The Jerusalem Post
Trump’s last days in office, the West and world order
New revelations in a book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, quoted at CNN, present details of the chaos that underpinned the Trump administration. This chaos appeared to increase in the last six months in office, especially after former US president Donald Trump decided to contest the election and then never conceded.
This unprecedented chaos conjures up other periods of US history where Washington was rocked by internal dissension, whether during the Nixon administration or the era of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
The new book, titled I Alone can Fix It, presents a story about how top US military commander Gen. Mark Milley “and the other Joint Chiefs discussed a plan to resign, one-by-one, rather than carry out orders from Trump that they considered to be illegal, dangerous or ill-advised.”
The reports discuss claims that the US president sought to fan chaos to call out the military and invoke the Insurrection Act. It’s not entirely clear whether these concerns were founded on actual plans or merely the rumormongering that tended to underpin the Trump administration and its discontents.
What matters is not necessarily if this chaos was based on real plans, but the degree to which large numbers of Americans, from the top of the military to average people, were speaking about a “coup” or “civil war” in the fall of 2020.
For foreign governments that have relied on an American-led world order since the end of the Cold War and which want a rules-based world order, the concerns cannot be overstated. This is because the more that Washington is or was in chaos, the more that the international community will suffer abuses at the hands of out-of-control authoritarians.
This is clear and apparent from the actions of Iran, Turkey, Russia and China, as well as other countries that tend to view themselves as seeking to upend and American-led world. They want a multipolar world, something they have openly talked about. China, for instance, has been messaging
increasingly about how it will not be “bullied” and will take a more muscular role globally.
The impunity that underpinned world order during the Trump administration has now been put in check a bit by the Biden team’s attempt to bring some sort of coordination to things. However, they are faced with the fact that countries such as Iran feel total impunity to not only attack US forces in the Middle East, but to plot against American allies and partners and even to try to strike at journalists in the US.
In another case, the Taliban have shown they can rapidly take over Afghanistan without any pushback. What happened to trillions of dollars of US waste in Afghanistan? Where is the Afghan air force? Why doesn’t the Afghan army seem to have one normal armored division or adequate troops? Ten years wasted.
Meanwhile, the rise of jihadists in Africa is increasingly threatening more states, while countries such as Russia, China and Turkey play a wider role. The rise of protests in Cuba and South Africa, and a conspiracy to decapitate
the leadership of Haiti, show that many countries are facing uncertainty about their future.
Add to that the continuing chaos over the pandemic. Although beginning a year and a half ago, there has been little coordination among wealthy countries to create an international database and research institute to deal with a pandemic that is far more than just a health issue, but also a national security and economic threat.
How come there has been no mobilization to create systematic early studies of new variants such as the Delta one, which are now spreading around the world and causing new lockdowns, similar to the original COVID-19 lockdowns last year?
The lack of coordination on vaccines and the chaotic approaches and unanswered questions, both about the origins of the pandemic and also about the next steps to counter it, are all part of the chaos that underpinned Washington in January 2020.
That there are unanswered questions about what happened in the heart of DC – and about concerns at the Pentagon
and among top military brass that the US was, in Milley’s view, reaching some kind of “Reichstag moment” – should lead to concern about how close the US came to greater chaos.
Critics of Milley will say he is merely exaggerating his role to appear more positive to those who saw Trump as a dangerous figure. But other evidence of Trump’s unhinged behavior toward the end of his rule points to wider concerns among even close staff that things were spiraling in the wrong direction.
It’s a concern that was held among many responsible people at the time, who saw a potential for the military being called into the streets in the case of chaos. That’s the kind of thing Americans tend to think happens in the “Third World.”
The problem for a world order that is in chaos is that Western depictions of these issues being a “Third World” problem rest mostly on arrogance rather than the reality of what is happening in wealthy Western countries, which have abrogated their global responsibilities during the pandemic and the rise of authoritarianism.