Special to WorldTribune.com
First of Two Parts
By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
It may be that the Washington, DC, campaign to isolate, capture, and subdue U.S. President Donald Trump has finally succeeded. If so, what does that mean for the global strategic environment? Does Donald Trump have options to regain control of the situation?
Progress toward a United States global strategic revival had been progressing strongly and steadily since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20. He seemed set to reverse several decades of U.S. strategic stagnation and decline.
This was despite an unprecedented abandonment of U.S. democratic processes, which included the repudiation of Trump’s election by his political opponents and many politicians of his own party.
Many refused to accept his election and his right to hold office, and those rejectionists — essentially the urban globalists who voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton — were the ones who also had most of the U.S. media arrayed alongside them.
No matter that the media and urbanists lost the election; they continued their war against Trump and those they perceived as “nationalists” in a manner unprecedented in U.S. politics.
Donald Trump, when he entered office, failed to realize that he would find virtually no support from what had become an entrenched political and bureaucratic class in Washington, DC. At best, his putative allies in the capital would abandon him and would help to destroy the loyalists Trump brought with him into the government.
At worst, those “allies” would formally and informally abet those who ideologically feared him, failed to understand him, or who merely hated the threat he represented. That “threat” he represented was a commitment to a policy of nationalism and national interest — or at least national identity — which had been the basis for the growing success of the United States over most of the preceding two centuries.
Meanwhile, Trump’s loyalists would, one-by-one — some with cause and some without — be stripped away from the White House and ridiculed by a politically-motivated media into political impotence.
If the scale of the attacks and the refusal to accept an election outcome was unprecedented, the methodology of overpowering and subduing a newcomer to Washington was by no means a new phenomenon in U.S. politics.
The “Washington machine” has gained increasing efficiency in taking the elected officials delivered by an idealistic electorate and re-shaping those “short- timers” to the amorphous acolytes of the “long-timers”: the Washington machine cogs.
As a provocative historical analogy, the “Washington machine” — which is not entirely a Washington, DC, phenomenon — spewed one of the most successful U.S. presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, into his final, desperate act in Brazil’s River of Doubt after the 1912 election.
And, just before his first year in office was over, it dragged Donald Trump into the Swamp of Despair.
The message in both instances was clear: do not attempt to disrupt the status quo; in the U.S. sense, this meant do not attempt to disrupt the two-party system, nor the rights and continuity of the structures within them.
Neither is this phenomenon, of the protection of the status quo and compounding entrenchment of centralization of government, unique to the U.S. power center. It is a human phenomenon throughout history. Do not, without a strategy, threaten the rice bowl and processes of people with power.
Their reaction is logical and predictable.
This behavior is paralleled in Whitehall, Moscow, Canberra, Ottawa, Beijing, Brasilia, and elsewhere. It is, more than anything else, about job protection for those already within the framework of power. The process of co-option is the natural induction of political or bureaucratic newcomers to the power center into the established “way of doing things”. The absorption of newcomers, particularly firebrands wishing to change the system, provides a smoother sense of continuity; it appears as evolution, rather than revolution.
When Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, wanted revolutionary change in the U.S., he introduced his agenda cloaked as continuity. Trump — and his support base — saw this as hypocrisy, reacted strenuously against it, and sought dramatic change. “Revolution”, in essence, to achieve the status quo ante.
Their response — their threat to Washington — was that they would “drain the swamp”.
Counter-revolution was therefore called by those who had supported President Obama and his Democratic Party heir designate, Hillary Clinton. They had already seen — and electorally counted upon — the great divide emerging in the U.S. electorate, between the urban globalists and the regional nationalists. With demography favoring the cities [urbanization in the U.S. had risen from 60 percent of the population in 1960 to 82 percent by 2016], the urban-core Democratic Party felt that it could prevail in the 2016 and all subsequent elections.
Equally, the regionalist/nationalist voters felt that this was a final opportunity to stop the “de-nationalization” of the United States, in a similar fashion to the regionalist/nationalist voters in the UK, in June 2016, voting to withdraw Britain from the European Union. The “remain” advocates — essentially the London bubble — had felt that demographics and momentum were on their side.
In the U.S., even in the run-up to the 2016 elections, the team around former President Obama and Hillary Clinton believed that they were already engaged in a conflict between their view of the future, versus the regionalist/nationalist view of the past.
What was significant was that the interests of the Obama/Clinton urban globalists seemed to coincide at least partially with the interests of the Republican Party establishment in Washington. Trump was seen as a disruptor of both.
The response, the push-back by the urban globalists has been emerging in the distinct pattern — now becoming evident physically — of the “color revolutions” which transformed political realities in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, and which were key foundational approaches to the “Arab Spring” series of events. Significantly, the players and methodologies of that international pattern of color revolutions overlap with the new “U.S. color revolution” well advanced now against the Trump Presidency.
The financial and political backing for the so-called color revolutions has been well documented since the methodology was begun in the 1990s. The pattern, and the players, in the emerging U.S. color revolution is true to form.
So, by Aug. 18, 2017, Donald Trump was, in many ways, alone in the White House. His last truly independent, original big thinker, Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, had been removed (or forced to resign) as advisor.
Next to go, in all probability, would likely be Deputy National Security Advisor Sebastian Gorka who had, in any event, been investigating new career opportunities.
So those of any consequence who were left around the President by late August 2017 were, to varying degrees, reflections of the status quo. They gave priority to process as opposed to outcomes; to what is said rather than what is done.
Trump and his supporters saw that it was the process which was failing the United States, and that specific goals — outcomes — needed to be set. And the process which prevailed in Washington was one which gave greatest weight to military solutions to all strategic challenges.
Trump’s delicate and unseen maneuvering regarding North Korea (DPRK) was about outcomes: getting a compliant Pyongyang to fall into a matrix of states which would create a new East-West Silk Road outside the control of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It was a new paradigm which would both restore U.S. influence in East Asia and boost the wealth and security of U.S. allies in the region: Japan, South Korea (ROK), and Taiwan (the Republic of China).
This would transform the global strategic framework, and would, in particular, rebalance U.S.-PRC strategic relations. The question now is whether such an outcome is possible.
Washington, after the Great Voter Storm of November 2016, had returned to normal by about Aug. 18, 2017. Fetid vapors again rose undisturbed from its languid and stagnant swamp-lands. The last vestiges of the Storm and its messenger appeared to have been swallowed into the decay.
Washington, DC’s denizens proclaimed a new victory over an in-cursive species which had attempted to disturb its sacred spaces. The Trumpeters vowed to rebuild those vaunted spaces, drained of their malarial pools. They would be the sunlit uplands they once were, before the long subsidence began.
The habitués claimed, after swallowing the insurgent, that they had re-taken the moral high ground.
But how can any swamp be a high ground?
The question is, if the “swamp” has swallowed Trump even to a greater degree than the Amazonian River of Doubt swallowed and almost destroyed Teddy Roosevelt, can any of the Trump agenda reach a successful conclusion?
Can the Trump strategy to seek a novel and sophisticated re-balance in the Asia-Pacific realm be achieved if the key Administration “strategists” are now generals who see purely military solutions to the DPRK “crisis”? Would a military exercise, seemingly favored by the Defense Secretary (retired Gen. James Mattis) and presumably the White House Chief of Staff (retired Gen. John Kelly) and National Security Advisor (Lt.-Gen. H. R. McMaster), yield the strategic outcomes which Trump (as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and ROK President Moon Jae-in) had envisaged?
In other words, would a military “solution” to the DPRK issue yield a better strategic outcome than the one which Trump has been pursuing? It hardly seems likely. And, yes, it possibly took away negotiating leverage for a White House official (then Chief Strategist Steve Bannon) to have been quoted publicly as saying that a military solution was not achievable in North Korea.
But the reality has been that the DPRK’s “threats” against the U.S. have always been to force the U.S. to acknowledge North Korean sovereignty. Bannon’s recognition of that actually showed how close the Trump White House was to final negotiations with Pyongyang.
Will those negotiations now occur in a fashion which could lead to the DPRK achieving some maneuvering room vis-à-vis the PRC and therefore to the creation of the logistical corridor from South Korea up through North Korea to Russia and then on to Western Europe (the second, non-Chinese “Silk Road”)?
The reality of the swamp’s capture of Donald Trump is that such an outcome is now less certain than it was when Trump had greater freedom to pursue his agenda.
Similarly, in the Middle East, Donald Trump had made considerable strides in re-inserting the U.S. into the Middle East in perhaps the only way possible, given the fact that the former Barack Obama Administration had destroyed ties with virtually all regional states except Qatar. The question now is: what out-of-the-box approaches will “the generals” have to positively re-engage in the region in what is essentially a post-Trump period of the Trump Administration?
The reality of the generals now engaged in the grand strategy arena — well beyond the military strategic roles they pursued earlier in their careers — is that they have demonstrated no real understanding of the great historical dynamics of the region, nor of the opportunities there. It is true that they could blame the grand strategy failures of the three previous administrations (not just in the Middle East) — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but were they, the military leaders who emerged during the period, not culpable or at least shaped by the U.S. failures over those decades?
Congress and the Intelligence Community, too, share blame for the U.S. strategic decline over the preceding decades since the end of the Cold War. What is significant is that there seemed to be no strategic learning curve based on failures of various U.S. approaches to global power projection during the post- Cold War period. And yet when a distinct alternative was offered by the electorate — someone who proposed a disruption of a pattern of strategic failure — the reaction of the urban globalist societies was to reinforce that unproductive behavior.
Was the PRC or Russia the reason for failed U.S. policy? Or “militant Islam”? Or did the PRC, Russia, “militant Islam” and other forces merely rise to fill the space made by a declining U.S. posture?
Well before his U.S. Presidency, and at the age of just 28, Abraham Lincoln noted:
“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever [it is] reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”