Javelin antitank missile
© Getty
The Trump administration approved the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Last month, the Trump administration approved the largest US sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine since 2014 by approving a commercial license authorizing the export of sniper systems to Ukraine for $41.5 million. A few days later, the antitank Javelin missiles that the Ukranian government requested were added to the sale - the total package is now valued at $47 million. Although the US State Department announced the measure as providing Ukraine with "enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity", Russia has rightly suggested it will exacerbate the conflict. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that the US has become an accomplice in the war and that the sale makes it impossible for Russia to remain "indifferent".

Writer Daniel Larison calls Trump "a fool" for arming Ukraine, as Russia will respond more aggressively and will always outmatch whatever support the US gives, because it has far more at stake. The situation will lead to a "fruitless and unnecessary competition with another major power" - a power that Trump promised barely a month earlier to seek a good relationship with. Likewise, Professor Stephen Cohen is right when he says it doesn't make any geopolitical or strategic sense.

Cohen warns about the danger of Kiev interpreting the arms sale as a signal from Washington for a new offensive against the Donbass, which will end again in military disaster for the Ukrainian regime. This may bring the neo-fascists closer to power, and the new Cold War closer to more direct war between the nuclear superpowers.

Add to this the recent approval of a $133 million US anti-ballistic missile sale to Japan, which Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced as a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and Russia, and which she sees as part of a bigger plan by the US for a "global anti-missile system."

So why is the Trump administration backtracking on improving relations with Russia and potentially putting the entire globe in danger?

Alexander Mercouris thinks this is part of a pattern of confrontational decisions taking place "since the US military effectively took charge of the US government back in the summer", when Steve Bannon left the White House, leaving generals Kelly, McMaster and Mattis in control. Regarding the weapons sale to Ukraine, he offers the following possible explanations:
  1. the US weapons are being supplied to facilitate a planned Ukrainian offensive to conquer the Donbass;
  2. the US weapons are being supplied as a gesture of political support for Ukraine in its continued confrontation with the two People's Republics and with Russia;
  3. the US weapons are being supplied to enable the US to gain political leverage over Russia in the ongoing negotiations to settle the Ukrainian crisis;
  4. the US weapons are being supplied to help Donald Trump politically at home by stifling criticism that he is "giving up" on Ukraine and in order to show that he is "getting tough" with Russia.
Cohen's view is in line with the last option. Assuming it was Trump's decision, he says, "it was no doubt to disprove the underlying premise of the still unproved Russiagate allegations that he is a lackey of the Kremlin", and it is in this sense that "Russiagate has become the No. 1 threat to American national security, certainly in regard to nuclear Russia." The point being, the US intel agencies that concocted the Russia collusion story did so because by accusing Trump of being a Kremlin agent, they knew he would be forced to prove otherwise and take a belligerent stance towards Russia.

T-72 Tanks Donetsk Ukraine
© Associated Press
T-72 Tanks from the Donetsk Peoples Republic, now under threat by Javelin missiles.
While all such explanations are no doubt part of the equation, there is another possibility that while perhaps more mundane, is no less alarming. Consider that Trump has not only surrounded himself by generals, but also by former weapons industry executives:

Examples of Trump's industry-heavy administration include Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former board member at General Dynamics; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who worked for a number of military firms and was an adviser to Pentagon contractor DynCorp; former Boeing executive and now Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan; former Lockheed Martin executive John Rood, nominated as undersecretary of defense for policy; former Raytheon Vice President Mark Esper, newly confirmed as Secretary of the Army; Heather Wilson, a former consultant to Lockheed Martin, who is Secretary of the Air Force; Ellen Lord, a former CEO for the aerospace company Textron, who is Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition; and National Security Council Chief of Staff Keith Kellogg, a former employee of the major military and intelligence contractor CACI.

These are the people who have the ear of the man seeking to fulfill his campaign promise of creating jobs in the US by selling goods and services abroad and to bring down the country's trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion. In fact, the Trump administration is expected to announce in the near future a "Buy American" plan that would ease rules on US military exports (including human rights and arms control considerations) and would call for military attaches and embassy staffers around the world to act "as a sales force for defense contractors, actively advocating on their behalf".

The Washington Post reports that Trump personally approved the Ukraine sale license after being presented with a memo by Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former board member at General Dynamics, and Rex Tillerson, a man who openly claims that Russia is out "to undermine Western institutions" through the use of "hybrid warfare", and who refuses any normalization with Russia until Crimea is given back to Ukraine. The latter is a position virtually identical to Joe Biden's and that of the neocons.

If it looks like the decision to arm Ukraine lacked any (geo)political strategy or foresight on the part of the president, it may be that the president has no such foresight. As The Saker put it:
For months now President Trump has mostly ruled the US by means of "tweets" which, of course, and by definition, amount to exactly nothing and there is nothing which could be seriously called a "US foreign policy" (with the exception of the never-ending stream of accusations, threats and grandstanding, which don't qualify).
Perhaps Trump - rather than being mentally unstable, a new Hitler, or a misunderstood savior or negotiating genius - is simply what he appears to be: a businessman with limited political insight who often makes poorly thought-out decisions based on the advice of corporate and deep state representatives who follow their own agendas, those entities constituting the real power in the USA.

Some things in US politics are systemic; they have been so for many decades and are likely to remain so for some time in the future. We should all understand this by now:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower