Everyone take a deep breath and calm down. For weeks now, every newspaper and news channel is full of the latest sins of the Great Satan, Donald Trump. He's the instant bogeyman, suddenly emerging from the fiery pit, leaving the commentariat all aquiver in fear and trepidation.

On Sunday, for example, one columnist was agonising over his next move, fearing he was on the cusp of "targetting and killing possibly innocent families of terrorists." A terrible thought for sure. But hardly some new and dastardly awfulness invented by President Trump.

His now saintly predecessor, Barack Obama, did not just contemplate such tactics. For eight years he employed remote controlled drone gunships to hunt down suspected terrorists, blasting away at homes, villages, wedding and funeral processions and anyone unlucky enough to be in their way, across a huge swathe of the Islamic crescent, from Pakistan to Somalia. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last month of 546 confirmed drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan under Obama. It calculated that between 384 and 807 civilians died in these attacks.

Obama inherited this instrument of state terror from George W. Bush, and took to it with alacrity, ordering ten times as many raids as his Republican predecessor. Bush didn't invent the destruction of "terrorists'" homes any more than Obama. Reading, over the holiday break, a history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire which sparked the past century of Middle East catastrophe, I learned how the British got home destruction down to a fine art in Palestine in the 1930s. A practice which the Israelis continued.


Trump may be the Great Satan, and New Zealanders might well end up being grateful that, as the president pointed out to Prime Minister Bill English in his recent phone call, "we are a long way away so ... aren't under the same pressures as everyone else." But if he is, he's not the first to emerge from the United States.

President Trump's fulminations against foreign terrorists is standard White House talk. The presidents Bush, father and son, used similar rhetoric, laced with doses of Christian fundamentalism. And winding back a generation, when I left high school, President Kennedy was fanning a global war on communism in Indo-China. He and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, were bullying allies like New Zealand, seeking canon-fodder. There was even talk of sending conscripts from here. Now that was scary.

Over the following decade, the United States plus friends laid waste to Vietnam and its neighbours. It didn't just target individual homes. It rained down flaming napalm - jellied petroleum - on whole villages. The survivors found their fields and surrounding jungle, poisoned dead by cancer-causing, plant-killing defoliants, sprayed from above.

Trump alluded to this back story over the weekend in defending his overtures to Russia, arguing the US cannot claim moral superiority over its old foes. When Fox News' Bill O'Reilly protested that Russian president Vladimir Putin was a killer, Trump countered, "There are a lot of killers ... What do you think? Our country's so innocent?"

The highly respected journal Foreign Policy says not. In 2013, it published a list of seven governments the US has officially admitted to helping overthrow since 1953, when the CIA, with the backing of Britain, overthrew the elected government of Iran after it nationalised BP's oil assets. Between then and 1973, when the CIA backed General Augusto Pinochet's coup against Chile's elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, the USA also overthrew the Guatemalan Government on behalf of a US-owned fruit company, and backed coups in the Congo, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam and Brazil.

Then the other "adventures" such as Iraq, Afghanistan and several other countries south of the border Trump now plans to wall off.

True, Trump is an aberration as far as US president's go. But it's not because of his embracing the global war on terrorism that the US has been engaged in for decades. His uniqueness lies in his delight in discarding all the usual diplomatic mumbo jumbo.

That one of the first victims of this new openness was Australian PM Malcom Turnbull and his shameful backroom refugee swap deal with Obama, was an unexpected bonus. Maybe he isn't all bad.