Donald Trump's 'Military First' Administration

U.S. President Trump has changed from a candidate concerned with the economic plight of ordinary Americans, to an imperialist president fascinated by military power.

Trump at 136th Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in May.
Trump at 136th Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony in May.


BUENOS AIRES — The campaign slogan that helped get Donald J. Trump elected to the White House and that has characterized his first 100 days in office needs to be clarified: "America First" has so far actually meant "military first."

Trump's announcements on tax reform, his executive orders affecting the economy and finances and his promises of unilateral action on trade will not necessarily strengthen the country's industrial or productive foundations, nor reduce material inequalities or social and cultural divisions.

What is clear since January is that there has been greater emphasis on military muscle than diplomatic tact, an emphasis that was already evident since the end of the Cold War, and even more so since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Trump has unveiled his vision of strategic primacy: Washington will not tolerate the rise and advance of any power to the level of the U.S. This strategy was pursued by George W. Bush, then calibrated somewhat under Barack Obama and is now back in full force under Trump, as several indicators show:

First, there is the military presence within the administration headed by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, all senior officers. People tied to the defense industry also occupy top positions, such as Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who had links to Lockheed subsidiary firms and investments in companies like Raytheon and Honeywell; Benjamin Cassidy, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security who was an executive at Boeing; and Michael Catanzaro at the National Economic Council, who was a lobbyist for Halliburton. Added to these are well-known hawks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Using the most lethal arms does not necessarily make strategic sense, but it does convey a wish to appear more offensive

Second, the administration decided to increase the defense budget by $54 billion for 2018, over the current $600 billion, while cutting the budgets of education, healthcare, environmental protection and international aid.

Third, there has been a significant growth in the arms business. According to the Forum on the Arms Trade, Obama's first 100 days in office resulted in $713 million worth of notified arms sales, while arms sales in Trump's first 100 days totaled $6 billion. It was no wonder, therefore, that Moody's Investors Service noted an improved market climate for the military industry in March 2017 after a fall in the sector's contracts during 2012-15.

Fourth, the new administration has continued and expanded the use of force with more potent and threatening weapons. A recent report in the Council on Foreign Relations said that the Obama administration launched 26,171 bombs in 2016, while it observed a 400% increase in drone attacks by the Trump administration.

The report notes that the administration has increased U.S. involvement in Yemen, expanded military operations in Africa (especially Somalia), launched 59 Tomahawk missile attacks on Syria, dropped the "mother of all bombs' (MOAB) on a site in Afghanistan and is contemplating sudden military action against North Korea. Using the most lethal arms does not necessarily make strategic sense, but it does convey a wish to appear more offensive in conflicts where the United States has not demonstrated decisive victories.

And fifth, there is clearly a political, bureaucratic and corporate backdrop to the belligerence of Trump's early presidency. During his campaign and in the early days of his administration, Trump's main focus was on terrorism, and other goals seemed limited. Over time, under pressure from civil and military actors and partly in response to his allies' demands, internal complications grew and with them, the belief that the use of force could deliver domestic political gains.

Hence the decisions to step up the "war on terrorism," to threaten Iran and North Korea, to reconsider Russia's position as a major enemy of the West, to tacitly suggest "regime changes," reinforce certain Middle East alliances that have not contributed to boosting the region's alliances, tighten the geopolitical noose around China and to insinuate the willingness to cross red lines in the use of weapons of mass destruction.

This is why the core policy of Donald Trump, whose personal style combines boldness and ignorance, is a resurgent United States where the military comes first.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!