The Octant
Insights and reporting from Caleb Maupin

Trump Obama2The November 20th White House Statement, given on behalf of US President Donald Trump, contained a level of crass honesty previously unheard of in US politics. The statement admitted Saudi involvement in the murder of journalist, Jamal Khoshoggi, but justified continued US-Saudi relations in the following terms:

“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”

Unlike almost all of Trump’s predecessors, US policy was not being defended in the name of democracy or human rights, or even fighting terrorism. What Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti spent their careers trying to prove is now being stated openly: US foreign policy is about money. It’s about oil profits and weapons contracts, not lofty ideals about freedom and security. One is almost reminded of the Saturday Night Live character, Nathan Thurm. Thurm was the caricature of a crooked, corporate lawyer. When confronted with the misdeeds of his clients, the Thurm character would nervously inhale from a cigarette and say phrases like “Of course, do you think I don’t know that?” and “What’s your point?”

While some of the Pentagon brass and some elderly conservatives may appreciate Trump’s frankness and “telling it like it is,” one can be sure that many within the intelligence community are fuming with rage. Trump’s crass honesty is undoing years and years of work, mainly the work of managing the image of the United States and building relationships with potential proxy fighters.  However, this “soft-power” strategy of maneuvering and manipulating Muslim extremists had ultimately climaxed during the term of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Barack Obama: A 21st Century Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte was not a Muslim, and most likely, not a genuine Christian either. Bonaparte rose to power in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when atheism was in fashion within the circles of power. Napoleon arranged for the Pope to coronate him as Emperor, but then dramatically took the crown from the Pope and placed it on his own head. Napoleon was excommunicated by Pope Pius VII, but eventually reconciled with the Church shortly before his death in 1821.

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The foreign policy strategies of the previous two US administrations were very straight forward. George W. Bush favored “spreading democracy” through regime change. Barack Obama had come to office amid frustration with these hawkish neoconservative policies, and instead favored soft-power and manufactured revolutions coordinated with NATO allies.

But what is the foreign policy of the Trump administration? No straight forward answer can be given, even after a sloppy attempt to define the “Trump Doctrine” regarding Iran in an essay from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In the publication Foreign Affairs, printed by the Council on Foreign Relations, Pompeo attempted to explain the actions and objectives of the United States in regards to the Islamic Republic. The article was confused, inaccurate, and much like the Trump administration itself, seemed to be trying to please many different people at the same time.

Hypocrites or Fanatics? – They Cannot Be Both

In attempting to explain the “Iranian Threat,” Pompeo proclaims: “And today, no regime has more of an outlaw character than that of Iran. That has been the case since 1979, when a relatively small cadre of Islamic revolutionaries seized power…” Those who are familiar with the history of the Islamic Republic know very well that the outpourings of people who brought down the brutal, US backed Pahlavi regime and created the Islamic Republic, were anything but small. The millions of people who took to the streets, some of them actually wearing burial shrouds as they marched because they expected to be gunned down, were quite massive. The crowds that greeted Imam Khomeni at the airport when he returned from exile were equally large.

Caleb Maupin discusses the Trade War on RT BoomBust with Bart Chilton.

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Belief in historical progress was once abundant in the western world. In fact, some of the uglier crimes of western colonialism were justified in the name of progress. Colonizers and imperialists often claimed to be more advanced than those they repressed and brutalized, and justified their mistreatment of others in the name of somehow “civilizing” and “advancing” their victims. However, in recent years, this very western concept has been largely eroded.

Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker tried to put forward a western, capitalist conception of historical progress in his article “The Enlightenment is Working” published by the Wall Street Journal on February 13th, 2018. Observing the condition of American discourse, he began his article saying: “For all their disagreements, the left and the right concur on one thing: The world is getting worse. Whether the decline is visible in inequality, racism and pollution, or in terrorism, crime and moral decay, both sides see profound failings in modernity and a deepening crisis in the West. They look back to various golden ages when America was great, blue-collar workers thrived in unionized jobs, and people found meaning in religion, family, community and nature.” Pinker’s article went on to give a defensive attempt to assert the concept of progress in an atmosphere where it is notably absent, and say that such progress is indeed coming from western countries.

Those who still have faith in the future most certainly breathed a sigh of relief when Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose ideological breakthroughs have been added to the Communist Party’s constitution, took the floor at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai for his widely viewed keynote address.

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As Americans become ever more nervous about pending problems in their economy, projecting these fears onto China is quite irresponsible and completely unjustified. 

The consistent rate of long-term economic growth in China over several decades is quite different than Trump's superficial boasts about stock market numbers.

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As Trump dramatically pulls out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, while sending John Bolton to Moscow to negotiate a new agreement regarding the production of nuclear weapons, it appears that false narratives about the Cold War’s conclusion could be influencing White House foreign policy.

It is clear that Trump seeks to present himself as a new Reagan to the elderly, red state, FOX news audience. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was intentionally lifted from Reagan’s war-chest of campaign slogans, presented as “Let’s Make America Great Again” in 1980. Now, it looks as if Trump is “escalating the arms race” in order “defeat the Russians,” further fulfilling his image as the new “gipper.”

On FOX News, Right-Wing Talk Radio, and other Republican-aligned sections of US media, Ronald Reagan is treated as an immortal hero and icon. The religious and military obsessed neoconservative right-wing has canonized him to the point that one almost expects to see graphics of Reagan adjusted to include halos, or to see FOX news anchors cross themselves after uttering his name. Endless radio and TV segments in the right-wing media sphere have been dedicated to memorializing the man who held the US Presidency from 1981 to 1989.

The mythology perpetuated about the Reagan Presidency is that, while cowardly democrats had negotiated with the Soviet leaders and called for de-escalating the arms race, Reagan escalated the drive to build nuclear weapons. Reagan’s escalation of the arms race is said to have forced the Soviets to increase military spending, causing economic problems in the USSR. The heroic POTUS is said to have beat his chest with thunderous “tear down that wall” speeches, blasted the USSR as an “evil empire,” and eventually forced the Communists to surrender through his sheer strength, boldness, and refusal to compromise.

The problem is that the Republican narrative regarding the Cold War is largely inaccurate. While pressure to increase military spending certainly played a role in placing economic pressure on the Soviet Union, the USSR was destroyed by a political, not fiscal crisis. The political crisis that destroyed the USSR was mainly influenced by liberal soft-power policies from the US government not militarism and threats.