The aftermath of the Cold War has seen the emergence of what neocon gurus Robert Kagan and William Kristol have called “benevolent global hegemony” of the United States. Throughout this period, key figures of both major parties have asserted that America’s unchallengeable military might was essential to the maintenance of global order. This period was marked by military interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and (less overtly) in Syria. Each violent exercise of hegemony was validated by the rhetoric of “promoting democracy,” “protecting human rights,” “confronting aggression,” and by the invocation of alleged American exceptionalism.
That bipartisan consensus was codified in the official strategic doctrine. George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy declared that the U.S. would “extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent,” and—furthermore—bring about an end to “destructive national rivalries.” The Obama Administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (“Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”), which is still in force, claimed that the task of the United States was to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world.” Such continuity of utopian objectives reflected the chronic refusal of the policymaking community in Washington to establish a rational correlation between strategic ends and means, or to see America as a “normal” nation-state pursuing limited political, economic, and military objectives in a competitive world.
As a result, one major source of instability in contemporary global order is the tendency of the most powerful player to reject any conventionally ordered hierarchy of American global interests. Traditional foreign policymaking may be prone to miscalculations (e.g. Vietnam), but in principle it is based on some form of rationally adduced raison d’etat. Deterritorialized strategy of full-spectrum dominance, by contrast, had its grounding in ideological assumptions impervious to rational discourse. It consistently creates outcomes—in Iraq, Libya, etc.—which are contrary to any conventional understanding of U.S. security interests.
Over the years, American “realists”—who accept that the world is imperfect, that violence is immanent to man, and that human nature is immutable—have often lamented the absence of grand-strategic thinking within the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. For the past quarter-century at least, successive administrations have displayed a chronic inability to deploy America’s political, military, economic, and moral resources in a balanced and proportionate manner, in order to protect and enhance the country’s rationally defined security and economic interests. Washington’s bipartisan, ideologically-driven obsession with global primacy (“full-spectrum-dominance”) has resulted in a series of diplomatic, military and moral failures, costly in blood and treasure, and detrimental to the American interest.
The 2016 presidential election, on the subject of foreign affairs, seemed to confront two polar opposites. On November 8, it appeared that Donald Trump, an outsider victorious against all odds and predictions, had a historic opportunity to make a fresh start. The moment was somewhat comparable to Ronald Reagan’s first victory in 1980. Reagan used grandiloquent phrases at times (notably the “Evil Empire”), but in practice he acted as an instinctive foreign policy realist. Likewise, Trump’s “America First” was a call for the return to realism based on the awareness that the United States needs to rediscover the value of transactional diplomacy aimed at promoting America’s security, prosperity, and cohesion in a Hobbesian world.
Some resistance from the upholders of hegemonistic orthodoxy was to be expected, as witnessed even before Trump’s inauguration by the outgoing administration’s frantic attempts to poison the well on every front possible. Giving up the neurotic desire to dominate the world, and recognizing that it cannot be shaped in line with the bicoastal elite class “values,” was never acceptable to the controllers of the mainstream media discourse and the government-subsidized think-tank nomenklatura. More seriously, some key components of the intelligence, national-security and military-industrial conglomerates proved effective in resisting Trump’s attempt to introduce traditional realist criteria in defining “interests” and “threats.”
Hillary’s World—Hillary Clinton was a leading exponent of the hegemonistic consensus. In 2002 she voted in favor of the Iraq war, the greatest foreign policy disaster in recent American history. In 2011 she tipped the balance within the Obama Administration in favor of the Libyan intervention, with devastating consequences for Libya, the region, and the world. She was the first major political figure in the world to compare Vladimir Putin to Hitler. She routinely saw military power as a tool of first resort: In the Obama cabinet she had been “the most hawkish person in the room in every case where she was in the room in the first place.” According to her aides, she subscribed to “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.”
Clinton’s strategic vision was a “known-known” of the 2016 campaign: open-ended global commitments in pursuit of hegemonistic goals. During the campaign she still advocated providing arms to the “moderate” Syrian rebels, which in reality meant further enabling non-ISIS jihadists supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Her speech at the American Legion National Convention (August 31, 2016) was an exultant restatement of the doctrine of global hegemony. “The United States is an exceptional nation,” she declared,
“and is still the last, best hope of Earth . . . And part of what makes America an exceptional nation, is that we are also an indispensable nation. In fact, we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead . . . [W]e recognize America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity . . . U.S. power comes with a responsibility to lead, with a fierce commitment to our values . . . [W]hen America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void.”
Clinton’s triumphalist vision reflected the post-Cold War consensus, to which both ends of the Duopoly subscribed with equal zeal. Bipartisan consensus which she embodied prompted many establishment Republicans to support her. The continuity of duopolistic key assumptions, and the escalation of risks and tensions resulting from their application, was clearly predictable in case of her victory.
Donald’s Vision—Trump’s strategic concepts seemed less ideologically coherent than Clinton’s, but he was more rational in espousing his stated guiding principles and certainly more “realist” in policy detail. In the early days of his candidacy he repeatedly asked why must the United States be engaged everywhere in the world and play the global policeman. He raised the issue of NATO’s utility and core mission, a quarter-century after the demise of the USSR which it was created to contain. He even suggested creation of a new coalition in order to put America’s resources to better use, especially in the fight against terrorism. He repeatedly advocated rapprochement with Russia. He criticized the regime-change mania of earlier administrations, pointing out the “disastrous” consequences of toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He said that he would leave Syria’s Bashar al-Assad well alone and focus on degrading the Islamic State.
Trump’s 2016 global vision was somewhat fragmentary, but voters knew that many of his positions ran counter to the duopolistic consensus. They did not know if he would be consistent, as President, in devising a new grand strategy and related specific policies. Such uncertainty was perhaps inevitable in view of Trump’s temperament, but the possibility of a paradigmatic shift towards a national-interest-based approach apparently did exist. It was conceivable that he would effect a strategic pause in order to take stock of the global map, reconsider priorities, and devise policies on the basis of their likely costs and benefits.
On April 27, 2016, Donald Trump gave his first major speech devoted to foreign policy. It was refreshing in that it contained no references to promoting freedom, democracy and human rights around the world; confronting tyranny and evil; or making the world a better place. Trump’s team of advisors prepared a coherent case for “offensive realism” instead: Nation-states are the principal actors in the international system; they pursue self-interest in what is still a Hobbesian world. “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else,” Trump declared at the outset of his address. “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” This was a commonsense position objectionable only to the proponents of the doctrine of America as a proposition nation, which has created endless problems for both America and the world at least since Woodrow Wilson.
Trump correctly noted that after the Cold War the U.S. foreign policy “veered badly off course,” and he named Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Syria as examples of flawed interventions that had spread chaos in the region and helped the rise of ISIS. His diagnosis—that the U.S. foreign policy “is a complete and total disaster” devoid of vision, purpose, direction, and strategy—was reasonable; so was his warning that America’s resources were overextended. Trump promised to look for new advisors in the field of foreign policy, and to shun the establishment responsible “for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.”
Particularly welcome was Trump’s pledge to improve relations with Russia, which “has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism.” This was in marked contrast to his Republican rivals’ visceral Russophobia. Trump closed by declaring that he would not try “to spread universal values that not everybody shares or wants,” and that he would not “go abroad in search of enemies.” These were sound conservative principles. Trump’s antipathy to the establishment’s imperial pretensions and moral absolutism seemed genuine. All that was anathema to the elite. The tone of the media reaction was set by the New York Times: Trump’s “strange worldview . . . did not exhibit much grasp of the complexity of the world.” But to those who did not subscribe to the Beltway Weltanschauung, Trump offered a ray of hope . . . a viable new approach.
The corporate media responded in unison by asserting that the notion of “America First” revived the “ugly ghost of pre-World War II isolationism.” The CNN claimed that the phrase “refers to the America First movement . . . associated with anti-semitism and U.S. nationalism in the lead-up to World War II.” It is noteworthy that “anti-semitism” and “U.S. nationalism” were banded together, with the implication that they are in the same political-moral league. Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake explicitly connected “Trump’s new slogan” with the “Nazi era,” thus reviving this “toxic” phrase which had long been banished from “respectable discourse.” The Anti-Defamation League urged Trump to “reconsider” using the phrase tainted by “the undercurrents of anti-semitism and bigotry.”
The corporate media machine in the United States is controlled by members of an elite class which promotes cultural Marxism manifested in a corrupt mass culture, multiculturalist indoctrination, and mass immigration; and which opposes any sense of historical and cultural identity of European Americans. From the very moment he entered the presidential race, Trump encountered intense media hostility, and “America First” quasi-controversy merely helped it solidify into a monolithic front. His media detractors believe that people should not feel a special bond for any particular country or nation. Since the final decade of the twentieth century, such notions have been internalized by the American elite class. Back in 2001, then-Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott felt ready to declare that the United States may not exist “in its current form” in the 21st century, because the very concept of nationhood will have been rendered obsolete. “All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to changing circumstances,” he wrote. “No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary.” Those who objected to “America First” agreed: since nations are transient, virtual-reality entities, owing emotional allegiance to any one of them is irrational; promoting its interests in preference to those of others is suspect, or outright “fascist.”
In addition, early in the campaign, Trump was accused of “racism” because he had said that he would restrict the influx of Muslim immigrants into the United States. That was not “racist”: there are Muslims of all color and hue. He was accused of “Islamophobia,” but his was a rational position in the context of everything that has happened and is happening, from Brussels and Paris to the London underground, the Madrid suburban train, and the Boston marathon. He reflected the views of many Americans who see the “political process” as a game in which all cards are marked in advance, where it does not matter who is elected.
Agenda After November 8—History never repeats itself, but certain pivotal events are comparable. Reagan’s victory in 1980 and Trump’s unexpected triumph in 2016 differed in countless detail of foreign and domestic context, but they shared one key commonality: ordinary Americans in the “flyover country” voted against a cosmopolitan, globalist America which subscribed to radically different moral, cultural, and civilizational standards. In foreign affairs, Trump’s victory opened the possibility of a radically new grand strategy.
In practice, the first task seemed clear: to improve relations with Russia and to have a workable modus vivendi with China. Outreach to Russia has been (and still is) vital to the settlement of the European civil war that erupted in 1914, continued in 1939, and resulted in the frozen conflict called the Cold War. Trump’s victory seemingly provided the prospect of a pan-European entente that would embrace the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles to Valdivostok to the Americas. He had the historic opportunity to effect a paradigm shift in the West that would pave the way for a genuine Northern Alliance of Russia, Europe, and the United States, as all three face similar existential demographic and ideological (primarily Jihadist) threats in the decades ahead. That opportunity had been open to the United States ever since the end of the Cold War, but no American leader had recognized it or acted upon its imperative. Trump appeared intent to give it a try. His supporters voted against the Duopoly, but in doing so they also voted for the candidate who “can do business with Vladimir Putin,” who declared that “Crimea is none of our business;” who dared say that “NATO is obsolete;” and who said, “read my lips: no more regime change.”
Trump the candidate was neither a dogmatic neoconservative nor a consistent, principled non-interventionist. His impulses were on the whole instinctively nationalist, and thus consistent with his views on immigration and trade. His guiding principles were non-ideological. They amounted to a practical matter, distinguishing where America’s vital interests are (Mexican border) and where they are not (Ukraine, Syria, South China Sea, etc.). “What’s in it for us? Let’s make a deal!”was no weakness, it was—potentially—statecraft.
His biggest problem all along was that the “deep state”, and especially the shadow government’s key components in the national security apparat and the military-industrial complex, rejected all conventional criteria in their definition of “interests” and “threats.” Contrary to Trump’s many statements and clear instincts, they were intent on the maintenance of American global primacy.
The problem of politicized intelligence structures became obvious, only weeks after Trump’s victory, with the CIA claim that the Russian government (including Vladimir Putin personally) had ordered and supervised the hacking of the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails. On December 16, 2016, Obama’s CIA appointee and former counterterrorism advisor John Brennan asserted that the Kremlin effectively swayed the election in Trump’s favor. America’s intelligence community turned out to be filled with obedient servants of the Deep State. This indicated that one of Donald Trump’s primary tasks in the field of national security should have been to discard the practice of his predecessors to demand intelligence which supports previously developed policy decisions.
The “Adults” Resume Control—The pivotal moment came exactly four weeks after inauguration. At the security conference in Munich (February 17) and at the EU headquarters in Brussels two days later, Vice-President Mike Pence offered profuse assurances to the European elite class that the Trump administration supported unity and cohesion in the face of various threats allegedly facing the Western alliance. His remarks amounted to an explicit repudiation of Trump’s campaign statements and promises: “The United States strongly supports NATO and will not waver in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance” In a conference dominated by the narrative of the “Russian threat” and hacking Pence paid tribute to “our shared values,” our “noble ideals—freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.” “As you keep faith with us,” he went on, “under President Trump we will always keep faith with you.”
Newly appointed Defense Secretary James Mattis, who also attended the Munich conference, made similar points—which until then would have been considered distinctly un-Trumpian. President Trump has “thrown his full support behind NATO,” Mattis declared, and warned of threats “on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on NATO’s periphery and beyond.” Earlier in that week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went to Germany for the Group of 20 foreign ministers’ meeting. As he left the meeting, “there was a palpable sense of relief” among the Europeans, which “stemmed in part from a sense that Tillerson is a serious man who came to Bonn . . . willing to hear their viewpoints.”
After Munich Pence went to Brussels, where he said that it was his privilege “on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union.” He pledged the U.S. would keep working with the EU to protect eastern EU states from Russia’s supposed designs. He reiterated the pledge he made in Munich that the Trump administration would “continue to hold Russia accountable” for the violence in eastern Ukraine. “Pence is looking like an adult,” commented James Jeffrey, Obama’s ambassador to Iraq and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In the aftermath of national security adviser Michael T. Flynn’s demolition by the Deep State operatives—a sordid affair in which Mike Pence played a significant role—the real question was whether Trump could resist the straitjacket which the Russophobic, NATO-for-ever “foreign policy community” had been hewing for him ever since November 8, 2016.
The answer, only a month after Trump’s inauguration, was “probably not.” The clue was provided by the appointment of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as Flynn’s replacement. In contrast to his predecessor, McMaster saw Russia as an adversary and rejected the possibility of partnership. He saw Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea and support for “rebels” in eastern Ukraine as evidence of Moscow’s broader effort “to collapse the post-World War Two, certainly the post-Cold War . . . order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.” McMaster’s views were diametrically opposed to Trump’s previously stated objectives. The Duopoly was delighted. “The selection encouraged Republicans who admire General McMaster and waged a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to select him,” wrote the New York Times (February 20). Sen. John McCain praised McMaster in a tweet as “outstanding choice for nat’l security advisor.”
These words of praise for Trump’s choice came from the man who also went to Munich, to deliver what one analyst called “a calculated, planned attack on Trump’s entire system of beliefs.” A war it was, and Trump could not hope to win it by making key appointments pleasing to McCain, Graham and their ilk. But already by the second half of February 2017 Trump had effectively caved in to the establishment. This only encouraged the perpetrators of the soft (“seed crystal”) coup d’etat to be relentless. By early March Steve Bannon was at the top of their list, and that objective was finally attained five months later. The final prize was Trump himself—impeached, humiliatingly tamed, or dead.
Russophobia Unleashed—Already by the end of Trump’s first month in office, a paranoid, hysterical quality to the public discourse on Russia and all things Russian had taken root in the United States. The corporate media machine and its Deep State handlers had abdicated reason and common decency in favor of raw hate and fear-mongering. We had not seen anything like it even in the darkest days of the Cold War.
The liberals’ ideological and emotional Russophobia has blended seamlessly with the bread-and-butter hostility to Russia shared by Deep State operatives in the intelligence and national security apparatus and the Congressional duopoly. The result is a surreal narrative which mixes supposedly unprovoked “Russian aggression” in Ukraine, hostile intent in the Baltics, serial war crimes in Syria, political destabilization in Western Europe, and gross interference in America’s “democratic process.” It includes an altogether fictitious “existential threat” which has made Trump’s intended détente with Moscow impossible. A solid rejection front had emerged, left and right, conservative and liberal, which extended even into his own team.
Considering the toxic Russophobia nurtured by the Beltway establishment, the first meeting between presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg (July 7, 2017) went reasonably well. It was a businesslike encounter between two grownups and their foreign ministers. It went on for two hours, longer than either side had anticipated, and covered a broad range of topics. Their initial agreements, notably on Syria, were significant in that they were reached in the first place. On the subject of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election, the two leaders agreed that it is time to move on rather than litigate the past. The meeting showed that Trump had not completely succumbed to the Swamp’s pressure. The Russophobes promptly proceeded to undo the results, however.
The Saudi Fiasco—A clear sign of President Trump’s surrender to the establishment came soon after he started his first foreign tour in Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017. His two-day visit was filled with a series of embarrassingly poltroonish statements and gestures to his hosts. For his part, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the absurd assertion that the battle against “extremism” had “nothing to do with religion.” Had President Trump merely fine-tuned some of candidate Trump’s positions, the adjustment likely would have been unsurprising. What we have seen instead was a comprehensive reversal of his stated positions on all most important specific issues (Russia, NATO, EU, Syria . . . ) and a retreat on the key question of America’s grand strategy.
“Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays,” candidate Trump opined a year earlier. He accurately described the Saudis as “mouth pieces, bullies, cowards” who were “paying ISIS” and imagined that they could “control our US politicians.” He demanded release of the missing 28 pages redacted from the Congressional report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, hinting that the Saudi rulers had helped the hijackers.
This position was light years away from President Trump’s speech in Riyad on May 21, 2017. He was “honored to be received by such gracious hosts” and pleased to announce “even more blessed news”: a “historic agreements with the Kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries” and “help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.” Furthermore, he added, “We will make history again with the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology – located right here, in this central part of the Islamic World . . . co-chaired by the United States and Saudi Arabia . . . ”
Trump cannot be unaware that Saudi Arabia is the true “Global Center” of promoting and financing Islamic extremism, and that no partnership with it is possible for as long as the nature of its regime remains unchanged. If and when the Ibn Saud dynasty collapses, a populist Islamic regime is more likely to triumph than a reformist, modernizing movement. The decades-long Beltway conspiracy of silence on Saudi Arabia’s role in abetting Islamic terrorism is now certain to continue. Under Trump America will not set herself free from the need to pander to Saudi whims, including the “right” of its government to bankroll thousands of mosques and Islamic centers around the world that preach intolerance and provide the logistic infrastructure to extremists. Operationally, this policy still requires not only overlooking the nefarious activities of the supposedly friendly Muslim states but also a consistent U.S. bias in favor of the Muslim party in virtually every conflict with Christians, and for the Sunni side against the Shiites. On this issue, and many others, he has succumbed to the Swamp.
Surrender on Afghanistan—Trump’s address to the nation on Afghanistan (August 21, 2017) was carefully crafted and well delivered, but it did not provide a blueprint for winning the war, which remained his stated objective. Trump has settled for a doomed compromise between all-out escalation, advocated by some of his generals, and disengagement he had favored on the campaign trail. His approach is likely to result in an open-ended continuation of the stalemate.
Trump admitted that he has changed his mind: “My original instinct was to pull out; and, historically, I like following my instincts,” but “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office . . . ” “A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions.” It is counterproductive “to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options.” The problem is that this statement of intent does not amount to “a new strategy.” It is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s 2003 pledge that “our forces will be coming home [from Iraq] as soon as their work is done,” and his promise (two years later) that the troops would depart as soon as they “complete the mission.” Trump did not spell out the “conditions” that would make disengagement possible at some future date, which was at odds with his subsequent rejection of open-ended responsibility for the final outcome.
There was a gap between Trump’s boldly stated overall objective (“One way or another, these problems will be solved . . . and in the end, we will win”) and the strategy for its attainment. That was not “realism,” principled or otherwise. It was a wish list, unsupported by any clearly defined means for its attainment. Trump’s abject surrender to the establishment’s failed course on Afghanistan was paradigmatic of his overall failure to follow his instincts and promises. Tragically, he has accepted defeat—summarized in the remarkable phrase “decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”
Systemic Incoherence—In today’s Washington, foreign policy decision-making process has become arguably more diffuse than ever in the nation’s history. In July 2017, U.S. Congress enacted legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia and limiting Trump’s authority to lift them on his own. This was done despite objections from the White House that this would inappropriately infringe on the chief executive’s ability to direct foreign policy. On a key foreign policy issue the president was thus barred from acting as utility-maximizing rational decision-maker. His hands are effectively tied.
More unprecedentedly still, systemic incoherence—occasionally bordering on outright schizophrenia—reigns inside Trump’s own camp. To wit, on the very day he said that it was “time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” (July 10, 2017), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley flatly contradicted him by declaring, “We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.” Such blatant discrepancy within the upper echelons of the U.S. executive branch was literally unprecedented.
We have seen coups of sorts in Washington before, not that anyone calls them that (e.g. the killing of John F. Kennedy, the ouster of Richard Nixon). The rolling coup against Trump is of a different order of magnitude. It had been plotted by the Deep State even before he was inaugurated. Significant power nodes in the United States had always refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of his presidency, and at the time of this writing they remain relentless. Deep State regime-change perpetrators did it in Ukraine in February 2014, and elsewhere over the years (Tbilisi,