Should Liberals Choose Sides Between White House Factions?

Among Trump’s most loyal supporters in the right wing media, a bit of a war has broken out against National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster. As you will remember, he replaced Michael Flynn, who is currently under investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller’s team. As the conservative Weekly Standard reports, McMaster seems to be purging Flynn protégés, who have remained loyal to White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

McMaster recently fired two National Security Council staff members—Derek Harvey and Ezra Cohen-Watnick—in part because both aides regularly met with Bannon without notifying McMaster. Bannon is senior counselor to the president and initially had a seat on the National Security Council before President Trump removed him in April. A third Bannon ally at the NSC, Rich Higgins, was fired by McMaster’s deputy Ricky Waddell.

Publications such as Breitbart News, the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Caller have been fed stories about McMaster from White House sources suggesting that he is “deeply hostile” to Israel and opposes Trump’s agenda.

When it comes to the chaos emanating from these various Trump factions, it is helpful to remember the eight power centers I have referred to previously.

1. The White Nationalists – Bannon, Sessions, Miller, Gorka, Navarro
2. The Evangelicals – Pence, Price, Pruitt, DeVos and Short
3. The Generals – Mattis, Kelly, MacMaster
4. The Friends and Family – Ivanka, Kushner, Cohen
5. The RNCers – Priebus, Spicer, Walsh
6. The Wall Streeters – Mnuchin, Cohn
7. The Bureaucrats – 1.8 million workers at federal agencies
8. The Lone Wolfs – Conway, McGahn, Tillerson

We can now shorten that list a bit. The Bureaucrats have mostly been silenced as the administration (per Steve Bannon’s agenda) has been at work decimating the federal workforce. Over the last couple of weeks, the RNCers have been ejected, which initially seemed to be a win for the White Nationalists, until the Generals (via Kelly) took the upper hand. Hence, the war on McMaster—probably fueled by the White Nationalists. Meanwhile, the Wall Streeters are busy at work on tax cuts, the federal budget and the debt ceiling. The evangelicals are holding Bible studies while attempting to undermine Obamacare, public education and climate change regulations. Who knows what Ivanka and Jared are up to these days? And the Lone Wolfs are being…well, lone wolfs.

Just as right wing media outlets define all this in the simplistic terms of Trump’s agenda vs McMaster, Glenn Greenwald weighs in on it all to ask what’s worse: Trump’s campaign agenda or the deep state’s attempt to subvert it? Here is how he defines Trump’s campaign agenda:

Some of Trump’s advocated assaults on D.C. orthodoxy aligned with long-standing views of at least some left-wing factions (e.g., his professed opposition to regime change war in Syria, Iraq/Libya-style interventions, global free trade deals, entitlement cuts, greater conflict with Russia, and self-destructive pro-Israel fanaticism), while other Trump positions were horrifying to anyone with a plausible claim to leftism, or basic decency (reaffirming torture, expanding GITMO, killing terrorists’ families, launching Islamophobic crusades, fixation on increasing hostility with Tehran, further unleashing federal and local police forces).

Greenwald goes on to suggest that because this agenda challenged the “neoliberal and neoconservative” status quo, the deep state is threatened and has been empowered by the elevation of the Generals—which the “elites” in Washington have applauded. While he doesn’t come out in support of Trump’s agenda, he does say that the deep state is the greater threat.

In terms of some of the popular terms that are often thrown around these days – such as “authoritarianism” and “democratic norms” and “U.S. traditions” – it’s hard to imagine many things that would pose a greater threat to all of that than empowering the National Security State (what, before Trump, has long been called the Deep State) to exert precisely the power that is supposed to be reserved exclusively for elected officials.

One thing the extreme left shares with the extreme right is a tendency to view the world as a battle between villains and heroes. While Greenwald’s warning is not completely without merit, I would simply point out that it is those same Generals that are attempting to hold the line on Trump’s desire to pull out of the Iran agreement. Recently Robin Wright queried figures Greenwald might call “neoconservatives” about Trump.

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America’s friends. Don’t further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights—a founding principle of American identity—and don’t make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea’s nuclear program can’t be outsourced to China, which can’t or won’t singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China’s economy and secure its global influence—to America’s disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

While some liberals would quarrel with the item about TPP, that is a list of things that could garner a lot of bipartisan support when it comes to foreign policy and hardly poses a threat from the so-called “deep state.”

At the same time, it is important to note that when it comes to the General who has been tasked with reigning in the worst of Trump’s impulsiveness—John Kelly—we have someone who came to the fore because he was so effective in implementing a big item on Trump’s campaign agenda, which was his promise to “deport em all” (an item that Greenwald left off his list).

Liberals make a huge mistake when they mirror the right wing’s tendency to view the world through the lens of villains and heroes, or when they lose all sense of nuance and assume that there is a need to align with any of the remaining power centers in the Trump administration. It is possible to hope that the Generals will continue to block Trump’s desire to inflame this country’s relationship with Iran at the same time that we recognize the threat posed by a military takeover of civilian authority. It is possible to agree with neocons that it is dangerous for the U.S. to alienate our European allies and disagree with them when it comes to what Obama called the “Washington Playbook.” We can find areas of both agreement and disagreement when it comes to individuals. These are all matters of values and policies…not people who can be cast as simply heroes or villains.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.