Trump’s “trans ban” is an attack on health care

 — and an especially cruel one

Marginalizing health care for trans people is nonsense. It’s also unnecessary and needlessly hurtful

On Tuesday, a rash of extremely misleading headlines, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to ABC News, reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “frozen” Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. This was misleading to the point of being a flat-out lie. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate wrote:

This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.

Mattis’ claim that the issue needs more study is a lie designed to make a decision based in raw bigotry look more thoughtful than it is. The reason we know this is that the military has already studied this issue extensively, releasing a 2016 report that found “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

The excuse that Trump used when he first announced this ban on Twitter, and the excuse he will almost certainly continue to use, is that medical care for trans people, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, is too expensive. Not only is this another lie — it was widely reported that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it expects to spend on gender confirmation treatments — but this excuse is in itself a form of bigotry, a way to demonize transgender people by stigmatizing the health care they need.

“The only reason we’re even having this conversation is because the president and others don’t actually consider health care for trans people to be real health care,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, explained to Salon. “It’s only because we stigmatize this care and we don’t understand trans people that part of the conversation even comes up, because all of the evidence shows that the costs are negligible in a budget that’s billions and billions of dollars.”

Strangio, who helped Chelsea Manning with legal issues during her time in a military prison, is working on a suit that the ACLU filed against Trump and the Department of Defense on behalf of five active service members. The ban would not only bar trans people from enlisting and threaten the status of those currently serving, it would also forbid them from having equal access to health care.

“From a medical aspect, transgender care is regular health care,” explained Dr. Jenn Conti, an ob-gyn who has helped trans men with their gender confirmation care and who is an advocate for Physicians for Reproductive Health. Trump’s “statements and his tweets are truly not founded in medical science,” she continued. “It’s a political issue, and it’s something that’s happening at the expense of an already stigmatized and underserved population.”

What Conti and Strangio both emphasized repeatedly is that there is no reason, morally or medically, to single out trans health care as any different from any other kind of medically necessary care.

“There are enormous medical and psychological consequences that stem from being forced to live in the wrong body,” Conti explained. She has provided gender confirmation surgeries for trans men, including some veterans, and reports, “The relief they feel afterwards is indescribable.”

It’s frustrating to even have to write about this, because people’s right to private medical care that makes them healthy and whole should not be up for debate. Unfortunately, however, trans care — like contraception and abortion care — has been politicized by forces that wish to exploit these private health issues in interests of marginalizing entire classes of people.

“In all contexts, the data shows that not providing health care that’s necessary is more costly than providing it,” Strangio said. He contrasted the $8 million the Pentagon estimates they will spend on trans medical care versus the $960 million bath that the military will take by trying to implement a ban on trans troops.

Beyond the money, however, there is a human cost involved in marginalizing trans health care from any system, military or otherwise. Conti has firsthand knowledge, because she’s worked with patients who get health care through the Veterans Administration, which currently does not cover gender confirmation surgery or related trans medical treatments.

“These people, in addition to feeling really stigmatized, are tasked with this additional stressor of getting creative” in their pursuit of  health care, Conti said. Some of her patients have been forced to claim “that they need these procedures for other indications, like abnormal uterine bleeding or heavy bleeding.”

As far as Conti is concerned, any uterine bleeding is abnormal in a trans man, because they “aren’t meant to have a uterus.” However, the more humane and simpler solution is to simply treat health care for trans people as part of a regular health care system.

Banning trans service members adds another burden to the military medical care system by encouraging trans troops to hide their identity, Strangio added. Once inside the system, there are a number of situations, such as when getting sexual health or mental health care, that a closeted trans person may need to disclose his or her status to a doctor to get proper treatment. But doing so risks a discharged, creating an impossible and stressful choice that does no good for the patient, the doctor or the military.

Strangio expressed confidence that the ACLU’s case against Trump and the Department of Defense would be successful. Pentagon-financed research backs the inclusion of trans troops and coverage of their health care needs. There’s also “significant evidence,” Strangio added, that the president’s alleged concerns “are pretextual for animus that is driving the policy.” Even if the plaintiffs win, he hastened to note, Trump’s actions have done a tremendous amount of needless damage.

“Surgeries have been cancelled. People have been emboldened to act out their individual biases,” he said. The president has sent a message, in Strangio’s judgment that “the government doesn’t value our participation in public life, doesn’t take seriously our health needs.”

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Big business, military tighten their grip on Washington

One week after Charlottesville

21 August 2017

It is often the case that the outcome of events reveals the essential issues underlying political developments. This is true of the conflicts that erupted within the ruling class over the Nazi rampage in Charlottesville, which culminated in the dismissal Friday of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

The corporate-controlled media has sought to portray the sequence of events entirely in racial terms, with Bannon and other advocates of “white nationalism” now purged, leaving political control of the White House and the Trump administration in steadier and more “moderate” political hands: a group of generals and ex-generals, headed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, together with Wall Street financiers such as Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The New York Times has led the way, with an editorial Sunday declaring that “Americans accustomed constitutionally and politically to civilian leadership now find themselves relying on three current and former generals—John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense—to stop Mr. Trump from going completely off the rails. Experienced and educated, well-versed in the terrible costs of global confrontation and driven by an impulse toward public service that Mr. Trump doesn’t possess, these three, it is hoped, can counter his worst instincts.”

In the same edition of the Times, a news analysis celebrates what its headline calls “The Moral Voice of Corporate America.” In this account, “a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.”

Among those named as part of this “chorus” of “moral” leaders are such corporate criminals as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, one of those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse; Mary Barra of General Motors, who oversaw the cover-up of an ignition-switch defect that killed hundreds of people; and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is a synonym for low-wage exploitation.

The ruling elite saw Trump’s incautious remarks defending the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville as a serious threat to the interests of American imperialism abroad as well as the maintenance of social and political stability at home. Powerful corporate interests feared the implications for Trump’s agenda of corporate tax cuts, the removal of business regulations, a profit windfall in the guise of infrastructure reform and the gutting of Medicaid and other social programs.

Trump’s self-exposure of his efforts to build an extra-parliamentary fascistic base increased the nervousness in financial circles over the danger of a collapse of the speculative bubble that has been built up since the 2008 Wall Street crash.

The response, laid out most clearly by the Times, has been to increase the grip of the military and corporate America over the government to an extent unprecedented in US history. It is 56 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned of the dangers to democracy posed by the rise of the “military-industrial complex.” He could have no conception of the size, power and degree of dominance exercised by the vast military/intelligence/corporate complex of today.

The first result of this consolidation was the announcement that Trump will deliver a nationwide address tonight, unveiling plans for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

What the ruling elite fears above all is the growth of working-class opposition to the Trump administration and the entire political system. Thus, excised from the official narrative promoted by the media is any reference to the reality of social life in America—a country in which 20 individuals control as much wealth as the poorest half of the population—as well as the reactionary agenda of the Trump administration itself. Nor is there any discussion of war and the crimes carried out by “responsible” leaders such as Mattis, who won his appellation “Mad Dog” for his role in destroying the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

This is replaced with a series of diversionary issues, centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country seething with racial intolerance and an exaggerated picture of the strength and influence of neo-Nazi and racist forces. Hence one has the apparently contradictory but in fact compatible phenomena, ubiquitous in the Democratic Party-aligned media, of the promotion of identity politics alongside respectful and even admiring portrayals of the white supremacist thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville.

Typical was a newsletter released Sunday by the New Yorker under the headline, “White Supremacy in America.” In an introduction, David Remnick, author of the hagiographic biography of Obama, The Bridge, proclaims, “Make no mistake: neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now at the forefront of American politics.”

Among the featured articles is one by author Toni Morrison titled “Making America White Again,” which insists that “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” In line with the Democratic Party and its various appendages among the pseudo-left organizations of the privileged middle class, Morrison explains the election of Trump as the product of the racism of “white America”:

On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

This effort to portray all whites, and particularly white men, as secret supporters of the KKK is a political fraud. Racism does exist. However, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are a tiny minority who are regarded with deep revulsion by the vast majority of working people. A nationwide mobilization could dredge up only a few hundred proponents of this barbaric ideology. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of all races have marched to denounce both Trump and the fascists he defends.

Trump is president today, not because of a mass vote for racism, but because he more successfully appealed to social discontent than the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the personification of the alliance between Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, who did not attempt to conceal her complacent contempt for the plight of tens of millions of working people struggling to survive.

The racialist narrative is being used to demonize large sections of the population, buttress the identity politics of privileged layers of the middle class, provide political cover for a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, rally support for a virtual palace coup by the generals and corporate billionaires, and, above all, divert and suppress an independent movement of the working class.

The overriding threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of fascist thugs, but from the very alliance of Wall Street and the Pentagon that is being touted as the antidote to the racists in the streets.

As for the Times and the various affiliates of the Democratic Party, they see the real threat coming not from neo-Nazis, but from a socialist movement of the working class.

The promotion of racialist politics and the tightening of military-corporate control over the government go hand-in-hand with the suppression of oppositional views, above all the World Socialist Web Site. Thus the decision taken by Google, in close coordination with the state, to censor and blacklistthe WSWS through the manipulation of search results. This is the prelude to more aggressive actions to target socialist opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial elite.

Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore

WSWS

 

 

 

 

US squanders billions on new aircraft carrier

25 July 2017

In yet another massive squandering of public resources, the United States on Saturday commissioned the USS Gerald Ford, the country’s 11th supercarrier, at the cost of some $13 billion.

The combined price tag of the ship and its air wing of F-35c fighters, at $30 billion, is roughly equivalent to what the United Nations estimate for the annual cost of ending world hunger.

No doubt many defense contractor executives assembled to watch the ship’s christening had their private jets and country club memberships paid for with this monstrosity, which came in some $3 billion above budget. How many politicians got seven-figure jobs in the private sector after having pushed the project along? No one will ever know.

The Gerald Ford is just part of a major expansion of the US Navy, which was underway even before Trump announced his plans to increase US military spending by $54 billion each year and expand the size of the Navy by 75 ships. Over the next decade, the US military plans to field not only a new set of carriers, but a brand new class of ballistic missile submarines, destroyers, fighters, long-range bombers and nuclear missiles.

This expansion of military spending, under both Obama and Trump, has been met, on the part of the media, with either enthusiastic approval or silence.

By the time the carrier is operational in some three to four years, it will already be obsolete. When the United Kingdom commissioned its latest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal United Services Institute noted that the vast ship was largely defenseless against the current generation of anti-ship cruise missiles fielded by Russia, China and other countries.

“Missiles costing (much) less than half a million pounds a unit could at least disable a British aircraft carrier that costs more than £3 billion,” it said.

Commenting on the report, the Russian Defense Ministry joked that the British aircraft carrier was “merely a large convenient naval target.” The same epithet could be applied to the Gerald Ford. This steel bathtub, housing some 4,300 sailors, airmen and officers, could be sunk within minutes if it wandered within 400 miles of the coast of Kaliningrad, Syria or, for that matter, China.

And yet, America has eleven of these dinosaurs, together with eight helicopter carriers that are as big as the aircraft carriers of other countries. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the US fields three quarters of the world’s carrier tonnage.

At Saturday’s commissioning ceremony, US President Donald Trump delivered a blustering, delusional speech, full of wild threats, in which he presented a picture of the United States arming itself to the teeth. He called the ship a “message to the world” that “American might is second to none, and we’re getting bigger, and better, and stronger every day.”

“Our enemies will shake with fear because everyone will know that America is coming,” he declared. Who these enemies are (one assumes they are not Islamists armed with Kalashnikovs) was never specified.

Trump added, “This ship also ensures that if a fight does come, it will always end the same way: we will win, win, win. We will never lose. We will win.”

In a clear breach of the principle of civilian rule over the military, he appealed to the sailors and officers gathered at the event to demand that the government expand military spending.

Summing up, the former real estate speculator said, “When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory.”

Trump’s speech, showing the influence of his fascist-minded advisors Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, did not invoke the word “democracy,” or even the principle of “self-defense,” within which the operations of US imperialism have traditionally been couched. All that was left was naked military force, threats and coercion.

While there exist significant differences between Trump and elements of the US military/intelligence apparatus, the US president, in his belief in violence as a solution to historical problems, exemplifies the thinking that pervades American policy circles, which seek to maintain US global dominance through the expansion of military power.

The USS Gerald Ford is the physical embodiment of the idea that the long-term historical decline of American capitalism can be offset by more guns, more ships, more wars and more deaths.

The “American Century” has been characterized by the overwhelming superiority of US air power. Despite the fact that the United States has been continuously at war since 1991, not a single US soldier has been attacked by enemy aircraft for over six decades.

And yet, as the US moves into increasingly sharp conflict with Russia, China and even its European allies, it is becoming increasingly clear that its most advanced weapons systems, including aircraft carriers and “stealth” aircraft such as the F-22, F-35 and B-2, would see substantial losses in the event of a shooting war with Russia, China or even some lesser, regional power such as Iran.

In recognition of this reality, Gen. Mark A. Milley noted that the US needs to prepare for conflicts in which “the levels of violence… would be immense and it would be the likes of what the world hasn’t seen since the Second World War.”

Despite the vast scale of US arms spending and the breathtaking scope of its military operations all over the world, it is increasingly undeniable that the period of US military, economic and geopolitical hegemony is coming to an end.

This was the conclusion of a study published by the US Army War College late last month, which asserts that American political hegemony is “not merely fraying,” but “collapsing.”

The report goes on to state that the order that “first emerged from World War II” was “transformed to a unipolar system with the collapse of the Soviet Union.” It continues: “The 17-year period after the Cold War… was a unique time when American power was essentially unchallenged,” but “we have been moving into a new era.”

With the rise of “revisionist” powers like China and Russia, the United States has been so weakened that “it no longer can—as in the past—automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”

This is in line with an assessment by historian Alfred W. McCoy, who declares in a soon-to-be released book: “All available economic, educational, technological data indicate that when it comes to US global power, negative trends are likely to aggregate rapidly by 2020, and could reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025, and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030.”

But the relative decline of the United States is, in some ways, the least of the US military’s worries. The Army War College report notes that, beyond the collapse of the US-dominated world order, “[A]ll states and traditional political authority structures are under increasing pressure.” It adds, “The fracturing of the post-Cold War global system is accompanied by the internal fraying in the political, social and economic fabric of practically all states.”

It cites an earlier report that warned of the “increasing chasm between governments and their governed over the basic right to rule.” It adds, “Today, all states are experiencing a precipitous decline in their authority, influence, reach and common attraction,” as populations are presented with “myriad alternative sources of political alignment or allegiance.”

It concludes that states “now all wrestle with one another over competing interests while standing on quicksand—threatened” not only by national rivals, but “the fragile and restive social order they themselves rest on.” In this case, the quicksand is a metaphor for the growth of popular opposition to war, social inequality and capitalism itself.

Confronting crisis at home and abroad, the US is lashing out everywhere simultaneously: against Russia, China, Iran, and now even its NATO allies. The same weekend that Trump commissioned his aircraft carrier, the House of Representatives reached a deal on a bill that would sanction European companies for economic dealings with Russia, a move that, according to a leaked EU memo, would bring retaliatory measures by the EU “within days.”

All of this presents a warning to the working class: The US ruling elite, faced with economic stagnation, geopolitical decline and a crisis of legitimacy at home, sees war, no matter how bloody and disastrous, as the solution to its problems. Nothing can prevent the eruption of another great world military conflagration, this time instigated by the United States, outside of the building of a new internationalist and socialist movement against war.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/07/25/pers-j25.html

Trump’s scorched-earth budget: $1.7 trillion in cuts to vital social programs

By Kate Randall
24 May 2017

On Tuesday, the White House unveiled a $4.1 trillion fiscal 2018 budget that proposes to take the ax to social programs that protect the health and welfare of millions of American workers.

The budget amounts to a scorched-earth attack on all aspects of social life. It would claw back social gains made by workers over the past century and slash funds to programs that raised millions out of poverty, particularly since the 1960s.

The proposal is not simply the brainchild of the fascistic-minded billionaire who occupies the White House or the criminal oligarchy he represents. It is the culmination of decades of attacks on social conditions and programs by both big-business parties.

While the Democrats have aimed their fire at the president from the right, pursuing their campaign, along with the “liberal” media, to escalate the US military confrontation with Russia, the Trump administration is forging full steam ahead to advance its ultra-reactionary domestic agenda.

After feigning outrage at the budget’s proposed cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy, the Democrats will eventually fall into line and work with the president to come up with a dirty compromise. The end result will be a budget that makes the most sweeping attacks on core social programs in US history.

The budget, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” is a 52-page declaration of war against the working class. The document spells out $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

It takes as its jumping-off point an attack on Medicaid that would eviscerate the health insurance program for the poor. It then moves on to gut food stamps, welfare and Social Security disability benefits.

An assault on immigrant rights and a parallel buildup of forces to police the border is next on the agenda. The military would receive a 10 percent boost in funding, including many projects already planned by the Obama administration.

Federal workers’ jobs and benefits are targeted. The proposed budget also includes hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to scientific research, environmental protection and the arts. No area of social life is to be left unscathed.

Social programs

Medicaid: The centerpiece of the budget is an $800 billion cut over the next decade to Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, jointly administered by the federal government and the states, which presently covers more than 74 million Americans.

Taking its cue from the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed May 4, the Trump budget would put an end to Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit based on need, replacing it with per capita funding or block grants to the states.

As part of its effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the AHCA would also end the expansion of Medicaid benefits to those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, resulting in 10 million beneficiaries being booted off the rolls.

The budget proposal notes: “States will have more flexibility to control costs and design individual, State-based solutions to provide better care to Medicaid beneficiaries.” These are code words for the states to institute work requirements, introduce or raise premiums and co-pays, cut benefits or throw enrollees off the program altogether.

Food stamps: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, would be slashed by $193 billion over a decade, a 25 percent reduction. The budget calls for “a series of reforms to SNAP that close eligibility loopholes, target benefits to the neediest households, and require able-bodied adults to work.” The program currently serves 44 million people.

Social Security: The president who vowed not to touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is also proposing an attack on Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provides cash benefits to the poor and disabled.

The proposal bemoans the fact that people with disabilities currently have low rates of labor force participation. The budget aims to save $72 billion over 10 years, undoubtedly resulting in large numbers people with disabilities being struck from the rolls with no social safety net.

Welfare: Welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) since the Clinton administration’s “reform” of welfare in the 1990s, will be slashed by a staggering $272 billion over a decade, again by reducing federal funds and shifting responsibility to the states, which will institute work requirements and other restrictions to reduce benefits and remove people from the rolls.

Federal workers: The budget would cut $63 billion by increasing federal employees’ payments to their defined benefit Federal Employee Retirement System, as well as eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for existing and future retirees. There are also plans to privatize the air traffic control system, saving $70 billion.

Immigrant rights: The budget proposes to implement a “merit based” immigration system, reducing the number of immigrants with lower levels of education. The proposal notes that in 2012, “76 percent of households headed by an immigrant without a high school education used at least one major welfare program, compared to 26 percent for households headed by an immigrant with at least a bachelor’s degree.”

In an effort to keep out less educated immigrants portrayed as a drag on social spending dollars, the budget includes $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $17.7 billion for the Department of Justice for “law enforcement, public safety and immigration enforcement programs and activities.”

The president’s plan calls for hiring 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement personnel in 2018. The budget proposes an additional $1.5 billion above 2017 levels for “expanded detention, transportation and removal of illegal immigrants.”

The budget also calls for investing $2.6 billion to plan, design and construct a physical wall along the Mexican-US border to keep out immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Latin America, a cost that the president claimed during his campaign would be paid by Mexico.

Science and the environment: Massive cuts in spending on scientific research, medical research and disease prevention are in the 2018 budget request, including but not limited to:

• National Cancer Institute: $1 billion cut
• National Heart, Lung and Blood Institution: $575 million cut
• National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases: $838 million cut
• National Institutes of Health: budget cut from $31.8 billion to $26 billion
• National Science Foundation: $776 million cut.

Spending on the Arts: The Trump budget proposes to eliminate federal funding for the following:

• The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
• The Institute of Museum and Library Services
• National Endowment for the Arts (begin shutting down in 2018)
• National Endowment for the Humanities (begin shutting down in 2018).

Military: The budget includes $639 billion of discretionary budget authority for the Department of Defense, a $52 billion increase above the 2017 continuing resolution level. The proposal stresses that this spending is to be “fully offset by targeted reductions elsewhere”—i.e., through the draconian social spending cuts detailed above.

Tax cuts: The budget outlines a number of tax breaks, which will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. These include repealing the 3.8 percent Obamacare surcharge on capital gains and dividends and abolishing the estate tax (the “death tax,” according to Republican jargon).

The president’s proposal also points to the “anticipated economic gains that will result from the President’s fiscal, economic, and regulatory policies,” including tax cuts, which it claims will reduce the deficit by $5.6 trillion over a decade compared to the current fiscal path.

The budget assumes that economic growth will reach 3 percent by 2021 to help balance the budget by 2021. This rosy prediction is belied by numerous sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, which projects 1.9 percent annual growth, and the Federal Reserve, which projects a 1.8 percent growth rate.

Taken together, the spending cuts proposed in Trump’s “American Greatness” budget proposal constitute the wish list of a ruling oligarchy, which is dispensing with the idea that a civilized society has a responsibility to provide its citizens with basic social necessities.

WSWS 

Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?

The political noose is tightening around Trump’s neck, and he’s got only one way out: war. The U.S. involvement in the Syrian war is accelerating as Trump’s talons dig deeper into the conflict.  If he successfully clutches his prey he stands a chance of clinging to the presidency.

The Democrats, now circling a wounded Trump, will happily feast instead on a rotting Syria: the only thing that can keep the Democrats from destroying Trump is if Trump destroys Syria.

Trump’s strategy is based on how Democrats reacted after his first attack on the Syrian government on April 6th: they paused their toothless “resistance” to celebrate his bombing. Trump, at his most dangerous, exposed the Democrats at their weakest.

Now Trump has struck the Syrian government again: on May 18th U.S. fighter jets attacked the Syrian military in Eastern Syria, from a new U.S. military base functioning inside Syrian territory controlled by the Syrian Kurds, where there are at least 1,000 U.S. active troops.

Although the U.S. media underplayed Trump’s recent attack —— or ignored it completely — legendary U.K. Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explained the significance:

“…what was described by the Americans as a minor action was part of a far more important struggle between the US and the Syrian regime for control of the south-eastern frontier of Syria…”

Yes, the U.S. is already at war with the Syrian government for control of Syrian territory. The U.S. war on ISIS in Syria was never about ISIS, but about gaining a foothold directly inside Syria. Many pundits dismissed Trump’s initial attack on the Syrian government as “symbolic,” when in fact it began a new war. The New York Times confirms the motive of Trump’s war:

“Two competing coalitions that aim to defeat the Islamic State — one [Kurdish and U.S. fighters] backed by American air power, the other [the Syrian government] by Russian warplanes — are racing to the same goal.”

What is this goal?

“…[there is an] urgency among the competing coalitions fighting the Islamic State to be the first in southeast Syria to defeat the group [ISIS] and to occupy the power vacuum that its defeat would leave….Eastern Syria and the area around Deir al-Zour are mostly unpopulated desert, but they have Syria’s modest oil reserves…The area is strategically important to the United States, which wants to stabilize Iraq where it has a long-term military and political investment, and to Russia, which wants to strengthen the Syrian government’s control of as much territory as possible.”

In summary: the U.S. military wants to “occupy” the “power vacuum” left by ISIS, because Syrian territory is “strategically important” to the United States.

The war isn’t about ISIS because the U.S. military isn’t needed to defeat ISIS in Syria, since the group was doomed the day that Turkey decided to close ranks against them — by sealing their border with Syria — instead of openly supporting them as they had for several years.

Consequently, the Syrian government — with Russian and Iranian support — has no problem mopping up ISIS in Syria, and they’re racing to do it first before the U.S.-Kurdish alliance claims the territory for itself.

Establishment Democrats are cheer-leading Trump’s war goals in private, which is why they’re not denouncing them in public.  The Democrat-friendly New York Times published a revealing op-ed entitled “A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East?” In it the writer applauds Trump’s war aims:

“Despite the controversies at home, Mr. Trump may come away with a legacy-cementing achievement: a Trump Doctrine for the Middle East…it is false that American ‘soft power’ is the key to stabilizing the [middle east] region. Our ideals, such as promoting democracy, will work to our advantage only if we first restore order — a project that rests on American hard power [military intervention]. What’s more, the use of force is not inherently counterproductive…”

The article explains that Obama’s “soft power” (the Syrian proxy war) failed and that Trump aims to “restore order” with “hard power” (direct military intervention). As Trump’s bombs fall heavier Democrats will scramble to support a wider war that, crazily, increasingly threatens direct confrontation with Russia.  The Russian government loudly denounced Trump’s most recent bombing against the Syrian government, and sent more Russian troops to the region in response.

The U.S. war against ISIS in Syria has always been a pretext to undermine the Syrian and Iranian governments. Robert Fisk explains:

“Cutting Syria off from Iraq – and thus from Iran – appears to be a far more immediate operational aim of US forces in Syria than the elimination of the [ISIS] Sunni ‘Caliphate’ cult that Washington claims to be its principal enemy in the Middle East.”

How might this “race to defeat ISIS” end? Trump’s ominous trip to Saudi Arabia gives some insight into the Trump Doctrine. Trump made an enormous arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $350 billion over 10 years, and wants the Saudis to use the money to co-lead an “Arab NATO” [military alliance]. Who will this alliance be aimed against? The Trump administration made it known that Iran was the main target, and thus Syria is the appetizer.

In a separate article Robert Fisk discussed Trump’s Saudi visit:

“The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims [the gulf monarchy U.S. allies and others] of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims [Iran, Syria, Hezbollah]. With help from Israel, of course.”

This is the real reason Trump prioritized Saudi Arabia as the always-important first stop on his initial trip abroad: Trump is clearly stating his commitment to the totalitarian monarchies, who main priorities are the destruction of its regional enemies:  Yemen, Syria, and Iran.

This “Arab NATO” is meant to act as a U.S. puppet army in the way that ‘official’ NATO does in Europe,  and the African Union’s “Standby Force” does in Africa, where U.S. allies share the responsibility of repressing neighbor states who defy U.S. interests, i.e. they refuse to abandon their political-economic self determination.

A U.S.-led “Arab NATO” wasn’t previously impossible because the U.S. is universally hated across the Middle East, for its longstanding alliance with Israel combined with its recent annihilation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The openness in which the Gulf monarchies are trying to form this alliance shows just how distanced from and hated by their own residents, who are prevented from expressing their hatred through elections or public protest.

The Trump-led alliance is especially foreboding because U.S. allies in the region feel deeply betrayed by Obama’s Middle East approach; they want concrete assurances the betrayal won’t be repeated, since U.S. allies risked a lot in regime change in Syria after Obama ensured them that regime change would be a safe bet.  Trump’s visit means, in practice, a fresh commitment to Assad’s downfall and renewed hostilities with Iran, nuclear deal be damned.

Trump’s current war strategy in Syria is similar to President Bush Sr.’s experiment in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War: he used a no-fly zone in Kurdish-majority northern Iraq that de-facto partitioned the country, allowing the Kurds to take power where they remain in power today, as an important U.S. puppet. The partitioning of Iraq helped weaken the country prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The Syrian Kurds are now being armed with U.S. weaponry and given similar promises as their Iraqi counterparts received, but the Syrian Kurds are rightfully nervous about their new alliance.

In their desperate fight against ISIS the Kurds have accepted an alliance with the world’s military superpower: the Kurdish homeland is infested with rats and they invited a tiger to deal with the problem; but once the rats are dead the tiger will stay hungry.  The Kurds also live next to another starving Tiger, the Turkish Government.

The history of the Kurds is one of constant betrayals by larger powers. And now they are pleading on the pages of The New York Times not to be betrayed again, since they see the writing on the wall:

“…[President Trump] give us your word that even after Raqqa’s liberation [in Syria] you will prevent attempts by Turkey to destroy what we’ve built here.”

Of course Trump’s “word” is meaningless (and even this he won’t give publicly). The Kurds are being used as battlefield pawns in a greater game. As Trump aligns with the Kurds in Syria, he simultaneously calls the Turkish Kurds “terrorists,” even though the Turkish and Syrian Kurds are closely aligned ideologically and militarily.

Like all “boots on the ground,” the Kurds are most useful to the U.S. as cannon fodder, while more powerful people profit from the fighting. The political power of the Kurds pales in comparison to their enemy Turkey, whose government has long-term interests (the destruction of the Kurds) that will outlast the short-term military objectives Trump.

The above contradictions are sharpening across the Middle East, nearing the point of yet another explosion. The Trump Doctrine is a flamethrower at a gas station that can instantly spark an even greater conflagration, beyond the horrors we’ve already witnessed across the Middle East. If the Trump resistance movement in the United States doesn’t quickly prioritize a real anti war strategy, there will be little resistance left to speak of as we descend into war.

Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty

Robert Reich:

Trump’s actions violate every ideal this nation has ever cherished — and we have a moral responsibility to stop it

Robert Reich: Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty
(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

The theme that unites all of President Donald Trump’s initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.

1. His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor by imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm and even Meals on Wheels.

These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including one in five children.

Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven biggest military budgets combined.

2. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million to lose it by 2026.

Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

The plan reduces the federal budget deficit by only $337 billion over the next ten years — a small fraction of the national debt, in exchange for an enormous amount of human hardship.

3. His ban on Syrian refugees and reduction by half in the total number of refugees admitted to the United States comes just when the world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why is Trump doing this? The ban does little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism. No terrorist act in the United States has been perpetrated by a Syrian or by anyone from the six nations whose citizens are now banned from traveling to the United States. You have higher odds of being struck by lightening than dying from an immigrant terrorist attack.

4. His dragnet roundup of undocumented immigrants is helter skelter and includes people who have been productive members of our society for decades, as well as young people who have been here since they were toddlers.

Why is Trump doing this? He has no compelling justification. Unemployment is down, crime is down, and we have fewer undocumented workers in the United States today than we did five years ago.

Trump is embarking on an orgy of cruelty for absolutely no reason. This is morally repugnant. It violates every ideal this nation has ever cherished. We have a moral responsibility to stop it.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.