By Glen Ford
Sept. 21, 2017
Donald Trump's tragicomic performance at this week's opening of the United Nations General Assembly caused the U.S. foreign policy establishment to cringe in embarrassment, as the ultra-provincial and unabashedly white supremacist real estate magnate from Queens brazenly threatened U.S. military intervention any damn where he pleases, based on American "sovereign" rights.
"Sovereignty," and its variations, is Trump's foreign policy mantra, a term he deployed 21 times in much the same way that previous American leaders (including Confederates) brayed incessantly about "freedom" to justify their multitudinous crimes: "freedom" to exterminate and enslave darker peoples, and the "freedom" of infinite expansion across other people's borders.
Effectively, "sovereignty" = "freedom" = "American exceptionalism" — all of which far outweigh (trump) international law. In this sense, Trump's foreign policy is substantively no different than his predecessors': lawless and brutal. Which is precisely why U.S. corporate imperialists and their servants — the folks with offices, assets and bases all across the planet — are desperate to muzzle or overthrow the oaf in the White House. Trump is white settler imperialism in the raw, a colonoscopy into the nation's innards and, therefore, much too ugly for international prime time.
Trump has great difficulties even pretending that he gives a hoot about what the world thinks. Only after addressing his domestic audience ("the stock market is at an all-time high...more people are working in the United States and than ever before") did Trump appear to be speaking directly to the assembled foreigners. He delivered an implicit threat: "We will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense. Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been."
Trump quickly deployed his watchword, "sovereignty." The UN's "success," he said, "depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity, and peace, for themselves and for the world."
He is wrong. The United Nations' claim to legitimacy is based on the rule of international law, of which the UN is the ultimate instrument — law that applies equally to nations small or large, weak or strong. National sovereignty is protected by international law, and is not subject to the machinations of "coalition[s] of strong and independent nations" acting outside the norms of law. Trump utters the word "law" just twice in his presentation, and only in a pro forma, passing manner. That's because, in Trump's worldview – shared by a huge portion of the U.S public — American super-sovereignty cannot be bound by non-national institutions – a central aspect of Trump's "America First" philosophy.
There is nothing strange about Trump's worldview — except that he expresses U.S. "exceptionalism" in such raw language before an international public. Barack Obama and every U.S. president that has served since the founding of the United Nations has flouted international law in practice, despite paying lip service to the principle in nearly every international venue.
U.S. imperialism intends to rule the world, by any and all means necessary. It's no secret; U.S. leaders have heralded "an American Century" for at least three-quarters of a century. Regime change is the rule in U.S. foreign policy practice; William Blum lists 57 attempted or successful U.S. overthrows of targeted governments since World War Two. Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama collectively developed an alternative version of international law, called "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) to justify U.S. violation of targeted countries' national sovereignty.
Since 9/11, regime change has been elevated to a national crusade, raggedly cloaked in a "War on Terror." Obama's brazen overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, followed by his illegal regime change war against Syria, finally forced a military response by Russia, in 2015. At the UN General Assembly meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the world body
"an aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.
"I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realize now what you've done?"
What Obama had done was enlist al Qaida as a military asset of the illegal U.S. wars against sovereign governments. Putin pointed to the convoys of oil tankers stretching "to the horizon" from ISIS held oil fields to the Syrian border with Turkey — with the U.S. Air Force benignly patrolling overhead. Russia's entirely legal military intervention at the request of the sovereign government of Syria — a member in good standing at the UN – reversed the nation's descent into U.S.-backed jihadist terror. History may decree that Putin saved the international legal order from complete destruction by the "exceptionalist" United States.
Barack Obama uttered the words "law" seven times at the 2015 UN General Assembly, each time with utter hypocrisy. But such are the rules of verbal conduct. The aggressor must deploy the language of international law, even as he trashes the principle, so that the compliant international corporate media can describe imperial criminality in high-sounding terms. If you say "international law" often enough, media professionals can make you sound as if you are actually conforming to the law.
Donald Trump is no more — or less — opposed to international law than Barack Obama or other past presidents. He's just more upfront and honest about U.S. imperial prerogatives, and is attracted to the Confederate-ness of the term "sovereign." Trump at least entertained the idea of normalizing relations with Russia, and quietly succeeded in shutting down the CIA's jihadist-training program in Syria. He has also bombed a Syrian air base, to prove to the War Party that he is willing to use gratuitous violence, and this week told the UN that the U.S. might "have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" and "is ready, willing, and able" to help that country's "Rocket man" leader commit suicide.
Obama probably wouldn't have spoken that way, but would doubtless also be threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation — just as has every U.S. government since Harry Truman.