It seems that we are coming to the crux: President Trump, like Reagan before him, was elected by ‘the people’ rather than by (what Paul Craig Roberts calls the ‘ruling interest groups’): “As a high official in Reagan’s government who was aligned with Reagan’s goals to end stagflation and the Cold War, I experienced first-hand, the cost of going against the powerful interest groups that are accustomed to ruling. We took away part of their rule from them, but now they have taken it back. And, they are now stronger than before”. I too, experienced something of the panic that the end to the Cold War induced amongst the ‘ruling interest groups’ -- after all, American policy in the Middle East (and western Europe) was entirely dominated by an unstoppable momentum to cleanse it of all Russian influence. And then – ‘pop’ - the Soviet enemy suddenly, was ‘enemy’ no more. Yet, the ‘ruling interest groups’ were, by then, fully committed to a globalized (i.e. a culturally non-nationalist, consumerist, life-style,) rules-based, political and financial, ‘world’, shaped by the US. Serendipitously, after 9/11, terrorism emerged served to underpin the perceived need for a common defence-based, NATO-esque, global ‘order’, as the glue to America’s unipolar moment.
President Obama lay very much in the globalist ‘struggle for a democratic-liberal world’ mould, (though he did try to make the ‘ruling interests’ understand that there were limits: that there had to be boundaries to US commitments). In other words, Obama accepted the globalist premise, though he tried to mitigate some of its military impulses. Notably however, he acquiesced to re-heating the Russia ‘threat’ (after Medvedev gave place to Mr Putin (thus ending Obama’s hope to seduce Russia into the embrace of the global economic order).
But then Donald Trump, elected President by his deplorables’ base, made clear that he wished for détente with Russia, and even disdained the claims made on ordinary Americans by the maintenance of America’s unipolar global ‘order’. For this heresy, he has been punished by the manufactured ‘Russiagate’ non-scandal. “Can a president, concerned that he might be removed from office by a special prosecutor or possibly assassinated, resist the march toward war?” – asks Paul Craig Roberts, who asserts that the President has been effectively caged, by a trifecta of Establishment generals, on the one hand; and by a Goldman Sachs posse, on the other.
That the ‘ruling interests’ have managed substantially to contain President Trump is undeniable, but what is new, and perhaps - or perhaps, not - alters the calculus, is that these ‘ruling interests’ have had to come out from the shadows into the open. The former Acting Director of the CIA, Mike Morrell, an early voice peddling the Russian collusion meme now publicly admits in a surprisingly frank interview with Politico, his leading role in the intelligence community waging political war against President Trump, describing his actions as something he didn't "fully think through", adding that maybe it wasn't such a great idea to leak against, and bash a new president: “There was a significant downside”, Morrell acknowledges. Just to recall: Not only had Morell in an early NY Times op-ed piece asserted that he was committed to doing "everything I can to ensure that she [Hillary Clinton] is elected as our 45th president”, but he went so far as to call then candidate Trump "a threat to our national security”, while making the extraordinary claim that "in the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."
Now that Morrell has come clean, and the Robert Mueller investigation increasingly is publicly being revealed as a politicised hatchet operation, why then speak of a possible Bad Moon Rising? Well, simply because Morrell’s bout of candour does suggest that the Deep State now may be thinking compromise: It will give Trump some leeway, but will want its quid pro quo from him, too.
Some such signs of possible quid pro quo have been already apparent: Trump ate his campaign rhetoric on Afghanistan to allow the US military to persecute its (long and unsuccessful) war there. The Pentagon too, has announced that 2,000 US military, and an additional large number of contractors, will stay on in north-eastern Syria without specific time limit – after the end of anti-ISIS operations there. And fresh troops have been inserted into Iraq, and deployed to within 100 kms of the Iranian border. The ostensible justification is that with ISIS’ defeat – a void has opened, and into this ‘void’, Iran might penetrate. Only an aggressive US military presence might stop it, it is said. But American forces in Syria have been becoming ‘aggressive’ there too (against Russian Aerospace Forces, and not just Iranians) – as this report by RT makes clear:
(A US F-22 fighter was preventing two Russian Su-25 strike aircraft from bombing an ISIS base to the west of the Euphrates November 23, according to the Russian Defence ministry).
General Igor Konashenkov said: “The [USAF] F-22 launched decoy flares and used airbrakes while constantly maneuvering [near the Russian strike jets], imitating an air fight”. He added that the US jet “ceased its dangerous manoeuvres” only after a Russian Su-35S fighter jet joined the two strike planes, [chasing away the F22]. “Most close-mid-air encounters between Russian and US jets in the area around the Euphrates River have been linked to the attempts of US aircraft to get in the way [of the Russian warplanes] striking against Islamic State terrorists”, the general said.
The statement came as a response to the Pentagon’s claims about Russian or Syrian aircraft crossing “into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the spokesman for US Air Force Central Command, told CNN earlier on Saturday.
Konashenkov said that any claims made by US military officials concerning the fact that there is “any part of the airspace in Syria that belongs to the US” are “puzzling.” Konashenkov also said that “Syria is a sovereign state and a UN member. And that means that there… can be no US airspace ‘of its own’”.
All of this rather looks as though the US military wants to flex muscle and is ‘looking for trouble’ with someone. Operational military co-ordination in Syria between American and Russian militaries, deliberately is being allowed to wither (on the US side), I understand. President Putin it seems, has read the runes correctly, and is pre-empting this new US Deep State ‘purpose’ to protect the Middle Eastern (suddenly opening) ‘void’ – by announcing a part Russian military withdrawal from Syria. Putin is not ‘looking for trouble’ there. The job in Syria is done. He knows that the return of Russia to the Middle East stands as a ‘poke in the eye’ to decades of a neo-con doctrine of precisely trying to expel Russia from the region.
But … into this paradigm of US Establishment re-calibrated purpose: ‘to protect the Middle Eastern void’ from the likes of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hash’d al-Sha’abi and Hizbullah, percolating their influence across the region, President Trump has tossed his bombshell of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Trump had good domestic reasons for this act: the evangelical constituency within the Republican Party is significant (perhaps even fifty percent), and the Israeli Right (Sheldon Adelson has been a big Trump donor), and its powerful lobby, represents a ‘ruling interest’ that has a clout in DC that can match up to that of other components of the Deep State. It can, if it so chooses, cast an umbrella around an American politician.
In any case, ‘the act’ would have appealed to Trump’s delight in defying conventional wisdom (especially, if in so doing, he could snub his predecessor, too). It fits too, with his Art of the Deal methodology: weigh up the elements of power in your hands, and match them against those of your business opponent. And having done this analysis, where possible, remove or weaken your opponent’s components of strength - and build your own. From this optic, Palestinian ‘rejectionism’ in recognising Israel, and insisting on Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, was the primordial element to any Palestinian negotiating hand. Indeed, it has been pretty much all of it. And Trump simply KO’d it (or, so it may have seemed to him). Without Jerusalem, and the withholding of recognition of Israel remaining as Palestinian negotiating cards, the negotiation becomes banal. It is then just about ‘real estate’, and the amount of money required to get to a Palestinian ‘yes’. It is a particularly western way of negotiating: the weighing and balancing of literal components of power. It is not however the Hizbullah ‘way’ (I speak with a modicum of experience). Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (Secretary General of Hizbullah) simply recast Trump’s play: asymmetrically.
‘Yes’, he said: Jerusalem is indeed ‘the core, the axis and the essence of the Palestinian case’. But that is the half of it. For Jerusalem – the Holy City – represents the core, and the essence of Muslim and Christian cultural identity. It is their history, their meaning, their sanctities. President Trump cannot ‘confiscate’ that identity, that history, and meaning – and simply give it to Israel. Nasrallah has called for Israel to be diplomatically isolated, for an Intifada, and for all movements and components to the resistance (Shi’i and Sunni; Christian and Muslim) to join the struggle for Jerusalem – the Holy City - and for al-Aqsa, the holy shrine, which is now in grave peril, he claimed. Nasrallah turned President Trump’s play from a ‘real estate’ tussle into a war of religious symbols - paradigm. His rendering makes it hard for so-called Muslim ‘moderates’ to deny Nasrallah’s casting of the conflict as one of emotionally charged spiritual symbols. They cannot, and are not. (See here, Abdul Bari Atwan, for example).
In sum, Nasrallah, backed by Iran, and in parallel by Egypt’s Sunni religious leadership of al-Azar, by Turkey (taking the Caliph’s mantle) and many others, has redefined President Trump’s Art of the Deal ploy -- not as one robbing the Palestinians of the heart of their cause, but as the re-ignition of the long struggle of all Muslims and Christians for Jerusalem, and all, for which it stands.
The American ‘ruling interests’ – after a long series of failures in the Middle East – will not abide yet more: they will retch at the thought of Israel challenged in this way; of Saudi Arabia humiliated and at Hizbullah and Iran in the vanguard of a regional campaign for Jerusalem, and for Palestine – and by implication, against those who have been seen willing to normalise with Israel.
A Bad Moon is rising: America is polarised at home; unitive government has splintered into departments at odds with each other, and with officials leaking on each other; with fake news abounding; with Congress gridlocked, and with American social and political fabric tearing apart. Against this background - can a president, concerned that he might be removed from office, and beset still by hitherto hidden ‘ruling interests’ now dragged out from the shadows into the public glare for their tawdry schemes, resist the march toward war – the original question posed by Paul Craig Roberts?
Either a war in North Korea (“the greatest threat facing America”, McMaster says), or an aggressive military show of force against ‘bad actor’ Iran – and in support of a failing Saudi Crown Prince. Is this the diversion that either a now exposed and vulnerable Deep State, and a hobbled President, might welcome as the chance to stand erect in public esteem? Both might share a common interest in escaping domestic problems to mount a show of American strength and military power. Very possibly they might, but oddly, the US military have chosen to leave American soldiers hostage and isolated in both cases: 30,000 US forces in the DMZ between the Koreas, and in smaller outposts in north-eastern Syria and in Iraq. This may turn out badly. Remember Beirut in 1983.