By Brian Terrell
On January 20, 2018, in Columbia, Missouri, more than 1600 people participated in the Solidarity Rally and March, hosted by Our Revolution: Mid-Missouri. I was one of five speakers invited to address the gathering, my contribution on the topic of foreign policy. This is, more or less, what I said-
Friends, I am honored to be here with you today as we rally to “oppose the Trump agenda,” one year into his extraordinary and even terrifying administration. Not for generations has the public discourse been dominated by such vile and overt expressions of racism, xenophobia, misogyny and pure hatred as we have heard this year. It is only natural, then, that we yearn for a return to the civility that was not so long ago was considered normal. We should reflect on this day, though, that for many years, normal was pretty bad, if not an intolerable condition for many people here and abroad.
If we survive it and something good is to come from the Trump presidency, it will be because Trump opened our eyes and realize that the worst excesses of his tortured soul are but the policies of his predecessors and his mainstream political opponents, stripped of the carefully crafted and smooth, reassuring words that lulled so many into complacency and into complicity with crimes against humanity that have been committed in our names.
One example: President Obama calmly explained the drone strikes that marked his foreign policy, some executed by remote control from Whiteman Air Force Base not far from here, as taking place “only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is … near certainty of no civilian casualties.” Trump on the other hand, as a candidate speaking to Fox News, swore “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”
While this sounds as if Trump were proposing a significant and horrific change of policy from Obama’s, but we know how Obama’s administration had so twisted the words and the laws that govern international conflict, that, I quote from a Justice Department White Paper, “the condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” We know that most lethal strikes took place far from battle fields and that under Obama, a combatant was defined as any male of military age in a strike zone, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
What has changed regarding foreign policy in the last year is as much a matter of image as of substance. Under Trump, the gloves are off, there is no more subtlety and the time of easily digested euphemisms is over.
In its last year alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. Every day in 2016, the US military attacked combatants or civilians with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, seven majority-Muslim countries. In 2016, US special operators could be found in 70% of the world’s nations, 138 countries – a jump of 130% over the Bush administration.
My travels over the past administration took me to Afghanistan numerous times, to Bahrain, to Korea, to Russia, to prisons and jails across the US, where even before Trump’s election people were already experiencing the empire’s downward spiral that threatens to destroy the planet, a peril that many of us did not notice until last year.
Obama is decidedly a more stable genius and he more secure in himself than his successor. He would never need to boast of the size of his button, but it was he who introduced the trillion dollar program for “life extension” modernization of nuclear weapons and who continued with regular provocations of North Korea, rehearsing the attack and invasion of that country twice a year.
Trump is certainly expanding these criminal aggressions, but we do not know that things would have been much different in the world had the election gone otherwise. Hillary Clinton, as Senator under Bush and Secretary of State under Obama, was accessory to these crimes and that she presided over a military coup in Honduras and the destruction of Libya, expanding the so called war on terror into the continent of Africa, making enemies for our country who previously would mean us no harm. As president, Hillary Clinton would know better than to use an offensive expletive to trash talk any nation in turmoil, but she has not been known to hesitate to impose those horrific conditions on one. And Bernie Sanders? As a candidate, when asked about Obama’s drone wars, he promised to use “all of that and more.” The world recoils from the US backed Saudi war that has killed tens of thousands of civilian victims and brought starvation and cholera to Yemen. Sanders insisted that the Saudis would need to do more to “get their hands dirty” in the region if they expected US arms sales under his presidency.
Trump’s racism is most inescapably evident in his immigration policy, his stated preference for immigrants from Norway over those from Haiti, for example. Trumps travel ban of visitors from certain Muslim countries somehow raised more opposition than Obama’s bombing of most of the same nations. In the case of immigration policy, again, Trump’s bluster is not a match for the cold, hard numbers of his predecessor, who deported more immigrants on his watch than any other modern president. For all of his bad intentions, in this his first year, Trump has not caught up with Obama. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported about 16,900 people each month from February through June this year. Obama’s slowest year was 2016 with 20,000 deportations a month and he reached his peak in 2012 at 34,000.
We need to be out on the streets this year as we were last year because we were not out on the streets to protest the injustices of the past administration. What is possible today is only possible because of the horrors that we tolerated under Obama and what we were willing to overlook in Trump’s opposition. Next year, even if Trump is history and a slate of progressive candidates inundates both houses of congress and every statehouse in the country, we will still need to be in the streets. Voting can be a part of a campaign of meaningful political action but it is never the whole of it. Our country and our planet are in critical danger, a situation that we cannot simply vote our way out of.
What we need, and what the world needs of us, is not so much that we win an election as that we find a whole new way to live in the world, that we learn to share and responsibly manage resources. The peaceable world that has eluded us and that many reject as an impossible utopian pipedream is now the only realistic course we can take and our only hope of survival.