While Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans were asleep or just waking up on Wednesday morning, US President Donald Trump was talking about them in the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump declared, as he hailed the US withdrawal of forces from Syria and expressed optimism for negotiations with the Taliban. His address also revealed why these endless US wars will continue, and get worse, further into the 21st Century.
His indifference to Palestinian suffering and his denial of climate change present two major, intertwined risks for future US conflicts abroad, perhaps in wars one day far more horrific than any the 20th Century saw.
Make no mistake, the United States is a key a sponsor of the world’s oldest, continuous forever war: the Israeli occupation. Not only do billions of dollars of US military aid go to Israel, but the unresolved conflict there has been the catalyst for countless eruptions of bloodshed across the region, from Lebanon to Yemen, and often with Iran as an accelerant.
But that’s how Israel’s occupation works, it’s quite literally a nation fighting an endless war, a war that the US bankrolls.
Trump did not once mention his grandiose plans for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He only talked about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital. He also celebrated the US leaving the Iran nuclear deal and the imposition of new sanctions on the country. He did not mention Saudi Arabia, and his only mention of Yemen was to introduce a father of man killed in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
While he talked about reaching a “political settlement” in Afghanistan, he said nothing of the sort for Syria. He made no mention of Palestinians at all.
But Trump does understand what pullouts from Syria and Afghanistan would mean for his short-term political prospects in 2020, just as he understood that criticising the Iraq War in 2016 set him apart from the pack of other Republican candidates for the nomination. He was also able to set himself apart from his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who herself had voted for the war. It was one of Trump’s more cunning scams: holding up the US loss in Iraq, in a war it could never have won anyway, as a symbol of the failure of the ‘establishment’.
Some of Trump’s critics have welcomed the president’s promises to end US wars abroad. But those policies are pointless, merely illusions, if everything else Trump does sets the stage for him or his successor returning to fight there again. Moreover, if Trump does nothing to end the forever war of Israeli occupation, then he’s done nothing to end US-sponsored carnage overseas.
To do this, Trump would also need to convince the entire national security establishment to get on board with his vision of an America that never intervenes in other countries. However, to the delight of his cable news cheer squad, he has done nothing but call that national security establishment a den of liars and traitors. And, true to character, he is in no way consistent on the matter of US missions abroad, saying he won’t rule out US-military action in President Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela, where the US has recognised an opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the legitimate president of the oil-rich but desperately poor South American country.
In contrast to his inconsistency on military intervention, Trump has remained throughout his term in office steadfast in his denial of the existence of climate change. His inaction on climate change and the reversal of carbon reduction commitments made by Obama will increase the risk of US forces going overseas in the future and makes peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians even more difficult for his successors, who will inherit a hotter, drier and more dangerous world. As Palestinians struggle to find clean water, with shortages worst in Gaza, every aspect of Trump’s foreign policy threatens to make that struggle harder. Climate change and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are not hypothetical dystopias, but immediate problems screaming out for attention. Trump ignores both.
Indeed, some scientists fear that Trump has already done permanent damage to global efforts to combat climate change, a diplomatic feat that requires all countries act in concert to transform their economies away from fossil fuels. These efforts were just in their beginning stages, and the urgency is extreme. By 2100, a third of the Himalayan glaciers could melt, due to a warming climate caused by carbon emissions, according to a new report. This icy region of Earth, our planet’s ‘third pole’, is the source of drinking water for billions of people along a whole web of rivers across China and India, a US ally. If military conflict starts over resources in this region, it’s hard to imagine the United States will just sit back and watch as two nuclear powers face off over a chemical - water - that sustains all life on Earth.
Trump didn’t mention the phrase climate change once during the entire State of the Union. It’s a safe bet that he won’t next year, either.
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