Saturday, August 19, 2017

Orange Alone

Is this the end? I'm always reluctant to write off the Orange One --every time you think he's finally torpedoed himself for good, he manages to come back. Its been this way for decades now.

But there's no question the past few days have been rough for The Donald. Trump's business allies are abandoning him in droves and Congressional Republicans are becoming more emboldened in their attacks in the wake of Charlottesville. And now word comes that Trump's infamous Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon has either resigned or been dismissed by White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, depending upon whom one believes.

While the Left is ecstatic over Bannon's ouster, there will likely now be no one left to moderate Trump's foreign policy. By and large Bannon appears to have been the only real dove left in the Trump administration. He has of course long favored detente with Russia, but he also opposed strikes on Syria as well increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and more recently had come out against further escalating tensions with North Korea and Venezuela.

This had frequently put Bannon at odds with the clique of generals --led by Kelly, Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis and National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, who have frequently favored a more interventionist approach to these various hot spots. But Bannon, despite his ties to Goldman Sachs, had frequently pissed off the Goldman clique in the Trump White House as well with his stances on illegal immigration, China, and even tax policy.

Bannon's removal leaves Trump in a very precarious position. The factions left in the White House now that the nationalist elements have largely been driven out (in no small part by McMaster and now Kelly) --the Generals, the Goldman clique, and The Family/Christian fundamentalists around Vice-President Mike Pence --have no love or loyalty for Trump. At this point Trump's only real hope is to keep the Pentagon happy and Kelly's ascension to Chief of Staff appears to have left the military firmly in control of the White House. But as Trump become more untenable, the Pentagon's hand will surely be forced sooner rather than latter.

However, as the Financial Times recently noted, the Orange One's removal will likely do little to quell the growing domestic unrest in these United States. The possibility certainly exists that recent incidents such as the Battle of Berkeley, the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting and now Charlottesville will be remembered as the opening salvos in a civil war.

This makes the possibility of a world war all the more likely, as such an external threat is probably the only thing left that could unite the country at this point. And this has real barring on whether Trump stays or goes.

When all is said and done, the Pentagon appears to be in the driver's seat at this point. As such, the question becomes: who do they want to fight a world war with? Its no secret that the military has become increasingly disillusioned with civilian management of various war efforts in recent years. The Generals' Revolt of 2006 was the most striking recent instance of this, but there was ample chaffing in the Obama Administration as well. Trump's NSA, General H.R. McMaster, wrote a celebrated account of the Vietnam War in which he effectively blamed the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not demanding that the civilian government allow them to fight the war the way they felt it needed to be fought. Really, this has been an ongoing issue with the Pentagon since Truman removed MacArthur from command in Korea.

The major appeal Trump appears to have for the Pentagon is his willingness to unshackle the brass. Certainly the Pentagon would not enjoy the kind of authority they now possess under a Hillary presidency or even Pence one in which political considerations would surely trump military strategy (har har). While the Pentagon may be willing to tolerate this state of affairs against a Third World nation with marginal military capabilities (so long as the defense budgets continue to swell, at least), Russia and/or China are another league all together. In such circumstances, the Pentagon would surely prefer to play for keeps rather than fretting over "nation building."

But how much longer can Trump survive? While I have no doubt that the Orange One has another ace or two up his sleeve, people are clearly beginning to distance themselves from the administration. The wagons are being circled and as the Orange One becomes more embattled, the possibility looms that he and/or his handlers will do something rash. In this sense at least the loss of Bannon, the only member of Trump's entire staff whose foreign policy ideas may not have left the world in ruins, is tremendous. Bannon's ouster is clearly meant to drive a wedge between Trump and his fanatical backers, but I suspect this will blow up dramatically.