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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Trump signals crisis of the US foreign policy establishment

Trump signals crisis of the US foreign policy establishment

Donald Trump's bid for the presidency and current position in the opinion polls is a crisis not only of the Republican party – the party of Lincoln – but also of the broader bi-partisan American foreign policy establishment’s instinctive interventionist mind set, their military definition of reality. Yet, for all his appeals to the most bigoted sections of American society, Trump’s foreign policy message speaks to a twenty-first century truth: America's position in the world has changed, its wars are dragging on, the blowback is lethal, ‎there are too many problems at home, and the popular appetite waning for global ‘leadership’. But it appears from Trump’s military spending plans that he is already planning to betray his supporters.


Americans love winners, not losers, and the post-9-11 years have not appeared to most Americans, or the rest of the world, to have been an untrammelled success for military power. But the American foreign policy establishment begs to differ and wants an even more robust projection of American military power. To them, Trump is the ‘enemy within’ allied with America’s foe Vladimir Putin, questioning NATO (set up to counter the ‘Red threat’), threatening the alliance with Japan and South Korea (set up to counter the ‘Red threat’), bringing America into disrepute through his stated commitment to torture terro suspects and kill their families.


The neoconservative architects of the Iraq war and the war on terror are backing Hillary Clinton for the White House and she is courting them with promises of American leadership from the front, not from behind, signalling her Warrior Queen credentials: more like the ‘iron lady’ Margaret Thatcher than allegedly dovish President Obama.


The Right’s support for Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy  and contempt for Donald Trump’s apparent ‘isolationism’ has been building for some time – with open letters from ‘respectable foreign policy conservatives’, mostly hard-core architects of military aggression against Iraq in 2003, extraordinary rendition (kidnapping) and torture, targeted assassination (drone strikes), and ever higher military spending to underscore America’s lethal advantage over all others. There have even been rumblings that the CIA and military leaders might refuse to follow orders from commander-in-chief Trump. Neoconservative commentator and founder of the militarist, pro-regime-change in Iraq Project for the New American Century-founder, Robert Kagan, doubts that Trump would find anyone with experience to serve in the most senior positions in intelligence or the Pentagon.


Trump’s crime violates Clinton’s law, the reflex position of the American foreign policy establishment –and every president, including Obama - since Japan’s aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. The attitude of the establishment – the men behind the scenes who decide who’s in or out, trustworthy and loyal or beyond the pale, “one of us” – was summed up long ago by the brilliant journalist Godfrey Hodgson in the aftermath of the disastrous war on Vietnam: outright rejection of ‘isolationism’ which in practice meant any viewpoint that questioned or rejected American primacy in world politics; total embrace of ‘internationalism’ – an open world trading system that permitted the US, and its western allies, to recover from the destruction of WWII through restoring colonial trade and investment links; an aspiration to the moral leadership of the world via institutional and military means; and a self-definition as centrsis and moderates against “yahoos of left and right”.

The establishment is rooted in Wall Street law firms and banks, the upper echelons of the federal executive – White House, CIA, Pentagon, leading senators – and elite universities like Harvard and Princeton, and think tanks like the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. They are largely unelected yet constitute the majority of senior appointees in Republican and Democratic administrations. They are the elitist red thread of continuity in a political system they believe gives far too much power to the great unwashed, the dangerous classes who should obey their betters, or else accept re-education, a curious interpretation of the notion of the ‘consent of the governed’ upon which democracy is assumed to rest.


It is reported that Robert Kagan and other neoconservatives cheered Hillary Clinton’s appointment to secretary of state in 2008 and are now fund-raising on her behalf because she plans to be a lot tougher with Russia in Ukraine – provide even more arms to Ukrainian nationalists including the extreme-right wing elements; more weapons and other military assistance to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, including arming fundamental Islamists; and ride rough-shod over popular opposition to further American military adventurism; and so on.


President Clinton would dust off the Libyan template used to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, her allies told a neocon gathering of “foreign policy professionals for Hillary”, without a hint of irony. The disorder and insecurity of Libya after Gaddafi’s ousting is re-framed as a great success. Like colonial powers of old, President Clinton seems ready to redraw the national boundaries of the Middle East.


At a recent fund-raiser, it is reported that Kagan rolled his eyes when told that President Obama refused arms to Ukrainian fighters for fear of escalating the confrontation with Russia to nuclear levels. Trump, it transpires, is too unstable to entrust with nukes, but Clinton’s more measured approach to nuclear annihilation is acceptable.


According to the Cato Institute, 37% of Americans are generally always opposed to the use of military force to resolve global problems while just under a quarter practically always favour armed intervention. Around 40% are undecided; they are the battleground for hearts and minds, the people who need to be convinced through “education” to allow the commander-in-chief to act with the “consent of the governed”.

But Trump’s message is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem (of all those people opposed to war as the first resort) is a lot more widespread – Bernie Sanders’s political base was far more anti-interventionist (‘isolationist’ in foreign policy establishment speak) than their candidate. “It’s not just Donald Trump,” Kagan said. “I think you can find in both parties a very strong sense that we don’t need to be out there anymore.” “[President] Hillary Clinton… is going to immediately be confronting a country that is not where she is,” he said. “She is a believer in this world order. But a great section of the country is not and is going to require persuasion and education.”

Kagan did not mention what the rest of the world might think and the education they’re likely to need. Maybe he’s thinking of what President Lyndon Johnson said about such educational efforts: “if you grab ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” That attitude led to the tragedy of Vietnam and the killing fields of Cambodia.

Presumably Kagan wants to provide the sort of education delivered by the Bush administration and its allies – like UK premier Tony Blair – which tailored intelligence on non-existent weapons of mass destruction to justify military aggression against Iraq – leading to massive numbers of deaths and social, economic and political breakdown, paving the way for the emergence of ISIS, the Middle east’s equivalent of Pol Pot’s  Khmer Rouge - after a media blitz of gigantic proportions.

When Donald Trump attacks the ‘establishment’ for ‘rigging the system’ against the interests of ordinary people, he strikes a chord with both historical fact and the opinions of millions of Americans. He may have no intention, or ability, or even desire, to deliver anything better than currently rules US foreign policy and its globalised military system; his military spending plans derive from the Heritage Foundation’s hawkish approach.  But his appeal, and message, along with that of the millions behind Sanders, is signalling major popular discontent, and threatening the end of business as usual for the foreign policy elite, whoever wins the White House.

Friday, 9 September 2016

How Will the Sanders Revolution Work With President Hillary Clinton?

“Our campaign has been about building a movement, which brings working people and young people into the political process to create a government which represents all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors,” Bernie Sanders declared.

“We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the drift,” Sanders continued,  “which currently exists toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires exercise enormous power over our political, economic, and media life.”

One of the biggest question for US election watchers, yet being ignored due to the mass media’s obsession with Donald Trump, is whether the basic instincts of President Hillary Clinton will see a major reversal of the gains and promises of the Sanders insurgency – currently embedded in the Democratic Party’s official election platform and espoused in Clinton’s public speeches since the party’s July convention.

How might the Sanders impulse, insurgency, revolution, call it what you will – backed by primary election victories in 22 states, winning 46% of all Democratic non-pledged delegates, and over 13 million votes to Hillary’s 16 million (and Trump’s 13 million) – become politically embedded and simultaneously in touch with its popular roots and energy, and actually make a difference? How might its momentum deliver at least part of the political revolution Sanders demanded?

And, even should Clinton continue to espouse the Sanders programme, will congress go along and permit anti-Wall Street legislation, vote for a much increased federal minimum wage, reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and abolish public university tuition fees for most students, among other things? Will the Sanders movement affect the politics of congress?

The right to revolution may be enshrined in America’s history, but will its political system of divided government act as a brake on radical political change, adding to the likely inertia and foot-dragging of a Clinton presidency won with massive Wall Street funding, now with even more traditional conservative and GOP donors? The official national GOP might be dying, with Donald Trump’s embrace of unabashed white ethno-nationalist identity politics, but its ghost may yet haunt the next Democratic presidency through its continuing grip on the levers of power in the House of Representatives.

The diverse range of Democratic party policy planks installed after Sanders’s pressure may well be significant for their direct beneficiaries but, critics complain, are all at the margin and can be withdrawn or much more likely eroded over time. They are in the nature of concessions that might split the Sanders movement.

Given this situation, what would drive real and lasting change and how might it come about? Where is the locomotive of political change and what is the mechanism by which that change might be effected?

There is great pessimism about the political situation in the United States, especially on the Left. Yet America’s political system is flexible, capable of accommodating programmes as statist as the 1930s New Deal and as reactionary as the Contract with America of the 1990s Newt Gingrich-led GOP. Politics is a struggle, a constant system of flux, of forces locked in conflict vying for power, to establish their agenda over that of others. What we are witnessing today in the US elections is nothing short of revolutionary in character. When has a major party female candidate defeated and incorporated into her platform – the most radical in its history - an overtly socialist agenda, and then been pitted against an extreme right-wing xenophobic and misogynistic ‘Republican’ TV celebrity with no prior political experience who’s rejecting the few tenets both main parties actually agree on – US globalism and free trade? This is hardly politics as usual and the result of the November presidential election, whichever way it goes, is unlikely seamlessly to return America to normalcy.

There is a new normal and we should get used to it. 

Let’s look at several continuing initiatives by Bernie Sanders and his supporters to build on his momentous challenge to the Clinton machine. The movement has sprouted a Sanders Institute to mobilise behind progressive congressional candidates across America. According to Sanders, candidates may get support in fund-raising and on the hustings even if they happen to be progressives from the tea party. President Bill Clinton former labor secretary Robert Reich has spoken of a new progressive party – the kinds of organisations now in motion may well lead to such an outcome. The Sanders Institute’s aim is to conduct political-ideological work on the key issues of power, wealth and inequality that struck such a chord during his bid for the Democratic nomination. Although he has not endorsed it, some of his supporters are also actively aligning their work with the Green party which had previously asked Sanders to run for the White House on their ticket. Its candidate, Jill Stein, hovers around 5% in presidential election polls.

Brand New Congress is another key grouping on the Sanders wing of the Democratic party. It’s a political action committee that aims to identify and support hundreds of non-politician candidates for over 400 congressional seats with the aim of replacing the entire House by the mid-term elections in 2018. Formed in April 2016, it has raised almost $100,000 in small donations and is looking to the future – without Wall Street big money politics. It complements the Sanders Institute’s plan to back 100 progressive candidates in congressional and state and local elections in November 2016.

Sanders’s Our Revolution organisation aims to build on his campaign and revitalise democracy, empower progressives to run for school board elections, mayoral offices and take on big money politics. And Our Revolution seeks to “elevate political consciousness”: take on the corporate media, educate the public and improve public discourse and understanding.

It is instructive that more people in the corporate media seem to pay attention to what Donald Trump’s post-defeat strategy might be than to what Sanders’s post-convention strategy actually is. The corporate media may not tell us what to think, but it remains spectacularly successful in telling us what to think about.

And it’s not all about Sanders either: Senator Elizabeth Warren continues work to hold the major financial institutions to account, with Republican support from the likes of John McCain for a law to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act – passed in the 1930s to protect the banking system and ordinary savers, but abolished by President Clinton in the late 1990s.

And the Democracy for America organisation which backed Sanders for the White House is endorsing progressives up and down the country and ballot.

If Donald Trump’s non-conservative statist message, and Hillary Clinton’s shift to the left, have shown us anything, it is that there are big changes afoot in America’s political fabric. Even Wall St now agrees that wages must rise, infrastructure needs investment and inequality has reached extreme levels.

These are early days and no political outcome is certain. There is much going on. But returning to normalcy is unlikely to cut it now or after November.