warning by threatening to fire a missile at the U.S. colony—err, I mean “territory”—of Guam.

Trump’s words and tweets are not just incredibly reckless. (This is a president keep in mind, whose articulate solution to defeating ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of ‘em.”)

As U.S. Army colonel-turned-left-wing-professor-and-author, Andrew Bacevich observed on a recent episode on Democracy Now!, Trump seems to lack the ability to “use the English language with any sort of precision or finesse.”

“Many people have commented … on the narcissism which seems to be such a prominent characteristic of Trump’s personality,” said Bacevich.

And … when you watch the video of him making that “fire and fury” comment, it’s difficult to avoid thinking that the motivation of the moment is to make himself feel good, to somehow demonstrate that he’s a tough guy, that he’s standing up to what he perceives as a threat, and to, somehow or other, derive some sense of personal satisfaction … from issuing that threat—utterly oblivious as to the larger implications… And that’s … got to be very troubling.

In other words, we basically have a petulant 14-year-old sitting in the Oval Office. A petulant 14-year-old with the country’s nuclear codes.

Indeed, a Carnegie Mellon University analysis of the “readability” of the 2016 presidential candidates’ speeches compared to previous presidents, found the grammar and vocabulary Trump employs are just below a sixth-grade reading-level.

(Hence the president’s use of words like, “bigly” and “covfefe,” and his over-reliance on clichéd adjectives like “beautiful,” and “huge.”)

Let’s be clear: North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is—like Iran’s–a deterrent. It is in direct response to the United States’ decades of crippling economic sanctions, and its prior assault on North Korea during the Korean War—which never really ended. And recent U.S. efforts at regime change in Iraq and Libya have likely only put Kim Jong Un on further heightened alert.

None of this should be read as an apology for Kim’s repressive, authoritarian regime. North Korea, like China, is “communist” in name only. It is in no way a country the left should strive to emulate. Nor should we ignore its egregious human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, we must understand North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing is less the product of its “madman” leader, and more a legitimate form of self-defense. If Israel–whose nuclear weapons arsenal far surpasses North Korea’s–has a “right to defend itself,” then so does North Korea.

But rather than this childish—and utterly foolish—game of nuclear chicken, the West must attempt to engage the North Korean regime in peaceful negotiations. As Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin points out in a recent op-ed, “Sixty percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.”

The left must stand in solidarity with oppressed people not just in our country, but throughout the world. This means opposing U.S. war and imperialism in all its depraved forms. We must understand that there is no such thing as a “humanitarian” war.

“Wars throughout history,” observed the great socialist leader, Eugene Debs, “have been waged for conquest and plunder.”

This is true even of the Second World War (the “good war”) and the ruinous carnage that was the Vietnam War (a war in which we “meant well”).

The U.S. has been locked in a nebulous “war on terror” for nearly 20 years now. This is an Orwellian war which, by design, can never be won–and thus, can never end. George W. Bush used the fear and horror of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq–occupations that continue to this day. (The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history.)

And contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama did not scale-down the “war on terror”–he expanded it.

Though Obama dropped the use of the asinine phrase, “war on terror,” as well as Bush’s jingoistic, cowboy swagger, he nonetheless continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and launched drone-strikes in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton oversaw the overthrow and extrajudicial killing of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Indeed, perhaps Obama’s greatest contribution to the “war on terror” was his ability to simultaneously enlarge its scope, while shifting it to the background, making it almost an afterthought in Americans’ minds. His reliance on unmanned predator drones, targeted assassinations, extrajudicial killings, and increased use of the elite Joint Special Operations Command in place of traditional “boots-on-the-ground,” effectively rendered the United States’ various military campaigns little more than white-noise.

The lack of critical media foreign policy coverage, combined with liberals’ reluctance to challenge the president when he is “their guy,” left the anti-war movement paralyzed.

Trump is now posing himself as the necessary course correction to Obama’s alleged “weakness” on fighting terrorism. His petit-bourgeois supporters relish his “tough guy” rhetoric and alpha-male braggadocio, which they believe will “put America first.”

As the remaining segments of the dwindling middle-class, Trump’s supporters view themselves as the beleaguered, “forgotten” members of the working class, even though most of them likely have more in common–economically and politically–with the upper-middle class and the rich. Forget the misleading media narrative linking Trump’s presidency to a “Rustbelt Revolution.” Trump’s base consists mostly of small-business owners who resent government, regulations, and immigrants and who dream of joining the ranks of the wealthy.

Now is the time to reconstitute the anti-war movement. The left must reconnect itself to its long history of anti-imperialist activism. Many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters, for instance, shrugged off his hawkish foreign policy positions as “secondary issues.”

This attitude is a grave mistake.

The left must rediscover the centrality of opposing war and imperialism, as well as its interconnectedness to domestic issues like racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and economic insecurity. (Fifty-four percent of our federal tax dollars go to the military “defense” budget.)

The subversive, Dr. Strangelove brilliantly illustrates the utter madness of nuclear war. Perhaps worst of all, it lays bare the complete ineptitude of the president, the military generals, foreign leaders, and the rest of the ruling class “experts” to halt the course of mass civilizational destruction, once it is initiated.

Let’s mobilize now to ensure Kubrick’s film remains a dark satire–and not an ominous premonition.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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From Hope to Hopeless: Reflections on Obama’s Legacy of Corporatism and Militarism

barack-obama

Barack Obama’s farewell address last Tuesday highlighted, one last time, the conflicting disparity between the president’s rhetoric and the actual policies he has pursued throughout the last eight years.

It was, as always, a rousing speech–even if it was completely detached from the material reality working-class Americans endure. (Say what you will about the president, but the man remains an impressive orator. George W. Bush, on the other hand, struggled just to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”)

Obama assumed office just as the 2008 Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, was unfolding. He handily defeated Republican John McCain, on a marketing-savvy (if, ultimately, vacuous) platform of “hope” and “change.” And congressional Democrats rode Obama’s campaign coattails to victory, enlarging their already solid majority in the House and Senate.

The message from voters was clear: Americans were fed up with eight years of Bush’s unpopular wars, shredding of constitutional liberties, torture and spying programs, and the ever widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the working class. President Obama and the Democrats had a clear mandate to enact sweeping progressive changes on the level of FDR’s New Deal.

Eight years later, those unpopular wars have not only continued but been expanded. The NSA’s surveillance program is far more widespread than we originally imagined. The U.S. no longer tortures its enemies–it murders them, without charge, warrant or trial, via unmanned predator drones. The once discredited Republican Party has retaken control of Congress and the White House along with 67 state legislatures.

And the economy remains stagnant–the much lauded “economic recovery,” a cruel joke. Wall Street not only weathered the recession, but emerged richer and more influential than when taxpayers were forced to bail out the floundering Lehman Brothers and AIG at the height of the recession.

What the hell happened…?

For starters, Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus fell far short of the type of robust stimulus package many economists–including New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman–believed was necessary. (Krugman would later reveal the true limits to his supposed Keynesian economic populism in his intense opposition to democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.)

In fact, the stimulus contained limited money for job-creation and, according to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, “explicitly ruled out direct government jobs programs modeled on the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration. It dedicated upwards of 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts and credits to individuals and business that were useless in creating jobs.”

But then, it seems that Obama–who described himself on the campaign trail as a “free-market guy,” and cited Ronald Reagan as a political inspiration–was always more committed to serving Wall Street than Main Street.

Investigative journalist, Ron Suskind, in his book, The Confidence Men, reported on a March 27, 2009 meeting between the president and a group of the most influential Wall Street CEOs. Despite Obama’s warning the billionaires that, “My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he and then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner nonetheless assured them they would not interfere with business-as-usual in Wall Street.

Suskind quotes one of the attending CEOs:

The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief… The president had as us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t. He mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.

The list of botched opportunities and unfulfilled promises goes on.

The health insurance giveaway known as the Affordable Care Act is based on a right-wing proposal and is a far cry from the single-payer, universal health care program left activists have long called for. The former community organizer who frequently invokes the language and rhetoric of nonviolent civil disobedience used the brute force of the NYPD to violently crush Occupy Wall Street.

Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. (And you thought Trump’s xenophobia was bad!) He has, likewise, created a repressive, chilling atmosphere toward journalists, prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.

And, while the historic significance of a nation founded and built on slavery electing its first African American president should not be undermined, Obama did precious little to address the deeply-embedded, institutional racism that remains a pernicious presence in our supposedly “post-racial” country. Indeed, black Americans have lost ground in every economic category during the last eight years.

By the 2010 midterm elections, liberal voters were understandably underwhelmed and unimpressed. They stayed home on Election Day, allowing the conservative Tea Party “movement” to sweep Republicans back into the House of Representatives. The Democrats barely hung on to their majority in the Senate–a situation which would eventually by reversed after the GOP won big gains in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

As Selfa writes of Obama’s first two years in office, “This was a time when Obama and the Democrats held almost all the levers of political power in Washington. And they squandered it.”

He later adds,

“Obama’s penchant to reach for compromise and ‘bipartisanship’ was exactly the opposite of what the dire situation he inherited required–and what the American populace was ready for.”

But I think the biggest gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is demonstrated in the area of foreign policy, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner has proved himself to be a greater warmonger than Bush.

Obama ramped-up the nebulous war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He has dropped bombs on Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In fact, according to anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. And the U.S. maintains a military presence in Iraq, a nation both Bush and Obama have all but ravaged, paving the way for the massive refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts?” writes Benjamin. “Terrorism has spread, no wars have been ‘won’ and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”

Additionally, Obama has codified and normalized the use of unmanned predator drones. Contrary to his insistence, these robotic death machines do not allow for more selective, precisely targeted killings. Obama is also the first sitting president to claim for himself the right to assassinate, at will, any person based on the slightest suspicion of connections to terrorism. Targets are selected for assassination based on Obama’s secret “kill list”—a list which includes American citizens.

And on Jan. 20—five days from this writing—Donald Trump will inherit all of this awesome, unprecedented military power and extrajudicial authority. Yeah, I’m fucking scared, too.

To that end, perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement has been his ability to get progressives to passively go along with policies they never would have supported under a Republican president.

Glenn Greenwald observed this phenomenon during Congress’s debate in 2011 on raising the federal debt-ceiling in order to avoid a government shutdown. As part of Obama’s “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans he offered up deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the crown jewels of New Deal liberalism.

As Greenwald wrote in The Guardian at the time:

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses–even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

In the end, Obama’s true legacy may be that he was not the “lesser evil,” but in the words of Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, the more “effective evil.”

Going forward, as Obama exits the White House and we look down the barrel of Trump’s administration of swamp monsters, it is worth remembering a quote from left-wing historian, Howard Zinn.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any Word Press-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.