Trump in the World

Trump says he knows more than the generals, so this week we’re talking to the colonels about the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to try and sort through all the noise and speculation surrounding the president-elect’s amorphous international stance. Wilkerson has long been a consummate observer of institutional politics and power, first in the military ranks, later in White House as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now a professor at William and Mary, he sees our country in a real battle with The Three Plagues of Apathy, Lethargy and Ignorance. He shares with us the perspective of his ‘awakened’ students, his professional assessment of Trump’s cabinet of generals, and what the foreign policy priorities of any US president should be in the 21st century.

Later, distinguished historian of international relations, retired Col. Andrew Bacevich tells us why there needs to be an institutional purge of the U.S. military’s senior leadership. All three- and four-star generals must go, he says. The reasoning is simple: they’ve failed to do their job , i.e. “bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.” Finally, the brilliant Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School conjures up best case/worst case scenarios of Trump’s foreign policy, as informed by his ever clear-eyed, realist perspective.

Can any of these astute observers of the international scene find some hope for the future under the Donald? Well, as the satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” If this is true, then President-elect Donald Trump just may be a foreign policy genius. In an open letter, published back in March of 2016, all the neocon masterminds of the Iraq War — everyone from Armitage to Wolfowitz — came out, en masse, against his presidential candidacy, on the grounds that he possessed the makings of an unmitigated foreign policy disaster.



Though there exists room for debate, Trump has staked out a few (surprisingly) reasonable policy positions: ‘spreading democracy’ through exercises in nation-building is not in our national interest; free-riding NATO allies should take on more of the collective burden; de-escalating tensions with Russia is to our benefit. Obviously, there are also numerous grounds for alarm, as well. So often, Trump’s more commonsensical foreign proposals came packaged in speeches that trafficked heavily in xenophobia and calls for civilizational war, threats of trade battles and reneging on diplomatic pacts, praises for the efficacy of torture and support for the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As we try to sort through these mixed messages of hatred and reform, we turn to our colonels for the longview: What is the Donald Doctrine overseas, and how it will change the image of our nation, at home and abroad?

Feature photo by: Kevork Djansezian / AP; bottom photo by: AP; Slideshow photos by:  Ssgt. Aaron D. Allmon, Ssgt. Jacob N. Bailey, Msgt. Terry L. Belvins.

Guest List
Lawrence Wilkerson
professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary
Stephen Walt
professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School and author of The Origins of Alliance
Andrew Bacevich
professor emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University and author of America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

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  • incompleteness theorem

    For some reason this audio podcast isn’t playing or downloading (invalid url). I guess it will appear in iTunes soon enough, but by then my attention may’ve moved on, and there is much in this broadcast that I feel needs more public airing, more discussion, more attention paid to it – as I know in my discussions with people online and in my day to day life that most people (even very intelligent ones who consider themselves well-informed) are largely oblivious to the suite of threats facing us, most especially as elucidated – I believe – by Col. Wilkerson: computer models of climate change having failed us in that they’ve actually underestimated the rate at which global warming is occurring (what was the temperature today? something like 52 F. in December?), China’s determination to conquer us economically – not militarily – and which given their One Belt One Road project and our regression in the direction of outmoded economic models (protectionism, America First) should be especially troubling to us – especially given the possibility that the world’s central banks would then no doubt begin to increase their yuan holdings … and what that could eventually main for our daily lives. Something that just isn’t all that well understood – with all the Audit the Fed mania and cancerous anti-intellectualism that is out there.

  • Potter

    I wonder who wrote Trump’s “George Kennan” speech played at the outset of this essential discussion. The man has been so ugly and contradictory that I cannot listen to his voice. But the words have some truth.

    Thankfully you present voices we need to hear. The problem is, and it was said, from what we have experienced of Trump we have to wonder if he means this or even knows what he is saying, i.e. what this implies. We have to wonder if he will, or will know how to even begin to manifest these goals especially now after we see his appointments. He cannot be believed. The guests do not share Chris’s optimism. Nor do I though I admire his doggedness looking for the bright side. My perception of Trump is that he can’t be counted on to do what he says he will do because he says many things that do not fit together or are not even possible, if not immoral.

    More importantly Trump draws all the attention towards himself. Now I fear his ability to wield enormous power in a threatening way to get results that he wants for himself or even for his few and not for everyone else. He now asks for us to come together after his incredibly divisive campaign. Ultimately it seems to me, his gain is for lifting himself. I think he is very dangerous.

    Trump possibly could be managed with some concerted efforts, carrots and sticks. He might run up against some walls in the maze he has conjured up to fulfill his promises disregarding his lack of mandate. ( He is still lying). We are going to see how well our system is and how well our collective is. Or we will see us cracking apart even further.

    I keep saying “excellent show” but excellent show! And thank you!

    • WoozyCanary

      Yes, ditto what Potter said. It’s nice to see that somewhere (Open Source) in an otherwise bland, corporate-media-driven NPR wasteland of blandness and phony “balance,” that rational, opinionated critique by guests such as today’s has a home.

      The is worthy of a prominent time slot.

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Imagine a sufficient number of those that supported Trump in the popular vote turn on him prior to the EC vote, swaying it HRC’s way. Thereby landing the winner of the popular vote in the White House. Prof. Lawrence Lessig made a compelling argument recently suggesting that such an outcome would be consistent with the charter, intent and purpose of the EC as conceived by the Founding Fathers and framers while upholding the principle of equity in the franchise in terms of one person one vote.

  • Lawrence Wilkerson was particularly interesting. More please.

    Given the talk of empire throughout the ‘pod, this is a great time to revisit Chalmers Johnson. Maybe Mr. Lydon could turn his attention to his work for the subject of an immediate-term ‘pod.

  • This show made me nauseous, but at least I didn’t blow chunks. The parochial views expressed were overwhelming.

    Lawrence Wilkerson: Core convictions about America’s role in the world?

    I think I heard it is to build and project strength and thereby avert
    war. Isn’t Trump doing what he said he would do? Be the craziest mofo on the
    block? He has assembled a posse of crazy mofos and if that doesn’t project
    strength, what does?

    (Funny no one has mentioned Kennedy. He went ‘all in’ and would have
    killed us all except the Russians where a bunch of bureaucrats and it scared
    them to think he wouldn’t do what they expected.)

    Stephen Walt made me think about what people on the left really fear.
    Marine General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis: “You cannot allow any of your
    people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s
    going to be bad.”

    What the left does with the brutal facts is accuse everyone else of
    living in a dream world. And of course, that dream world is bad. Be careful
    what you wish for…. ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis might be your guy. I prefer dream worlds.

    Andrew Bacevich: The travel and leisure industry (Trump) won’t allow martial law. Chinese threat is way overrated. We owe the Chinese too much money – they don’t want to bury us, they want to be us. That will bury the entire planet.

    • Potter

      It is troubling to hear “mad dog Mattis”. It projects an extension of Trump’s bullying style.. and it’s immature and unwise and it won’t work. But that is not what I read about Mattis’s mode.

      Dramamine works for the kind of nausea that comes from looking backward as you go forward. Otherwise pot?

      • I’ve read about Mattis, but thanks for this from the New Yorker:
        Mattis is a lean man of medium height. He is open, direct, and humorous. He can
        occasionally say startling things: “It’s fun to shoot some people,” he told an
        audience in 2005, referring to enemy guerrillas.

        I didn’t use that quote because I didn’t know the context. Now I see he was referring to the enemy and wasn’t referring to his own feelings.

        He is a reflective guy, a thinker, but what does he think about? Brutal facts, bad dreams.

        To what end though? We beautify the river-view million-dollar homes with three car garages stuffed with German technology of the retired generals here in Virginia. I get that they’re gung-ho on America. Why wouldn’t they be gung-ho with two pensions? Evidently the brutal facts and bad dreams are for the rank and file.

        I wish Chris had asked Wilkerson which war we are averting in Africa. Is it the war over Nigerian oil or the war over rare earth metals in the Congo? The Chinese are there, maybe it is the war with the Chinese we are trying to avert.

        Right, it’s the waste of the circular motion that makes me nauseous.

        • Potter

          Look, we have Trump unless the recount is a dramatic change before inauguration or the Electoral College does something unprecedented and exciting. Mattis is so far, it seems, the least objectionable of Trump’s picks. If we had a call-in show would you have called in with that? There was so much happening in this hour that was helpful.

          Also as much as I don’t want Trump ( badly), I wonder if we all would not be fast asleep now with Hillary about many things. We at least would not be sitting on the edge of our chairs wondering what Trump is going to do or planning to be out in the streets or donating to progressive causes. Well maybe some of us would still be donating to progressive causes.

          • “If we had a call-in show would you have called in with that?”
            Would I have been allowed to? The only speaker that I thought was insightful
            was Stephen Walt. There was no future being proposed, everyone is just protecting their base. It doesn’t matter whether it is a progressive base or a conservative base. No one wants to venture outside the walls.
            Wilkerson is a cold war relic, he even said he has been out of it for a long time.
            Building and projecting strength does not do much vs IEDs and suicide belts.
            But we are still BUILDING and PROJECTING – Africom: “Administrative headquarters responsible to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. military relations with 53 African countries, focusing on war prevention rather than …”

            Andrew Bacevich made it sound like the military is concerned about spending 100s of billions of dollars. Their concern is not the SPENDING but getting the money APPROPRIATED. That is why they are on the global-warming bandwagon. Is limiting emissions a military priority?

            I don’t share your distain for Hillary, or Obama as the case may be.
            Trump is fait accompli…..

          • Potter

            There were problems with Obama that seem now to melt away as we are getting Trump. Hillary would have been better than Trump, but maybe Sanders would have been best even at what was portrayed as his advanced age and so-called unattainable goals. Sanders in the primary broadened “the base” as Trump eventually did in the most ugly way to win.

            No, I was for Hillary after I was very much against her. I softened given the alternative and believing she would actually push more progressive policies. That’s why Sanders got behind her besides the fact that he felt Trump to be flat-out dangerous.

            The guests offer their wisdom and/or experience: the lessons they learned. How could that be out of date?

            We still have cold war mindsets; the vying for supremacy amongst super powers and wanna-be’s. Trump seems to be revving that game up more. As long as we have nukes and threaten to use them or have them as deterrents, playing games of chicken, the cold war is with us. Call it what you will. This is so especially if Trump behaves like a mad dog and is not somehow ( help us!) restrained.

            the Taiwan call is the latest indicator that Trump the President will be largely indistinguishable from Trump the candidate………

            …….Trump has also shown himself to be highly exploitable on subjects that he does not grasp.

            …….I spoke to a former Republican White House official whom Trump has consulted, who told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” It turns out that is half of the problem; the other half is that he has surrounded himself with people who know how much he doesn’t know. Since Election Day, Trump has largely avoided receiving intelligence briefings, either because he doesn’t think it’s important that he receive them or because he just doesn’t care about them. George W. Bush, in the first months of 2001, ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. Only in our darkest imaginings can we wonder what warnings Trump is ignoring now.

            Evan Osnos


          • The POTUS isn’t allowed to talk to the president of Taiwan? Does this seem childish to anyone else?

            The art of the deal will look like this:
            A Trump resort in both countries, but the Chinese version will have 20% more rooms so they don’t lose face.

            Doesn’t that seem more adult-like?

            “Trust me this will be great!”


            ETA: Oh, and if Trump’s presidency goes well: Ivanka the first woman president.

    • Lawrence Wilkerson: Core convictions about America’s role in the world?

      I think I heard it is to build and project strength and thereby avert war.

      I didn’t get that at all.

      When CL introduced Larry Wilkerson, he summarized the similarities between Trump’s speech and George Kennan’s Long Telegram. I’ll listen again, but I don’t think LW endorsed that lead-by-example strategy (alone or in some combination).

      The power of Western example seemed to be more Andrew Bacevich’s conviction. That came later in the program.

      • Lead by example might be a solution.

        These talking heads are like consumer products. They aren’t there to solve the problem because sales would drop. They are there to keep you focused on the problem. (e.g. Alcohol causes bad breath. Most mouthwashes, until recently, contained alcohol – who knew, right?)

        From the weekly RoS newsletter:

        “Larry Wilkerson told us he was in the Roosevelt room last November with President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry when the president said, “the playbook in this town is war.” Wilkerson says the real threat no one in Washington wants to wrap their heads around is China, and it ‘s not about military power. It’s about their economic and financial power.”

        Do you see where Larry missed the point of what Obama was saying?

        For Larry, there has to be a threat somewhere:
        “Mr. President, we must not allow… a mine shaft gap!” – General ‘Buck’ Turgidson

        Has Larry read anything about the China economic myth?
        Here’s a blurb which I really liked:
        “In fact, the United States and China are developing precisely the type of economic relationship that U.S. strategy has long sought to create. China now has a stake in the liberal, rules-based global economic system that the United States worked to establish over the past half-century. Beijing has opened its economy to foreigndirect investment (FDI), welcomed large-scale imports, and joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), spurring prosperity and liberalization within China and across the region.”

        While watching the American Experience documentary on The Battle of Chosin Reservoir, I couldn’t help wondering how many of the Chinese soldiers relatives are working in factories making doo dads, goo gaws, and knick knacks for shoppers at the Christmas Tree Shop.

        All that carnage and for that?

        Trump is gonna bring all those factories to the US and get us ready for the next phase of the American economy. We are gonna be making doo dads, goo gaws, and knick knacks for Chinese shoppers. That means FULL EMPLOYMENT since there are way more of them than there are of us./s

        “Trust me this will be great!” /s TM

        • For Larry, there has to be a threat somewhere

          Lydon doesn’t invite popcorn guests, but I get your point. That mindset can be dangerous. That said, while i don’t follow Wilkerson closely, I’ll be thinking about what you’ve said as I bone up.

          I hope what I’ve read is incorrect, but it appears as though the President-elect’s national security adviser suffers from that exact affliction you described. There’s something to learn from all opinions of those with experience and expertise, but someone that close to power is more worrisome than LW.

  • what a pathetic line-up: tweedle dee dum and do. for a change ,listeners to NPR get a strict diet of “progressive” thinkers. not an original thought, not surprising, all conventional thinkers. not a word of criticism of Obama, even when describing things like the use of govt agencies to go after “enemies”, not a word on global jihad.

  • Potter

    “We have to find a way to manage a significant loss of altitude in the world”.. Chris says summing up this “strange interlude”. Basevich and Wilkerson agree a lot and Walt is the realist. Today seeing Trump parading around heavier and full of hubris, I have no confidence at all that this is going to be all right. All in all, second listen, a very good conversation. Back to Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land”.

    It’s a tedious read ,partly because it’s translated from the French, but it helped:

  • Someday Navy jets will land on an aircraft carrier the USS Trump.
    Their shipboard motto will be “Freedom at Work.” Which would then be doubly ironic.

    Children will be attending elementary schools and high schools named for President Trump. There will be no Trump University cuz,….uh, lawsuits on that one.

    It still seems surreal that Trump is president.

    FYI: According to Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, being poor is a choice. (The perfect corollary to that might be UBI.) Wonder what convoluted policies are gonna come outta that agency.