The resistance needs to be anti-imperialist

August 9, 2017

The opposition to Trump and the right wing can't just stop with their domestic agenda.

"A BAD leader that dreams of being a dictator." It could have been a comment about the current president of the United States--but that was Donald Trump himself denouncing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in July, as the U.S. government discussed imposing sanctions, while asserting that "nothing was off the table."

Weeks later, Trump was threatening North Korea after the government's announcement that it had successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that might be able to carry a nuclear warhead and reach the continental U.S. The North Korean government should stop making threats, Trump declared, or it would "be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen."

With all the wild talk and saber-rattling, there are a lot of reasons to be terrified--most of all that Donald Trump is the president of the country with the greatest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the history of the world, and he doesn't seem very hesitant to use them.

As the "leader of the free world" announces foreign policy decisions through his Twitter account, it projects a sense that anything can happen--that threat by tweet could become an open military conflict, with deadly consequences.

Donald Trump and senior military officials in Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump and senior military officials in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley | flickr)

It's gross hypocrisy for the Trump administration to act as if it is defending democracy against dictatorship. Even beyond the current occupants of the White House, with their fondness for authoritarian methods, the U.S. government has never played that role.

With all these threats in the air, it is important for everyone who opposes the Trump administration to have an understanding of the U.S. regime's imperial aims--and why its role around the world has never been to take on dictators or defend democracy, but to promote U.S. interests.

Venezuela has endured a long history of meddling by the U.S. government--not in the interest of the Venezuelan people, but U.S. capitalism. The U.S. was bitterly opposed to the left-wing governments led by Hugo Chávez and even backed several coup attempts against him.

The crisis currently facing Venezuela--where a government that once spoke out for "socialism in the 21st century" has more recently ruled by increasingly bureaucratized and repressive methods--has only been made worse by the actions of the U.S. government, particularly in backing a right-wing opposition that uses sabotage and terrorism against the Nicolás Maduro government, with the aim of taking back the social gains of the Chávez era.

In North Korea, whose people suffer under a dictatorship that falsely claims to be socialist, the Trump administration has no more solutions than the Obama administration before it, which isolated the country with economic sanctions and added to the misery suffered by ordinary people in a desperately poor country.

With Trump and his flock of hawks and anti-communist throwbacks surrounding him, things will only get worse for the people of North Korea.

Those who want to oppose the Trump administration have to challenge not just its domestic priorities, but international ones--and that means embracing anti-imperialist politics that provide a clear understanding of the role the U.S. government plays around the world.

THE TRUMP administration's policy mantra of "America First" takes the possibility of U.S. conflicts abroad to a new level, with increased nationalist rhetoric--and swollen military spending to back it up.

In June, when the Trump administration proposed $603 billion for the 2018 defense budget, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees did them one better, proposing $640 billion.

It's not just the administration's generals, like chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis, but the entire team that backs the idea of U.S. supremacy around the world, which links American economic dominance with military superiority.

Though Trump puts a wildly more aggressive spin on it, he inherits a world of war and conflict handed down from the Obama administration--along with the "war on terror," now used by three U.S. presidents to rationalize wars abroad, which could turn out to be an even deadlier tool for Trump.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, the administration of George W. Bush saw its opportunity to get popular support for U.S. intervention anywhere--first of all in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by attacks on any forces deemed terrorist threats in places like Yemen and Somalia.

According to the Bush administration, countries were either fighting terrorism or a sponsor of terrorism. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were identified as part of the "axis of evil," with Cuba, Libya and Syria added to the list later.

Internationally, world leaders fell in line, and in the U.S., the Republican and Democratic Parties came together in bipartisan support for never-ending war--both abroad, but also at home in the form of an attack on civil liberties and increased xenophobia and racism against Arabs and Muslims.

Immediately after September 11, the forces on the left that should have immediately coalesced to fight the "war on terror" were at first caught off-guard by the intensity of support for war. But by 2003, there was a vibrant antiwar movement as the Bush administration prepared to jump from Afghanistan to an invasion of Iraq.

Over the course of the antiwar movement, debates emerged that are still important for activists today: What do we do when the U.S. government says its intervention is "humanitarian" or in the interests of "democracy"? Should the antiwar movement support sanctions as an alternative to U.S. military intervention? Does opposing U.S. intervention include support for governments targeted by the U.S. that oppress their citizens, like Saddam Hussein's Iraq? How should antiwar activists in the U.S. support national liberation struggles?

As Paul D'Amato, author of The Meaning of Marxism, explained at SW:

Historically in the Marxist, as opposed to Stalinist, movement, the fight for national self-determination has been seen as a democratic task, along with the fight for universal suffrage and freedom of assembly. But Marxists never argued that, in the fight for national self-determination, the masses of an oppressed nation must forego the struggle for other rights as long as they are threatened by imperialism...

As consistent anti-imperialists, we do not pick and chose what countries we defend against a U.S. assault. We do not, however, in our desire to expose the reality about U.S. imperialism, allow ourselves to ignore the truth when it comes to discussing the nature of the regimes under U.S. attack.

These arguments ring true today.

TODAY, WITH Trump in office, the "war on terror" is still the backdrop for U.S. foreign policy aims. Outright Islamophobia is more public under the Trump administration, with the idea that the U.S. is conducting a war against Islam at its core.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo explained the administration position well in a speech to a church group in Wichita in 2014, when he said the "threat to America" was from a minority of Muslims "who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer.

"They abhor Christians and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world."

While they don't use the same racist rhetoric as the Republicans, the Democrats generally support the same policies in the name of fighting a "war on terror" that targets Muslim countries.

Throughout Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, for example, she repeated her support for the "war on terror" and boasted about her hawkish foreign policy record. She was convincing--according to a recent poll, her pro-war stance likely lost her the election in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which had some of the highest casualty rates of U.S. service members during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Now with Trump in office, some Democratic politicians are moving even further to the right, embracing disgruntled Bush-era advisers like David Frum, who came up with "axis of evil." As Glenn Greenwald points out at the Intercept:

The union of Democrats and neocons is far more than a temporary marriage of convenience designed to bring down a common enemy...[T]he union is grounded in widespread ideological agreement on a broad array of foreign policy debates: from Israel to Syria to the Gulf States to Ukraine to Russia...These two groups have found common cause because, with rare and limited exception, they share common policy beliefs and foreign policy mentalities.

IF THERE'S going to be an antiwar opposition to the Trump administration, it's going to have to come from below.

A clear understanding of U.S. imperialism and its aim is the foundation for a consistent opposition to U.S. war that cuts through the phony rhetoric about fighting terrorism, defeating dictators or defending democracy. Such a view also links the fight against Islamophobia with opposition to the right's attack on immigrants and refugees.

Unfortunately, some on the left have downplayed issues connected to foreign policy--with Bernie Sanders being a prime example. During his presidential campaign, opponents of imperialism were encouraged not to challenge Sanders on issues of militarism or Israeli apartheid, for the sake of his messages against corporate greed.

But avoiding the question only makes our side weaker, because it means there is no alternative to Clinton on these issues.

At their convention in Chicago, the Democratic Socialists of America took an important step in officially endorsing the pro-Palestinian boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israeli apartheid--a concrete example of an organization energized by the Sanders campaign embracing a broader call for social justice.

On the other hand, there are debates that need to be had related to U.S. imperialism and North Korea and Syria--where the legacy of Stalinism has led some on the left to conclude that you can't oppose U.S. imperialism unless you support the dictatorial regimes under attack.

As Ashley Smith argued in the International Socialist Review,

Some on the left support rival imperial powers as a counterweight to American imperialism. Thus whole sections of the left back Russia and Assad in Syria against the United States. They justify this reactionary position with the preposterous claim that Putin's Russia and Assad's brutal dictatorship are an anti-imperialist alliance standing up to Washington's alleged policy of regime change in Syria...

The emerging new left must...base itself on principled opposition to all imperialisms--understanding, of course, that here our chief concern is U.S. imperialism--combined with solidarity with national liberation struggles like that of the Palestinians and revolutionary struggles like that in Syria, regardless of which imperial camp such struggles are in opposition to. This approach will be essential in the coming period that promises to be characterized by explosive struggle from below and intensifying struggle for global supremacy between the United States and China, amidst sundry other interstate conflicts.

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