Let Them Eat Chocolate Cake

President Teddy Roosevelt said the United States, in its foreign policy, should “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” It was an evocation of an approach to world actors that remained in place for much of the 20th Century — a foreign policy that relied on the implied threat of unequivocal military action to press American diplomatic goals.

The United States, under this doctrine, didn’t threaten, didn’t bluster. It stated its goals, and acted only when necessary and with absolute clarity of purpose.

Roosevelt’s prescription was never much more than a myth, but it established the so-called realpolitik wing of the foreign policy establishment that has underpinned American foreign policy for much of the last century: Identify American interests, work diplomatically to support those interests, and send in the troops when necessary. Every intervention could be defended as realpolitik — the two world wars, for sure, but also Korea and Vietnam, wars to prevent the spread of Chinese and Russian communism.

Given the mythology and subterfuge underlying a century of American adventurism around the globe, one might be forgiven for mistaking President Donald Trump’s bluster as a breath of fresh air. That, of course, would be foolish.

Trump is a bully and not a diplomat, or military leader. His entire life has been in the service of his own interests — his bank account, his ego — and his dalliances with the war machine have done little to alter his trajectory. He unleashed missiles on Syria then, in a truly disturbing gesture redolent of the French aristocracy during Louis XVI, he bragged to Fox Business Network that he was eating the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen” when he gave the order.

Overall, according to various reports, nearly 300 civilians have been killed in Syria and Iraq by American or coalition air strikes since February — about 60% of all those killed by air strikes since combat against IS/Daesh began in 2014.

None of this should be a surprise, given that Trump promised to take off the gloves and loosen the rules of engagement, or that the president, who ran as a populist defender of the little man, is the consummate elitist who sees the very same “little people” as tools or props. This makes it easier for him to unleash virulent hyperbole against the various threats he sees to his or his presidency’s well-being.

The latest example of this came during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, when he threatened North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un for the second time with annihilation. In August, he threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and he doubled down at the UN. While he couched it in the language of defense, his promise “to totally destroy North Korea,” if carried out, likely would fit the definition of a war crime because it implies a disregard for the lives of non-combatants.

This is only nominally about North Korea — or Iran, who he also verbally attacked in his UN speech. This is about an imperious attitude that makes it highly unlikely that Trump might consider restraint.

If Trump cannot see the humanity of the civilians living in war zones or under dictatorial regimes, why would he take pause to consider how his actions might affect them? This is a prescription for a reckless militarism that would make the George W. Bush administration seem deliberate.

There are options for North Korea — military historian Andrew Bacevich outlines them in a column at the American Conservative that is worth reading — but they all involve a restraint and diplomacy for which the Trump team has shown no facility.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email; blog,; Twitter @newpoet41 and @kaletjournalism;; Instagram, @kaletwrites.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652