Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Will Trump Be a Lightning Rod for Terrorist Attacks on America?
If there's another Osama bin Laden out there, and there probably is, Donald Trump is manna from Heaven.
The Great Orange Bloat is every terrorist's dream. He's impulsive and reactionary. We're talking about a guy who can't resist late night Twitter barrages over something as insignificant as a parody sketch on SNL. His narcissism is well known. It may be his major personality trait. It could also be his - and America's - Achilles' Heel.
A core principle of terrorist tactics is provocation. bin Laden knew that he could not seriously damage the United States with the 9/11 attacks but that was never his objective. He wanted to panic the American people and provoke their leadership into an infidel attack on the Muslim world, one where they would get sucked in, quagmire.
Bush and his neocon courtiers - Dick Cheney and literally everyone Cheney got appointed including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, Perle and others - immediately mobilized for war. 15 years later American forces are still in Afghanistan, still fighting in Iraq, and they've picked up conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya along the way. Mission Accomplished indeed. They've also demonstrated, again and again, that America's vaunted military - All the King's Horses and All the King's Men - is generally ineffective against guerilla/insurgent movements and rarely delivers what its masters might consider meaningful victories.
Bush/Cheney and the neocon cabal set out to reshape the Middle East. That was the stated purpose of their conquest of Iraq. Once they had Saddam Hussein dangling from the end of the hangman's rope they expected every other upstart Muslim nation would get the message and eagerly embrace the American model of secular, constitutional democracy. Easy, peasy - in and out, Mission Accomplished and all those wonderful oil fields secured for the West for eternity.
What they didn't bargain for was how, once stuck in these quagmires of their own making, their wars of choice would reshape America as much as the Middle East itself. Think Patriot Act, the department of Homeland Security, America's now massive national security apparatus, the rescission of posse comitatus and habeas corpus, the adoption of new policies in which armed force or the threat of armed force would displace diplomacy as the principal instrument of foreign policy and the emergence of the permanent warfare state with the advent of commercial "for profit" warfighting and so much more. And the costs? They're all covered with borrowed money.
The estimates range from $2.4 trillion (Congressional budget office) for Iraq and Afghanistan only to double that, $4.79 trillion, once you add in homeland security, stationery, photocopying etc. And, remember, there's still no end in sight. A study by Brown University estimated that the interest cost of that borrowing could reach $7.9 trillion by 2053.
Obama initially sought to rein in this costly adventurism. He failed. Trump, by contrast, has no such hesitation. He's planning to double down on Bush/Cheney while expanding America's military budget and its costly nuclear arsenal. This is Trump, the man who asked a campaign advisor, "what's the use of having all these nuclear weapons if we don't use them?" Great, just great.
So Trump will inherit an already militarily mutilated America, one accustomed to spilling borrowed treasure on wasted costs. It's also a terminally divided America, one in which two major factions have emerged that are becoming increasingly irreconcilable. This, too, plays directly into the hands of terrorists.
Terrorism is about, well, terror. Burning a few soldiers or civilians alive doesn't accomplish much but it does scare the hell out of those who wonder if they'll be next. That insecurity works to deepen existing divisions between the populace and their government. People who can be made to distrust their government's ability and willingness to defend them can be as much of a problem for government as the insanely disproportionate costs terrorists exact. An insecure populace begins to look elsewhere for someone who can protect them, who will keep them secure in their beds at night.
Another objective of terrorism is to goad government and its forces to over-react, to repress the civilian population or large segments of it, driving them into the enemy camp. When the populace and its government turn adversarial, resistance movements can easily pop up. The classic example of this is the French and American wars in Viet Nam where insecurity combined with the repression of a corrupt government drove ordinary citizens into the arms of Viet Cong recruiters.
Trump seems a good bet to emulate all of these destructive practices and I'll bet that America's enemies, be they al Qaeda, ISIS or other groups that may come into being, will see the opportunity and the likely payback of more attacks on the American homeland. Perhaps next time they'll use chemical or biological or even nuclear agents ("dirty bombs"). It won't take much to turn a population, a majority of which is already leery of their incoming president, against their government.
And then there's the other shoe - Trump's provocative support for Israel. When it comes to the Palestinian problem there'll be no balance from Trump's White House. Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel is a hard-line Likudnik. Even today Trump has come out to urge Netanyahu to hold out against John Kerry's coercion. The Trump relief column is just three weeks away. The Crusaders are coming to the rescue.
For all these reasons it strikes me as just a matter of time before America experiences a major terrorist attack on "the homeland." The knock-on effects, at home and abroad, among America's enemies and its allies alike, could be as unforeseeable as they are nightmarish.