With regard to American foreign and security policy, President Donald Trump presents a paradox. Aside from some harsh bluster (“fire and fury” directed towards Pyongyang in the lead-up to an unprecedented US-North Korea summit), Trump generally seems to want more peaceful ties with the rest of the world and an end to wasteful and dangerous conflicts. On the other hand, if that is his intention, he’s been unable to make much headway with an establishment that constitutionally is totally under his authority but in practice seems to be almost entirely independent of his supervision.
For example, Trump expresses his desire the get US forces out of Afghanistan but then announces that contrary to his own preferences he’s putting more troops in. He meets in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin to achieve détente but then the State and Treasury Department immediately poison the well with more sanctions and evidence-free accusations of Russian meddling in the upcoming Congressional elections. Trump announces his willingness to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions but then is immediately overruled by über-President (a/k/a Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo.
Much of this reflects the nature of his appointments. As Lawrence Wilkerson details (“The Neoconservative Comeback”), Trump’s foreign and security policy apparatus is dominated by “the reentry into critical positions in the government of … the people who gave America the 2003 invasion of Iraq, [even] those many of them who declared ‘Never Trump’” in 2016. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single member of his top team, or even anyone identifiable in the secondary rank, who agrees with the Trump campaign vision of an “America First” national interest-based strategy that means getting along with Russia and China, versus unending, reckless, global hegemonism.
Well fine, one might say, that’s an explanation but not an excuse. In the end, it’s his own fault. He picked these people.
That’s true. But one still wonders Why. Does he not know better? Is he so supremely confident of his own ability to make the “final decision” that he doesn’t care how his underlings might seek to stack the deck to implement their preferences, not his? Are there no alternative personnel available, given the danger of ending up like General Mike Flynn? Is he just paying off his donors?
In the end, the Why may not matter as much as the What – which is that Trump’s policies, in substance, differ little in the end from what we would have gotten from a Mitt Romney or a Hillary Clinton administration:
- More NATO expansion, more deployments in the east, more sanctions and provocations against Russia. There is danger of an escalation in Ukraine, where Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko was just assassinated in a bomb blast and a major conflict – and perhaps a worldwide schism – may be about to break out over the status of the local Orthodox Church.
- Playing the “Muslim card” in the Balkans and against China in Xinjiang and in Myanmar(as a shot against Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative via the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor). When have western governments and media ever demanded that the so-called international community “do something” to save a non-Muslim population – anywhere?
- Further tightening the economic and financial screws on Tehran in the hopes of collapsing Iran’s economy, forcing Iran’s abrogation of the JCPOA with other powers (in the face of a predictable European wimp-out under threat of US secondary sanctions), and baiting Iran into some action such as a military move in the Strait of Hormuz that would “justify” an attack – all with the goal of regime change.
- Attempts to unravel the understandings reached at Singapore between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un by accusing Pyongyang of dragging their feet on denuclearization while pressing for renewed US-South Korea military drills (which Trump appears to be resisting). As Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com observes: “The North Koreans are no dummies: they know a regime change operation when they see one. As they watch our Deep State go after a democratically elected President whose hopes for peace complement their own, the North Koreans are waiting to see if Trump survives. I can’t say that I blame them.”
Raimondo’s reference to regime change is important. Since before he took office Trump was besieged within his own administration by a hostile phalanx of Democrats, almost all of the GOP establishment, the federal law enforcement and intelligence nomenklatura, and the media. It doesn’t help that his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, seems to think he has nothing better to do than crank up the civil forfeiture machine and give states a hard time for playing fast and loose with federal marijuana laws, while a criminal anti-constitutional conspiracy operates under his nose at the Department of Justice and the FBI in cahoots with elements of the US and British intelligence agencies.
Certainly Trump’s enemies and false friends, both inside and outside his administration, would love nothing better than to goad and cheer him into a splendid little war that, when it inevitably proves a disaster, would be blamed not on their globalist ideology but on someone they see as a shallow, superficial, unqualified Twitter-addicted unstable personality who never should have been allowed into the Oval Office. That would certainly alienate independents and maybe chip into his supporteven among his core Deplorables.
With the approach of an election that may produce a Democratic House of Representatives that almost surely will impeach him – a distinct possibility given voter fraud and government and corporate collusion to censor alternative and social media – Trump himself maybe be tempted toplay the death card. Ordering military actions is one of the few commands to his subordinates he can be confident will be carried out, since that is their overwhelming preference too. Plus, as we must well remember, on previous occasions when he ordered military strikes on Syria he won a brief respite from the constant pounding from his political and media antagonists, who instead praised his “leadership,” summed up in Fareed Zakaria’s moronic observation after the April 2017 strike on Syria: “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States” last night.
Whether Trump decides to lay down the Ace of Spades or the self-guiding machinery of power seeking to undermine him does so on its own, we are in for a run of heightened danger between now and Election Day (November 6). While there are a number of possible flashpoints, one theater stands out: again Syria, where the impending government offensive against the last significant area still held by jihadists, al-Qaeda-occupied Idlib, sets the stage for yet another false flag chemical weapons attack.
In an unusual move, Russian officials briefed the State Department on plans for a chlorine gas strike by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra Front, formerly just plain old al-Qaeda, with British special services “actively involved” in the “provocation,” which will “serve as another reason for the US, the UK, and France to hit Syrian government targets with air strikes.” US, British, and French forces have concentrated in the eastern Mediterranean in preparation for an attack against Syrian government forces (effectively in support of the al-Qaeda-led jihadists), and Russia has also beefed up its naval presence. Without any sense of irony, the State Department summarily dismissed Moscow’s warning as just “more false flag type reporting” – for the simple reason that it came from the Russians – and Deep State mouthpiece media like Bellingcat treat it as itself an indication that Damascus plans to use chemical weapons. As Caitlin Johnstone observes:
‘This past April the US, UK and France launched airstrikes against Damascus in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack allegedly perpetrated by the Syrian government against civilians in the city of Douma. The strike was launched with no investigation having taken place whatsoever into the nature of the civilian deaths, and subsequent investigation found no evidence implicating the Syrian government in a chemical attack. This is unsurprising, because the Syrian government had no incentive to use chemical weapons in a battle it had already won at that point and every incentive not to provoke the wrath of powerful western military forces just to suffocate some kids to death. [ . . . ]
‘Even if you dismiss the intelligence which Russia supplied to the US saying that a false flag chemical weapons attack is being prepared for in Idlib, it is self-evident that the jihadist militants would have every motive to stage one if given the opportunity.
‘Keep an eye on this one, please. Syria is a key strategic region that the western power alliance has been plotting to take control of for decades, and it is entirely possible that they will pounce on any opportunity to prevent the Syrian government and its allies from shoring up control of the nation and bringing stability to the region. Stay skeptical.’
It should also be noted that this scene is unfolding in the aftermath of an unusual peace overture to Damascus, under which the US offered to withdraw the illegal deployment of American troops on Syrian territory under three conditions. As described by Tom Luongo:
‘According to a recent report by Joaquin Flores at Fort Russ News, the U.S. offered a withdrawal plan to Bashar al-Assad of Syria with three conditions. What should be immediately obvious is that the U.S. offered the meeting and opened up the talks.
‘This is proof positive that the U.S. position in Syria is untenable and the U.S. [JGJ: or maybe just Trump?] is searching for a way out that will save a little face.
‘First: Iran’s full withdrawal from the Syrian south.
‘Washington: withdrawal from the [al-Tanf] and eastern Euphrates against three conditions, including giving us a share of oil.
‘Second: obtaining written assurances that US companies will receive a share of the oil sector in eastern Syria.
‘Third, to provide the Syrian side with the Americans with full data on the terrorist groups and their members, including the numbers of foreign victims of these groups and those who survived, and those who have the possibility of returning to Western countries, considering that “the terrorist threat is intercontinental, we can get hurt in the service of international security”.
‘The Syrian response to this generous offer could easily be termed as dismissive. Assad has no reason to guarantee the U.S. anything after its shameful display over the past seven years. [ . . . ]
‘Trump is surrounded by vipers and neocons (or do I repeat myself) who, despite his better instincts, fill him with nonsense which he then acts on without much reflection.
‘I still feel that Putin laid on him some very eye-opening information behind closed doors in Helsinki which is why the intelligence agencies freaked out afterwards. But, this offer to withdraw from Syria is, yet again with Trump, two steps forward and one step back. [ . . . ]
‘If Trump’s goal is peace in the region, then this operation needs to go smoothly and it will if it’s allowed to. But, that’s the problem. Once Syria’s settled it makes it easier for Trump to declare, “Mission Accomplished.”
‘If he doesn’t he’s going to have to go back to his base and tell them we need to stay to counter Iran? A country he keeps telling us is on the verge of collapse thanks to sanctions?
‘That’s not going to fly with his base who wants the empire dismantled. So, the argument for the false flag makes sense to trap Trump into having to stay, if not expand the conflict, to push Assad from office while damaging him at home on the eve of the mid-terms.
‘This is the trap that’s being laid right now because peace is not allowed to break out in the Middle East.’
As Trump considers the next card he must play in the coming weeks and days, he needs to know that most of those advising him – the vipers and neocons he has surrounded himself with – have at heart neither his interests nor America’s. If he plays the Ace of Spades and things go terribly wrong, he’s the one who will end up the Joker – or switching game metaphors, draw the card that tells the millionaire “GO TO JAIL: Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.”