The exit of Steve Bannon, the President’s political strategist, from the White House and his return to Breitbart.com marks the defeat, if not quite the end, of the “isolationist” America First faction within the Trump administration. It is a victory for what I call the Junta – the coterie of generals who now surround President Trump, and appear to have captured the conduct of American foreign policy. It is a victory, in particular, for Gen. H. R. McMaster, who took over the National Security Agency after Michael Flynn’s ouster, and who is the architect of the “new” Afghanistan strategy – the one that is merely a reiteration of the old strategy.
Bannon has been a particular target of the liberal media, which is responsible for labeling him as an advocate of the so-called “alt-right.” Yet there is exactly zero evidence of this allegiance in his public pronouncements, and his most recent interview – with the liberal journal, The America Prospect – has him characterizing them as a sad “collection of clowns.” Not that this will deter Bannon’s critics, who uniformly fail to mention what really set him apart from your run-of-the-mill Republican operative, and that is his foreign policy views.
The day before his ouster, the New York Times reported on Bannon’s “dovish” views:
“From Afghanistan and North Korea to Syria and Venezuela, Mr. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has argued against making military threats or deploying American troops into foreign conflicts.
“His views, delivered in a characteristically bomb-throwing style, have antagonized people across the administration, leaving Mr. Bannon isolated and in danger of losing his job. But they are thoroughly in keeping with his nationalist credo, and they have occasionally resonated with the person who matters most: President Trump.”
Bannon’s views on the Korea “crisis” are reported on with a particularly dramatic display of eyebrow-raising: why, he even proposed withdrawing US troops from the Korean peninsula in exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization! (A proposal advanced in this space on more than one occasion.)
It’s delightful to hear that Bannon describes General McMaster is the leader of the “globalist empire project” – a project, one might add, that many of us hoped might be dismantled during a Trump presidency.
Yet it was not to be: instead, the McMaster faction’s success in displacing Bannon, marks the virtual end of the “isolationists” as a coherent force in the White House. While it’s true that both Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are both skeptics of foreign adventurism, the former is primarily a speechwriter and the latter is a) on the outs with Trump and b) peripheral when it comes to foreign affairs.
Politico reports that the hawks in both parties are jubilant at Bannon’s departure: an Atlantic Council apparatchik tells us “Our European allies are happy,” and neocon grand dame Danielle Pletka hails the victory of the “internationalists” over the “isolationists.” The reason for the celebratory air, says Politico, is that the purge of Bannon “will remove an internal brake on U.S. military action abroad” – and this is an indicator of what we might expect in the not-so-distant future. Not only Afghanistan, but also Syria, Iran, and even Ukraine – all these are potential battlefields where US troops or our proxies will fight on behalf of the “globalist empire project.”
What we are seeing with Bannon’s return to the world of publishing is the separation of Trump from his base, the definitive if not quite final splitting away of Trumpism from Trump. In this sense, Bannon may be more effective on the outside looking in, as a lobby for the original Trumpism – the version that called out the Bush administration for lying us into the Iraq war and that abjured regime change.
As I’ve said from the beginning, the political significance of Trump’s rise was the defeat of neoconservative foreign policy orthodoxy and the advent of what the political class disdains as “isolationism.” Now it looks as though the neocons have reversed that victory inside the corridors of power: yet the hearts and minds of the 36 million voters who cast their ballots for Trump are still up for grabs. Meanwhile the cadre of a new conservatism, one that rejects internationalism and perpetual war, are coalescing around the banner of Bannonism.
While Bannon is going out vowing to defend the President against his critics, the direction that the administration is taking almost ensures that Trump’s former chief ideologue will join the ranks of those critics. In the end, the greatest enemy of Trumpism may not be the gaggle of losers, whiners, and special interests that make up the so-called “Resistance,” but rather Trump himself.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.