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Failure to Make a Difference?
Trump's political inexperience allows the U.S.Establishment to get its way
By Clifford A. Kiracofe | NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 21, 2017


White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during the 'Unite the Right' rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia (VCG) 

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during the 'Unite the Right' rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia (VCG)

The United States today faces increasing internal political turmoil. As a result, there are both internal and external ramifications. Will the United States provoke war? Will the international community lose confidence in the U.S. leadership?

The recent startling confrontation between the extreme right and extreme left of the U.S. in Charlottesville, Virginia over a racially charged matter made world headlines. It was not an isolated incident; similar confrontations have occurred across the United States.

These incidents symbolize a growing polarization of U.S. society and the rise of political violence. It is almost as if the nation's people are confronted by a destabilizing cultural revolution with no endpoint in sight.

The disorder in U.S. society is not simply racially based between the white and black communities. The Latino community has frictions with the white community as well as with the black community. Of course, moderates in all these communities form a majority, but it is the radicalized elements which are driving divisions. Unfortunately, some extremists in the Muslim community have foreign links and are influenced by radical Islam.

Desire for change 

Trump won his election primarily because those who voted for him feel deep malaise. The country is not headed in the right direction according to most people polled. The political system appears to have failed the middle and working classes. The rich get richer, while the rest get poorer.

Voters for Bernie Sanders felt the same way but wanted a different solution with a pronounced social emphasis.

Both political parties are in crisis, as the Trump and Sanders candidacies indicated. The public rejects politics as usual from establishment politicians that dominate political discourse and action. There is little public confidence in Capitol Hill.

But the Establishment had a wake-up call in 2016. Neither party hierarchy understood the deep dissatisfaction of the average U.S. voter. The party hierarchies, being composed of the so-called "one percent" class of wealthy citizens, were incapable of developing a mass line and empathy for the declining middle class and increasingly marginalized poor.

Both Trump and Sanders, as outsiders, put forward messages contrasting with the mainstream establishment line in each party. Sanders emphasized a social and populist agenda, while Trump emphasized a nationalist and populist agenda. The top three campaign issues were the economy, illegal immigration, and terrorism.

Supporters of Trump believed that he could boost the economy, halt illegal immigration, and deal with international terrorism. But nine months into his presidency, there are doubts.

Unfulfilled expectations 

Trump's tenure in office has been characterized by chaos in the White House and legislative failure in Congress. More and more people wonder, what happened to the supposedly efficient and effective big businessman who was going to change things?

Sanders voters, of course, say we told you so. But now many Trump supporters are having doubts based on the president's lack of effective governance and the lack of visible progress under his leadership. While it is true that a new administration takes time to get going, Trump's has already passed, in the eyes of the public.

Chaos in the White House reached such a point that Trump fired a number of staff and installed a retired Marine Corps general, John Kelly, as Chief of Staff. Steve Bannon, one ousted nationalist advisor, remarked that the nationalist phase of Trump's administration was over. Bannon ought to know as he was Trump's key nationalist theoretician.

From the beginning, the Establishment has sought to penetrate and control the Trump administration. It has been effective in its bid to replace nationalist and populist policy with the usual establishment domestic and foreign policy.

With Kelly in place, the new political situation in the executive branch resembles a military junta, numerous examples of which have been seen around the world at various times. This junta, critics say, consists of Defense Secretary General Jim Mattis, National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff General Kelly.

Critics point to Mattis as the junta leader and say that Mattis and McMaster, together with the disgraced General David Petraeus, form an elite military power clique. This hawkish close-knit group is dedicated to promoting aggressive foreign policy that includes foreign military interventions and saber-rattling coercion.

Trump is thus boxed in to a significant degree by the Establishment, and his policies now reflect this, Washington insiders say.

The question today in some political circles is, how long will Trump remain in office, and will the various scandals bring him down before the 2020 presidential election? After all, as is well known, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign due to the Watergate scandal.

Some wonder if the so-called Russia scandal and various financial scandals might even bring Trump down before or slightly after the 2018 by-elections. If he hangs on until 2020, will he even be the Republican candidate?

The Establishment's solution to Trump's independent streak and potential for upsetting its agenda is Vice President Mike Pence. A social conservative, he toes the establishment line and is a suitable hawk on foreign policy.

Washington observers note that Pence has maintained a very carefully orchestrated and disciplined vice presidency. His domestic and foreign travel groom him to step into the presidency should the occasion arise for one reason or another during Trump's first term. Pence apparently would be the favored challenger to Trump at the 2020 Republican Party convention.

Pence's extensive foreign travel to Europe, Asia, and Latin America provide him with the gloss of foreign policy credentials. The establishment mainstream media praise his hawkish policy line, which essentially follows the Neoconservatives' lead.


What about Trump's foreign policy and the questions of war and U.S. leadership?

There are three major conflict zones today in the world. Each has the potential to explode into general war. The Northeast Asian situation is the most volatile at present. Then there is the Middle East situation, which will remain volatile. Finally, there is the Ukraine situation.

During his election campaign, Trump espoused a non-interventionist foreign policy line. He decried the misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He castigated the Neoconservative interventionist policy line. He excoriated the foreign policy elites in the United States. He said the NATO alliance was obsolete. He wanted better major power relations with Russia and China. He cast doubt on the U.S. hub-and-spokes alliance structure in Asia, saying Japan and South Korea should do more for their own security.

Today, Trump sings a different tune. NATO is great, U.S. alliances are great, Russia is not so great, China is a big problem, the United States must continue its intervention in Afghanistan, and the like. Step by step, the Establishment has turned Trump toward a hawkish line. The line in Asia essentially is the same as Obama's "pivot," although the Trump administration has not used that term.

U.S. troop levels are rising in Afghanistan; U.S. weapons and military advisors flow into Ukraine; U.S. and NATO activity is ramping up; and U.S. militarization of the Asia-Pacific region, including the East China Sea and South China Sea, is expanding too.

The North Korea situation is particularly salient at this time. U.S. policy lacks any sense of realism and is ineffective. Near hysterical tweets by some reflect the general hysteria in Washington. No one in authority appears cool, calm, and collected and thus capable of effectively managing a foreign policy crisis.

A reasonable diplomatic solution to the problems in Northeast Asia should not be that difficult for Washington to grasp. It is clear that a comprehensive settlement is needed and that such a settlement would be a package dealing with the Korean Peninsula, regional economic integration, and a U.S.-North Korean peace treaty.

Logically, the Korean Peninsula, if it is to be denuclearized, would have two states, no regime changes, no nukes in the north or south, no U.S. troops in the south, and no THAAD in the south. The major powers and the UN would guarantee the neutralization.

The peninsula would be something like an Asian Switzerland in its neutrality and could eventually see a federation of north and south, if mutually agreed upon. Regional economic integration involving the Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and other states such as Mongolia could be envisioned. With the U.S. in political turmoil, however, it is difficult for the international community to see effective and constructive leadership coming from Washington.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a former senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee   

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

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