DONALD Trump recently stated his willingness to strike North Korea with “fire and fury … the likes of which the world has never seen.” His position then hardened, after he decided that threatening nuclear strikes on a nuclear power “maybe wasn’t tough enough”. This followed the decision to cut normal relations with Cuba, to threaten Pakistan and Venezuela, to impose new sanctions on Russia, all of which suggests a new belligerency in American foreign policy.

A “new” belligerency? I admit the phrase strikes a wrong note, since America routinely interferes in other countries and is almost never at peace. But Obama, for his faults, was elected on an anti-war platform and tended to manage America’s power in a police-like fashion rather than to start new frontiers. While Trump has never been consistent, he did stand to the left of Hillary Clinton on foreign affairs, as a neo-isolationist, and his election promised a reconciliation with Russia.

Why, then, this sudden rush for new conflicts? Trump has found that foreign policy aggression is the easiest way to get critics off his back. The Democrats and their media allies are obsessed with proving that Trump is in the pay of the Kremlin. His racism, sexism, and complete failure to implement any policies are largely irrelevant in Democrat eyes compared to the implication that he is Putin’s man in the White House. So peace isn’t an option for Trump. Indeed, his Russia policies are now thoroughly mainstream, which is to say, aggressive.

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Trump is an improviser and he has found, particularly in Syria, that fighting words win cross-party support. So the new belligerency isn’t simply evidence of a mad president doing mad things. Moderate liberals are equally part of this story. “US foreign policy’s point of equilibrium is effectively being determined by Republican phobias (Iran, Cuba, Venezuela) often shared by Democrats, and by Democrat hatreds (Russia, Syria) endorsed by most Republicans,” notes Serge Halimi, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique. “If there is a peace party in Washington, it’s currently well hidden.”

American foreign policy arguably influences the planet’s future more than any other factor. Washington’s changes in temper have repercussions everywhere, given its capacity for military spending, which is higher than the next seven imperial powers combined; its aid to countries like Israel, Egypt and Colombia; and its sway over supposedly multilateral agencies like the IMF and Nato.

The structures of American government allow the pettiest of motives to drive global events. As Christopher Hitchens once noted, Bill Clinton bombed three remote and unpopular countries in 1998, including a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, each bombing coinciding with bad news about his sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, as if in imitation of the film Wag The Dog. Protesters met Clinton with signs reading “no blood for blow jobs”. But blood there was.

Of course, Clinton’s manoeuvres may have been based on blunder rather than calculation. Maybe the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant wasn’t about sex after all: we’ll never know. However, if Clinton really did wag the dog, it was based on a sound insight into American elite thinking. The US media, all sides of it, fall into line when the president goes to war.

Trump proves how far this can go. America’s middle-class liberals find his coarseness, philistinism and ugliness more troubling than the vices of any other president in history. They have routinely likened him to Hitler. But when he bypassed the constitution to bomb Syria, liberal columnists rushed to cheer this bad-mannered Hitlerite ogre. And liberals over here were just as quick to join the applause.

American foreign policy goes beyond conventional ideology, so it’s often largely irrelevant to ask whether America is moving left or moving right. American feminism is the main badge of left liberalism, but it was easily pressed into service for US military purposes during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks, Hillary! The system depends on constructing an idea of an enemy so villainous, so beyond basic morality that no civilised person could negotiate with it. This narrative of an all-encompassing enemy is kryptonite to the American liberal backbone.

If Donald Trump starts to understand this, he could escape all Democrat attempts to impeach him. He could even win the next election.

The repercussions would be scary. Trump alone can be managed and defeated. But a belligerent Trump, commanding the uncritical obedience enjoyed by American presidents who wage war, is a real danger to the world.

On foreign affairs, the real problem isn’t alt-right sentiment, but rather the possibility of Trump taking advantage of liberal obsessions. Their only consistent critique of Trump – that he is Putin’s agent – may play into the president’s hands. It forces him on to a war footing. And American liberals still don’t know how to oppose war. So Trump wins. As if to prove this, the new belligerency led directly to an eight per cent jump in Trump’s popularity last month. Be warned: he isn’t finished yet.