Listening to Donald Trump’s latest speech on United States security and foreign policy, I am reminded of Leonard Wibberley’s seminal book, The Mouse That Roared, which was later adapted into a feature movie with Peter Sellers starring.
Everything about this badly written, poorly delivered speech reminded me of the book/movie: preposterous, comical, and surrealistic. (Nothing to do with the mouse having small fingers and the like.)
When I first heard the reference to The Mouse That Roared, invoked by former Republican governor John Sununu when taking questions about Trump in a recent Council on Foreign Relations roundtable, the image summarised the whole picture.
Wibberley’s 1955 Cold War satirical novel came to mind, as I listened to Trump talk nonsense about “extreme vetting”, “ideological tests” and establishing a “commission on radical Islam”, while invoking Cold War comparisons and insisting that the US must shun refugees and abandon “nation-building” abroad.
To make a long satire short; The Mouse That Roared is about a small country, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, which decides to go to war against the US with the aim to lose, and prompt the US to provide vast financial aid to rebuild the country.
Except, to their surprise, the Fenwicks sort of won the war after a series of coincidences, defeating the whole purpose of waging it in the first place.
Not so different from Trump, who launched his campaign last summer in a press conference without any means, plans, vision or the will to win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.
are not just disappointed, angry, or bitter. Many believe they’re under attack, and hence they’ve enthusiastically rallied behind the most extreme and populist candidate, regardless of his lies, profanities, and stupidities.”]
He just wanted more publicity and perhaps better TV exposure. But his racist, sexist, fear-mongering discourse worked, and now he’s stuck, basking in the limelight and talking about stuff he doesn’t necessarily understand. Like the Fenwicks, he could also get his hands on the “nuclear football”.
On a deeper level, The Mouse That Roared was a jab at the US during the 1950s, following the Marshal and MacArthur plans to rebuild Japan and Europe respectively.
That was the case even though history has shown rebuilding countries to be a win-win strategy, which paved the way for the triumph of Western liberalism over Soviet Communism.
At any rate, Trump has compared the threat of “radical Islam” to Soviet communism and wants to focus all of the US’ policies and alliances to fight against it, at the same time abandoning nation-building.
But what nation-building is he talking about? Certainly not in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen or Libya. That notion was used mostly as a counterinsurgency strategy, and was abandoned long ago. The Arab and Muslim worlds only hope the US stops the wars and destruction.
Unlike post-World War II Europe, the US has been militarily involved in about a dozen Muslim countries over the past few decades, causing lots of destruction and little building, national or otherwise.
Or, as American military historian Andrew Bacevich argued in his recent book America’s War for the Greater Middle East, when Washington did support freedom, democracy and prosperity, it did so only if it got the lion’s share of it.
That’s why, contrary to Trump’s claims, the US needs to abandon war, not nation-building. But he’s not promising that. Anything but.
Trump not only advocates more war, but also insists that the US take the spoils of war. “Take the oil,” he insisted.
To paraphrase one American leader, Republican leadership over the past quarter of a century defies and disproves Darwin’s theory of evolution.
But trying to rationalise Trump’s arguments defeats their purpose – namely to deceive, scare, incite, and exploit vulnerabilities at any cost. As when he threatened the “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the US, boasting: “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
Or when he promised to “build a great wall”, adding that “nobody builds walls better than me, believe me …”, and wondered “if Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” She’s also physically unfit to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, he argued.
Trump tried to prove that he was against the 2003 Iraq war, when the record shows he supported it and praised its initial success. Basically, he was for the war if it succeeded, but against if it failed.
He has also tried to sound tough on terror, but everything he said is either too simplistic or too superficial.
By contrast, George W Bush and Barack Obama, whom he criticised for being soft on “terror”, have created and managed the entire “anti-terror infrastructure” in the US and internationally, including bombings, “indefinite detention”, “rendition“, “warrantless wiretaps”, “special forces” and “drone warfare”, and of course, Guantanamo.
That’s not to say that everything Trump says is wacky, as his detractors claim rather disingenuously. His speech contained some truths, or at least half-truths. But when Trump is true he’s unoriginal, and when he is original he’s mostly idiotic or outrageous.
So why does Trump get away with saying or doing anything? Or, as he put it so eloquently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
More importantly, why have his outrageous statements helped his ascendency to the Republican nomination – instead of hampering it?
Is it because, as he explained, “It’s, like, incredible … My people are so smart … They say I have the most loyal people”?
Actually, it’s because they reckon they’re at war.
But that’s not the same “class war” that Bernie Sanders supporters are fighting on the left, the war against the impoverished waged by the very rich, or the one percent against the rest.
It’s a political and cultural war. Or, it’s a Second Civil War that could be traced to the destructive American Civil War of the mid-19th century.
In the words of historian Steve Ross, “It’s not that all of Trump’s supporters want to own slaves or secede from the United States. But they can see their political clout disappearing, and are responding by supporting an extremist movement.”
In other words, these people are not just disappointed, angry or bitter. Many believe they’re under attack, and hence they’ve enthusiastically rallied behind the most extreme and populist candidate, Trump, regardless of his lies, profanities, and stupidities.
For them, as the saying goes, “all is fair in war”.
And love, alas.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.