With former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon out of the White House, globalists and hawkish interventionists in the Trump administration are reportedly wasting no time in pushing for a bigger U.S. military footprint abroad.
On Friday, the same day as Bannon left the White House to resume his role as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, Vice President Mike Pence and National Security H.R. McMaster reportedly teamed up to lobby the president to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, further entangling the U.S. in the bloody 16-year war.
Pence has denied pushing any option for Afghanistan to President Trump, with his office saying he has been “heavily involved as the objective facilitator to ensure that the President has all the information he needs to make his decision,”
Trump will announce his decision to the American people on Monday, and he is widely expected to increase the number of troops in the country.
One of Trump’s campaign promises that had helped him reach into new votings blocs had been his promise to reduce America’s presence abroad so as to put “America First.” In April 2016, he outlined his foreign policy in a Washington speech in which he said:
We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.
In January, he reiterated his skeptical approach to foreign policy adventurism in his inaugural address, saying: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”
Once Trump was in office, Bannon is believed to have been a key voice in the White House pushing for Trump to keep that promise to his voters.
But with a strong globalist contingent firmly embedded in the White House — including not only many Cabinet members but also members of Trump’s family — the Trump administration has been slowly moving more and more toward more intervention abroad.
In April, Trump was reportedly moved to bomb an airfield in Syria believed to be the launching point for a chemical attack on civilians after his daughter Ivanka nudged him to do so.
In July, with the launch of two intercontinental ballistic missiles by the North Korean regime, the administration successfully pushed for a new round of tough sanctions on the rogue regime at the United Nations. Days later, Trump took it a step further and warned of “fire and fury” if North Korea kept up its aggressive stance — stoking concerns that Trump was planning military action in the Korean Peninsula.
Trump also floated the idea of sending the military in to deal with the spiraling situation in Venezuela, telling reporters: “I’m not ruling out military options.”
Now with Bannon’s departure, those in the White House who pine for the interventionism of prior administrations have a window of opportunity, particularly on the situation in Afghanistan.
“Bannon had been an influential voice calling for a smaller US military footprint in Afghanistan, and his loss could be a blow to that position,” Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan expert at the Wilson Center, told Buzzfeed.
Politico reports that, in addition to Afghanistan, an “internal brake on U.S. military action abroad” in places such as Iraq and Syria — where Bannon had argued for a more restrained policy — has been released by Bannon’s departure. The outlet also notes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are also likely to feel freer to exercise a more muscular policy as they see fit.
“Bannon’s departure probably means a return to normalcy, where the State and Defense Departments will have greater influence on foreign policy,” former Reagan and Bush administration official Elliott Abrams told the outlet.
Yet this new policy is unlikely to be accompanied by a tougher stance on radical Islamic terrorism, one of the few areas in foreign policy that Trump did promise to take a stronger stance. McMaster in particularly has reportedly objected to connecting Islamic terror to Islam, arguing that terrorism is “un-Islamic.”
On Saturday, the New York Times published a weary piece on the hopeless state of affairs in Afghanistan: “‘Game of Thrones’ has nothing on 2017 Afghanistan when it comes to violence in politics and crassness in war, not to mention plots almost too complex to follow,” the Times reported, adding, “The country may be in the midst of a steadily worsening, existential war against a determined Taliban insurgency, but Afghanistan’s leaders in the government camp often seem mostly at war with one another.”
Now, with the globalists in Trump’s administration empowered, Americans can look forward to yet more blood and treasure being spent abroad on Rubik’s Cube foreign policy dilemmas like this — while problems at home get sidelined and underfunded.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.