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Trump Isn't the Only One in the US Government We Should Fear
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People sitting in cafes in Baghdad under the rule of Saddam Hussein used to be nervous of accidentally spilling their cup of coffee over the front page of the newspaper spread out in front of them. They had a good reason for their anxiety because Iraqi newspapers at that time always carried a picture of Saddam on their front page. Defacing his features might be interpreted as an indication of disrespect or even of a critical or treasonous attitude towards the great leader.

Saddam Hussein invariably got star billing in the Iraqi press, but he would be impressed at the astonishing way in which it has become the norm in the US media for the words and doings of President Trump to monopolise the top of the news. Day after day, the three or four lead stories in The New York Times and CNN relate directly or indirectly to Trump. And, unlike Saddam, this blanket coverage is voluntary on the part of the news outlets and overwhelmingly critical.

Trump’s outrageous insults and lies have succeeded in keeping the spotlight firmly on him ever since he declared his candidacy for the presidency in 2015. Whatever else he may be, he is seldom boring, unlike so many of his defeated rivals and opponents who believed that his obvious failings must inevitably sink him.

One day they may be proved right, but that day is a long time coming; the open loathing for Trump on the part of much of the American media is curiously ineffectual because it is repetitious and no great disaster has so far hit America one year into his presidency. Commentators note that, for all his bellicose rhetoric, he has yet to start any wars – unlike all his Republican predecessors going back to President Ford.

The constant demonisation of Trump carries another danger that is under-appreciated and may produce a real-world disaster. The US media blames everything on him and respectfully portrays the bevy of generals who populate the upper ranks of his administration – Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser HR McMaster – as the only adults in the room. Yet it may turn out that they and other business and political figures, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the CIA chief Mike Pompeo, are more likely to bring about a war than Trump himself.

Just how poor is the judgement of the very people who are meant to be a restraining force on Trump was shown last month when Tillerson made a classic blunder that may have negative results for the US for years to come. On 17 January, he announced the US military forces would stay in Kurdish controlled north-east Syria after the defeat of Isis in order to weaken Iran and President Bashar al-Assad. Just three days later on 20 January, Turkey, predictably enraged at what it saw as a US territorial guarantee of a de facto Kurdish state, sent its forces across the Syrian border to invade the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Tillerson had unwittingly initiated a new phase in the Syrian conflict in which the US is self-isolated and Turkey, Russia, Iran and Assad had been brought closer together. The Kurds in Afrin, one of the few places in Syria not devastated by war, have to hide in caves as the direct result of the new US initiative.

Trump’s isolationism may be less risky than the neo-interventionism of his senior advisers. Reports from Washington suggest that the decision to get more fully engaged in the Syrian civil war was contrary to what Trump himself wanted. By this account, he would have preferred to use his State of the Union address to announce that the US mission in Syria had ended in triumph with the defeat of Isis and that he was withdrawing US ground forces. Instead, the decision went the other way as McMaster and Mattis supported by Tillerson successfully argued for keeping US ground forces in Syria and Iraq.

These senior officials were only advocating the consensus opinion of the US foreign policy establishment, as was swiftly illustrated by media commentators. Even as Turkish tanks were rolling into Syria, an editorial in The Washington Post was applauding Tillerson for having “bluntly recognised a truth that both President Trump and President Barack Obama attempted to dodge” – which is that the US needs a political and military presence in Syria.

What Trump and Obama were really dodging was repeating the post 9/11 US mistake in pursuing open-ended military ventures against multiple enemies in fragmented countries like Afghanistan and Iraq where it could not win. In the case of Obama, this sense of caution and ability to see what might go wrong was carefully calculated; in the case of Trump, the caution is instinctive and not always operative, but the end result was often the same.

Despite all Trump’s condemnation of Obama’s supposed weakness, his strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria did not differ much from his predecessor – that is until his chief security officials switched to an interventionist policy in Syria last month.

Traditional policy of relying on force to overcome all obstacles or what Obama nicknamed “The Washington Playbook” looks as if it is back in business. He privately condemned the US foreign policy establishment for being wedded to dubious allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in pursuit of over-ambitious objectives.

American strength in the world was ebbing before Trump, though the divisive and mercurial nature of his presidency is speeding up the decline. In every continent a power vacuum has opened up which is being filled by many eager candidates. They generally have the same ingredients of populism, demagoguery, authoritarianism and nationalism, though the quantities of each may differ, and they are certainly making the world a more dangerous place because they do not know the limits of their own power.

ORDER IT NOW

From Manila to Warsaw, there has been the rise of the mini-Trumps who tend to know the politics of their own country well, but be dangerously ignorant of that of other countries. It is in the nature of arbitrary rulers, who have suppressed domestic criticism, such as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, that they pursue exaggerated ambitions moving over ice that is always thinner than they imagine.

US power in the world is declining, having reached its peak between the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Two dangers are emerging: one is the feckless nature of Trump administration which acts as a sort of out-of-control wrecking ball, though the damage done is limited by Trump’s low attention span and divisions in Washington.

A second danger is the US foreign policy establishment. which has learned nothing new from past failures, which would like to restore US power to what it once was and is does not understand that this can no longer be done. This is “the Washington Playbook”, which Obama came to deride and ignore and is just as dangerous as anything Trump may do.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump, Neocons 
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  1. TILLERSON NEEDS TO BE TAKEN BEHIND THE WOODHED AND WHIPPED.
    The genocidal US needs to leave Syria as it’s there illegally. But dishonorable US could care less.

    If you are alive, you know the Israelis run the US & the Middle East chaos. So you better call Nettanyahu.

    • Replies: @Ilyana_Rozumova
  2. I don’t fear Trump.
    No American should.

  3. Cratylus says:

    Cockburn makes some excellent points but his equation of Obama’s and Trump’s policies in Syria is not one of them. Obama was hell bent on regime change and funded anti-Assad jihadists in Syria. Trump worked with Putin to get a successful cease-fire in southwest Syria, and Trump cut off the CIA funding of the jihadis in Syria.
    That is a helluva big difference.
    The imperial Elite in the MSM and “intel” agencies are working to torpedo these efforts as Cockburn reports.
    But I am afraid that Cockburn places himself a bit too close to the camp of The Respectables in the commentariat, both Left and Right, who simply do not cover truthfully or completely the peace moves of Trump and never, ever mention positively the moves to Detente 2.0. Given this bias against the truth we need more Deplorables commenting. And Cockburn might want to move a bit further toward the truth and away from the camp of The Respectables.

  4. Tenet says:

    Hilarious to read Cockburn’s establishment hatred against Trump. His schizophrenia seems to have burned his last independent braincells.

    Trump is “divisive” – for suggesting that existing immigration laws be followed? No, it’s the media you read that are divisive, Cockburn. Funny how you won’t say that.

    Trump has a “low attention span” while you can’t get enough of praising Obama? Trump has built a world-spanning business empire in the highly competitive market of luxury hotels. Obama has never had a real job. “But he a constitutional law professor!” No, he was given a class to lecture in because a Democrat donor demanded it. He was never a professor. In this class he taught Marxist propaganda. A picture shows him writing Salinsky theories about evil corporations on the black board. Obama’s four Marxist mentors in Chicago were all taught by Salinsky.

    That’s the man Cockburn praises. Claiming he was restrained in war? Hah! Obama TRIPLED the drone bombings on the Afghan-Pakistan border. And he planned to attack the Syrian government, to hand the country over to al-Qaeda (really just anti-Shia Sunnis from Iraq) as Israel wanted. He also flat-out lied about ending the occupation in Iraq “in seven months – you can take that to the bank.” He kept it going for three more years before withdrawing some of the occupiers.

    Obama did nothing to restrain Saudi Arabia’s murders, and kept the U.S. presence in Africa going. And so on. And so on. He was an obedient slave of the Israeli world order, attacking any country that supported the Palestinians. But because he limited his obedience only somewhat, neocons and Cockburns get a chance to label him as a peacenik. Hilarious.

    Obama also borrowed more money than all presidents before Bush combined. Bush was also a high- borrower, but Obama beat his eight-year borrowing spree in just three years. Obama’s Marxist views meant he couldn’t improve the economy other than through borrowing. In contrast to Trump, who knows to deregulate the immensely over-regulated U.S. market, and lower the record-high corporate tax that cripples U.S. businesses when competing with foreign corporations. That crippling was something Obama favored.

    Trump’s “obvious lies”, Cockburn? As opposed to the repeat-criminal Hillary? And the constant liar Obama, who did everything to fan anti-White hatred and lie on behalf of Black criminals? I suppose you think it’s a “lie” that immigrants commit massive crime in the West. Statistics are not something you’d bother to include in that statement – facts are so troublesome.

    You call Poland’s president a “mini Trump” – just come out and say “mini Hitler” since that’s what the leftist media creatures you suck up to like to growl. Yes, keeping murderers and rapists out of the country is so evil, right? You live in a protected area and you don’t have to take the subway to work, so what do you care? Disgusting.

  5. rta says:

    Trump may not have started any wars his first year but he certainly has continued the existing ones he inherited with vigor. Also, we still have North Korea simmering and the Iran nuke deal is still in the crosshairs. The idea that Trump is an isolationist is absurd.

    • Agree: bluedog
    • Replies: @bluedog
  6. El Dato says:
    @Tenet

    Well, Cockburn is syndicated in “The Independent” (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-rex-tillerson-establishment-media-iraq-syria-iran-turkey-a8191626.html) so don’t expect hard-hitting, “controversial” explanations.

    People reading “The Independent” don’t want to be shocked while they eat breakfast. A review the truths that “everyone knows” will do just fine. Same as watching a sitcom: you know it will be the same as yesterday. Safe.

  7. Joy says: • Website
    @Tenet

    Murderers? The US Army?

  8. Apparently, Andrew’s cock burns. Antibiotics can often help that. I think Rob Reiner must write this fool’s material. It is no different.

    • Replies: @ToivoS
  9. You have learned to love Big Brother.

  10. bluedog says:
    @rta

    Trump will continue both the Syria mess and the one in the Ukraine and Afghanistan which is nothing more than the Obama doctrine which is to bring Russia down,the only thing different is that Obama was/is a much smoother liar than Trump…

  11. US power declining? It’s about time! We ordinary citizens no longer benefit from our country’s position as Top Dog. We pay for it — in high taxes, mass immigration, and the terrorist target it paints on all of our backs.

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
  12. I would not say the United States is weaker than it was at the end of the last century But at that time our potential adversaries for sure were much weaker than they are today . We attacked Yugoslavia against the wishes of both China and Russia . But there was not anything they could do about this . We embarrassed both of them in Yugoslavia We accidently on purpose shot a missile into the Chinese embassy killed a few Chinese claimed it was a accident but the Chinese found out is was on purpose when George Tenet testified before congress he admitted he picked out the Chinese embassy as a target. When Yeltsin negotiated the end of the war with Milosevic He promised Milosevic Russian troops will be coming in with NATO troops and Russian soldiers will protect the Orthodox Christian civilians . But US general Wesley Clark issued order to shoot the Russian soldiers Aparantly NATO did not want any Christians protected . Those foolish orders destroyed Yeltsin’s liberal democracy in Russia . And from this day on China and Russia became very close friends again . They share military information and have both been arming as fast as they can . You might have noticed Russia is flying some pretty good planes in Syria . And the Chinese are always close by their Russian friends . They have been working together since 1999 because they don’t want NATO to do to them what NATO did to Yugoslavia .

  13. Mork D says:
    @Tenet

    I’m no fan of Obama. Nobel peace prize winner who ramped up the drone war.

    However, you need to not look at actions in a vacuum. Obama spent more in his first three years than GW Bush spent in eight? Remember that Bush left office with the economy in a free-fall? And that the bailout machinations were already underway before Obama took office? The economy needed a serious boost, which accounts for that level of spending.

    Don’t forget either that GW Bush slashed taxes upon gaining office, exacerbating the debt. Clinton left office in 2000 with the economy in a net surplus – you think that if you’re going to lambaste Obama for spending so much money, you ought to rail on Bush for reversing course at an extremely rare time when the deficit was actually shrinking. Then, of course, after slashing taxes, he got us involved in two wars of choice, both of which we’re still in 17 and 14 years later, which blew the deficit up.

    I’m not going to get into your views that Obama is a Marxist. Obama would have been a centrist Republican back in the 60s, before the GOP went all Bircher. You wouldn’t know an actual Marxist because anyone truly left-wing is marginalized by the Democrats before they have a chance (see Sanders, Bernie, who is a pretty moderate Social Democrat, and his treatment by the DLC.)

    • Replies: @Uebersetzer
  14. @Mork D

    Only a Hollywood Nazi from The Producers would think Obama was a Marxist.

  15. @eric the great

    Nice lesson eric… We never going to learn in MSM… Or 90& of schools..

    There should be some ancillary info explaining how the theives that get most of the fed tax scam money need to keep the wars going to enrich the arms boyz &
    the foreigners who own (our?) Federal Reserve plus keep the state with no borders growing bigger, stronger and more well entrenched in our politics… Yes????

    Thanks for your efforts to enlighten.!!!!!

  16. @JosephConrad

    Well?
    It is like gambling when you gamble to get money back what you have already lost.

  17. ToivoS says:
    @eric the great

    Thomas, thanks for bringing up Yugoslavia. Both Russia and China certainly did get seriously burned during that period. And yes you are right that the Chinese to this day believe that the US hit their embassy in Belgrade purposely. It is a formal possibility that it was an accident as Clinton claimed, but the fact is that the Chinese do not believe so, they think it was deliberate.

    Attacking embassies is a very sensitive point with the Chinese. They remember how Western powers responded during the Boxer rebellion when foreign embassies in Peking were attacked. The British blamed the late Ching dynasty goverment and attacked them militarily seriously undermining that government and leading to its downfall.

  18. ToivoS says:
    @Anonymous White Male

    Andrew?? You must be referring to Patrick’s younger brother. He has nothing to do with this article.

  19. Daddy0 says:

    What a depressing thread under the article. Are usains that incapable of critical thinking that they cannot see their default split on every subject along partisan lines is the chief enabler of DC corruption, incompetence & stupidity?
    Cockburn actually paid agent orange a compliment in a backhanded sort of a way when he asserted the donald had tried to resist continued illegal occupation of the sovereign state of Syria.
    Instead of taking the compliment and expanding upon it, the elephantisists have decided to act all offended. Meanwhile the donkeyoatists are crying foul and regurgitating the stale zionist talking points they have been spouting incessantly throughout the 21st century.
    Sort yer shit out amerikans, lest the rest of the world is forced to do it for you.

  20. @eric the great

    In retrospect, the Russians were very lucky that Yeltsin’s ‘”liberal democracy” was destroyed. The rise of Putin saved them from the Jewligarchs (Berezovsky, Khodorokovsky, et al.) who were systematically looting and degrading their country.

  21. I didrespecfully disagree, this article is but one more of gatekeepers attempt to hide the fullness of
    US and NATO/EURO successes in Empire building.
    These constant diatrades of US losing power by not pointing out its real success. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan all of which have enhanced both Certain groups of US and Euro economies.
    Opening of all of Afghan resources including pipelines from above there that fuels Balkans and Euro manufacturing energy needs.
    No power outside Euro NATO, Britain’s Colonies and US can get contracts in Iraq without first going through US Embassy in Green Zone, a now sovereign entity by itself.
    Looking at S. And Latin Americas, how many nations have rulers not installed by US and almost fully dependent upon them and Euro financials?
    One, just one, Venezuela and the pressures placed upon its oil dependency, paid subversive in country has almost brought the economy into chaos.
    Just recently US controlled International banking concerns have targeted Venezuelan sovereign nations account; confiscating on excuses without rational reason
    African nations, over 28 now have US military enbedded within each nations military. All those nations Sovereign banking under US, euros World Monetary Fund and permanently indebted to Euro consortium of financial institutions.
    Phillipines and Japanese Along with South Korea’s islands off of main ones have US military installations.
    With those on land bases increasing in size and scope of operations increasing monthly. Zasian waters see a floating city which is co.pletely US military and home to over 30 000 US military arms.
    These stories of lessening US power only fuels a lie, a lie that real powers exploit overtly and covertly. That demand constant expansion of Empire military might.
    And biggest hidden lie of all the need for powers to complete its social engineering of populist into a Fascist Police State.

  22. @Fidelios Automata

    ” our country’s position as Top Dog.”

    Thanks for the laugh, Top dog is, of course Switzerland or Norway, perhaps Singapore.

  23. @eric the great

    What is this “potential adversaries” shit?

    The US is uniquely blessed in having no meaningful threats.

    Lunatics like Insane McCain have to scour the globe to justify the violence.

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