Over the past few days, we have published a series of articles advocating an unorthodox theory of why President Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase. On this blog, many of our most fervent and committed supporters frequently find themselves either confused about or opposed to what I and other writers write, and some of my best learning comes from the discussions in the comments.
In the spirit of keeping this dialogue alive, maybe it is time to revisit the Trump Syria strike and see what its effects have been and therefore, what its intent was. From Ralph Peters in the New York Post, an insight into how Trump weakened Putin and stabilized the middle east with the Syrian airstrike:
The biggest loser from last week’s cruise-missile strikes on a Syrian air base wasn’t “President” Bashar al-Assad. It was Vladimir Putin. The Syrian leader was punished, but Russia’s new czar was humiliated.
…Much has been written and spoken about our attack’s potential effect on North Korean calculations. Whether or not the strikes affect Kim Jong-un’s behavior, the strategic math has been altered.
But what really changed was Iranian perceptions. The cruel old men in Tehran have been counting on their alliance with Russia to help ward off US or Israeli blows. Suddenly, Moscow doesn’t look so dependable.
In other words, power in the region switches to the USA.
This is what “America first” means in a foreign policy context. We are not there to defend Israel, although it will benefit from our actions; we are not there to bring democracy to
Viet NamIraq; we are not there for the United Nations, or from some humanitarian sense, although Trump played that up at the press conference. We are there to represent our interests, which includes driving all the other parties back to their own spheres of influence.
Iran and Russia have been allied for some time in an attempt to have power in the region. It does not matter whether they are good guys or bad guys; they are not our guys and that is all that matters. We are back to colonial logic here, which is that territory must be understood in a Machiavellian sense, and acquired for the sake of power because otherwise someone else will do the same.
The article quoted above talks a great deal about another cold war aspect of this fight, which is competing weapons sales between East (Russia/China) and West (US/NATO). Popular Mechanics gives the best view of this situation with an explanation of why Putin did not shoot down the American cruise missiles:
There is no greater open question in the defense world than just how effective Russian anti-aircraft weapons really are against American technology. Russia generates money and international leverage by selling systems that it claims can thwart American weapons. But the United States’ jamming, cyberwarfare, smart missiles, and advanced decoys are designed to defeat these digitally-linked Russian systems. There would be no greater marketing disappointment than shooting at U.S. cruise missiles and missing, which would demonstrate the deterrent Russia is selling may not work as advertised.
This means that Trump has reduced Russia’s influence twice: first, in Syria and by extension all the territories that Iran wants in the middle east; second, worldwide, by reducing the prominence of Russian weapons systems, thus giving Russia less power over the rest of the world. Again, America first.
The Alt Right has taken an admirable ideological stance on this issue, which is that we want the USA to back off of the world policeman role that requires us to be enforcers of humanism, diversity, pluralism, tolerance, democracy and equality worldwide. Trump’s public statements about the tragedy of the alleged gassing, which is dubious for many reasons but mostly because the rebels are known to use chemical weapons and the anti-Assad aid groups are known manipulators of public image with incentive to lie about Assad’s use of nerve gas, may or may not have been sincere, but they probably did not state his actual objective. This is unfortunate, as Trump is generally a masculine leader, and masculine leaders dislike public deception because it creates a standard of deception for international relations, but if Trump had come out and said he was taking Russia down a peg, he would surely have caused a world war, so this minor deception may have been necessary.
But at its core, Trump’s act was not ideological; it was about maintaining a balance of power so that America comes out… first.
As if to confirm this, the axis of Russia, Syria and Iran has formalized itself, which points out what Russia was doing, namely trying to take over the middle east. They could be doing this to secure their flank, as I have argued, or for a combination of reasons including the fact that if they control middle eastern oil, they can raise oil prices and rebuild their economy. Russia has traditionally tried to control the middle east by forming alliances with radicals who could then, with help from Russian and possibly Chinese military gear and training, be used to fight a proxy war against the US in the region. Witness the political intrigue expressed in carefully-coded statements:
The Syrian state news agency SANA said Assad told Rouhani the Syrian people and army were “determined to crush terrorism in every part of Syrian territory” – a reference to the rebels who have been fighting his bloody rule for six years.
He also thanked Rouhani for Iran’s support for “the Syrian nation”.
We know that Assad cannot back down. If he falls, his people — a minority in Syria, hated by the undifferentiated mass — will be deposed if not wiped out, or at least suffer the attempt. For him, an alliance with Russia means a chance to crush the rebellion in his land. For Russia, it provides a way to bring in another Russian ally, and then force allegiance between those two powers so that a large chunk of the middle east is under Russian control. Or was, until Trump checked the Russian advance.
Trump’s strategy is to maintain unpredictability so that he can aggressively represent American interests, and the whole Bannon-Ivanka-Kushner drama may be part of this smokescreen. It is hard to tell what he intends to do, and how much of it is continuation of the Bush-Obama-Clinton policy of subversion of foreign governments so that they can be replaced with democratic ones. More likely, Trump is hiding his real motivations in order to scare others nations into falling in line with his “America first” plan:
In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but he also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.
As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.
In the process, Mr. Trump upended domestic politics as well. He rejected the nationalist wing of his own White House, led by Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who opposes entanglement in Middle East conflicts beyond fighting terrorism and favors punitive trade measures against Beijing.
Speaking of Beijing, Trump seems to have several interests there. He wants to break up the traditional Russia-China axis which killed his classmates in Vietnam, and he wants China to fall in line with American demands for fair trade. This requires him to follow Machiavelli’s dictum that it is best to be both loved and feared, and so by bashing down Russia, he sends a message to China as well. This applies to both trade and the question of whether China will, as it did during the Korean War, respond to American military intervention in North Korea by sending its own forces streaming over the border and starting the dreaded land war in Asia, essentially a war of attrition. Trump seems to have brought China partially into line on trade:
China is prepared to raise the investment ceiling in the Bilateral Investment treaty and is also willing to end the ban on U.S. beef imports, the newspaper also reported.
“China was prepared to (raise the investment ceilings) in the BIT but those negotiations were put on hold (after Trump’s election victory),” the Financial Times also reported citing a Chinese official involved in the talks.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Friday that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to a new 100-day plan for trade talks on Friday.
North Korea is another actor being sent a signal here. A president who has no qualms about sending sixty million dollars of cruise missiles into a hostile land will have no problem blasting North Korean nuclear reactors and missile sites, or simply taking the really devastating move of blowing up electric plants, irrigation and water purification plants. North Korea is close to starving as it is, and depends on the US for food aid, so a crippling strike would send the North Koreans crawling back to the negotiating table in a position so weak that they would have to agree to US demands for an end to the North Korean nuclear bomb and intercontinental ballistic missile program.
The Alt Right are not dumb. Neither are Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, both of whom spoke out against this strike. There will not be definitive proof that Trump is not a globalist here because Trump is so camouflaged it is hard to tell exactly what his intentions are. However, by looking at how international politics has shaken out, we can see what he achieved, and assuming his competence, can inference that he intended similar results.
This leads us to the question of Steve Bannon and whether or not Trump is driving him out to make way for a Kushner faction on the staff. If we take this at face value — that is, if we assume that somehow Trump has stopped playing everyone at the same time — we could assume that this is a division in the face of the Trump team. But as insiders observe, the Bannon-Kushner fight is more like American government struggles in the 1960s:
- The changing culture: Here are the two crucial words to understand the outgoing style and incoming style: We’re told that rather than “nationalist” vs. “globalist,” think of “combat” vs. “collaboration.”
- How the Bannon bubble burst: The last straw for his internal critics: news stories portraying Bannon as the keeper of the Trump flame, in opposition to Jared, Ivanka and economic adviser Gary Cohn — all New Yorkers.
- Playing defense: Bannon’s allies both inside and outside the White House are scrambling to try to save his job, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports. They argue that getting rid of Bannon will cost Trump among his “America First” constituency, and that Trump’s key to victory is to keep his base motivated.
- What’s next: This weekend, Bannon, Kushner and Priebus are having discussions about whether the marriage can be saved: “Either Steve becomes a team player and gets along with people, or he’ll be gone.”
None of this is verified information, and if it were official, it would be even less verified. That is the sign of strong power: the Trump team does not allow us to judge them or second-guess them, much as by stating no doctrine, Trump has established a doctrine that leaders should act decisively according to the specifics of the situation and not broader and consistent ideological objectives.
If a fight is brewing between Bannon/Alt Right and the rest of the Trump team, it is most likely this: Trump’s anti-ideological doctrine is pure pragmatist, or responding to the demands of power itself and the system in which he finds himself. His reaching out to both sides of the aisle, and allowing them to attempt compromise legislation that then fails like the Obamacare replacement, allows him to work the dynamics of power by showing others they need him, and that he is willing to make some deals to achieve results.
The natural enemies of pragmatists are both ideologues, including any ideological interpretation of the Alt Right, and realists, who see the questions of civilization survival as more important than being able to work within the system. The system, to realists, is a distraction; the question is the end results of our acts, and how well they develop or destroy Western Civilization, a once-thriving enterprise now in a state of failure and looking for brave leaders to help restore it.
An action that is more related to making essential change happen than being consistent is inherently anti-ideological. The new Trump doctrine is similarly pragmatist; however, the question is whether by attempting to compromise with the system, Trump could turn himself into another of its mouthpieces, which is what the Alt Right fears. However, Trump needs to be at least somewhat pragmatic because he has an extensive and somewhat controversial domestic agenda, and this will require him to — like Reagan — trade off on some things in order to get what he really wants to come to pass. For that reason, a winning move for him would be to deprecate Bannon in order to hide how important Alt Right issues are to him; by the same token, he might also simply drop the Alt Right as unworkable and focus on intermediate steps, making him do the same things as past presidents but improve them halfway through a heady dose of business sense. With his willingness to preserve social welfare programs and socialized medicine, he at least acts this way.
Whichever of these cases shakes out, the Alt Right needs to reposition itself as opposition to pragmatists and ideologues both, but it cannot do this by becoming an ideological horse of a different color; it must instead become the movement of extreme realism. We do not care how the game is played; we care about one thing, which is restoring Western Civilization. This requires us to recognize the current power system as both transitory and something to be opposed, not on an ideological basis, but because it is dysfunctional. In the same way, we should be actively seeking to roll back as much of democracy and the machine of big government as possible, and simultaneously growing the cultural wave that we started to press for long-term policies that will restore the West and nurture it back to health.
The drama playing out with the Alt Right, Bannon and Trump suspiciously resembles what happened in the 1960s. The youthful rebels were intensely ideological and achieved early victories. Then they slipped into a trope of repeating the same things. In the meantime, the government machine realized two things: first, it could never honestly speak about the pragmatic details of power again because they would shock the TV-watching folks back home, and second, that it could use this “peace movement” toward its own ends. Within a decade the idea of peace became “fighting for peace,” and we got launched into the cycle that peaked with George W. Bush and Barack Obama of worldwide war to promote democracy and equality, which coincidentally made us powerful and kept us distracted from our domestic problems.
The Alt Right can win in this new political era by keeping pressure high on Trump to make structural fixes to the West: remove affirmative action, end immigration entirely, abolish entitlements of all forms, and reduce the size of government. For now, those are achievable and tangible acts that others will resonate with. While we do that with our left hand, our right hand should continue the cultural pressure of subversion by dissolving illusions: that diversity is good, that democracy works, that the sexual revolution was good, and that our culture comes from politics and not genetics. We may never know what Trump is up to, but we can figure out from what he has done what he will do, and adapt to that to maximize our message.