National Security in the Trump Era: Business as Usual?
G. Murphy Donovan
Donald Trump has only been in office for a couple of months. Any performance evaluation to date is probably premature. Nonetheless, early on, there are some good and bad omens. The good news is domestic. President Trump seems to be focused on health care reform, the economy, employment, border security, and immigration/alien control.
In contrast, national security and foreign policy initiatives are off to a hoary start.
One national security advisor has already been sacked and President Trump has been horse-collared as a Moscow puppet or stooge. No matter the evidence, insinuations that Russians played a role in the 2016 election is a smear now morphing into a political zombie, a Beltway specter with tenure.
By throwing, General Mike Flynn, erstwhile national security advisor, under the bus, Trump has forfeited the first game of “gotcha” to hostile Democrats and a partisan media. Beyond hasty judgement, the Flynn affair also suggests that team Trump folds at first fright.
President Trump flinched again by allowing his new Attorney General to recuse himself from the Russophobia probe. Flynn and Sessions are just blood in the water now. Trump opponents are circling like sharks.
The Flynn/Sessions casualties confirm what critics already believe about a Putin/Trump “bromance.” The Putin proxy is now tar and feathers to be used by a neo-conservative/ liberal establishment who believe that globalist experiments like the EU, military alliances like NATO, and regime change stunts in Ukraine and elsewhere are beyond reproach or reform.
President Trump may have thus handcuffed himself to “business as usual” on the world stage. Just before the 2016 election, the Obama White House and DOD deployed NATO and American tanks to the Baltics and Poland. New anti-missile missile deployments to Eastern Europe are now part of that mix too.
Yes, German tanks are again in Poland and the Baltics. Clearly designed to annoy the Kremlin, these “symbolic” NATO encroachments are now Trump baggage.
We say symbolic because, NATO sabre rattling on Russian borders is more than a bit of a strategic mime. Putin says that he could be in Kiev in two weeks, should the need arise. The Russian president is probably correct.
Why would anyone believe West Europeans, who will not pay for NATO, would fight Russians today any more successfully than they fought the Wehrmacht in the last continental war?
Trump’s original campaign instincts were correct. NATO is an expensive Cold War artifact, not unlike the defunct Warsaw Pact. The need to defend defense budgets today is more important than any hedge against real Russian aggression. The long war against the Muslim jihad, still unresolved after 50 years, provides a similar rational for Intelligence spending.
The deep state has deep roots.
Appeasing Muslims, demonizing Israelis and Russians, and fiscal incontinence at home seem to be the three defaults, or inherited, legs of American national security policy and strategy.
NATO is next to useless when it comes to active shooters in a half dozen Muslim small wars. In fact, Schengen Zone vulnerabilities, and Berlin oblivion, are facilitating an ever expanding Islamist threat within Europe itself.
Take Angela Merkel’s “open borders” policy and subsequent Muslim migrant blitz. No head of state in Europe has done more for terror, fear, appeasement, jihad, Islamic religious fascism, and continental instability than the German chancellor. If Brexit is followed by a “Frexit,” Mrs. Merkel can take a bow.
If the EU is going the way of the Holy Roman Empire, no single individual is more culpable than “Angela.” Indeed, if common sense and culture is at risk in Europe, the angel of death again rides again on a Berlin broomstick.
Muslim admission to Europe now seems to come at the price of another Jewish exit. You would think a German chancellor who walks under the shadow of the Holocaust would know better.
In a real world, a stable and prosperous future for Europe is a function of American and Russian forbearance and cooperation. Unfortunately, posturing or histrionics in Brussels and Washington is now more about business and appeasement than a stable European future.
Besides automobiles, the only manufacturing of any consequence left in the West is the defense industry. If the business of national security is now business, it’s a booming business.
The Middle East and Africa are awash with weapons, war, and instability because NATO nations are willing to sponsor sedition and sell the wherewithal to friends and foes alike.
US military exports grew by 54 percent in the Obama era and are expected to rise faster under Trump. America now accounts for 36 percent of world arms exports compared to 12 percent for Russia.
Unfortunately, taking on the American military/industrial establishment at this point might be a bridge too far as it seems to be one of a few manufacturing games left in America. Whilst Defense and Intelligence industries experience explosive growth, the private sector languishes in the doldrums.
Throwing money at bombs and bullets is hardly new policy in Washington. America already spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined, including China and Russia. The Pentagon spends seven times ($680 billion versus $94 billion) more on defense than does the Kremlin.
Possible explanations for such disparities include waste, fraud, abuse, and incompetence. The truth is probably the Eisenhower prophesy actualized. The military/industrial complex seems to be more about profit than patriotism.
Alas, big spending never meant more capability. The profligate USAF F-35 fighter program alone is illustrative, possibly the biggest budget boondoggle ($1.5 trillion) in all of military history.
If America needs a next-generation fighter that is affordable and operational, the Pentagon might think about giving the next contract to the Kremlin. Russian rockets now shuttle American astronauts in and out of orbit, a dependency that doesn’t get much visibility in national security estimates.
Government debt in the US now stands at 24 trillion dollars, ten times larger than Russian debt. National sovereignty isn’t a virtue if the price is moral bankruptcy or national insolvency. .
President Trump Needs a Dog
Obama era national security acolytes, now serving under Trump, are not doing much to help with or clarify American foreign policy or national security futures.
The Ummah provides the best example.
Just days after the Trump inauguration, the newly minted CIA director, Michael Pompeo, flew off to Saudi Arabia to present Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, with a medal for “counterterrorism” efforts (sic). Saudi Arabia is America’s most generous arms customer, indeed the largest buyer worldwide.
CIA and the Crown Prince
The ties that bind America to Arabia are first pecuniary and then political.
Yes, the same Saudi Arabia that produced the 9/11 terrorists, the same House of Saud that finances and arms global Sunni jihad and terror in the Levant and North Africa, and the same Arabia that exports the worst kind of Islamic irredentist theology to the rest of the world gets another azimuth kiss from an American Intelligence nabob.
Irony here is beyond satire. The medal in question is named after George Tenet. Tenet is the CIA director who, with Colin Powell’s help, fabricated the fake intelligence that gave America the ongoing 30 year religious war in Iraq; a war we might add, that reversed the sectarian power poles in Iraq from Sunni to Shia.
A White House that claims that America is not at war with Isalm, now doubles down with Saudi Sunnis against Shia Yeminis in another proxy religious war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia has long denied complicity with Islamism, Sunni terrorism, or wars motivated by a 1400 year old religious schism. Now Riyadh has a CIA medal provided by team Trump to prove it.
Meanwhile over at the National Security Council, newly christened director, H.R McMaster, is apparently laying down a companion party line about Islam with White House staff. General McMaster cautions that terms like “radical Islamic terror” are not helpful. According to the General, “terror is not Islamic.”
Like many millennial era flags, the new national security advisor seems to have succumbed to the Obama thought police. Surely not all Islamists are terrorists, but virtually all terrorists these days are Muslims, Mohammedans who kill in the name of their god, their prophet, and Islam - the “religion of peace.”
“Allah hu akbar” is what an Islamist chants at a beheading, bombing, and other sanguinary rituals. Links between terror and Islam are more real than any links between US Army generals and analytical theology.
Who is McMaster to pontificate on what is or is not Islamic? The national security advisor is not an imam, ayatollah, prophet, priest, or religious scholar. Based on recent sermons, he’s not much of a historian either.
Over at the Department of Defense, another scholarly warrior seems to be confused about real threats too. The new Secretary of Defense, like Obama era staff officers, shoots from the hip at the “Russian” chimera and personalizes the assessment with trash talk about Vladimir Putin.
At confirmation, General James Mattis rose to every leading question from John McCain, the Senate’s most notorious Kremlin baiter. Mattis swallowed McCain’s practiced political demagoguery hook, line, and sinker.
Mattis also failed to distinguish between a threat that actually kills Americans today and a threat that might. Worse still, General Mattis’ sweeping indictments of “Russians” fails to distinguish between a proud nation and a regime that doesn’t fit the globalist EU/imperial NATO business plan.
NATO began as an allied mutual security pact and the EU began as a modest economic condominium. Both institutions have strayed far from original designs and the world is not safer place because of it. Brussels is now populated by political autocrats and imperial janissaries. Hat tip to a Turk or Ottoman model.
If sweeping vile assessments of Muslims are unacceptable, why is sweeping slander about Israelis or Russians allowed? Is selective bigotry at the Pentagon now a military virtue?
Indeed, after leaving the military, Mattis claimed that Israeli “settlements” and “apartheid” made his job at CENTCOM more difficult. The general’s also says that there was “a price to be paid” for backing Israel, a sneer that is vintage David Petraeus.
General Mattis claims that “Russia needs to prove itself.” In contrast, apparently, no Islamic country, especially Arabian, need to prove anything to America, the world, or the new Secretary of Defense.
The sad truth of the European Union today is a tragic combination official Islamic tolerance and official indifference to parallel anti-Semitism. The western migration of fascist Islam comes again at the expense of European Jews.
Mattis also gave the Senate a truncated Russian history tutorial as a closer to his testimony. The self- described student of military history failed to mention the last world war where, without Russian sacrifice, the battle with secular fascism would not have been won. The United States lost less than half a million casualties in WWII. Russia lost more than 20 million souls.
Now that Europe and America are confronted with fascism again, this time religious, General Mattis and other Obama holdovers are still confused or mute about who is a genuine threat in the 21st century.
The best guarantors of civil and human rights are independent, democratic nation states with common cultural and civic values. Monoculture anywhere has always been the enemy of liberty and true diversity everywhere.
All globalist or utopian schemes, now including the EU, have been failures. General Mattis is wrong about NATO too. Sort of nuclear Armageddon, NATO provides little stability for the Mideast, Africa, or anyplace beyond Europe for that matter.
Mattis seems to have misread the Brexit and Frexit graffiti now defacing the walls of the European Union.
Candidate Trump ran on a tougher line with Islamists and a softer line with the Kremlin. Such policies are heresy for the establishment, right and left, in Washington. Any diminution of the Russian threat is a clear and present danger to the DOD budget and legions of Intelligence and defense industry federal contractors.
No big Russian threat, no big funding.
Obama era rear echelon warriors have yet to get the message from Trump or appreciate the angst of “deplorables” in the heartland. Maybe the new commander-in-chief needs to speak louder - or carry a bigger stick
President Trump has few friends in the media, few friends among Obama holdovers, and fewer friends or loyalists midst permanent or deep state government bureaucrats inside the Beltway. Washington D.C. and the surrounding suburbs voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of nine to one. Those votes, like California, were votes for a deep state where change is “progressive” - or anathema.
And those who claim that establishment apparatchiks, including the Pentagon, are “non-partisan” are delusional. The only currency in the nation’s capital is politics. The most lucrative politics are found now in the defense and Intelligence bowels of the permanent state.
Obama era military relics are no exceptions to partisanship. Outsiders, critics, and reformers are not welcome in Washington. National security and Intelligence Community leaks now underwrite the anti-democratic, anti-Trump resistance on a daily basis.
Donald Trump is trying to reform or change a federal autocracy that is populated with Clinton and Obama loyalists. For a permanent political elite, weaned by a nanny state, reform is just a turd in the punchbowl.
Willingness to serve in government should never be confused with loyalty, especially inside the Beltway. Harry Truman said it best. If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.