Empires have one historical constant: they fail.
Empires have one historical constant: they fail. by Robert Gore
President Trump likes deals and campaigned on his deal-making prowess. Negotiation requires parties who respect each other enough to bargain in good faith. It is a lost art in US foreign policy, replaced by imperatives: we tell you what to do and you do it. This makes the US government the world’s most hated institution. Negotiation poses an existential threat to a Deep State grown powerful and wealthy imposing US dominance on the rest of the world, and increasingly, the American people. Dominance implies unipolarity; negotiation implies multipolarity.
During his campaign, Trump resonated with voters and put the Deep State on alert, voicing two criticisms of unipolarity: its cost and its failures. Trump’s criticism of NATO, particularly of costs borne primarily by the US, should be an opening salvo in a wider war against the costs of US empire. The US has over 800 bases in over 150 countries. The annual expense of maintaining those outposts is substantial, and other personnel costs, high-tech weaponry, and foreign military interventions run into the hundreds of billions. (Foreign interventions are usually kept off budget by one of Washington’s beloved accounting tricks.) Total annual spending for the military and intelligence, including veterans benefits, is close to $1 trillion.
There is significant waste and corruption. The Defense Department has never passed an audit, and trillions of dollars remain unaccounted for. Most of the intelligence agencies’ budgets are “black box”—undisclosed—but waste and corruption on a comparable scale is probably a safe assumption.
All that money has bought multiple failures. The US has turned the Middle East and Northern Africa into a chaotic quagmire that has led to increased terrorism and refugee flows in the millions. Trump’s campaign adroitly played on popular fears of refugees and terrorism, but he’s maintaining the policies that produce them. More US forces are being sent to Iraq and Syria, and one special forces’ operation in Yemen has resulted in the first US military death (and the deaths of at least 10 Yemeni civilians) on Trump’s watch. He has shown no inclination to stop or curtail drone strikes, covert operations, or proxy warfare.
Trump’s military policy in the Middle East has been indistinguishable from Obama’s, and a subtle diplomatic shift demonstrates that US unipolarity, rather than multipolar “deals,” will continue to be the order of the day. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran was a throwback to presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan, who negotiated arms control agreements with hostile powers. It has achieved its primary aim—nobody claims Iran is now developing nuclear weapons—yet Trump and team continuously criticize it. Iran has taken a substantial risk with the nuclear treaty. Muammar Gaddafi explicitly renounced nuclear weapons and terminated Libya’s embryonic program, while Saddam Hussein never had them, and the US violently deposed both of them. ( And US officials wonder why North Korea “clings” to its nuclear program!) Yet, Trump officials have put Iran “on notice,” called for renewed sanctions, and rattled the invasion sabers because Iran fired missiles that were not banned in the agreement.