A little over a month ago the great Christopher Knowles of The Secret Sun made the highly perceptive observation that Donald J. Trump is bringing what Canadian journalist Naomi Klein dubbed "the Shock Doctrine" home. For decades Americans have been able to kick back and watch from the comfort of their own sofas as our nation's security services have subverted, toppled and blown countless foreign nations "back to the stone age." Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Every so often, the mainstream media has a lucid moment (albeit an occurrence that happens with less and less frequency every day) and it would appear that in a few corners the wisdom of Mr. Knowles' observation is beginning to set in. To wit, The Raw Story actually managed a coherent piece in this vein a few days ago that warrants comment. It begins:
"When the U.S. military invaded Iraq 14 years ago, in March 2003, it ignited a rebellion with its incompetent and harsh rule. Its response was to dub the resistance 'anti-Iraqi forces.' It was a brazen bit of propaganda, even by Pentagon standards...
"The target of the propaganda was not the Iraqi people. They frequently expressed more support for attacks by overwhelmingly Iraqi guerrilla groups on American forces than support for the U.S. occupation. The target was Americans, many of whom willingly swallowed the absurdity that the Iraqi resistance, and not the Americans, were 'foreigners, outside agitators, viruses newly burrowed into Iraq’s body politic,' as one pundit put it.
"This nugget of history is newly relevant. It is key to understanding how Donald Trump is bringing the 'war on terror' home. Like the tumultuous Iraq occupation, Trump is weaponizing chaos. His goals are similar, too—consolidating autocratic rule and radically reshaping society.
"This strategy is evident in Trump’s America-First worldview: Every threat is foreign and everything foreign is a threat, whether undocumented immigrants, radical Islamic Terrorism, steel, industry, missiles, drugs, or 'bad ones.' They are all that stands in the way of 'A new chapter of American greatness.'
"His method is simple, which is what makes him so dangerous. Like U.S. generals in Iraq who defined who was a real Iraqi or not, based on their subservience to the occupation, Trump splits the nation into real Americans and those who are threats."Let us pause here. The notion that Trump is "weaponizing chaos" is apt and I shall return to it in a moment, but I must correct an early error the author of this piece makes. While the article compares Trump's tactics at several points to those of American generals in Iraq, it leaves the impression ultimately that Trump and these generals are separate entities. But this is hardly accurate, for many of these generals are now effectively running Trump's presidency.
"Did you know that the Trump administration almost went to war with Iran at the start of February?
"Perhaps you were distracted by Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser or by President Trump’s online jihad against Nordstrom. Or maybe you missed the story because the New York Times bizarrely buried it in the midst of a long piece on the turmoil and chaos inside the National Security Council. Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to the paper, had wanted the U.S. Navy to 'intercept and board an Iranian ship to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen. … But the ship was in international waters in the Arabian Sea, according to two officials. Mr. Mattis ultimately decided to set the operation aside, at least for now. White House officials said that was because news of the impending operation leaked.'
"Get that? It was only thanks to what Mattis’s commander in chief has called 'illegal leaks' that the operation was (at least temporarily) set aside and military action between the United States and Iran was averted...
"The defense secretary has been lauded by politicians and pundits alike: the 'scholar-warrior' (New York Daily News) and 'most revered Marine in a generation' (Marine Corps Times) with 'the potential to act as a restraint' (New York Times) on an impulsive commander in chief as he is 'the anti-Trump' (Politico) and therefore 'good news for global order' (Wall Street Journal).
"So why would a retired Marine Corps general such as Mattis be willing to provoke a conflict with Tehran over a single ship? The fact is that Mattis, too, is obsessed with Iran. He has hyperbolically called the Islamic Republic 'the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East' and — in a Trump-esque descent into the world of conspiracy theories — suggested Tehran is working with ISIS. 'Iran is not an enemy of ISIS,' Mattis declaimed in 2016, because 'the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked' by ISIS 'is Iran. That is more than happenstance, I’m sure.'..
"Mousavian is puzzled by the defense secretary’s hawkishness: 'He is one of the most experienced U.S. generals and he knows … the consequences of confrontation with Iran would be tenfold what the U.S. experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.'
"Mattis has, in fact, been tied to some of the worst war crimes of the Iraq invasion. It was he who gave the order to attack the village of Mukaradeeb in April 2004 — a decision he would later admit took him only 30 seconds to approve — which killed 42 civilians, including 13 children, who were attending a wedding there. 'I don’t have to apologize for the conduct of my men,' he told reporters.
"Six months later, in November 2004, it was Mattis who planned the Marine assault on Fallujah that reduced that city to rubble, forced 200,000 residents from their homes, and resulted, according to the Red Cross, in at least 800 civilian deaths."
And so goes the "restraint" Mattis will allegedly bring to the Trump administration. In addition to this incident, it was also displayed last month during the highly controversial raid in Yemen that left one Navy SEAL dead (in addition to multiple women and children). And this is likely only the beginning, as Mattis may soon have the authority to bypass Trump on numerous military decisions. The Daily Beast reports:
"The White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL, multiple U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast. It's part of an effort to step up the war on the so-called Islamic State.
"President Donald Trump has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama that critics claimed stalled some missions by hours or days.
"In declared war zones, U.S. commanders have the authority to make such calls, but outside such war zones, in ungoverned or unstable places like Somalia, Libya, or Yemen, it can take permissions all the way up to the Oval Office to launch a drone strike or a special-operations team.
"Trump’s subsequent defense of the Yemen raid, and discussion of accelerating other counterterrorist operations, shows his White House will be less risk averse to the possibility of U.S.—or civilian—casualties, unlike the Obama White House, which military officials say was extremely cautious to the point of frustrating some military commanders and counterterrorist operators...
"Trump officials believe loosening the permissions process can help turn up the heat against ISIS—and counterterrorist-focused agencies like the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are lining up new targets in anticipation of more numerous and more rapid approvals.
"One model being considered is pre-delegating authority to Mattis on extremely sensitive operations like hostage rescues; for raids or drone strikes against pre-approved targets, that authority could be pushed much further down the chain of command—all the way down to the three-star general who runs JSOC. If his teams spot a target that’s already on the White House approved high-value target list, the elite force will be able to move into action, informing the national-security apparatus of the operation but not having to wait for permission."Thus it would seem that Mattis is not the only one in line for unprecedented power to conduct covert operations --the authority of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in this regard appears poised to greatly increase as well. This is hardly surprising. As was noted before here, the JSOC appears to have emerged as a major player within the new Trump regime. General Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Advisor, was a JSOC veteran and head of its intelligence branch for several years before going on to direct the DIA.
His replacement, General H.R. McMaster, does not have ties as strong, but he is apparently a protege (thank you From France!) of General David Petraeus, who has worked very closely with the JSOC over the years. As Director of the CIA, Petraeus attempted to transfer some the authority traditionally held by the CIA concerning covert operations to the JSOC.
There have been no overt attacks on the powers of the CIA as yet, but here we find that the JSOC may have broad ranging powers to approve their own operations under Trump. It would seem then that the JSOC's influence still remains strong in the Trump administration, even when key backers of the JSOC such as Flynn, Patraeus and Blackwater's Erik Prince are not actually a part of the administration.
This is but one instance of the military men who currently dominate Trump's administration flexing their muscle. Another such example was Trump's proposed defense budget. Of it, The Intercept notes:
"The U.S. government already spends $600 billion dollars a year on its military — more money than the next seven biggest spenders combined, including China and Russia.
"On Monday, the White House said it would request $54 billion more in military spending for next year. That increase alone is roughly the size of the entire annual military budget of the United Kingdom, the fifth-largest spending country, and it’s more than 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget in 2015.
"If Congress were to follow Trump’s blueprint, the U.S. military budget could account for nearly 40 percent of global military spending next year. The U.S. would be outspending Russia by a margin of greater than 9 to 1."In a prior post, I had speculated that the rise of McMaster as Trump's NSA likely signaled a push to build up conventional US forces and this does indeed appear to be the rational behind the administration's desire to increase the United States' already bloated defense budget by over $50 billion. Reuters reports:
"The White House will send federal departments a budget proposal on Monday containing the defense spending increase President Donald Trump promised, financed partly by cuts to the U.S. State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other non-defense programs, two officials familiar with the proposal said.
"One of the officials said Trump's request for the Pentagon included more money for shipbuilding, military aircraft and establishing 'a more robust presence in key international waterways and chokepoints' such as the Strait of Hormuz and South China Sea."
The last point is consistent with my belief that the Trump administration, despite the steeped up anti-Russian posturing in recent weeks, still remains more concerned with China than any other nation as a major threat to US hegemony. While Russian will no doubt be used as cudgel to force Congressional Democrats to agree to increases in defense spending, it would appear that the real objective behind this defense build up is putting the US on war footing for China.
It is also interesting that Trump proposes to pay for this increased defense spending by cutting funding for the State Department. The Reuters article cited above went on to note that these proposed cuts are quite deep, stating: "A second official said the State Department's budget could be cut by as much as 30 percent, which would force a major restructuring of the department and elimination of programs."
It is highly unlikely that Trump will manage to push through cuts this deep to State. Congressional Republicans are already threatening to oppose such actions. But the fact that these proposals are even being thrown out there indicates that the divide between the Pentagon and the State Department (noted before here) is still ongoing. The military is clearly in the driver's seat at this point and they're using their leverage to stick it to their rivals in State at every turn. Even if the cuts are ultimately taken off the table, State's bureaucracy will still have to invest the resources into opposing such cuts.
But let us return now to the notion that Trump is "weaponizing chaos." Consider the following observations from the article that opened this piece:
"On day five in office, Trump signed executive orders that criminalize 11 million undocumented immigrants, making all of them a priority for deportation. He then widened the scope of immigration raids and empowered border agents to be more aggressive, such that they are now reportedly 'looking really hard for reasons to deny, instead of reasons to admit' foreign visitors. He proposed lower standards for immigration police, potentially unleashing 'rogue elements.' Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice has vowed to pull back on consent decree with police departments, in effect endorsing police brutality. Trump plans to increase private detention facilities for asylum-seekers to 20,000 beds and has issued a new Muslim ban. He is ratcheting up tensions with Iran, escalating the brutal U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen, and demanding a $54 billion increase in military spending.
"These moves, along with attacks on civil society, comprise a plan to divide America along sectarian lines of race, religion, and politics as the Pentagon did in Iraq. But it’s not just what he is doing; it’s how he does it. Trump has a 'year zero' approach to governance, like the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
"Trump wants to wipe history clean, creating a regime of chaos. Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist, says as much: 'It’s going to get worse' and 'every day it is going to be a fight [for the] deconstruction of the administrative state.' Emboldening frontline police, border agents, and soldiers is Trump’s version of shock and awe. He is sowing fear and chaos and circumventing traditional chains of command. It’s similar to how he uses social media and conspiratorial news to win followers by bypassing and disorienting experts, media, and opinion-makers.
"It is disorder by design, even if a specific act like the first version of the Muslim ban backfired. As shambolic as the Trump White House is, his state of constant meltdown benefits him. The more outrageous a falsehood the better, whether claiming more than 3 million illegal ballots cost him the popular vote or that Obama wiretapped his phones during the election. When opponents castigate Trump for a 'destructive' act that 'discredits our democracy' they miss the point. He wields lies and chaos as a battering ram against anything in his way: the press, civil liberties, the judiciary, federal agencies, science, basic reality."
What this otherwise fine article from Raw Story fails to address is that it isn't just the Trump White House contributing to this chaos, but the Democratic Party and the mainstream media itself. Whether is is intentional or not is debatable, but their approach to opposing Trump is only furthering his agenda. Rather than pointing out legitimate abuses of power, the Democrats and the MSM have chosen to stoke the fires of neo-McCarthyism, peddling their own outrageous conspiracy theories and particular brand of xenophobia and warmongering. The great Glenn Greenwald nicely sums up this state of affairs in his recent article on The Intercept:
"I’ve been asked often why I’ve written so much against the prevailing sentiments on Russia and Trump. It’s not just because this obsessive narrative distracts from Trump’s genuinely consequential actions or from the need to find an effective vessel for activism against über-right-wing nationalism. It’s not just because it’s driven by ugly and historically familiar anti-Rusisan xenophobia, nor because it dangerously ratchets up tensions between two nuclear-armed, traditionally hostile countries. Those things are all true, but that’s not the main impetus.
"Above all else, it’s because it’s an offensive assault on reason. This kind of deranged discourse is an attack on basic journalistic integrity, on any minimal obligation to ensure that one’s claims are based in evidence rather than desire, fantasy, and herd-enforced delusions. And it’s emanating from the most established and mainstream precincts of U.S. political and media elites, who have processed the severe disorientation and loss of position they feel from Trump’s shock election not by doing the work to patiently formulate cogent, effective strategies against him, but rather by desperately latching onto online 'dot-connecting' charlatans and spewing the most unhinged Birther-level conspiracies that require a complete abandonment of basic principles of rationality and skepticism...
"...Totally fraudulent stories about Russia are published on the internet. Those who do it – including the leading media outlets and their journalists – receive endless benefits: exploding follower counts on social media, gushing praise from their peers, media appearances, profitable traffic for their sites. But then when the stories fall apart and are debunked, as they so often are, the debunking is shared by virtually nobody, and there is zero accountability or cost to their reputations because their false stories were peddled for a Good Cause.
"The most obscenely transparent charlatans and grifters have built a huge social media following over the last year by feeding Democrats an endless stream of increasingly unhinged, insane conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia. That Trump is a Manchurian Candidate recruited by old Soviet leaders and installed in the White House as a 30-year-plan – or that any critics of Democrats are on the payroll of Putin – are completely acceptable theories which many of the Democrats’ most beloved commentators endorse literally on a daily basis.
"Part of it is exciting: they get to center themselves as intrepidly uncovering an international Moscow-led plot to infiltrate the U.S. Part of it is self-excusing: it explains why Democrats have failed without having to confront the party’s fundamental corruption. Part of it is personally enriching: just as was true of the Clinton years, these conspiracies have created a whole stable of new media stars, and the crazier they are, the bigger their following will be.
"But whatever the motives, what’s most damaging is how mainstreamed it’s all become. These are the same circles which endlessly rail against misleading reports from Fox News and right-wing radio, and the dangers of Fake News. And yet – in the name of stopping Trump and winning the New Cold War – they are the most enthusiastic disseminators of exactly what they denounce.
"The most ironic part of it all is that they are achieving exactly the opposite of what they convinced their followers they are doing: they are strengthening Trump, not weakening him, by poisoning and corroding all of the institutions that – if they had any credibility – could effectively check him."Indeed. Or more precisely, its strengthening the Pentagon forces dominating Trump's cabinet. As opposition to Russia and Putin continue to dominate the headlines, the Democrats are putting themselves in a position where opposing the militarization of the civilian government and the perpetual war footing the US has been put on will be all but impossible. While they may draw a few concessions on social programs and prevent deep cuts to State, Congressional Democrats will do little to oppose the defense ramp up.
And both the media and the "opposition party" will ultimately further the "us against them" narrative via the endless McCarthyism while real assaults on a host of civil rights will continue to be downplayed. Witness the recent bombshell revelations by Wikileaks concerning the CIA's vast cyber arsenal struggling to keep pace with the endless Russian conspiracy theories the mainstream dutifully continues to parrot without question. It would appear that some are even trying to frame the Wikileaks CIA revelations as some type of conspiracy on Trump's part, no doubt to prevent the Agency from further exposing his nefarious Russian plots.
The fabled expression "Nothing is true, everything is permitted" may be more true now than at any other time in modern history. Let that sink in for a moment and the contempt the sheer scale of what Trump has accomplished.