Der Spiegel, a well-thought-of magazine, ran in February 2017 a cover depicting the newly elected President Donald Trump, standing with one arm upstretched brandishing a bloody knife and the other arm raised flaunting Lady Liberty’s severed head, blood dripping from its wound. Lady Liberty is the Statute of Liberty. The cover came after Trump’s ban on immigration and refugees to the US from seven Muslim countries. Lady Liberty—at whose base is the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—stands for principles of compassion, welcoming, and openness, values said to those of the “American Way.” The cover was advising viewers that The Donald—confessed pussy grabber (Mathis-Lilley 2016)—was destroying those values. If Lady Liberty no longer represents the “American Way,” she should be replaced with one that does. One way of deciding what sort of a replacement to build is to examine the dispositions and actions of the Trump-o-crats, because it is they who are busy making Trump-world. So consider The Donald and some of his appointees.
The Donald gave voice to the Ur-Trump disposition when, responding to the presence of a protester at one of his rallies, he enthused, “I’d like to punch him in the face” (Schreckinger 2016). Speaking about ISIS he proclaimed, “I would bomb the shit out of ’em” (Hains 2015). Advising—presumably while bombing the shit out of them—”you have to take out their families” (LoBianco 2015). On the campaign trail he had a kind word for torture, confiding, “We should go for waterboarding.” Actually, at a campaign rally in NH, he said he “would bring back a hell of a lot worse” (Keating 2017).
He shared this affection for inflicting hurt with his Secretary of Defense, the ex–marine general—variously called “Badass” and/or “Mad Dog”—James Mattis. Mad Dog is claimed by supporters to be a true military hero. Hero? His combat commands included colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US artfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But Badass sure loves his violence, remarking on one occasion, “It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people” (Revesz 2016). At another time, he instructed his audience, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet,” warning at another event, “if you fuck with me I’ll kill you all” (Conway 2016).
Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former Army tank officer, who, as a member of the House of Representatives, defended enhanced interrogation techniques (torturer-speak for torture) as constitutional. Actually, torture is illegal due to a provision in US law (18 U.S.C. 2340) that took effect in 1994. He denounced President Obama’s 2009 decision to close the CIA’s “black sites.” These are locations where the CIA tortured its victims in secrecy. In 2014, speaking about the personnel manning the black sites, Mike said, “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots” (Keith 2016). At his confirmation hearings, Pompeo assured the senators questioning him that he would respect the law bearing upon torture, though—and this is a sly part—he said he was open to changing the law to make the illegal legal, bringing back enhanced interrogation techniques. At the same time, reports spread of the existence of a draft executive order circulating in the White House to reconstitute black sites, so idle torturers could get back in business.
Contemplate who The Donald appointed as Pompeo’s Deputy Head (the CIA’s second-in-command). This is Ms. Gina Haspel, notable for her command in the early 2000s of a dark site in Thailand called Cat’s Eye (Rosenberg 2017). Here she tortured and videotaped her victims’ suffering, in what appears to have been a quirky S&M pornography. Be clear: Torture is a form of human sacrifice. Victims’ lives are sacrificed to torturers’ gratifications, and—to be blunt—the torturers’ humanity is sacrificed to the monstrosity of their acts. In 2005, when it became clear that bringing back human sacrifice was not so nice, dutiful Gina ordered her videotapes destroyed. So nobody would ever know. However, people found out. But in the Trump-world it didn’t matter, just part of “making America great again.” He rewarded her torturing with the Deputy Directorship of the CIA—way to go, Gina!
The Trump-o-crats, then, are disposed to bombing “the shit out of ’em,” punching opponents “in the face,” planning “to kill everybody,” and running dark sites to do dark deeds. What a dream team of action heroes. The “American Way” disposed to cruelty. Of course, action speaks louder than disposition.
Towards the end of February, the new president announced his budget proposal. It projected slashing spending on the environment, education, science, health care, and poverty reduction while increasing military funding by $54 billion, a 9 percent increase (Shear and Steinhauer 2017). A month later, The Donald cryptically announced “total authorization” for his military (Shane 2017). The emphasis on totality was ominous—one interpretation making the rounds was “they can do whatever they fucking want.”
What the military appear to have wanted was to increase military action globally. On 13 April 2017, they dropped the MOAB (the “Mother of All Bombs”) a 21,000-pound explosive device in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The MOAB is the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the Americans. In Yemen, the President began “rapidly expanding military operations.” He increased logistical and intelligence support for Saudi Arabia’s warring against the Houthi, who are said to be supported by the Iranians, thereby using the Saudi’s as proxies to get at Washington’s enemy in Tehran. Simultaneously, operations against the Yemeni Al-Qaeda were increased, with 49 airstrikes in March, more strikes than America has ever undertaken in a year in that country (Democracy Now 2017).
Meanwhile, Iraq became a scene of increased US support for the Iraqi government’s Mosul offensive against ISIL. Assistance involving use of US and French artillery, helicopters firing Hellfire missiles, drones, and fixed-wing aircraft. Additional US combat personnel were sent ranging from combat engineers to Special Ops commandos (Gordon 2017). Concomitantly, there has been augmented assistance to Kurdish fighters advancing against ISIL in Syria (Cole 2017). Support has involved additional US soldiers providing training, artillery assistance, and airstrikes. A considerable escalation of US-Syrian operations was indicated in an 8 April report claiming that the Trump administration was leaving the Incirlik airbase in Turkey and moving to five airfields in Syria, largely in Kurdish territory (Debkafile 2017). The 4 April sarin gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria—hotly disputed as to who executed it—killed in the order of 90 people (BBC 2017). Trump’s people insisted President Assad of Syria’s military did it, with Russian connivance. Assad’s people, backed by the Russians, declared it a black flag operation, of which the US was not innocent. Analysis of a White House report a MIT chemical warfare expert that blamed the Syrians and Russians concluded the White House document was an “obviously false, misleading and amateurish intelligence report” (Postol 2017). Lost in the blame game is the actuality that The Donald’s military killed about 11 times more civilians (i.e., approximately 1,000 civilian deaths) in March than were lost in the Khan Shaykhun tragedy (Le Miere 2017).
Africa has not been ignored. Seventy days into his administration, Trump issued a directive permitting US Special Ops to work directly with the Somali military in their operations against Al-Shabaab, a Sunni Muslim militant group linked to Al-Qaeda. The directive classified areas in southern Somalia as “war zones” allowing US forces the ability to call in airstrikes without higher-level approval, increasing the potential for civilian casualties.
Russia and China are the two chief impediments to US military dominance. Since the end of the Cold War, Washington has attempted to counter these two countries by following what can be termed a Eurasian Strategy. In the western part of the Eurasian continent, it meant moving NATO forces eastward until they border on Russia. In the eastern region of the Eurasian continent, it involved adoption of an Asian Pivot, strongly advocated by Hillary Clinton (2011), involving the redeployment of US diplomatic and military—largely naval—assets to the Asian Pacific. Russia’s response to the Eurasian Strategy, among other reactions, has been hybrid war in Ukraine and reincorporation of the Crimean peninsula into Russia. China’s countering of the strategy has been to fortify certain islands in the South China Sea, in order to thwart US naval activity.
The Trump administration has continued this strategy. Even while speaking of reconciliation with Russia, it put 4,000 American troops in early 2017 into Eastern Europe in Operation Atlantic Resolve on, or near, the border with Russia (Gigova 2017). This was the “biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War” (MacAskill 2017). The Donald’s moves toward China have been intimidating. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—he of “don’t look me in the eyes” reputation (Link 2017)—has advocated a US naval blockade of the fortified islands in the South China sea. Blockades are acts of war. North Korea has continued development of its nuclear armament program. The US has threatened North Korea with war if it does not disarm. It has sent an aircraft carrier battle group to Korean waters. Should such a conflict begin, it would directly threaten China, which would enter on the side of the north. Additionally, the US has deployed a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) antiballistic system in South Korea. China worries that THAAD will be employed to counter their missile capabilities. Deployment of THAAD has been argued to be “part of a network of integrated anti-missile systems designed to facilitate nuclear war with China or Russia” (Symonds 2017). China is rumored to have deployed 150,000 troops to its North Korean border (Hong Soon-do 2017). Russia is reported to have sent S400 antiaircraft missiles from Vladivostok in the direction of the North Korean border. Actions speak louder than dispositions. Trump-o-crats are disposed to harsh pugnacity. Their actions in the first months of The Donald’s rule turn out cruel realizations of their dispositions. But hang on—what is occurring as actually the same old same old!
The Same Old, Same Old
The phrase “same old, same old” is US slang indicating the something is a reiteration of an earlier iteration of that something. If your every dinner consists of spaghetti, you might say in anticipation of your next repast “it’ll be the same old, same old spaghetti.” The Trump-o-crats military activity is pretty much the same old, same old.
Recently I published Deadly Contradictions (2016). It argues that following World War II the US was organized as an informal empire, one intended to have global reach. Like all empires it was designed to achieve, and maintain, domination by both nonmilitary and military means. Military means were to be used when the empire faced contradictions that buffeted it, and when other ways of addressing the contradictions proved ineffective. The years since 1950 have revealed that running an empire is hard going. The US has faced serious economic and political contradictions. These have intensified and coalesced since the 1970s, and that this has led the US into a prodigious amount of overt and covert, direct and proxy global warring (i.e., warring in different areas of the world where it intends to achieve some form of control).
What are the dimensions of this warring? The US military does not keep accurate accounts of it military operates. So accounts of their frequency and lethality should be understood as estimates. John Tures, working with a data set generate, by the Federation of American Scientists, reported the US was involved in 263 interstate military operations between 1945 and 2002—roughly 4.6 operations per year—though he notes that since 1991 there have been on the average 16 operations annually (Reyna 2016). I have conservatively estimated that that this warfare killed 9,700,000 people, a high percentage of whom were civilians, since World War II. Other estimates put deaths from US warring much higher at 20 to 30 million persons (Lucas 2007). It is further estimated that this warring has led to 73 million people becoming refugees. The numbers of deaths and refugees provoked by warring serve as indicators of the terror they provoke. The figures for US global warring suggest that US to have been the greatest state terrorist agency since World War II. All of which suggests the The Donald is just the same old, same old, a reiteration of his predecessors. They were, and are, brutal killers servicing a rickety empire, built for global control. So what should be Lady Liberty’s replacement?
A De-cloaking Device
Readers might at this point take a trip down memory lane and recall the television series Star Trek. Occasionally, Captain Kirk found himself up against an enemy starship with a cloaking device that made it invisible. So he did not know his opponent. However, he did have de-cloaking technology that rendered the hidden visible. All the discourse about the American Way might be imagined as a cloaking device. It portrays the US as the bringer of freedom, prosperity, tolerance, and lots and lots of other good stuff. However, make no mistake about it, America is actually a serial perpetrator of state terrorism, right up there with Nazis.
Then along came The Donald—a crude, pussy-grabbing, punch them out, bomb the shit out of them, kill their families sort of guy. Along came his myrmidons—Old Maddog, who thinks it is “fun” to shoot people; Pompeo, defender of “enhanced interrogation techniques”; Ms Haspel performing those techniques secretly in “dark sites.” They are a walking, talking de-cloaking device, revealing what the American Way is all about—terror in support of empire. Der Spiegel’s cover had it right. Consequently, out with the old, in with the new. With the new a gigantic statue of The Donald holding aloft a severed head, and carved in its base the line “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, and we’ll bomb the shit out of them.”
This article originally appeared on CounterPunch on 21 April 2017. Punctuation, spelling, and citations were amended to conform the FocaalBlog style guide.
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Steve Reyna is coeditor of Anthropological Theory and an associate at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology. He is the author of Deadly Contradictions: The New American Empire and Its Global Warring (Berghahn Books, 2016).