Sunday, 9 April 2017

Trump's Missile Strikes On Syria: Are The Neocons Creeping Back Into Power?

Donald Trump cartoon by Wendy Cockcroft
The neocons are a horrible lot. Reality-averse faith-driven ideologues who believe the end justifies the means, they believe that they and they alone have the answers to the world's problems despite the fact that they've only made them worse when they get involved. Trump voters voted against them; now it looks as though, in an effort to get away from the pointing and laughing, Trump is permitting them to set policy on Syria. This is the state of play.

Who are the neocons?

Neoconservatism began in the 1960s among right-leaning Democrats who disagreed with the party's foreign policy. For nearly sixty years they have influenced politics in America by promoting interventionism in other countries to the advantage of American interest in the think tanks American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Result: autocratic dictatorships propped up because they aligned with American interests; endorsement and promotion of trickle-down economics. Under President George W. Bush they unleashed the full fury of their ideological blindness and stupidity on Iraq and Afghanistan, the results of which are with us today. They continued under President Barack Obama, who retained most of the Bush appointees, and have been kicked to the kerb (and to the Democrat party) by the advent of Trump. Lodged in the heart of the Establishment, they've got easy access to the mass media, where they can peddle their propaganda to both sides of the political aisle. This article sums them up neatly:

In the summer of 2002... I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush... he told me... that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." - Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush, by Ron Suskind for the New York Times Magazine

That the realities they create wreak havoc for generations doesn't bother them; they forget that we don't just study them, we're trying to survive them.

Why do they remain in power?

Neocons want to remake the world in an idealised American image; it's a post-colonial white man's burden thing — effectively they want to save the world from itself, particularly if it seems like it may be turning towards socialism or variant thereof. Since they tend to seek positions in influential areas such as think tanks, politics, and the media, they are able to build alliances with people whose views are similar enough to their own to enable them to get things done. For almost sixty years they've used sophistry and intellectualism to lend respectability to their policy positions and thus have managed to work their way into the heart of the Establishment where they continue to wield influence even when they've fallen out of favour. Ultimately, it's their appeal to American chauvinism that keeps them where they are.

What are they up to now?

Regime change is the name of the neocon game. They've been after Iran for some time; Syria is just a sideshow. When Trump and his cronies pushed them out it looked as though America was getting out of the intervention game. Then plummeting approval ratings, global mockery, and a growing movement to push him out of office caused Trump to rethink his positions. The catalyst was the gas attack on Syrian civilians in Khan Sheikhun; it's hard to look at the heart-rending photos of Abdulhamid al-Youssef cradling his dead twins for the last time in their tiny shrouds before he buries them without wanting to do something about it.

"I will tell you, what happened yesterday is unacceptable to me," Trump told reporters at a news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday.

"And I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much," though when asked at an earlier meeting whether he was formulating a new policy on Syria, Trump said: "You'll see." - Trump says chemical attack in Syria crossed many lines - Reuters

So needless to say he's done something about it. But for all Nikki Haley's posturing at the United Nations it seems that there's a disconnect between what Trump wants the world to believe about him and what is actually happening.

New airstrikes targeted a town in Syria that was hit by a chemical attack earlier this week, activists said, less than a day after the US bombarded a Syrian air base to "send a message" to the Assad regime... A US defense official said Friday's strikes were not intended to damage runways or fully disable the base. Instead, the strikes hit aircraft, fuel storage, weapons dumps and other equipment, aiming to send a message to the Syrian regime that any use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated, the official said. - Syria strikes: Site of chemical attack hit again  - CNN

Despite this, Establishment news outlets are hailing Trump as "presidential" because he bombed some stuff, even though it was mostly for show, not to do real damage to Syrian people-gassing capabilities. They are also reporting his statements in a way that make him sound sober, thoughtful, and downright spiritual, even as they struggle to work out what he's likely to do next. The idea is clearly to get him on board with their regime change agenda. Whether or not it works depends on how desperate he is to build on his improving approval ratings.

What about Trump's base?

The trouble with populism is that you owe your support to whoever it is you are popular with. Trump swept to power on a wave of malcontentment, the idea being that he'd wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Now that he's going back on some of his most cherished promises he risks alienating the very people who put him in office.

Trump's detractors aren't being won over

Journalist Conor Friedersdorf is not impressed:
Neither is conservative author Patrick S. Tomlinson:
Journalist Sulome Anderson‏ has pointed out something interesting:
There's also the matter of constitutionality (Trump didn't bother to consult Congress about the air strikes) and the fact that they're unlikely to make a dent in terrorism — except perhaps to make it worse. Still, they have provided some justification. Meanwhile, Trump-supporting PACs are using the strikes to ask people for money.
That is more cynical than I am! Meanwhile, Trump's policies are shifting to a right-of centre position and the neocons are moving into the widening gap left by Steve Bannon's long, groaning exit. If the reports of his feuding with Jared Kushner are true, we may find that Bannon become one of Trump's detractors after doing so much to help him get elected.


If Trump turns neocon, Breitbart and Fox will surely turn against him. If the forces that put him into office and help to maintain his popularity turn against him he may struggle to regain their favour.  Nonetheless, Ivanka and Jared Kushner tend towards centrist positions and the media is writing nicer things about him now. Given that Bannon has heretofore overseen the most glaring failures of his administrations it seems reasonable to me that Trump might dump the anarchist and put up with being slagged off by weirdos in order to be accepted by the mainstream. Will it work, though, or will Trump's own impulsiveness scupper his attempt at gaining global respectability?

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