Mike Pompeo (Credit: Getty/Joe Raedle/Mikkaphoto/Salon)
This has been largely forgotten, but one of the big reasons Donald Trump was able to capture the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was his willingness to question the party’s orthodoxy about the U.S. war in Iraq. Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he plans to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo to head the State Department ought to put to rest any lingering belief that those criticisms were motivated by a desire for a more restrained American foreign policy.
Though Trump initially supported the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, he later reversed himself and began criticizing the second Iraq war as a “stupid” move that destabilized Middle Eastern politics and contributed to the rise of the self-described Islamic State.
That analysis is so uncontroversial that Gallup has stopped asking Americans whether they think the war was a mistake. But among Republican elites, at least until Trump came along, it was still an article of faith to proclaim that George W. Bush’s removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime had made the world safer.
Trump’s willingness to criticize the Iraq decision made him an object of hatred among GOP foreign policy elites. The smash-mouth billionaire had no more fervent opponents on the right than the interventionist hawks who had purged the “realists” who dominated Republican foreign policy through the presidency of the elder George Bush. Party apparatchiks were sure Trump had doomed his chances by challenging neocon orthodoxy.
“It is a huge miscalculation, on Donald Trump’s part, of the appetite of Republican primary voters, to believe that somehow [George W. Bush] is to blame for 9/11,” Katie Packer Gage, a veteran GOP consultant, told the Washington Post in October of 2015. “To Republican primary voters, it’s simple: [Bush] kept us safe because he was tough, he had an immediate response.”
Some of the people who once described themselves as neoconservatives, like author and pundit Bill Kristol, have remained opposed to Trump during his presidency. But others, such as interventionist extraordinaire Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., soon realized that Trump was criticizing Bush from the right, not from the left.
Though he made noises about a “restrained” foreign policy during his campaign, there were plenty of signs that Trump actually envisioned an even more militaristic international stance. The former reality TV star frequently condemned Barack Obama as “weak” on the fight against the Islamic State. Trump has also repeatedly claimed that the nuclear nonproliferation arrangement that Obama reached with Iran was a “bad deal,” and was positively gushing in his support for the uncompromising militarism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Barry Posen, an MIT professor who directs that university’s security studies program, saw what was in store in an interview published before Trump’s inauguration:
“It does not look to me as if this is a ‘eureka’ moment for the ‘Restraint’ strategy. Instead, this looks a bit like hegemony without liberalism,” he said. “President-elect Trump has promised to increase U.S. military spending. This is not consistent with Restraint. His appointees seem to be people …read more