That the incendiary announcement that the United States was moving its embassy to Jerusalem comes in the wake of the Senate’s passage of the Trump GOP tax giveaway to the wealthy begs the question: Does any relationship exist between domestic and foreign policy in the Trump years? Can we connect the current administration’s domestic policy to shift wealth to the wealthiest and permanently entrench the wealthiest as a ruling elite to our bellicose, go-it-alone, anti-Muslim foreign policy? Is there a grand design? Or is it just an incoherent stew of bad ideas?
To a great degree, domestic and foreign policy always work hand and glove in the United States. For the most part, both have always served the interests of the ultra-wealthy and a coterie of large companies in industries long used to mixing in politics such as energy, metals extraction, telecommunications and defense.
The current foreign policy abandons attempts to solve world problems collectively and replaces it with an angry isolationism that tries to bully or bluster to get its way. It appears to represent a radical turn from the approach of at least the last three administrations, but if you scratch the surface…la plus sa change, as the French say. We seem always to have a ton of troops and advisors in a number of foreign countries. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars.
But what does our foreign policy—both what continues and what is new—have to do with domestic issues?
As it turns out, our continued military misadventures that transcend regimes have four profound connections to domestic affairs, all of which have both political and policy implications.
First and most obvious, the defense industry plays a large role in our politics. No candidate from either party has strayed very far from espousing the central tenets of our foreign policy since the end of World War II, which of course call for tremendous annual expenditures for the military. Our sainted President Obama, for example, was a leading proponent of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and raised no objections to robot weapons that decide on their kill without human intervention. The acquiescence to or support of the defense industries by all leading politicians results in a greater likelihood that we will use the weapons.
For the most part, politicians from both parties also buy into the long-time U.S. policy of being the arms master to the world, selling more military weaponry to other countries than the rest of the nations of the world combined. Often these sales, by private military corporations, take place only because of U.S. loans to the purchasing government.Thus our federal budget is stretched and our politics distorted by the influence of military contractors.
Besides draining our treasury of funds that could be used to help people, both in the United States and throughout the world, our large military expenditures and our long-time policy of being the arms master of the world contribute to the overall “culture of guns” that exists in America. We are armed to the teeth and have armed the world to the teeth. The political and policy dynamics of selling guns abroad and guns in the United States reinforce each other: America, armed to the teeth, land of freedom and defender of freedom.
In other regions of the world, our arms mongering causes disruptions. In the United States, it leads to a slaughter unseen in any other nation of the world. Then again, no other nation in the world has so many guns in active circulation. Every study shows that the more guns a society has, the more people will die and be injured by guns. Our elected officials seem to accept the casualties in the United States in the name of a single freedom proclaimed as inviolable through a gross misinterpretation of an amendment to the constitution ratified more than 200 years ago, long before the invention of automatic weapons and bump stocks.
Our foreign policy also helps to justify our domestic police state apparatus, and has done so since the end of World War II when we decided we were better off with the Soviet Union as an enemy than as a friend. When we don’t have an enemy, we manufacture one, or expand a minor threat such as ISIS into a major one. Government uses international affairs as the rationale and justification for all manner of intrusion into our lives, such as eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, executing secret searches, tracking library card use, seizures of private property, classifying millions of documents as top secret and cracking down on undocumented immigrants.
Finally, foreign affairs serves as a distraction from domestic issues. Traditionally, people come together in a war. They’re ready to make sacrifices for the good of the country.They forget or are willing to postpone consideration of pressing domestic issues such as healthcare, minimum wage and growing inequality. The common enemy—be it real or imagined—takes our mind off domestic concerns. Think North Korea and the fear of nuclear attack.
Defense industry influence, the gun culture, the excuse for creating a security state, a distraction from domestic problems. These four links between domestic affairs and foreign policy transcend administrations and have existed since at least the Truman Administration. Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, getting into a name-calling contest with an erratic lunatic with a finger on the bomb, escalating the war in Afghanistan again and trying to wiggle out of the Iran nuclear deal may make us quake from fear that our foreign policy has gone rogue, but the main outlines of the post-war bipartisan consensus to be both the world’s bully and its arms dealer persist, as does the pernicious interaction between foreign policy and domestic affairs that is the necessary outcome of that overarching strategy.