President Trump’s sudden cancellation of the upcoming denuclearization summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is just the latest example of Trump’s wildly erratic approach to foreign policy.
While Trump’s domestic policies seem to be guided by clear objectives — increasing corporate profits, undoing every policy made by the Obama administration, and appeasing Trump’s anti-immigrant base — the imperatives driving US foreign policy under Trump remain something of a mystery.
In this exclusive interview, renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky sheds light on the realities and dangers of foreign relations in the age of “gangster capitalism” and the decline of the US as a superpower.
C. J. Polychroniou: Noam, Donald Trump rose to power with “America First” as the key slogan of his election campaign. However, looking at what his administration has done so far on both the domestic and international front, it is hard to see how his policies are contributing to the well-being and security of the United States. With that in mind, can you decode for us what Trump’s “America First” policy may be about with regard to international relations?
Noam Chomsky: It is only natural to expect that policies will be designed for the benefit of the designers and their actual — not pretended — constituency, and that the well-being and security of the society will be incidental. And that is what we commonly discover. We might recall, for example, the frank comments on the Monroe Doctrine by Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing: “In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motive in its declaration.” The observation generalizes in international affairs, and much the same logic holds within the society.
There is nothing essentially new about “America First,” and “America” does not mean America, but rather the designers and their actual constituency.
A typical illustration is the policy achievement of which the Trump-Ryan-McConnell administration is most proud: the tax bill — what Joseph Stiglitz accurately called “The US Donor Relief Act of 2017.” It contributes very directly to the well-being of their actual constituency: private wealth and corporate power. It benefits the actual constituency indirectly by the standard Republican technique (since Reagan) of blowing up the deficit as a pretext for undermining social programs, which are the Republicans’ next targets. The bill is thus of real benefit to its actual constituency and severely harms the general population.
Turning to international affairs, in Trumpian lingo, “America First” means “me first” and damn the consequences for the country or the world. The “me first” doctrine has an immediate corollary: it’s necessary to keep the base in line with fake promises and fiery rhetoric, while not alienating the actual constituency. It also follows that it’s important to do the opposite of whatever was done by Obama. Trump is often called “unpredictable,” but his actions are highly predictable on these simple principles.