The blunders of the Trump team have provided cover for the consolidation of a quasi-military clique at the highest levels of the US state, writes Sean Ledwith
Just when the Trump presidency appears to have hit rock bottom, a new crisis comes along and puts everything else into the shade. The news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is forming a grand jury to indict Donald Trump Jnr over possible malpractice during last year's election campaign takes the threat to the Trump administration to a whole new level. This could be the first significant step on what increasingly looks like the inevitable impeachment of the President. This legal challenge comes just days after the hilarious blink-and-you-will-miss it Moochgate fiasco.
Rise and fall of the Mooch
The farcical ten-day reign of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director will probably have the producers of White House-based comedy Veep holding their heads in their hands stressing over how they can possibly come up with a fictional scenario to match the reality. The self-styled ‚Mooch‘ had not even officially taken up his post when Trump fired him at the end of July. The former Goldman Sachs executive had been drafted in by the president to staunch an outbreak of leaks linked to the ongoing Congressional investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Unbelievably, within hours of his appointment to steady the ship, Scaramucci unleashed a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse of his fellow White House staffers that left the Beltway press-pack reeling with incredulity. Referring to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, as a 'f*****g paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiacseemed like the most outrageous personal attack on a colleague imaginable : only for that to be surpassed by: I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c**k.'
Little wonder that Priebus chose to quit the White House team after learning of this outburst, along with Scaramucci's predecessor as Trump's official mouthpiece, Sean Spicer. It is only a few months since the latter seemed to have performed the ultimate absurdity of the Trump administration when he was discovered hiding in the White House foliage to avoid having to publicly defend another presidential clanger. The extent of Priebus' delight at the spectacular crashing and burning of his nemesis can only be imagined.
Rise of the generals
The dark underbelly of these self-inflicted wounds by the Trump team, however, is that they have provided cover for the consolidation of a quasi- military clique at the highest levels of the US state. Scaramucci's quick-fire defenestration was demanded by Priebus' successor as Chief of Staff, John Kelly. The latter is a former US Marines general and has already served as Trump's man at the Department of Homeland Security where he established a reputation as a merciless deporter of some of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. Under Kelly's supervision, detention of suspected illegals has increased by 40% and an Obama-inspired immigration amnesty has been rescinded. Thousands of children who have fled to the US from death squads in Central America are set to be sent back where they came from.
The new Chief of Staff implemented Trump's gratuitous Muslim travel ban without a second thought. In his previous life as a senior Marines officer, Kelly was an unapologetic defender of US military intervention in Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He told the Senate at his confirmation hearing:
'I have never been prouder of any troops under my command than I am of the young military professionals who stand duty day and night at Guantánamo, serving under a microscope of public scrutiny in one of the toughest and most unforgiving military missions on the planet. These young men and women are charged with caring for detainees that can often be defiant and violent.'
Stab in the back myth
Kelly's elevation to such a powerful role brings to three the number of generals in senior positions in the Trump cabinet. National Security Advisor, Lt General Herbert McMaster, is the author of an influential study in hawkish think-tank circles entitled Dereliction of Duty that argues the US lost the war in Vietnam because of insufficient political will at home and that the outcome would have been different if the commanders on the ground had been let off the leash.
McMaster's reactionary revisionism is not dissimilar to the stabbed in the back myth perpetuated by German generals in the aftermath of WWI that paved the way for Hitler. McMaster was drafted in back in January to replace another general, Michael Flynn, whose tenure in the post was Scaramucci-like in its brevity. Kelly and McMaster are joined at Trump's top table by Defense Secretary James Mattis, unnervingly known as ‚Mad Dog‘ by his subordinates. Mattis spearheaded the merciless US assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004 that included the indiscriminate deployment of uranium depleted shells on the civilian population. He also fell out of favour with the Obama administration over what he regarded as their over-conciliatory policy to Tehran.
North Korea - the next war?
In light of the creeping militarisation at the top of the Washington political system, it is unsurprising that we have seen a ramping up of the rhetoric against putative threats to US global hegemony. North Korea's second testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile within the space of one month has provoked a fresh outbreak of doom-laden rhetoric from Trump and his acolytes. McMaster recently informed a neocon think-tank:
'What we have to do is prepare all options because the President has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population.'
Senior Republican Senator, Lindsay Graham, has reported a horrifying conversation he had with the President in which he was told about what might be in store for Kim Jong Un and his regime:
If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here — and he’s told me that to my face.
Of course, Trump has built his bizarre political career on the cynical use of what he calls truthful hyperbole (bullshit, in other words), and so it is likely there are no imminent plans for an attack on Pyongyang, Tehran or anywhere else. The stunning missile attack on a Syria airbase in April, however, was a salutary reminder that it would be unwise to underestimate the apocalyptic potential of Trump's self-styled postmodern presidency. The growing influence of unreconstructed militarists such as Kelly, Mattis and McMaster can only serve to heighten the risk of Trump's delusional rhetoric being turned into devastating reality. As if the presence of these three at Trump's shoulder with the red button is not bad enough, the man in command of the US Pacific Fleet has offered scant re-assurance with his recent remark : If Trump asked ,we'd nuke China next week. Admiral Scott Swift encapsulated the blurring of civilian and military boundaries that is underway in the heart of the US elite with a chilling justification for genocide:
'Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us. This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.'
Seven Days in May 2.0
Voices on the US left have noted the renewed prescience of a notable Hollywood film from the 1960s, Seven Days in May. Directed by John Frankenheimer, the movie depicts an attempted military coup in Washington, coordinated by ambitious generals dissatisfied with a president determined to downsize their influence. The film was made in the wake of Dwight Eisenhower's famous warning on his last day as President about the expanding reach of the military-industrial complex within American society. The novel on which Frankenheimer's film is based allegedly played a key role in persuading JFK not to take his generals' advice to bomb Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis.
Apart from this de facto takeover of the executive branch by the military, the other danger of the current political situation in Washington is that Trump will decide an overseas adventure is the best way to distract attention from his seemingly endless domestic travails. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller appears to be closing the net with the news that he is forming a grand jury to hear criminal charges against Donald Trump Jnr, linked to the alleged Russian connection in the White House. This follows the latter's blundering comments last month that he actually was present at a meeting with Russian officials last summer which he had previously denied.
The cloud of supposed Putin-inspired collusion hanging over the Trump White House has stubbornly refused to disappear and is the most likely mechanism for his removal from office before the next election. For outsiders it remains difficult to tell how much credibility to attach to this persistent miasma of a cover-up, but there is persuasive evidence that the whole story is a fabrication devised by Russophobes within the national security elite to discredit Trump's rapprochement with Moscow and restore Putin's status as global enemy number one of the US empire.
Trump's conspicuous patronage of generals within the cabinet is partly designed to appease the hostility he has attracted from the cold warriors who remain active within the US deep state. These powerful voices will have been hearted by Trump's attack on Syria in April but are probably also feeling disappointed that it has not been followed up by further belligerence towards Moscow. Kelly, Mattis and McMaster all have track records of favouring overt assertion of US military power against potential rivals such as China and Russia. There are suggestions that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, prime mover of the initial diplomatic re-set with Moscow, may be about to quit due to the revival of the traditional hostility to Russia that has dominated US strategic thinking since WWII.
The implosion at the White House provides grim satisfaction for millions in the US and around the world who have been horrified that such a contemptible personality could rise to the world's most prestigious elected office. If Trump is brought down by the ongoing Russia-gate scandal, however, it would not necessarily be a glorious moment for progressive forces in the US. The current threat to his Presidency comes from within the national security apparatus that has inflicted untold misery on the world for decades. The mass mobilisations that confronted Trump over the travel ban and his appalling misogyny at the start of his administration have regrettably receded. The spectacle of a Nixon-style humiliating departure for Trump would be one to savour but only if it represented a scalp for the movements, not for the spooks
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