WATCH: Abby Martin Reveals How Trump is Expanding the US Empire
In the first installment of this multi-part series, Trump Expanding the Empire, Abby Martin debunks the notion that Trump is an anti-interventionist president, outlining his first two years of aggressive foreign policy that has expanded US wars and occupations.
From the biggest military budget in history to removing its restrictions to “bomb the hell out of” Iraq and Syria, to ramping-up brutal economic sanctions, to becoming America’s ‘Arms Salesman-In-Chief.’
Transcript and links:
“Welcome to Empire Files. I’m your host, Abby Martin. We started this show in 2015. And since then, we’ve maintained the premise that the US empire is not only a huge expanse, but is constantly expanding. Contrary to those who say the US empire is in decline, the war machine has been on a continuous march forward to swallow up new regions and markets, no matter the president.
Two years, into Donald Trump’s reign as CEO of the empire, we wanted to see if the trajectory has continued. At the beginning, I admit I thought Trump was a wild card. I considered the fact that Trump is an extreme narcissist that only cares about himself, not his fellow billionaires. I considered there might be a reason why none of the CEOs the top 100 largest companies in the nation backed Trump for president.
And true to the dizzying effects of having Donald Trump as president, anything was possible––he could go against the grain and start belligerent, major new wars; he could capitulate and be a loyal servant as long as they made him look good; or he could buck the establishment bourgeoisie and pander to a sector of right-wing isolationists and anti-interventionists, who support refocusing US wars on the border, against immigrants, rather than waste resources for so called nation building abroad.
After all, Trump did posture himself as the anti-intervention candidate in the 2016 election. It was a strategy that made sense. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans do not support endless wars abroad. The last 17 years of military conflicts have tainted any candidate who advocates more war.
Right-wing online forums were ablaze with theories that Trump was an isolationist who would fight the “deep state” on wasteful wars. But it was obvious to anyone watching that he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. Trump also campaigned on war, most notably threatening a major war with Iran, which would make Iraq look like child’s play. Not only that, but one of his main campaign promises was a major escalation of war and brutality in the Middle East.
His threats exceeded carpet bombing though, he even evoked the genocide of Muslims in the Philippines as a model, and the legend that General Pershing executed civilians with bullets dipped in pigs blood and buried their bodies with pig carcasses.
He essentially campaigned on a massive expansion of the bogus “War On Terror”. Far from “isolationist,” Trump presented himself as more of heartless warmonger who thought human rights law was a barrier that needed to be smashed––that the violence of the war machine was too soft, too restrained.
Candidate Trump didn’t just lament the restraint on American war crimes around the world, but also financial restraints on the military machine. Somehow, Trump argued that the country with the biggest military budget in the history of the world, was actually too small.
Candidate Trump has turned out to be a pretty good predictor of a president Trump. And it should’ve been clear to everyone what kind of President he would be when he hand picked his cabinet, stacking it with the craziest neocon outliers––ones too insane even for the Bush Administration––and more generals than any cabinet since World War 2, who are literal war criminals.
He even bragged about giving the Pentagon maximum power to act, free from annoying checks and balances. And true to his word, he also shattered all records for our already obscene military budget.
Before Trump came in, it was already larger than all these countries combined. But apparently that wasn’t enough, so within his first year Trump kicked in the biggest defense budget in history––close to one trillion dollars.
The increase in military spending alone equates to more than Russia’s entire annual military budget. The new $750 billion war toy chest included another $705 million for Israel, $100 million to deter “Russian aggression” in the Baltics, and another $500 million to arm Ukraine, equipment that seems to keep getting into the hands of neo-nazi militias.
But the most interesting part of the budget is the spending increase for what’s called Overseas Contingency Operations, which includes maintaining troop deployments and US bases, as well as new and expanding outposts. Since 2011, this spending has been capped by a federal statute. But Trump blew the caps off by $80 billion dollars!
This couldn’t have happened without Congress––or the full endorsement of the Democratic Party establishment. There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington to maintain the US empire, along with its 800 military bases.
And it’s not just gifting the military industrial complex with an open faucet of taxpayer dollars, but using US dominance to get them huge weapons contracts with foreign proxies.
Obama oversaw some of the biggest arms deals in US history, selling more than $115 Billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia alone, the most of any US administration.
But Trump has taken the role of CEO of the US empire to new heights, becoming the de facto arms salesman-in-chief.
Trump made it a priority to lift Obama-era restrictions on selling weapons to countries committing human rights abuses, like Bahrain. US diplomats were also instructed to become literal conduits for weapons manufacturers and push arms sales as part of their jobs.
In Trump’s first year, the State Department approved more than $75 billion in overseas weapons sales, topping the previous record of $68 billion in 2012.
It’s only ramped up since. In the first 6 months of 2018, the DOD brokered weapons deals to foreign proxies alone worth $46 billion, more than the $41 billion worth of deals made during all of 2017.
By pumping obscene amounts of cash into the war machine, while gleefully endorsing bombing and torture, Trump makes it clear to his friends that business will be booming for a long time.
Richard Aboulafia of the military think tank ‘Teal Group’ said of the policy shift: “diplomacy is out; air strikes are in…in this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs.”
It’s paid off for America’s five biggest defense contractors, whose stocks have more than tripled in the last couple years.
We’re told it “costs too much” to have medicare for all, yet money was no object when Trump ordered the DOD to establish a “Space Force” as a sixth branch of the military, projected to cost at least $13 billion dollars in the first five years.
The idea to militarize space was first proposed by the Bush administration, in their PNAC blueprint for the War on Terror. Trump is just another neocon puppet, eager to fulfill their Stormtrooper fantasy.
Not to mention the fact that alongside passing this record military budget, it was paid for with budget cuts to society’s most vulnerable, in particular, hungry children.
But Trump isn’t just making sure kids in the United States go hungry, but children in every country it deems our enemies. Because the US dollar drives the global economy, the empire frequently wields sanctions to bend countries to its will.
Anyone claiming to be anti-war, or even just anti-intervention, must oppose any and all economic sanctions. Make no mistake: sanctions are war. And not in a hyperbolic sense. They are real attacks, that kill real people.
The impact of sanctions is never discussed in the US media. They’re always treated as a kind of “soft” solution, with the assumption that they only affect a society’s corrupt elites. These are assumption nowhere close to the reality.
Sanctions hurt the most vulnerable––and by design. That’s why they intentionally target medicine, clean water, and access to food. The logic of sanctions is, if you kill and starve enough innocent civilians, they will blame their own government, rise up and overthrow them so American force don’t have to waste any blood overthrowing them.
Their genocidal impact cannot be overstated. Looking at Iraq alone, US sanctions in the 90’s, that blockaded medicine from the country, killed 500,000 Iraqi babies. That is the true face of sanctions.
They are not an “alternative to war,” sanctions ARE war in every way. So what has Trump done with the daggers of US sanctions? He’s shown the true face of his foreign policy. Obama implemented hundreds of sanctions during his tenure. But Trump is ramping them up in nearly every region, adding hundreds more in his first two years.
The most destructive application of sanctions has been on Iran, where Trump upended Obama’s historic nuclear deal and added 143 sanctions that have since debilitated their economy.
Then there’s North Korea, where people give Trump credit for peace between the North and South. Amazingly, despite the media’s rhetoric of Trump bowing down for dictators, he has installed 80 new sanctions on the DPRK, compared to the 74 applied by Obama.
In Syria, Trump has authorized a stunning 287 new sanctions, almost double the amount applied under Obama. He’s administered 43 sanctions on Libya so far.
In Russia and Ukraine, Trump has defied the notion he is a puppet of Putin by sanctioning the region 105 times so far, for everything from annexing Crimea, to the alleged meddling in the 2016 election, to the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Not to mention the 43 “cyber sanctions” put on the figures alleged to have hacked into the DNC.
Next is Venezuela. Even though Obama added 7 sanctions in his term, Trump’s laser focus is set on destroying the country once-and-for-all. He’s already employed 63 new sanctions to strangle Venezuela and undermine any chance for economic recovery.
He imposed many more sanctions on independent, progressive countries like Cuba and Nicaragua.
What do all those countries have in common? It’s not some standard of democracy or human rights––it’s that they are all independent of US domination. They chart their own path and decide what’s done with the wealth of their own country. The biggest thing they have in common, is that none of them pose any threat to us!
It would be bad enough if the Trump administration was only expanding economic warfare on these countries. But they’re taking it much further.
Any corner of the globe we look to, we see that he is indeed expanding the US empire’s influence and operations––he has ratcheted up, with new fire and veracity, covert and overt regime change operations; expansion of military bases, massive increases in bombings and civilian casualties, and belligerent escalations that put us on the brink of catastrophic war on multiple fronts.
As we’ll show in this multi-part series, Trump Expanding the Empire, that whether or not Trump pisses off, offends or even destabilizes powerful sectors of the imperialist state, he has only put war and militarism on the march.
It may be confusing how Trump is still making proclamations about stopping endless wars, but we have to look at his actions, not his rhetoric.
And yes, there is growing opposition to Trump within the halls of power. But not because they think Trump is going to reign back the Empire––but because he’s simply self-absorbed and unpredictable.
With all the praise about the most diverse Congress in history, you can’t find any diversity in opinion when it comes to continuing US imperialism. We can’t let the democrats steer the resistance away from where it needs to be––in the streets, linking our struggles, fighting the expansive US empire.”
Part Two: Trump’s Syria Deception
In Part II of our series Trump Expanding the Empire, Abby Martin addresses the surprise order from Trump that he was “ending the war” in Syria.
Having drastically escalated the war in Syria and Iraq, find out what’s behind the supposed troop withdrawal and the hidden facts in the policies.
Transcript and Links:
“As we continue our series “How Trump is Expanding the US Empire,” Trump has jolted the establishment by announcing the removal of US troops in Syria.
The US military has 800 bases around the world, with soldiers in 70% of the world’s nations. Obviously, reigning back the US empire anywhere, and removing troops anywhere is a good thing.
So it’s been really atrocious to see the Democratic Party establishment working with most of the GOP and Pentagon to attack this decision from the right, decrying any troop withdrawal as dangerous for so-called national interests.
It’s amplified the claim by liberal pundits, journalists, and Democratic Party leaders like Hillary Clinton, that Trump is some kind of “isolationist” who wants to reign back America’s expansive military machine.
So, what is going on? Is Trump really curtailing the US empire and pushing back against the military industrial complex that has dominated US foreign policy since Eisenhower? No, in fact this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Like in Afghanistan, Trump is simply removing the troops he himself added in Syria since taking office.
While Trump railed against Obama for putting US troops in Syria, he left office with less than 300 US troops there––but through 2017, that number grew to around 2,200 today, approaching 10 times the number under Obama.
But it’s hard to know the true number, since Trump broke with Pentagon policy andactually stopped disclosing troops deployments to Syria and Iraq––how democratic!
And just as Trump started hiding from the public his large troop deployments, he broke with Obama’s policy of only sending Special Operations to Syria, but started sending large units of conventional forces.
And while I was the first to call Obama the drone king, Trump has drastically ramped up US bombing in every region of the world, along with a massive amount of civilian casualties. Not too surprising, considering he campaigned on a new major war to not only “bomb the shit” out of alleged “terrorists,” but their families too.
Trump definitely kept that horrific promise. In 2017, the number of US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria increased 50%. But they became far more deadly for non combatants. While his airstrikes were a 50% increase from Obama, he increased civilian casualtiesby 215%, killing an estimated 6,000 civilians in a year.
Trump himself takes credit for that spike, bragging about giving the generals more freedoms to unleash their weapons of mass destruction.
And let’s just get this out of the way. The US military is not fighting a war in Syria to “defeat ISIS” just like it’s not fighting an endless war in Afghanistan to “fight terrorism,” just like it’s never fought a war anywhere for “human rights” or “democracy.”
The reasons they say at press conferences are never the reasons they talk about behind closed doors.
In reality, all these wars are about expanding US control. Syria has been a target ever since the won independence from British and French colonialism in 1963––and along with other Pan-Arab victories in the region like Libya, Iraq, Egypt and beyond, they were all on the chopping block for American capitalism.
And let us not forget that Trump’s first foreign policy act was crossing another line Obama was too scared to do, when he launched strikes against the Syrian state from the dining room of Mar-A-Lago. It’s the type of escalation that could lead to a new world war, but was flippantly carried out over chocolate cake.
The US Empire’s proxy in the Middle East, Israel, carried out even more bombing. Trump ushered in a new phase where Israel began targeting Syrian forces––bombing them at least 10 times in the last two years! These airstrikes would likely never happen without approval, assistance or orders from the Pentagon.
Remember, Trump didn’t announce an end to the US operation in Syria. He simply said he’s removing 2,000 troops. Nothing about the continued bombing, which he dramatically escalated in his first year. And even though bombings dropped in intensity in 2018, after there was basically nothing left to bomb, large numbers of airstrikes continue, contradicting the claim the war is over. In the last two weeks of 2018 alone, the Pentagon says they carried out over 1,000 “engagements” in Syria and nearly 500 airstrikes.
Nothing about supporting it’s foreign surrogates, like Turkey, to do all the dying in place of US troops. Trump has been pushing his far-right collaborator Erdogan to purchase vast amounts of US anti-aircraft weapons, no-doubt for proxy aggression against Iran, Russia and Syria.
Not to mention there are over 5,000 private mercenaries in Iraq and Syria already working for the US; Trump has said nothing about removing them.
And even the withdrawal timetable keeps changing. On December 19 Trump ordered a “rapid withdrawal” of US troops from Syria, to be carried out within 30 days. But four days later, he tweeted that the “rapid withdrawal” is now a “slow pull out.” Sarah Sanders also reassured the war-hungry press that US forces would be “ready to re-engage” “at a moment’s notice in Syria.”
He even sent his cretin John Bolton on an apology tour to assure Israel that the US could leave some troops in Syria indefinitely, while building up forces in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey to fight Iran.
Trump bizarrely diverted questions about the changing timeline by criticizing Obama for not bombing Assad. And in one of the most brazen imperialist statements ever made by a US president, Trump admitted that there was nothing for big business tosteal in Syria’s deserts.
It seems like Trump and his friends are only interested in what resources they can pillage and what markets they can open and plunder as a consequence of US invasions. The thing is, Trump isn’t talking at all about withdrawing any troops from Iraq, where he wants to pillage the oil.
If you look at a map of where US troops actually were set up in Syria, it is literally just a few miles from the border of Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, where the US military has bases and large numbers of troops already stationed. So it’s really just a repositioning of US forces.
And when you see that Syria is actually completely surrounded on all sides by hostile US lapdogs, most hosting large US military installations and American troops, the ability for the Empire to withdraw troops but continue aggression is pretty clear.
While Trump’s Syria troop withdrawal got all the attention, what went totally under the radar is that he simultaneously announced the indefinite extension of the criminal occupation of Iraq.
Trump campaigned on opposing the Iraq war “from the beginning”. But the reality is he was actually just for the war being done “the right way.”
But it doesn’t so much matter what Trump said about Iraq before he had any political power. Now that he’s Commander in Chief, what he’s done is all we can go by.
By the 2008 election, public opinion was deafening: the people wanted troops out now. It’s a central reason Obama was elected.
Under Obama, the number of troops precipitously dropped from around 180,000 to just 5,000through the last years of his administration. While Obama did start adding larger troop deployments in 2016 to “fight ISIS”, Trump came in and hit the gas.
By the end of his first year in office, Trump had nearly doubled the number of US troops in Iraq. And they were doing much less “advising and assisting” and much more “killing and dying” on the front lines.
So much so that more US troops have been killed there during two years of Trump, than in the previous 4 years combined. 37 soldiers have lost their lives for Trump’s ISIS mission, but you would never know it by watching the news, as if the war is long over.
Trump essentially cemented a new Iraq war, and doing so means that at any moment it could escalate in size and violence.
US presence there is a powder keg ready to blow. And remember, he coupled this with a ruthless bombing escalation that caused civilian casualties to skyrocket.
In a single series of US airstrikes in 2017, possibly over 500 civilians were killed at once in what became known as the Mosul massacre. It was the single largest death toll inflicted since the war began in 2003. That blood is on Trump’s hands.
Of course, this airstrike was not the only one like it. It’s likely thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed by US bombs ordered by Trump’s cabinet, but they’re not really concerned. Over the summer, the Pentagon stated that “we’ll never know” how many civilians the US killed under Trump’s leadership. And I guess they’ll never care.
For those of us who care about ending the crimes of the Empire, we have to look at these actions in a larger context; that a scale-down of military operations in one area also means a pivot to build-up operations elsewhere.
In Syria and Iraq, all US troops, airpower and mercenaries should be brought home immediately. Not these minor reductions in favor of more bombing and sanctions that Trump is giving us.
While nobody should oppose the fact Trump is removing these troops, we shouldn’t give him credit either; he is the one who ramped up bombing, ramped up troop numbers and ramped up death and destruction in the region.
Trump is a war criminal, and that’s what he will always be, for the death and destruction his aggressive policies have caused, where millions more are now suffering under the boot of US domination.
A real end to these criminal wars will not come from any president, or member of either ruling class party. It will come from the only force in history that has won progressive change: a grassroots movement of millions of people demanding it.“
Part Three: Democrats Praise War Criminal Mattis
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By Abby Martin / Republished with permission / Media Roots
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