Posts Tagged ‘H.R. McMaster’

Playing Chicken With China

August 21, 2017

Trump’s North Korea brinkmanship might seem scary, but it’s not that unusual.

Aug. 20, 2017 3:52 p.m. ET

President Trump appears desperate, erratic and even irrational as he struggles to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. If the president is to be believed, he stands ready to run any risk, pay any price and do whatever necessary to keep the U.S. safe. This includes launching a pre-emptive attack that risks dragging America and China into a second Korean War. To understand the method in what looks like madness, recall the Cold War strategy known as “nuclear chicken.”

A game…

Donald Trump to Unveil Afghanistan Strategy in Televised Address Monday

August 21, 2017

President’s plan expected to include sending as many as 4,000 more troops

U.S. soldiers maneuvered a howitzer in June at Bost Airfield in Afghanistan.
U.S. soldiers maneuvered a howitzer in June at Bost Airfield in Afghanistan. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump will give a nationally televised address Monday night to unveil his strategy for the long-running war in Afghanistan, the White House said, a plan expected to include sending as many as 4,000 more troops to the country.

He’ll deliver the prime-time speech from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., using the same sort of high-profile stage that his predecessor, Barack Obama, employed in laying out a new approach to the war in 2009. Mr. Obama delivered his speech before a national television audience at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., promising at the time to “bring this war to a successful conclusion.”

The speech is planned for 9 p.m. EDT.

Last week, Mr. Trump met at Camp David with his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to discuss the way ahead in Afghanistan. Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended by videoconferencing from overseas.

On Saturday, the president tweeted that he had settled on an approach to a war that is now in its 16th year: “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”

The Afghanistan policy announcement marks a turning point for the president. In announcing the strategy himself, he gains ownership of the war that he criticized as a candidate before inheriting it from two predecessors, Mr. Obama and George W. Bush. As the new strategy takes hold, Mr. Trump will increasingly be asked about any successes or setbacks. Mr. Trump has been criticized in national security circles for foisting his war policy on his generals.

Months ago, Mr. Trump empowered Mr. Mattis to increase the size of the force as needed. The defense secretary, who led troops there as a general before his retirement, pushed to get the White House to agree to a strategy first. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and others embracing an “America First” strategy had cautioned Mr. Trump that there was no payoff in Afghanistan and to pull troops out.

Mr. Trump as a candidate called for drawing down the number of troops, but top military advisers and ultimately Mr. Tillerson advised that he should not only retain but increase the troop levels to address a worsening security situation and to strengthen the advisory effort aiding the Afghan military. He was also advised to take a broader approach to the region that would include Pakistan.

Mr. Trump heads into this high-stakes period for his agenda at a time when his White House is in the midst of a reset. His new chief of staff, John Kelly, has been tightening operations in a West Wing that has failed to notch a major legislative victory.

Mr. Trump on Friday ousted Mr. Bannon, the face of an economic nationalist approach that had discomfited some of the president’s more mainstream advisers.

More staff departures could be coming as Mr. Kelly looks to impose more discipline on a staff riven by infighting, White House advisers said.

Write to Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-to-unveil-afghanistan-strategy-in-televised-address-monday-1503262674?mod=e2fb

Appeared in the August 21, 2017, print edition as ‘Trump Set to Detail His Afghan Strategy.’

Trump says many decisions made on Afghanistan and beyond

August 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (L to R) were among those attending Friday’s talks at Camp David

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump tweeted early Saturday that “many decisions” had been made in a meeting with his top military advisers, including on the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.The Trump administration, wary of international involvements but eager for progress in the grueling Afghan war, has been weighing a range of options. It had originally promised a new plan by mid-July.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted about the meeting a day earlier at the presidential retreat in Maryland, saying: “Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.”

It was unclear how far-ranging those decisions might be, or when they would be announced.

But Trump is said to be dissatisfied by initial proposals to add a few thousand more troops in the country, and advisers were studying an expanded strategy for the broader South Asian region, including Pakistan.

There are now about 8,400 US and 5,000 NATO troops supporting Afghanistan’s security forces in the fight against Taliban and other militants. But the situation has remained as deadly as ever, with more than 2,500 Afghan police and troops killed from January 1 to May 8.

Steve Bannon, Back At Breitbart: “Now I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency.”

August 19, 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

By Harriet Alexander, David Millward Barney Henderson

defiant Steve Bannon declared the Trump presidency he had campaigned for was over as he vowed to carry on the fight after being ousted as the White House chief strategist.

Within hours of leaving his office,  Mr Bannon was back at Breitbart, the right wing website he ran, presiding over the evening news conference.

In interviews he made it clear he was not going quietly as he rounded on those he held responsible for his departure.

 Image result for Gary Cohn, shirt too tight, photos

“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” he told the Weekly Standard, a right-wing newspaper   “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency,” he continued.

“But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”

He added: “I feel jacked up. Now I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he added as he vowed “Bannon the barbarian” would crush the opposition.

“There’s no doubt. I built a —–ng machine at Breitbart.  And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.”

His loyalty to Donald Trump remained undimmed.

“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,”  he told Bloomberg.

Earlier Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary said Mr Bannon, 63,  had departed “by mutual agreement.”

The White House then issued a statement, saying that the decision was agreed by Mr Bannon and John Kelly, the chief of staff – a sign of Mr Kelly’s grappling to control the chaos, or perhaps simply to avoid Mr Trump having to put his name to the firing of the man who most connects him to his diehard supporters.

Joel Pollack, Breitbart’s  editor at large, tweeted a one-word response to Mr Bannon’s departure: “War”.

Mr Bannon was controversial from the start.

Combative and unapologetic, the former Goldman Sachs financier was employed by Mr Trump as his campaign manager in August 2016, and described at the time as “the most dangerous political operative in America”.

He urged Mr Trump to pursue a populist path, and pressed him to hammer Hillary Clinton as corrupt – reportedly coming up with the “lock her up” chant that reverberated around his rallies.

It was Mr Bannon, with fellow hardliner Stephen Miller, who wrote Mr Trump’s inauguration speech – a dark and foreboding depiction of the “American carnage” that Mr Trump believed he had been elected to stop.

He was often at odds with the “globalist” wing of the White House – Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law; his wife Ivanka Trump; H.R. McMaster, the head of the national security council; and Gary Cohn, director of the national economic council.

Image result for Gary Cohn, shirt too tight, photos

Mr Bannon reportedly referred to them in private as “the New Yorkers” and “the Democrats”, among more printable nicknames, and tried to steer his boss away from them and towards his own nationalist sympathisers.

At first the president thought fondly of his flame-throwing ideologue, who was seen to wield immense behind-the-scenes power inside the White House.

Image result for Gary Cohn, shirt too tight, photos

Gary Cohn

Saturday Night Live depicted him as the grim reaper, playing Mr Trump like a puppet – something that reportedly amused Mr Bannon, but enraged his boss.

His departure had been described as imminent before, but since Charlottesville the drum beat of demise rose to a frenzy.

Mr Trump was reported earlier this week to have not spoken face-to-face with Mr Bannon in over a week, and on Tuesday, at the now infamous press conference in which he defended white supremacists, Mr Trump could only offer a lukewarm endorsement, responding to a question about Mr Bannon’s future with: “We’ll see.”

That press conference sparked condemnation of a president never before seen in the United States – the heads of the military spoke out against their commander-in-chief, and the UN secretary-general voiced concern. Titans of industry who Mr Trump had so assiduously courted on the campaign trail deserted him in droves, leading to the folding of both his business advisory panels.

On Friday the arts council resigned en masse – the first White House agency to do so.

Political condemnation was also snowballing, leading astonished Americans to ask where this could all end.

Bob Corker, a senior Republican loyalist and chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, who was considered for secretary of state, declared that “the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises.

And, while Mr Trump sought to shift Thursday from the white supremacists to the future of statues, he was criticised by Rupert Murdoch’s son James, in an email widely circulated.

“I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists,” he wrote.

Rumblings of discontent from Mr Trump’s staff grew so loud that the White House was forced to release a statement saying that Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s chief economic adviser, was not quitting.

The Dow Jones suffered its worst day since May on Thursday, but rebounded slightly on the news that Mr Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, was staying put.

Mr Cohn will certainly not be crying over the departure of Mr Bannon. Mr Bannon perhaps sealed his own fate this week by telephoning a reporter with The American Prospect, a Left-wing publication, to contradict his boss – and suggest that he was deciding who was in and who was out in the state department.

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” said Mr Bannon, directly undermining Mr Trump’s vow to respond if attacked.

Asked about his rivals at the departments of state, defence and treasury, who wanted to keep China on side by avoiding trade wars, Mr Bannon was unrepentant.

“They’re wetting themselves,” he said. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in.”

But Mr Bannon may not go quietly.

One of the reasons Mr Trump was said to have delayed dismissing him was fear of “weaponising” Mr Bannon, if he was unleashed from the White House.

A friend of Mr Bannon said he intended to return to Breitbart, adding: “This is now a Democrat White House”.

Bannon ‘in good spirits’

Quoting  a “friend”,  the Wall Street Journal, said Mr Bannon seemed to be in good spirits, following his departure from the White House.

“Steve has always been a gunslinger. This allows him to be a gunslinger again.”

Trump ‘ceding dangerous ground to the media and establishment’

Kristin Tate, a conservative columnist, warns that Donald Trump has ceded dangerous ground to the establishment.

“There is no compromise with the Never-Trumpers and Democrats over the role of chief strategist,” she writes in The Hill, a political website.

” Personnel is policy, and Trump is ceding his ace for a player to be named later. That’s not good enough for the people who made his movement happen.

Bernie: The problem wasn’t Bannon, it was Trump

2:21am

Steve Bannon ‘said he resigned from White House two weeks ago’

1:55am

CNN says ‘Gorka could go’

Citing unnamed “sources”, CNN is saying that Sebastian Gorka, Donald Trump’s deputy assistant, could be the next to go.

Born in the UK to Hungarian parents, British educated Mr Gorka, has also been a controversial figure in the White House.

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Seen as a hardliner, he was openly critical of Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, when he suggested the US could negotiate with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

But Mr Trump is reported to be a fan of Mr Gorka’s combative style and his forthright defence of the administration in his media appearances.

1:15am

Another White House departure

Steve Bannon is not the only senior figure leaving the White House,according to Politico.

George Sifakis, director of the Office of Public Liaison since March, is reportedly on his way out.

A close friend and ally of Reince Preibus, the former White House chief of staff,   Mr Sifakis was an aide to George W Bush.

8:51pm

Nigel Farage says Bannon will be missed

8:22pm

Bannon meets billionaire donor to plot next steps

Axios, the authoritative Washington website, reports that Mr Bannon met with billionaire Republican donor Bob Mercer to plan their next moves.

Image result for Bob Mercer, photos

They write:

Bob Mercer and Steve Bannon had a five hour meeting Wednesday to plot out next steps, said a source withknowledge of the meeting.

They plotted strategy going forward — both political and media strategy. The meeting was at Mercer’s estate on Long Island. Mercer had dinner the next night at Bedminster with President Trump and a small group of donors. The source said Mercer and Bannon “remain strong supporters of President Trump’s and his agenda.”

 

8:19pm

Democrat leader responds

Steve Bannon’s exit does not erase @realDonaldTrump’s long record of lifting up racist viewpoints & advancing repulsive policies. 

8:03pm

Four down…

Bannon
This January 28 photo shows Donald Trump and his advisers inside the Oval Office. Of the six in the picture, only the president and vice president remain – Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon have all left.

7:48pm

Breitbart’s editor-at-large responds to Steve Bannon’s ouster

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision

August 19, 2017

The Hill

Trump again puts off Afghanistan war decision
© Getty

President Trump on Friday again deferred on choosing a path forward for the 16-year-old Afghanistan war, despite a high-level meeting at Camp David to discuss options with his core national security team.

The meeting included Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Vice President Pence cut short a trip to South America to attend the meeting.

This is not the first time the president was widely expected to make a decision on an updated strategy for the war in Afghanistan but held off, frustrating top national security and defense officials as well as lawmakers.

Administration officials expected Trump to pick a path in May prior to attending the NATO summit in Belgium. And Mattis in June promised lawmakers that a decision would likely come in July.

A variety of reasons are driving the delay, including the complexity of the conflict and the president’s hesitation to make a decision that may ultimately prove to be the wrong move, according to James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation

“We need a strategy that’s going to be sustainable maybe eight years. There is no short answer here,” said Carafano, who was a member of the Trump transition team.

“The burden really is on the national security team to show Trump they have the most effective strategy to do that, because this is then going to be his war, his responsibility.”

Members of the administration still hold disagreements on the best path forward for Afghanistan, which will include how to handle conflicts along the border of Pakistan. Military leaders are pushing for additional U.S. troops, but Trump has reportedly been wary of continued American presence in the region.

Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. HR McMaster want to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to the country to combat the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al Qaeda. Recently ousted chief strategist Stephen Bannon, however, had urged against it, saying that would amount to nation building.

Other options on the table include using private contractors, withdrawing altogether or keeping the current strategy, which consists of the existing 8,400 U.S. troop continuing to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions.

In July, Trump showed his reluctance to side with his military advisors by increasing troop numbers.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” Trump told reporters.

When asked about a possible troop increase, Trump only said, “We’ll see.”

The immobility on a plan also has bothered lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who earlier this month unveiled his own strategy for Afghanistan.

“Now, nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” McCain said in a statement. “The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military strategy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the president is deeply frustrated with his list of military options, a complex formula that depends upon the backing of the Afghan government.

Foreign policy experts have expressed doubt that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be able to stop corruption and effectively use American aid to bolster the Afghan National Security Forces. Pentagon leaders would depend on the forces to keep out terrorist groups once U.S. troops leave.

Image result for President Ashraf Ghani, photos

President Ashraf Ghani

“The Afghan government is very divided, it’s weak,” Cordesman said. “Even if [Trump] does all the military recommends, there is a 50-50 chance that the Afghanistan response is going to be effective enough. Everything we’re doing depends on the Afghans.”

Cordesman also suggested that Trump’s reported criticism of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, “likely stems from Nicholson told him the truth and the truth is unpleasant.”

Trump in July 19 meeting with his national security team pushed to fire Nicholson, NBC News reported earlier this month.

“We aren’t winning,” Trump complained during the meeting. “We are losing.”

“The options are so uncertain and so complex and confusing,” Cordesman said. “Not the kind of forward, positive proposal that [Trump] may be used to.”

Cordesman added that the longer Trump waits to make a decision, the worse it will be for soldiers on the ground. Afghanistan’s fighting season lasts into the fall. With no plan yet given as of late August, “nothing you do now is going to be effective, you lost pretty close to a year to actually influence the situation on the ground.”

Even with no decision yet made, Carafano said it was significant that Trump and his national security team went off site to Camp David to discuss options.

“Obviously I wish the process had gone on sooner, I think part of that is the difficulty of the decision. Afghanistan involves a lot of moving pieces and you have to make a commitment that will stick longer over time,” he said.

Mattis, meanwhile, promised again Thursday that the administration is “coming very close to a decision, and I anticipate it in the very near future.”

Earlier this month, Trump assured reporters of the same thing at his club in New Jersey.

“We’re getting close. We’re getting very close,” Trump said. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy.”

http://thehill.com/policy/defense/347178-trump-again-puts-off-afghanistan-war-decision

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Steve Bannon Leaves White House Staff

August 18, 2017

Controversial strategist pushed President Trump toward nationalist, populist agenda

Steve Bannon helping with last-minute preparations before President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement at the White House on June 1 in Washington, D.C.
Steve Bannon helping with last-minute preparations before President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement at the White House on June 1 in Washington, D.C. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
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Aug. 18, 2017 12:55 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon left his position Friday, as the newly minted Chief of Staff John Kelly sought to bring order to a White House riven by infighting and power struggles, according to people familiar with the decision.

Mr. Bannon’s departure marks the fourth senior White House official to leave the president’s administration in the past five weeks, which has yet to see a major legislative victory despite serving with a Republican-controlled Congress.

The former banker and media executive is credited with shepherding Mr. Trump to victory in last year’s election. He joined the campaign in the final months when Mr. Trump was trailing in the polls by double digits. He put an end to news conferences by his candidate and pushed for more rallies and a focus on closing the border, renegotiating international trade deals, and eviscerating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with personal attacks.

Bannon’s Critics: Alt-Right Is Wrong for White House
Trump spokespeople rushed to defend the president-elect’s pick of Steve Bannon for senior White House strategist. Democrats and advocacy groups denounced Bannon as a proponent of the Alt-Right, a movement that includes white nationalists. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports.(Originally published Nov. 4, 2016)
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Among White House staff, he was the most associated with the conservative, populist nationalism bent espoused by Mr. Trump during the campaign and in the White House. His departure could give rise to more moderate voices in the administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

While the relationship between the president and Mr. Bannon ebbed and flowed, the breaking point came after liberal political magazine American Prospect published an extended interview in which he referred to white supremacist groups as “clowns,” said the president’s pro-business advisers were “wetting themselves” and—contrary to the president’s public positions—dismissed the potential for military action in North Korea.

Mr. Bannon’s allies said he didn’t intend his discussion with the American Prospect to be on the record.

Mr. Bannon’s exit comes after a week in which the president has come under fire for his response to racially charged protests in Virginia. One woman was killed during the violence when a car driven by an alleged white supremacist plowed into a crowd of counter protesters.

The president initially said both sides were to blame for the clashes. On Monday, after facing heavy pressure, Mr. Trump issued a statement singling out white supremacists for blame. But then Tuesday, he delivered one of the most combative news conferences of his presidency, again saying both sides were to blame.

Inside the White House, Mr. Bannon had argued against issuing Monday’s “white supremacists” statement, telling the president that he would be criticized in the media for changing this position, said one person familiar with the exchange.

Later in the week, Mr. Trump doubled down on another of his chief strategist’s recommendations: lamenting the removal of statues commemorating Confederate leaders by likening it to a whitewashing of American history.

In a Trump administration filled with political outsiders, Mr. Bannon is among the most colorful, and the most controversial. He texts and emails with colleagues around the clock, and is known for his unkempt appearance and for dropping obscure quotes from John Wayne movies or ancient philosophers into casual conversation.

Mrs. Clinton sought to turn Mr. Bannon into a campaign issue, arguing his arrival showed Mr. Trump was “taking hate groups mainstream.” Before joining the campaign, Mr. Bannon was head of Breitbart News, which he once described as a “platform for the alt-right.” Breitbart has published such articles as “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.”

In a phone call with Mr. Trump several weeks ago on an unrelated subject, Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) pushed back hard against the idea of getting rid of Mr. Bannon, according to a person familiar with the matter. Conservatives from the tea party movement have viewed him as a crucial link to the White House.

Mr. Meadows, who is part of the House Freedom Caucus, didn’t immediately comment on Friday. His group, consisting of several dozen Republicans, doesn’t have enough members to drive the GOP agenda, but it is big enough to deprive House Republicans of the votes they would need to advance legislation with only GOP support.

Among conservative activists and Bannon allies, there are deep concerns about the former Breitbart CEO’s ability to influence the administration from the outside in the same way he had at times from his office just steps from the Oval Office. Additionally, they worry about the president moving toward the political center without Mr. Bannon involved in policy fights, the person said.

“I see New York Democrats and generals in ascendancy, and that is not what we ran on in 2016,” the person continued. “So it worries me.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/steve-bannon-leaves-white-house-staff-1503075345

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Trump Tells Aides He Has Decided to Remove Stephen Bannon

August 18, 2017

President Trump has told senior aides that he has decided to remove Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist who helped Mr. Trump win the 2016 election, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion.

The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time.

As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but it was delayed in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.

Mr. Bannon had clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers and members of the president’s family.

But the loss of Mr. Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative news media base that supported him over the past year.

Mr. Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Mr. Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire so-called nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Mr. Bannon.

On Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Mr. Trump refused to guarantee Mr. Bannon’s job security but defended him as “not a racist” and “a friend.”

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Steve Bannon May Be Fired At Any Moment

August 18, 2017

 

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, in April at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

By ELLIOTKAUFMAN

August 18, 2017 12:14 PM
@ESTERLINGK

Jonathan Swan of Axios, a very fine reporter, has just written that Chief of Staff John Kelly’s review of White House staff is coming to an end — and that Steve Bannon appears to be on the chopping block. “A decision is imminent,” Swan writes.

More fascinating is that the decision seems to rest in Kelly’s hands. Apparently, President Trump now suspects Bannon has been responsible for a series of damaging leaks about his colleagues in the West Wing. His recent on-the-record news dump to a left-wing reporter, in which he bad-mouthed other members of the White House staff, cannot have helped either.

Bannon may still survive, however. Swan notes that he appears unfazed and that Trump will have to consider whether Bannon can damage him from outside the administration, or cost him the support of billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, valuable Trump allies.

Image result for National Review, logo

“Get ready for Bannon the barbarian,” warned a source close to Bannon.

But this may not be enough to save his job: “Many West Wing officials are now asking ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ Bannon goes,” according to Swan.

Chief of Staff Kelly would have good reasons to fire Bannon. As National Review’s David French has written, “Bannon’s actions indicate that, if nothing else, he’s a vicious opportunist.”

This opportunism has led him not only to indulge some of the elements of the hateful alt-right, but also to wage a vicious media campaign against national-security adviser H. R. McMaster, with Bannon’s allies falsely accusing him of being anti-Israel and an alcoholic.

David puts it with characteristic clarity: “Vindictive men who promote the work of racists and normalize their ideas obviously shouldn’t be within 100 miles of political power, never mind two steps from the Oval Office.”

We would do well to remember that as Kelly makes his ultimate decision.

It has become even more difficult to defend Bannon now that, as Charles Krauthammer explained last night, Bannon is openly contradicting the president and attacking other White House staff to left-wing reporters. Kelly will have to keep all of this in mind as he makes his final decision.

Will Bannon be more damaging to the president from the outside than from the inside?

We may soon find out.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/450603/steve-bannon-firing-may-be-imminent

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Why Trump thinks he can win on race

August 18, 2017

BBC News

    • 18 August 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2017REUTERS

On Wednesday night the talk of Washington was whether Steve Bannon, thanks to his candid interview with Robert Kuttner, the co-founder of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, had ensured his own dismissal as a senior presidential adviser.

On Thursday morning it became readily apparent that, whether or not Mr Bannon remains, Bannonism – if that’s what it can properly be called – is firmly entrenched in the White House.

Donald Trump, in a series of tweets, bashed his Republican opponents and the media and defended Confederate Civil War monuments – the cause for which white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched last weekend.

The president appears to be forcing exactly the kind of fight with progressive groups that Mr Bannon, in his interview, said he welcomed.

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” Mr Bannon said. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, in April at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

On Tuesday and again on Thursday the president made a decided effort to shift the debate from one about the acceptability of white nationalism – a gentle way of describing the racists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners who marched with torches and fought with counter-demonstrators last weekend – and onto more stable footing.

A recent Marist poll shows that a majority of Americans support (62%) allowing “statues honouring the leaders of the Confederacy” to “remain as historical symbols”.

Image captionBannon may be out of favour but not his ideology

While the survey question was a bit loaded (the other option was to remove them “because they are offensive to some people”), the bottom line is clear.

While Americans overwhelming reject racism and white supremacists, a debate over weather-worn statues cuts much more in Mr Trump’s favour.

Liberals will point out that the “historical” nature of the statues includes that they were largely erected in the early 20th Century, when southern states were codifying government-sanctioned segregation; that some of these “beautiful” statues, in Mr Trump’s words, are accompanied by exceedingly racist text; and that local governments, reflecting the will of their residents, are the ones opting to remove the statues.

That is all well and good, but if that debate also means Democrats abandon bread-and-butter economic issues, Mr Bannon’s side will welcome the exchange.

More than an issue of race, Mr Trump set up his defence of the statues as an attempt to protect a way of life under attack.

“You are changing history and culture,” the president said on Tuesday.

And in his tweet on Thursday: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”

With his “ripped apart” imagery, Mr Trump is playing into the anxiety of Americans – explicitly about the anxiety over cultural change, but those sentiments go hand-in-hand with the financial uncertainty and upheaval that has wracked the nation since the Great Recession of 2008.

That was a central theme of Mr Trump’s winning presidential campaign, an appeal to lower-middle- and middle-class voters who, even if they weren’t personally devastated by the economic freefall and slow rebound over the preceding eight years, could see the chasm from where they stood.

“These are men and women who are, in the main, still working, still attending church, still members of functioning families, but who often live in communities where neighbours, relatives, friends and children have been caught up in disordered lives,” was how New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall describes them.

“The worry that this disorder has become contagious – that decent working or middle class lives can unravel quickly – stalks many voters, particularly in communities where jobs, industries and a whole way of life have slowly receded, the culminating effect of which can feel like a sudden blow.”

Mr Trump railed against change – a return to when America was “great”. And the statue debate, as he’s constructing it, snugly fits that theme.

In his interview, Mr Bannon dismissed what he called “ethnonationalists” as a “collection of clowns”, but that view seems more an attempt to put his liberal interviewer at ease.

Elsewhere, Mr Bannon has boasted that Breitbart, the publication he used to head, was a “platform for the alt-right” – the anodyne term for the collection of white nationalist groups that have seen a resurgence in power and numbers as Mr Trump campaign gathered strength.

Mr Bannon needs nationalists of all stripes – white, economic, even left-leaning populists and anti-trade liberals like Kuttner – for the new political order he hopes to build that will be willing to wage an economic war against China.

Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother: ‘They tried to kill my child to shut her up’

“To me the economic war with China is everything,” Mr Bannon said. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”

Standing between himself and a successful prosecution of this showdown are global elites, including establishment politicians, the mainstream media, financial conglomerates and even Trump administration officials like Goldman Sachs executive turned White House economic advisor Gary Cohn.

If these themes sound familiar, it’s because they were interwoven into Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, particularly after Mr Bannon joined the team in August 2016. They were also a central focus of Mr Trump’s combative inaugural address in January.

If one squints the right way, all of Mr Trump’s recent actions can be seen as part of this overarching strategy. There’s the non-stop battles with the “fake news” mainstream press. The seemingly unnecessary fights with members of his own party, including Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. And the recent announced administration probe of Chinese intellectual property practices, with promises of more trade actions to come.

Squint another way, of course, and Mr Trump’s strategy devolves into the fits and starts of a chief executive who reacts to perceived slights and counter-punches whenever he feels disparaged. The embrace of the Confederate statues is a response to liberal criticism of his handling of the Charlottesville unrest. The feuds with Republicans are because they won’t do his bidding. The media-bashing is because reporters aren’t treating him with appropriate respect.

What Trump said versus what I saw – by the BBC’s Joel Gunter

“I think the president enjoys a scrap with the press,” says Ron Christie, a former adviser to President George W Bush. “I think he believes this is about him and the press and how he’s going to beat the press. What he doesn’t recognise is that the importance of being the president of the United States is to unify the country, to bring people together and to heal divisive wounds.”

As Nancy Cook and Josh Dawsey write in Politico, Mr Trump’s behaviour can be boiled down to a collection of anger triggers.

“White House officials and informal advisers say the triggers for his temper are if he thinks someone is lying to him, if he’s caught by surprise, if someone criticises him, or if someone stops him from trying to do something or seeks to control him,” they write.

If Mr Trump’s actions are part of a larger strategy, and not a fit of pique, there is also the question of whether it’s correct to attribute this to Mr Bannon at all.

While he appears more than willing to take credit for the strategy, the larger themes of the Trump “movement” – border security, aggressive trade protectionism, immigration reform and a certain kind of cultural nostalgia – were well in place before his arrival, as Mr Trump himself likes to point out.

Mr Bannon may have given ideological focus to what was a flailing Trump campaign last August, but the raw material was all Trump’s. And this week – as always – the man at the lectern, the man with his finger on the Twitter trigger, is the president.

The “Make America Great Again” slogan isn’t Bannonism. It’s Trumpism. But whatever you call it, that strain of politics is woven into the fabric of this presidency.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40965827

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Steve Bannon, Unrepentant — Interview with Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect

August 17, 2017

Steve Bannon, Unrepentant

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Steve Bannon on the phone, December 9, 2016

You might think from recent press accounts that Steve Bannon is on the ropes and therefore behaving prudently. In the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, he is widely blamed for his boss’s continuing indulgence of white supremacists. Allies of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster hold Bannon responsible for a campaign by Breitbart News, which Bannon once led, to vilify the security chief. Trump’s defense of Bannon, at his Tuesday press conference, was tepid.

But Bannon was in high spirits when he phoned me Tuesday afternoon to discuss the politics of taking a harder line with China, and minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize his rivals at the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury. “They’re wetting themselves,” he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense.

Needless to say, I was a little stunned to get an email from Bannon’s assistant midday Tuesday, just as all hell was breaking loose once again about Charlottesville, saying that Bannon wished to meet with me.

Needless to say, I was a little stunned to get an email from Bannon’s assistant midday Tuesday, just as all hell was breaking loose once again about Charlottesville, saying that Bannon wished to meet with me. I’d just published a column on how China was profiting from the U.S.-North Korea nuclear brinkmanship, and it included some choice words about Bannon’s boss.

“In Kim, Trump has met his match,” I wrote. “The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962.” Maybe Bannon wanted to scream at me?

I told the assistant that I was on vacation, but I would be happy to speak by phone. Bannon promptly called.

Far from dressing me down for comparing Trump to Kim, he began, “It’s a great honor to finally track you down. I’ve followed your writing for years and I think you and I are in the same boat when it comes to China.  You absolutely nailed it.”

“We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”

Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.

“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”

Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. “We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”

But what about his internal adversaries, at the departments of State and Defense, who think the United States can enlist Beijing’s aid on the North Korean standoff, and at Treasury and the National Economic Council who don’t want to mess with the trading system?

“Oh, they’re wetting themselves,” he said, explaining that the Section 301 complaint, which was put on hold when the war of threats with North Korea broke out, was shelved only temporarily, and will be revived in three weeks. As for other cabinet departments, Bannon has big plans to marginalize their influence.

“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”

But can Bannon really win that fight internally?

“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”

“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”

Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right. Hence the phone call to me.

There are a couple of things that are startling about this premise. First, to the extent that most of the opponents of Bannon’s China trade strategy are other Trump administration officials, it’s not clear how reaching out to the left helps him. If anything, it gives his adversaries ammunition to characterize Bannon as unreliable or disloyal.

More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication (the cover lines on whose first two issues after Trump’s election were “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump”) and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.

The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.

I asked Bannon about the connection between his program of economic nationalism and the ugly white nationalism epitomized by the racist violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s reluctance to condemn it. Bannon, after all, was the architect of the strategy of using Breitbart to heat up white nationalism and then rely on the radical right as Trump’s base.

He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

From his lips to Trump’s ear.

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

I had never before spoken with Bannon. I came away from the conversation with a sense both of his savvy and his recklessness. The waters around him are rising, but he is going about his business of infighting, and attempting to cultivate improbable outside allies, to promote his China strategy. His enemies will do what they do.

Either the reports of the threats to Bannon’s job are grossly exaggerated and leaked by his rivals, or he has decided not to change his routine and to go down fighting. Given Trump’s impulsivity, neither Bannon nor Trump really has any idea from day to day whether Bannon is staying or going. He has survived earlier threats. So what the hell, damn the torpedoes.

The conversation ended with Bannon inviting me to the White House after Labor Day to continue the discussion of China and trade. We’ll see if he’s still there.

http://prospect.org/article/steve-bannon-unrepentant