Daniel McCarthy explains at The American Conservative that President Trump, on balance, is a peace president, but that he can’t do it alone. Trump, McCarthy says, needs a coterie of realists and skeptics who will shun the rush to war that seems to be unquestioned by nearly all in Congress and the pundit class today. McCarthy writes (abridged):
“Merchants of death” was a sobriquet once applied to the arms industry, notably by the journalists F.C. Hanighen and H.C. Engelbrecht in the title of a book they published in 1934. Today the real merchants of death are not the arms dealers but those who sell the idea of war within America’s policy elite, both inside and outside of government. They possess a monopoly on respectability, and politicians who thirst for respect from the real governing class need little incentive to adopt the ideas of the smart set. Those who don’t play along get the treatment meted out to Ron Paul or Tulsi Gabbard—or Donald Trump.
Trump does not crave respectability. He supplies whatever desire for approval he feels from his own reservoir of self-esteem. This makes him seem arrogant and perversely proud of his ignorance, so far as his enemies see it, but in fact it means he is largely immune to the ideological virus to which virtually all other politicians are susceptible. Trump knows that the foreign policy establishment is bankrupt. And that’s what makes him a president who can actually give peace a chance.
Trump represents a return to reality: the reality that the wars we have fought since the first Bush administration have not improved American security or established a sustainable “liberal world order,” and the reality that the American public has limited patience with foreign excursions that serve no discernible national interest. Trump’s opponents in the foreign policy establishment imagine that their resources for remaking the world are infinite—that America’s morale as well as blood and treasure is inexhaustible. Trump knows otherwise, as do the Americans who must pay for and fight the wars that the policy elite dreams up.
Trump is a peace president on balance, but he also shows the limitations of having only a president who wants foreign policy restraint. To carry through on Trump’s promise of realignment in American grand strategy will require a class, or counter-elite, to help him or future presidents like him. There was a time between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and the first Persian Gulf War when our country had a policy-making class that included realists and skeptics of overextension. They were particularly influential within the Republican Party, as it happens. Trump cannot conjure into existence a new generation of Republican realists, but his commonsense attitudes toward retrenchment have widened and redefined the national conversation. And he’s shown that the cult of respectability can be beaten by a leader who is willing to call the wares of our merchants of death exactly what they are—grotesque mistakes and the dreams of fools.
Trump has shown what even one man who dares speak impolitic truths can accomplish. Imagine what an entire class of such people could do.
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