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Wednesday, 21 March 2018 06:58

A Culture of Violence That Starts at the Top

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Bell 0321wrp opt(Photo: Bradley Weber / Flickr)When presenting its foreign policy goals, the Trump administration has used particularly shocking language, intensifying a culture of violence in Washington that is spreading fear throughout much of the world.

Over the past year, administration officials have called for "viciousness" in espionage operations, "lethality" in military programs and the "annihilation" of US enemies. Although President Trump recently called on the US people to create a culture that "condemns violence and never glorifies violence," his administration has continuously called for more violent military operations throughout the world.

To some degree, the Trump administration's penchant for violence is nothing new. Both the Bush and Obama administrations embraced violent military interventions as solutions to global problems. All three administrations maintained a continuous war on terror, one that has claimed more than 370,000 lives, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

During the most recent presidential campaign, Trump criticized various aspects of the war while promising to intensify the violence. He promised to "bomb the hell out of ISIS" and threatened to "take out their families." He also said that he would torture prisoners of war.

Since entering office, Trump has taken things to a whole new level. Now, the highest-level officials in the Trump administration are joining the president in using the same kinds of violent rhetoric, creating all sorts of dangerous new standards for violence in political speech.

Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee to replace Rex Tillerson at the State Department, has fully embraced the president's vision of a more violent foreign policy. As the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Pompeo repeatedly called for more "vicious" intelligence operations, the kinds that some previous presidents found distasteful.

Intelligence operations require "a seriousness and viciousness not often found in the salons of Washington, DC," Pompeo said late last year. He vowed to make the CIA into "a much more vicious agency."

Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee to replace Pompeo at the CIA, is committed to the same principles. During the Bush administration, Haspel ran a prison in Thailand where detainees were tortured.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has also embraced the president's vision. Mattis, who is notorious for once having boasted that "It's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot" enemy forces in Afghanistan, says that his main focus is to create a deadlier US military. As he explained in a speech last year, "everything we must do must contribute to the increased lethality of our military."

During a press briefing last month, Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White confirmed that Mattis continues to make all of his decisions on the same basis. "The secretary considers all of his decisions through that lens of lethality," White said.

Both Pompeo and Mattis, who rank among Trump's strongest supporters, receive constant praise from the president.

Trump is especially fond of Mattis, whom he affectionately calls "Mad Dog." Although Mattis says he prefers his call sign "Chaos," Trump always comes back to the "Mad Dog" label. "I love that name," Trump said during a speech last year. "I've never figured out if he likes the name, but he really deserves the name."

The administration's embrace of such violent imagery is having all sorts of dangerous effects. Not only has it begun to normalize an image of an extraordinarily violent presidency, but it is also making the world a far more dangerous place.

Perhaps the most dangerous consequences can be found in North Korea. As the North Korean government tests nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to demonstrate that it has a powerful deterrent, the Trump administration continuously threatens the country with violence, including war.

Administration officials talk about programs called "Kill Chain" and debate different ways of attacking the country. They periodically remind the North Koreans that tens of thousands of US military forces remain based in the region on the motto of "Ready to Fight Tonight." Administration officials repeatedly say that "all options are on the table," meaning that they are considering the use of nuclear weapons.

Last year, Secretary Mattis said that "there's a military solution" to the situation in North Korea. He suggested that one of the options is "the total annihilation" of the country.

Likewise, President Trump has repeatedly threatened North Korea. Last year, Trump threatened the country with "fire and fury like the world has never seen." He tweeted that military solutions are "fully in place, locked and loaded." Speaking at the United Nations, Trump announced that he might "totally destroy North Korea."

So far, the only hopes for a reduction in tensions is coming from the Korean peninsula, where North and South Korean leaders are calling for talks. Trump claims that his maximum pressure campaign is the reason for the breakthrough, but allsigns indicate that the quiet and patient diplomacy of the progressive South Korean government created the opportunity for talks.

Although Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he remains determined to maintain maximum pressure on the country. He has chosen Pompeo and the CIA to lead the diplomatic effort, decided to resume military exercises in the region, and keep working to end the Iran nuclear deal, undermining any notion that he is serious about striking a similar deal with the North Koreans.

On other issues, the Trump administration has been just as menacing. The president has repeatedly praised repressive leaders, called for military interventions in other countries, and demanded that terrorists be eradicated from the face of the Earth.

In its war against ISIS, the Trump administration has taken things to the most extreme levels, intensifying the Obama administration's calls to "eradicate" ISIS by promising to "annihilate" ISIS.

According to one administration official, the Trump administration has implemented a "campaign of annihilation" against ISIS. The main goal, officials say, is to surround ISIS fighters and kill them.

Coalition forces "envelope them first and then annihilate them," Secretary Mattis informed the press last year.

Administration officials have justified their annihilation tactics by routinely portraying ISIS fighters as subhuman creatures that need to be eradicated. Officials have called ISIS fighters everything from parasites to barbarians to lawless savages.

Brigadier Gen. Andrew A. Croft, who plays a central role in directing the air campaign, recently compared the battlefield to "a newly-plowed field" that needs to be continuously cleared of weeds. "If you don't tend it, you know, the weeds grow," Croft said. "And I would equate ISIS and everybody else -- A.Q., AQI -- is just a bunch of weeds."

With its approach, which has been criticized by the Red Cross for its "dehumanizing" rhetoric, the Trump administration has directed a tremendously violent military campaign against ISIS, killing tens of thousands of ISIS fighters along with thousands of innocent civilians. Entire cities have been reduced to rubble.

"Our tactics are tactics of annihilation," Secretary Mattis reminded the press last month.

The administration's embrace of such extreme violence is a significant turning point for Washington. Not only has it been devastating for US enemies, but it has started to become normal for the leaders of the most powerful country in the world to speak in genocidal terms.

Indeed, the Trump administration is making open talk of viciousness, lethality and annihilation into the new normal for US foreign policy.