The World At Home: Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2017-07-18 10:59:58 -
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While US President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to appeal to his conservative base on the domestic policy front, his statements in the foreign policy arena have before now been much more pragmatic and reserved.

This less confrontational language was, and to some extent still is, a reflection of the influence that National Security Advisor HR McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis have over America’s foreign policy positions. Recognising this, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now firmly aligned with these former US Army generals in their battles with the Trump confidantes like Stephens Bannon and Miller, who are devoid of foreign policy experience.

However, President Trump’s recent G-20 speech in Poland clearly shows Bannon’s continued political influence. On the one hand, he finally affirmed his support for the Nato charter, saying that America “has demonstrated not only with words, but with its actions, that it stands behind Article 5” of the treaty. His previous speech on 25 May in Brussels had shocked and dismayed our nation’s allies by failing to explicitly endorse Article 5’s mutual defence principle. The fact that he finally did so in Warsaw was an indication of the power McMaster wields in the Trump administration.

President Trump also took Russia to task for its military aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere, urging Russian president Vladimir Putin to instead “join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and defence of civilisation itself”. 

Meanwhile, Tillerson claimed that in his Friday meeting with Putin, President Trump had finally brought up the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. While I do not expect that Putin will ever admit to meddling in the election, I am heartened by the fact that Trump and Putin discussed a framework for brokering an agreement on commitments on noninterference in future polls.

On the other hand, the Warsaw speech demonstrated just how strong the Bannon and Miller wing of the White House still is. Both the rhetoric and the substance of the G-20 speech reflected the populist, nationalist views of the White House’s chief strategist and senior policy advisor. In contrast to President Trump’s first foreign policy speech on 21 May in Riyadh, where he said America would be guided by “principled realism”, President Trump told his G-20 audience that the western world was facing a “clash of civilisations”.

At the behest of McMaster and the administration’s globalist-pragmatist wing, President Trump avoided using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, which he had so often used on the campaign trail, in his Saudi Arabia speech. But in Poland, Trump made reference to just that almost a dozen times in the course of his address. Such language was a clear sign that Bannon and Miller had won this round.

However, there were other signs that appear to point to a steady increase in power for the Trump administration’s globalist faction. For example, when McMaster was named to replace Michael Flynn as national security advisor, Flynn’s interim replacement Keith Kellogg became McMaster’s chief of staff alongside a selection of Flynn allies, or ‘Flynnstones’, such as KT McFarland, who was deputy national security advisor, and Tera Dahl, who served as deputy chief of staff.

As you may recall, McFarland is the Flynn loyalist who once wrote an op-ed for Fox News that said Putin deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for his actions. But back in May, I noted that she had become one of the first casualties of the Trump administration’s changing views on national security issues. She’s joined by Dahl, a Bannon loyalist and former Breitbart columnist, who will now be given a new position at the US Agency for International Development.

Since Dahl was one of Kellogg’s key allies within The White House, I believe it is only a matter of time before President Trump relieves the tensions that exist between Kellogg and McMaster by also offering the former a different position within his administration. However, even the eventual departure of Kellogg from the national security arena will not bring an end to the ongoing war between the pragmatic globalists and populist nationalists. President Trump has shown that he likes keeping his options open, and having competing factions gives him lots of options.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

TAGS : Donald Trump Charles Laffiteau Foreign Policy G-20
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