Bannon Was Foolish, But Was He Wrong?

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS August 21, 2017

Steve Bannon had little choice but to leave the White House staff after "telling tales out of school" to the American Prospect, a publication dedicated to destroying the Trump administration. Robert Kuttner, the co-founder/ co-editor of the magazine told The Washington Post, "I was just stunned that the conversation went on and on and on. He's talking strategy, and he's being incredibly indiscreet in the way he's trashing various colleagues."

Bannon's most damaging revelation was that the tide had turned from preventing North Korea obtaining a nuclear strike capability to simply trying to deter or defend against it. Bannon said: “There’s no military solution, 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.” 

The shift in tone was already evident from official pronouncements by other administration officials. President Donald Trump took heat from the Left for saying the Kim regime would "face fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it threatened the U.S or its allies. Yet, this was about retaliating against, not pre-empting, North Korea's arsenal. Bannon, among others, seems to have fallen for the notion that Pyongyang has escalation dominance in Asia, not the U.S. This is nonsense if one believes that Kim, though reckless, is not irrational. Any attempt by North Korea to attack any of its neighbors in the wake of even a limited pre-emptive strike against its nuclear and missile programs would mean the end of the Pyongyang regime. Escalation dooms Kim and he must be made to understand this; as must his backers in China. Kim is a spoiled brat; he is not cut out to be a martyr. And President Xi Jinping certainly does not want North Korea to go on a "death ride" that would impact Beijing's own security. So the military option must be prepared with the will to use it exhibited as support for U.S. diplomacy. Negotiations only succeed if the enemy knows that they will be worse off if the talks fail. Bannon was not just foolish, but dangerous in making public an American retreat. 

Though there is debate about how far along North Korea is in its warhead and missile programs, it is highly doubtful that Kim can carry out his threats to hit American targets, even Guam. So there is still time to head off his development of such a capability. If completed, the technology will be shared with Iran, creating an even greater threat given the more aggressive and fanatic nature of the Tehran theocracy. Beijing and Pyongyang have seen it all before: tough talk, sanctions, shows of force, then an easing of tensions that allows the Kin dynasty to continue its march forward. This time must be different, as time is running out. 

Bannon was on more solid ground with his statements about the need to confront Beijing. “We’re at economic war with China,” he said, “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." He made suggestions for turning the tide in the trade war China has been waging for decades----a war which has gained them nearly $2 trillion from the trade deficit alone in the last six years, plus capital investment and technology transfers, all of which have empowered the regime's overseas aggression. 

Bannon's most important suggestion was to file a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology from American corporations. This is a much more strategic policy than merely filing anti-dumping measures here and there, as important as those actions may be. China's rapid rise has been financed by American business interests who, as Bannon knows, have great influence among those in the Republican Party who place private profit ahead of national security. As communists, the Chinese have been quick to exploit the weaknesses in a "democratic capitalist" system that runs on campaign contributions. As a "populist nationalist" Bannon wants to remove this cancer from the body politic so the country can regain its strength in the continuing struggle for international preeminence. 

It is Bannon's pursuit of national unity that has been the focus of Left-wing critics who have tried to twist his views---and those of President Trump, into something so distorted that the claims of the critics must be labeled not just "fake news" but outright lies. For example, Bannon told American Prospect that the so-called "far right is irrelevant....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, help crush it more.” He then added, “These guys are a collection of clowns.” Yet, somehow, Kuttner came away still believing "that the president is doubling down on getting in bed with the racists and the neo-Nazis." Actually, if one continues to read the interview, they will find Bannon attacking the Left for being racists and arguing that such a stance will doom them. As he put it "If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” In America, you cannot be both a racist and a nationalist, since the country is filled with people from all over the world.           

On August 3, more than a week before the Charlottesville incident, President Trump held a rally in West Virginia. He closed his speech with lines used over and over during his campaign and since entering the White House; "We share one home and one glorious destiny. Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood. We all salute the same great American flag. And we are all made by the same almighty God. As long as we remember these truths, and who we are and what we are fighting for, America will never fail." This is the theme of national unity and is a direct rejection of any attempt to divide society on racial grounds; a rejection based on no less an authority than "almighty God." Who can mistake this? Only a media that ignores it.

The Left must destroy Trump's actual message. Its own ideology is based on disunity and class warfare, linked now to racial antagonism and mass alienation. Harold Meyerson, the Executive Editor of the American Prospect has called for President Trump's impeachment because of "his cultivation of neo-fascist forces like the ones we saw in Charlottesville." This is an obvious lie contradicted by a public record anyone can read. For good measure, Meyerson also claims Trump has shown a "preference for authoritarian regimes over democracies" but does not elaborate. Does this mean favoring the Saudi monarchy over the faux "democracy" of Iran? Or does Meyerson still think Venezuela is a laudable democracy?  

But the true test is, as Meyerson says, "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." There are no examples of this in the Trump administration, but plenty of examples of the Left embracing foreign anti-American movements. Indeed, it is the hallmark of the Left. For every young thug like James Alex Fields, the Charlottesville terrorist-killer who admired Hitler, there have been thousands of Leftists who have displayed portraits of Lenin, Mao, Che, Ho and Fidel on the walls of their dorm rooms, meeting halls, T-shirts and placards. Radicals who hate their own country are always tempted to embrace foreign idols, especially tyrants and mass murderers. It's the "romance" of revolution! 

The most successful counter to the Left's inherent lust for civil strife has always been nationalism; pulling people together for the common good in a cause larger than themselves. This is what has sent the Left into such a frenzy of "resistance." Donald Trump ran on an "America First" platform which was meant to be above partisan politics, as he had to defeat the Republican establishment before taking on the Democrats. Ironically, Hillary Clinton had to beat back a left-wing challenger to win the Democratic nomination. This was a good sign, since as Secretary of State she had favored a harder line than President Barack Obama, especially towards China. Her defeat, however, opened the flood gates to radicals who are opposed to the very idea of "making America great." Indeed, they reject out of hand the classic statement of nationalism presented by French historian Ernst Renan, "To have had glorious moments in common in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together and to wish to do more, those are the essential conditions for a people." In the current toxic mood of the streets, it must be remembered that not all the existential threats to the United States are overseas.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.


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