Political Myth, Conspiracy and Foreign Policy

by Mark English

Apparently a number of highly-placed representatives of the intelligence community were recently taken in by a fanciful report concerning Donald Trump’s sexual activities during a visit to Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov branded the former MI6 officer who authored the report in question a “swindler” who trades in “absurdities.”

The Russian President also weighed in, suggesting that Mr Trump would not have fallen for a honey trap if one had been laid.

He arrived here and immediately ran off to meet Moscow prostitutes? This is an adult and, moreover, a man who for many years has organized beauty contests. He socialized with the most beautiful women in the world. I can hardly imagine he rushed to the hotel to meet our girls of lower social responsibility – even though they are the best in the world, of course. [1]

Ever the patriot. In some ways, President Putin is just as much a media personality as his American counterpart. But his background couldn’t be more different from Trump’s. He is – and has always been – a tough and wily political operator. It will be interesting to see how their relationship develops.

Now that Mr. Trump has assumed the role of President, things are slowly starting to take shape on the foreign policy front, and I thought it might be worthwhile to review some of the general issues which seem to be at stake.

In previous articles I have been very critical of the neoconservative policies that have held sway in Washington for decades, but which have arguably mutated and become more dangerous over the last twenty years or so. [2]

My concerns related particularly to the curiously anachronistic – and totally counterproductive – neoconservative obsession with Russia and Eastern Europe. After the Cold War ended, there was an opportunity to build a positive relationship with Russia, but this was squandered as successive American administrations, in blatant contravention of assurances previously given to Mikhail Gorbachev, supported the eastward expansion of NATO. At this juncture, what we need is arms reduction talks not more saber-rattling.

Likewise, neoconservatives have been very hawkish about Chinese activities in the South China Sea. Even some of Trump’s people have been making noises about this, and Trump himself was threatening just prior to his inauguration to look again at the One China policy. I hope (and believe) that this was a negotiating tactic. Soon after these comments were made, there were reports of the Chinese leadership making conciliatory statements and even announcing reforms to further open up the Chinese market. [3]

It’s impossible to guess at this stage just how the new administration’s relations with China will develop. Any perceived bullying by the Americans – especially on sensitive territorial issues – runs the risk of stoking popular nationalism. So far the Chinese leadership seems intent on keeping anti-American sentiment at bay. But, as Jessica Chen Weiss has pointed out, it’s actually very costly for the Chinese leadership to keep grassroots nationalism in check. [4] If the Trump administration starts seriously to question the One China policy, for example, “Xi Jinping may unleash popular nationalism to show resolve over Taiwan and rally the public.” American military actions in the South China Sea could also spark a nationalist reaction.

The worst possible scenarios for the world would involve serious military conflict between the US and Russia or between the US and China. Such outcomes are more likely to be avoided, in my opinion, if reasonable concessions are made to the valid security concerns of both of these countries.

It remains to be seen to what extent (if at all) the neoconservative foreign policy establishment will be replaced and to what extent actual policies and strategies will change. Obviously concessions will have to be made to neoconservative elements in Congress and elsewhere. The grilling given to Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee clearly demonstrated this.

The foreign policy orientation known as “Realism” has to a large extent been marginalized in recent decades in policy debate in the United States. In both political and academic circles various forms of interventionism have prevailed, and the mainstream media have generally endorsed this orientation and failed to adequately represent alternative approaches.

Neoconservatism has dominated, but various other forms of interventionism (especially those emphasizing the humanitarian dimension) also have played a role. Looking back at the disastrous results of various military interventions that were justified to the public in terms of humanitarian imperatives (the case of Libya is a clear and notorious example), one could be forgiven for suspecting that neoconservatives were deliberately exploiting the humanitarian aspect for political purposes.

Neoconservatism is strongly associated with the idea of American exceptionalism; the notion that among the nations, America has a special moral standing and associated rights and responsibilities. Its interventions abroad are justified not just in terms of national self-interest but in terms of promoting universal values. This idea may once have had some merit – may still have some merit – but it’s not working. A possibly benign myth has mutated into an extremely dangerous one.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently articulated a classically realist position when he criticized the outgoing U.S. administration for having pursued a “messianic” policy of trying to force Western values on the rest of the world and blamed it for instability in the Middle East and other regions.

He said Russia hopes Mr. Trump’s team “will not engage in moralizing and will try to understand the interests of their partners just as they clearly uphold their own interests.” [5]

Most kinds of political myth involve identifying – and demonizing – an enemy. For Cold Warriors the enemy was clear: international Communism, especially as exemplified by the USSR. With the collapse of Communism, with the old enemy gone, neoconservatives found themselves in a challenging situation. But they managed to find new reasons to demonize both Russia and China. They may not have been Communist countries anymore, but their political systems and policy orientations still failed to fit the required liberal or neoliberal template.

It’s unsurprising – if unfortunate – that some of the more vocal (and populist) critics of Neoconservatism are also in the business of identifying and demonizing a convenient enemy. In their case it is a hidden power, which they see as operating a kind of shadow government (or deep state), comprising elements of the military-industrial, intelligence and financial establishments in association with the mainstream media. All too often, implicit or explicit anti-Semitism is involved.

For example, 9/11 and many other terrorist attacks are claimed by some to have been false flag operations facilitated by elements of the (Israeli and US) intelligence community in conjunction with a cabal of rich and powerful Jews and their gentile accomplices. This is crazy stuff. Needless to say, such conspiracy theories represent the antithesis of the sort of realist approach I am advocating.

It is also suggested (perhaps more reasonably?) that John F. Kennedy and other prominent figures were murdered because they threatened the interests of the national security establishment.

The concept of the conspiracy theory was introduced into popular discourse only after the Kennedy assassination. On one level it is a valid and useful concept characterizing a kind of aberrant thinking to which our minds (some more than others) are naturally susceptible and which is associated with the well-known tendency to over-project agency. On another level it can be (and often has been) used as a rhetorical ploy to ridicule certain ideas.

One measure for identifying classic conspiracy theories – those that have few or no connections with reality – is the extent to which they assume the existence of an extensive, single (and so potentially identifiable), closely-coordinated and effective cabal of conspirators. This just is not how the world works, and such theories – to the extent that they are not complete and utter fantasy – represent attempts to simplify what is a much more complex and messy reality. As Jacob Rothschild once famously said to someone who was publicly accusing his family of having orchestrated wars and revolutions, “Don’t exaggerate!”

The anti-Semitic element is probably the most unfortunate aspect of many of these wild theories, and its continuing prevalence suggests that nothing has been learned from recent – and less recent – European history.

But, since conspiracy theories are based on the notion of a hidden power, and since the myth of the scheming and almost supernaturally-powerful Jew has such deep roots in Western literature and civilization, it’s no surprise that such theories often draw on such myths. Conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism have a natural affinity.

To make matters worse, Western anti-Semitic myths and stereotypes have gradually infiltrated Islamic cultures. ‘Modernizing’ elements within Islam during the late-19th and early-20th centuries (notably the Muslim Brotherhood) drew on Western and Christian sources to produce a more lurid and extreme form of anti-Semitism than had previously been current in the Islamic world.

The founding of a Jewish state closely allied with the United States coupled with the rise of fundamentalist forms of Islam, Judaism and Christianity have complicated the picture and inevitably have a bearing on US foreign policy and how it is perceived. Pragmatic and symbolic considerations are intertwined. Perceptions carry their own reality.

But when the players are states with sophisticated military forces and nuclear arsenals it’s absolutely vital not to let rhetoric and political myth drive the decision-making process. A good measure of realism is needed here; specifically, an approach that recognizes the power of myth and ideology but which tries to conduct foreign policy largely on the basis of rational and pragmatic considerations.

REFERENCES

1.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/17/russia-calls-british-author-donald-trump-dossier-runaway-swindler/

  1. Most recently: https://theelectricagora.com/2016/11/15/donald-trump-and-enoch-powell/

3.https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-19/china-pledges-cooperation-with-trump-administration-on-trade

4.https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-25/trump-has-1-3-billion-reasons-not-to-pick-a-big-fight-with-china

  1. See link at 1 above.

22 Comments »

  1. Mark,
    First, you’re confusing the Russia hack during the election, which the intelligence community no longer doubts occurred, with an intelligence brief compiled for business interests in Britain, and which only relied on verbal sources and such no one gave great immediate credence to (although given T.’s tendency to excess it’s not entirely incredible, which is the real problem here). Secondly, Tillerson was grilled because he’s a businessman with no political/foreign policy experience, and because he still has business interests in Russia.

    “[T]hings are slowly starting to take shape on the foreign policy front” – No, actually they’re moving more swiftly than in any presidential transition I can remember, since T. has no regard for the military leadership or intelligence community of the United States – they aren’t even on the National Security Council (although Islamophobic conspiracy theorist Steve Bannon is).

    The Western media should spend some time reading Chinese newspapers. Chinese diplomats are trained in tactful dissimulation. Meanwhile, the People’s Daily, the Party’s official news outlet, reported (by way of editorial) that the Party had put the military option back on the table for Taiwan (after three decades), within the week Cruz met with the Taiwanese president (on T.’s behalf). Mr. T. and his alt-right yes-men don’t get it – One China is not negotiable. In politics some things are just not about, or reducible to, business.

    In fact the Chinese are playing a multi-level game here. On the one hand, they see T.’s administration as opening a number of doors of opportunity, through which they’re already stepping – beginning to assume leadership roles in climate change, international finance, and free trade. On the other hand they recognize that Trump is an unpredictable amateur with a Nationalist bent of mind, and they have – as tactfully as possible – repeatedly tried to wake Washington up to the threats they see him and his people as posing. Finally, they’re playing their decisive cards close to the chest. What their ultimate response to any of T.’s ‘executive orders’ that might lead to policy action on China is unknown. But I think it’s predictable that pressed hard, the Chinese will not back down.

    We will almost certainly see a trade war with China… or Mexico… or even Australia, for cripes’ sake Is It realistic for an American President to call up the prime minister of one of America’s oldest allies and shout down at him about refugees?

    I agree with most of what you write about conspiracy theory, with a couple quibbles. The first major conspiracy theory in US politics was McCarthy’s assertion that the executive branch and the military were riddled with Communists. (BTW his legal counsel was Roy Cohn, who worked with Mr. T. on efforts to skirt civil rights laws in the ’70s.) Secondly, while Jews will always be the shadow in the eyes of the European right, the American right is more flexible, since the population here is more diverse, consequently presenting more choice targets. It was the Communist, it was the Jew, it was the Black, it was the gay; right now, it’s the Mexican in some quarters, the Muslim in others.

    Foreign policy is being determined by executive order and telephone calls. A sweeping decree on travel by Muslims, even those already vetted and holding visas? – yes, that’s sends a message to the Islamic world (including Iraq, with which we’re supposedly allied, at least to battle Isis). Meanwhile, Mr. T threatens the President of Mexico with US troops crossing the border to deal with “bad hombres.” The Mexicans are denying that, but they would, since there would be riots throughout Mexico if they admitted it. (Australia’s Turnbull has simply refused comment on his call.)

    However, the Russians are certainly happier; within a week after the inauguration, they gave the green light to East Ukrainians to renew violence, while taking the world stage to appear ‘peace makers’ for re-establishing the Assad dictatorship in Syria, while reaching an understanding with the Erdogan dictatorship in Turkey (thus drawing it further outside the ‘Eurosphere’)..

    I hated the Neocons as much as you (probably more, since I’m to the left); but globalization might not be a bad idea. The possibility of ‘war with Russia’ was really a myth, but a war with Iran? – maybe not so much.

    I don’t really feel like I’m living in a safer world than I was before January 20.

    No, the foreign policy front is shaping up very quickly, and it all looks bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ejwinner

    “First, you’re confusing the Russia hack during the election, which the intelligence community no longer doubts occurred, with an intelligence brief compiled for business interests in Britain, and which only relied on verbal sources…”

    I’m not confusing those two things. I didn’t mention the alleged Russian hacking at all. The “golden shower” bit was just meant as a light introduction to more serious themes.

    “Secondly, Tillerson was grilled because he’s a businessman with no political/foreign policy experience, and because he still has business interests in Russia.”

    Maybe so. But he was still forced to say the things the committee wanted to hear. You can’t deny that there are strong neoconservative forces in Congress and elsewhere who must be appeased to some extent.

    You mention Steve Bannon. I too have grave reservations about him (and also about the influence of Jared Kushner).

    What you say about China (and the One China policy) fits in with what I am saying in the OP.

    “We will almost certainly see a trade war with China… or Mexico… or even Australia, for cripes’ sake. Is it realistic for an American President to call up the prime minister of one of America’s oldest allies and shout down at him about refugees?”

    This story is based on leaks and media hyperbole. Statements from both leaders indicate that they are working together satisfactorily. Trump publicly thanked Turnbull for denying in a public statement certain claims which appeared in the press. It’s no surprise that Trump didn’t like the resettlement agreement which was finalized in the final months of the previous Administration. But he appears to have pledged to go with it. Trade wars with various countries – though not Australia, I think – are certainly on the cards.

    “I agree with most of what you write about conspiracy theory, with a couple quibbles. The first major conspiracy theory in US politics was McCarthy’s assertion that the executive branch and the military were riddled with Communists…”

    My point was that the term was first widely used in relation to theories about the Kennedy assassination.

    “Secondly, while Jews will always be the shadow in the eyes of the European right, the American right is more flexible, since the population here is more diverse, consequently presenting more choice targets. It was the Communist, it was the Jew, it was the Black, it was the gay; right now, it’s the Mexican in some quarters, the Muslim in others.”

    I wasn’t talking in left/right terms. I was talking about populist and vocal critics of neoconservatism. Admittedly they are often associated with libertarianism or with the alt-right. There are certainly significant elements of the alt-right who push the Jewish conspiracy line. For example, they *despise* Soros.

    “Foreign policy is being determined by executive order and telephone calls. A sweeping decree on travel by Muslims, even those already vetted and holding visas?…”

    I share your concerns about this. (Apparently the order was drafted by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.)

    “Meanwhile, Mr. T threatens the President of Mexico with US troops crossing the border to deal with “bad hombres.” ”

    Yes, his approach could certainly be more… nuanced.

    “The possibility of ‘war with Russia’ was really a myth…”

    I don’t think so. Dangerous to assume this.

    “… but a war with Iran? – maybe not so much.”

    Agreed. Iran seems central. Zionists hate Iran. I don’t know that Iran is any worse than America’s Sunni allies.

    “I don’t really feel like I’m living in a safer world than I was before January 20. No, the foreign policy front is shaping up very quickly, and it all looks bad.”

    It’s a very dangerous time. Ongoing economic crises (America’s struggling poor, private and sovereign debt, the teetering petrodollar, dodgy banks and unemployment levels in Europe…) all play into this. There is no easy way out. I just hope major wars can be averted.

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  3. Mark,
    “Statements from both leaders indicate that they are working together satisfactorily. ”
    Baloney.

    ““The possibility of ‘war with Russia’ was really a myth…”
    I don’t think so. Dangerous to assume this.”

    Yeah, I know this. but here’s the problem: Even a Neocon policy wonk, with ‘insider’ credentials, was going to listen to the Pentagon and the intelligence community. They would have held any interest in war with Russia in check (you really just don’t understand how the Executive branch has operated since WWII, Mark, sorry). When George W. floated the idea of an invasion of Iran, the Admiral then chair of the Joint Chiefs, told him bluntly ‘nope, not happening.’

    Now you have a president who doesn’t care what the Joint Chiefs have to say.

    You should be concerned – very concerned.

    Some people were afraid of a fox entering the chicken coop – so they chose a dog to put in there instead – Unfortunately, it’s a rabid dog; whatever it does, what comes out will be diseased.

    Some thought he would spin around and become a politician – ha, ha, ha!

    There is a rhetoric of this past election, but T. doesn’t engage in rhetoric – he speaks his mind.

    He’s exactly as he presented himself during the campaign – now we’re all stuck with him.

    Be afraid – be very afraid. We have a madman in the White House and a Republican Party willing tp go along with him as long as they can get their economic agenda through.

    I doubt it, but maybe after that they’ll consider impeaching him – he’s already committed a number of misdemeanors (he has not signed any document distancing him from his business interests).

    Mark, you’re not American, you don’t understand – Trump IS a Constitutional crisis. And because we effectively have one party rule – his party – we’re not going to see anything done about this until at least after the 2018 elections, except in the courts.

    Which leads me to this final remark: While you’re discussion of conspiracy theory, on a theoretical level, is interesting, you’re remarks on T.’ foreign policy are irrelevant. I have annoyed friend and foe alike with this notice, but I believe itr to be true. Don’t bother discussing what ‘America should do’ in foreign policy, or immigrant policy, or education policy. or race relations. Il Duce will tell us what America will be doing in these matters. He said so during the election campaign. Did you really think that was rhetoric?

    That’s how fascists always get elected.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Let me correct and elaborate:
    That’s always how fascists get elected – decent people think they are just engaging rhetoric, when in fact they’re telling us exactly what they intend to do.

    You alerted me to this in your post during the election. leading me to support Clinton. I was hoping the American people would not be so misled… well, but they were.

    Europe has been long dead; and now America is itself a thing of the past.

    The leader of the free world is China; the forefront of civilization is China. You and I are only cleaning up some incidental details here..

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  5. It’s actually a brilliant rhetorical strategy – you wait until rhetoric become so obvious that everyone believes that what is said is ‘mere rhetoric’ – then you tell people what you intend to do, and everyone assumes it’s ‘mere rhetoric’ – and then you do what everyone thought you wouldn’t do.

    That’s how fascists get elected.

    That’s certainly how the baby boy in the White House got elected, anyway.

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  6. Mark,
    “I just hope major wars can be averted.”
    A fire-fight in the South-China Sea possibly; a fire-fight with Iran, probably. Certainly some war with somebody, just because – he can.

    What can you expect of a spoiled baby boy surrounded by yes-men, who thinks the presidency stands above the Congress, a fool who thinks he’s the ‘smartest one in the room’?

    Again. did you really think he was simply deploying rhetoric? Did you think he was controllable? Did you really not see this coming?

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  7. Hi Mark, like you, I found neo-con or -lib policies to be problematic.

    Under the Trump administration, we seem to be accelerating toward a totally different kind of problem. You have pointed out two issues: rhetoric and conspiracy theory, which seem to play roles here. But I think there is more, and don’t agree with some of EJ’s argument.

    First, I want to mention the assets he has put into play (in foreign policy).

    *Rex Tillerson*.
    As bizarre and conflict of interest-y a choice he seemed to be for Sec of State, he has actually impressed me. I went back to videos way before he knew he was up for this role, and things he’s said afterward. The guy talks like a realist, and seems to act like a pragmatist. His opening speech at the Dep of State was so humble and pragmatic that I thought if this guy manages to keep us out of trouble and himself out of scandal I could almost see myself voting him for POTUS. Which is to say I wish that guy was POTUS. Control, command, calm demeanour, realism, pragmatism.

    *Gen Mattis*
    While I do not like some of his work as a general during the Iraq War, he seems a reasonable choice for Sec of Def, certainly more so than others on T’s list. From all of his discussions (also watched a bunch of his stuff, some very interesting) he also seems a realist and I have some guarded respect for him. He is not itching for a war, though he is very clear who he thinks are threats. His weak point seems to be Iran, where he has a real hardon for “defeating” them in some way. More problematic for me is that he has (so far) been used as Sec of State roles rather than as Sec of Def. I’m wondering if he and Tillerson are going to be playing some good cop, bad cop routine.

    *Gen Flynn*.
    I just do not like. He does not seem a realist. He gets to both of your major issues. Not only is he high on rhetoric, but he is a conspiracy loon. Apparently his son was part of the whole “Pizza Gate” pedophile conspiracy theory used against Clinton (and Obama), which not only worked (unbelievable as it was) but continues to be believed by some Trump supporters despite the clear counter evidence, including the failure of the nut who decided to “self-investigate” the issue.

    *Donald Trump*.
    He is what he seemed to be, perhaps worse: a grand-standing narcissist with no understanding or interest in politics, or the people of the US… beyond getting elected. He signs what is put in front of him like a good little boy, and cries when people don’t do what he says, or don’t make him feel good. When I say worse, I did not realize he was so disinterested in protecting the moral value of the US. MAGA? You mentioned Taiwan being used as a bargaining chip. Not sure if you heard him make that explicit. He basically said our commitment to democracy and civil rights were up for sale. Oh yes, and I also did not realize what coward he was, and that he was willing to make the US look so cowardly.

    Second, I guess I should explain who the “he” in “he has put into play” refers to…

    *Steve Bannon*.
    To EJ’s question “Did you think he was controllable?” my answer is yes, and we see the evidence before us. The problem is that I thought there would be many competitive interests. I did not realize how much power Steve Bannon held, and from all info he has now consolidated near total control over the presidency. His only rival seems to be Jared Kuschner. This is a very bad situation for the US. Bannon is not a neocon, but he is a religio-nationalist zealot. That’s good when it means he is likely to take a shut us in approach. But he is also able to see boogeymen everywhere, and is effective at making Trump and many in the US see the same boogeymen.

    *Jared Kuschner*.
    I have no idea about this guy, but he seemed a somewhat mediating influence (outside of his support for Israel and settlements). Unfortunately whatever mediating role he might have been able to exert has slipped as Bannon has taken over. With Bannon and two of his mouth pieces in place on the NSC (and actual intelligence and military leaders shut out) he will be shut down pretty easily.

    Third, though the US removed a neocon establishment problem, our new problem is we have a puppet regime. If we (the people) could control the puppet, great. But an unstable zealot has wrested control of that (arguably unstable) puppet, and knows how to play on his fears and interests. He also knows how to manipulate much of the US public, particularly using rhetoric and conspiracy theory (he helped prop Pizza Gate and more). Like neocons he believes in American exceptionalism, but it is the kind of exceptionalism that basically says screw you to the rest of the world, unless it wants to suck up to us. It is not interested in making them like us, as it doesn’t think (with strong racist and xenophobic strains) they are capable of being like us.

    The biggest danger here, I think, is not rhetoric and conspiracy theory, though Bannon courts some conspiracy ideas. I am much more worried about group think, or the echo-chamber effect. Already we’ve seen work being rushed out on Bannon’s say so, with little forethought or vetting. It is an insular environment which is a terrible way to govern (in general) and in a democracy like ours (in specific). So I think Bannon and Trump will not notice when they are making a mistake, and so figure out they need to stop.

    Also, by acting to isolate the public from the legislature, judiciary, other departments, news media, and “facts” (portraying them as enemies if they do not comply with White House orders) the echo-chamber may be grown to include the population. Then we have a situation (of public inability to control leadership) like 1930’s germany.

    The hope is that through some mechanism, Bannon is pried out of his position, and Trump opened up to control by more forces than the 3-4 men who have control right now. Crucial to this is negating their ability to alienate the public from other parts of the gov’t, the media, and facts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mark,
    I just wanted to apologize for the late night flurry of posts following your reply. I know I shouldn’t post when I’m getting close to sleep, but it happens. (Thank heavens I’m not a national leader with a twitter account, huh?)

    The “Baloney” comment was about Turnbull’s – and Mexico’s Nieto’s – efforts to save face, and the handling in Washington afterwards, not your report of these. But there’s a real problem, in that such leaks, retractions, face-saving spins, etc., are already endemic to the current regime and will be ongoing until someone can tame T.’s personality.

    The remarks about a dead West and a future owned by China, was biting my tongue while it was stuffed in my cheek. That and other remarks should be noted as expressions of my sense of utter catastrophe here.

    But I won’t post further here, because I’ve used up your charity and that of the editors on this thread, and I am sorry for that. I did re-read your reply to me this morning, and hought it measured, with good points, and I recognize that, while you don’t have to live immediately under this embarrassing Administration, you do see that it is unraveling as more dangerous than most had hoped.

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  9. Brilliantly and eloquently written, even if I do not agree on all points. One facet I wish to address is that of the Cold War. Unfortunately our relations during and after are much too complicated to put into a single post…especially given all of the countries that began nuclear testing, opted to invade other countries that maintained American interests (the morality of this teeters back-and-forth, of course), etc.

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  10. ejwinner

    As you said you regretted those late-night comments, I can’t really respond to them – or at least to the more colorful bits – can I? Damn!

    “Even a Neocon policy wonk, with ‘insider’ credentials, was going to listen to the Pentagon and the intelligence community. They would have held any interest in war with Russia in check… When George W. floated the idea of an invasion of Iran, the Admiral then chair of the Joint Chiefs, told him bluntly ‘nope, not happening.’ ”

    You made something like this argument in a previous thread. I think you were saying that Clinton would have deferred to the military and intelligence community. My point (in an earlier piece) was not so much that Clinton was going to deliberately start a war with Russia but rather that her well-known foreign policy orientation (along the same lines as Obama’s but more hawkish) would have substantially increased the risk of a major war. Tensions with Russia have been rising, not falling, in recent years, and I think part of the reason is NATO expansion and activities. My claim (Stephen Walt makes it also) is that these policies are fundamentally flawed.

    You will notice from the OP and my early comment that I am not defending Trump. I am just looking at how things are developing in terms of geopolitical alignments. The main risks at the moment seem to be the scope for conflict between the US and Iran (and so, because Iran is a Russian ally, with Russia); and (less likely now, it seems) with China over Taiwan or the South China Sea.

    “Now you have a president who doesn’t care what the Joint Chiefs have to say…”

    There are dangers, yes. But I don’t believe major conflict is inevitable.

    “Mark, you’re not American, you don’t understand… Trump IS a Constitutional crisis. And because we effectively have one party rule – his party – we’re not going to see anything done about this until at least after the 2018 elections, except in the courts.”

    Precisely because I’m not a US citizen I want to avoid talking about constitutional and domestic issues. My focus is on actual and in-prospect policies related to America’s role (especially in terms of military alliances and so on) in the wider world. The only Constitution-related thing I was half-intending to look at in the future was a fatal logical flaw which Kurt Gödel claimed to have found in the Constitution. It would probably not have been an entirely serious piece, as the only reports of this I have heard are sketchy and anecdotal (originating from Albert Einstein). There is probably not enough material to base a full essay on. Apparently Gödel was predicting that this supposed flaw (whatever it was) would result in a dictator taking power.

    But, seriously, there are steady and responsible Republicans in Congress, and at least some of Trump’s cabinet picks seem okay. Trump can’t run things by himself. He needs to rely on others to a large extent and he needs to retain a certain level of support from his Party in order to govern effectively. The likes of Bannon and Miller may well find themselves out-manoeuvred. It’s early days.

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  11. dbholmes

    I agree with much of what you say and continue to wait and watch how the various cabinet picks perform. As I said to ejwinner, maybe Bannon will be out-manoeuvred. Already you can see problems for him. Some of his early actions have been counterproductive. Also, that Time cover and the focus on Bannon as the real power is a) probably overstating the extent of his influence and b) undermining his position. Trump is already showing annoyance about this. Bannon’s position is far from secure.

    One person I’d like to follow up on is Jared Kushner whom you don’t say much about. As he is family, his position may be more secure (and influential) than Bannon’s in the longer term . On China, I think he (and certainly his wife and daughter who are very popular there – they recently visited the Chinese Embassy to recognize the new year) is a positive. Kushner’s brand of Judaism is Modern Orthodoxy which is strongly associated with Religious Zionism. This concerns me a bit, I have to say, but I am reluctant to discuss Israel and its significance for US foreign policy. (Some of my concerns relate to the possible interplay between relations with Israel and relations with Iran.)

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  12. Streed’s Reads

    Thanks. I had a look at your site and just read your review of The Fall of Heaven. You have interesting interests, and a lot more knowledge than I do of the Middle East etc.. A French thinker (Louis Rougier 1889-1982) whose works I studied (and respect) wrote an opinion piece in defense of the Shah. Regarding the Cold War: it is central to my thinking in the sense that it was the most dangerous time ever for the planet and I don’t want us to return to a situation where superpowers or power blocs are poised for all-out war with one another. It’s unrealistic to think that we can avoid global tensions and conflict but not unrealistic, I think, to see the Cold War as having been driven by the myths and ideologies of a particular time rather than as representing some kind of necessary pattern to which we will inevitably revert.

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  13. Hi Mark, glad you are better.

    Well it really seems like Banner has some power. His influence kind of can’t be overstated now that he is on the NSC (along with two of his friends) and the intelligence and military commanders have been removed. And if the rumor is true, that he got that done without Trump’s knowledge? That says something. And now apparently he is moving to consolidate more power (now legislative) by talking directly with Paul Ryan.

    Jared Kuschner I just don’t know much about. It sounds like as much as you know. There are rumors that he and Ivanka managed to get him not to sign an order that would have rolled back civil rights protections for LGBTs, which had been put forward by Bannon… but they were outmaneuvered by Bannon on the immigrant ban. Given that Jared supports settlements, I am also not too positive about him being any better than Bannon on Israel and the MidEast.

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  14. dbholmes

    The NSC arrangements do seem to have been rushed through, like much else Bannon has had a hand in. Trump is said to wander around the WH alone, late at night in his bathrobe. He will be cursing Bannon I suspect – amongst others! The current arrangements are not set in stone. And it’s quite appropriate that Bannon talks to Ryan, isn’t it?

    “Jared Kuschner I just don’t know much about. It sounds like as much as you know. There are rumors that he and Ivanka managed to get him not to sign an order that would have rolled back civil rights protections for LGBTs, which had been put forward by Bannon… but they were outmaneuvered by Bannon on the immigrant ban. Given that Jared supports settlements, I am also not too positive about him being any better than Bannon on Israel and the MidEast.”

    I mentioned Israel and Kushner’s links to Religious Zionism, hoping people would pick up on these topics. But nobody did and I’m not going to push it. I have some views, but I don’t really know enough about the background and complexities of US/Israel relations to say anything useful.

    I was pleased that the extremely hawkish neocon Eliot Cohen who had been rebuffed by the Trump team immediately after the election recently suggested that Trump is deranged. He’s obviously out of the running now, even for a second-tier position, thank God.

    Finally, there may be signs that Trump’s people are gradually learning some conventional diplomacy. I’m thinking of the recent letter to China’s President Xi. “Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s elite Renmin University, said the letter suggested the new U.S. administration wanted to signal the importance it attached to the US–China relationship without risking being confronted on specific issues.” And Kushner is on good terms with the Chinese ambassador apparently.

    I know I’m emphasizing the positives. I’m just hoping, really, but at least there are still some grounds for hope. A foreign policy reset is long overdue. Under this weird crew, it could well go wrong. But following – or doubling down on – the previous neocon line was *sure* to go wrong, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mark,

    Enjoyed. Though Trump easily scares me. Still, it’s good to be vigilant either way.

    Following from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/the-media-botched-this-trump-story-last-week–and-thats-bad-for-everyone/2017/02/05/e665271e-e974-11e6-bf6f-301b6b443624_story.html

    “The second apparent piece of news in the document, however, was deceiving: A line said that the director of national intelligence and Joint Chiefs chair — who by law are permanent members of the National Security Council — would attend meetings of the Principals Committee only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” In other words, concluded the first news reports, downgraded! Reactions quickly poured in from former senior officials, including President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, who called the purported demotion “stone cold crazy.”
    But there was no demotion. As former State Department legal counsel John Bellinger pointed out on the Lawfare website, the Principals Committee was tasked with reporting to both the NSC and the Homeland Security Council. That meant it might take up some domestic issues, such as disaster relief, outside the purview of the intelligence community and military. The point of the memorandum was that the two officials need not attend those meetings. As Bellinger pointed out, the George W. Bush administration had the same organization.”

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  16. Thanks for that, Marc. I’ve been quite appalled at the levels of bias and distortion in the mainstream press recently. It was always there, of course. You can’t avoid a degree of bias in political matters. But we seem to be moving to a new situation where there is little middle ground and a polarized population gravitating to their own preferred sources. The mainstream media, losing trust and market share, seems to be responding (in part at least: there are still some good journalists and editors out there) by moving in more polemical directions. Not a happy situation.

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  17. Mark,

    Agreed. Not a happy situation.

    (and I should have said ‘the current administration scares me at times’ rather than single out Trump)

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  18. Hi Marc, thanks for the cite on the mistaken reporting. I guess I should have done more research when I heard that claim about the two being removed. I bought it.

    That said… The bigger problem remains that Bannon was placed on the principals (even the article mentions that), and given how things are going (with him seizing power) the claim that the rest of the principals may discuss something the other two might not be interested in, sounds like something that could be taken advantage of.

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