Dangers of Steve Bannon just starting to become apparent
President Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council — elevating his chief political strategist, Stephen Bannon, and demoting the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the president on national security. Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” according to the recent presidential memorandum.
Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings. That’s because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.
But forget facts. Forget analysis. This is the Trump administration.
And what does Bannon bring to the table?
In case you forgot, before joining Trump’s inner circle, Bannon headed Breitbart News.
He took over Breitbart News in 2012 after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, and promptly set out to shift it further to the right.
Many critics, including conservatives formerly associated with it, have denounced Breitbart in its current incarnation for promoting racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
Bannon’s international views are at odds with America’s traditional support for democracy.
In a speech at a conference in Italy in 2014, Bannon said, “I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors … and I think it’s what can see us forward.”
He has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.
“At least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism,” Bannon said at that same forum.
He called Putin an inspiration for Europeans who “want to see nationalism for their country” and “don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Bannon foresaw “a growing global anti-establishment revolt against the permanent political class at home, and the global elites that influence them, which impacts everyone from Lubbock, Texas, to London, England.”
And this man will now be a principal member of the National Security Council.
Are you scared yet?
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice calls the move “stone cold crazy.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under President George W. Bush, says the demotions of the intelligence chief and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are a “big mistake.”
Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CBS News, “I am worried about the National Security Council. … The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.” McCain added that the “one person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view.”
Here’s the big worry: Trump is unhinged and ignorant. Bannon is nuts and malicious. If not overseen by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or anyone else who understands foreign policy and American values, their decisions could endanger the world.
In Trump and Bannon’s view, nationalism is a zero-sum game. If another nation gains, we lose. And we gain only if another nation loses.
As Trump declared at his inaugural: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”
Some of you are old enough to recall John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, when the young president pledged to support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the success of liberty.
But Trump makes no distinction between friend and foe, and no reference to liberty. As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer observes, Trump’s view is that all other nations are out to use, exploit and surpass us.
Yet there’s one exception. Trump and Bannon admire Putin.
Not incidentally, “America First” was the name of the pro-Nazi group led by Charles Lindbergh that bitterly fought FDR before America’s entry into World War II, to keep America neutral between Churchill’s Britain and Hitler’s Reich.
Trump and Bannon’s version of “America First” is no less dangerous. It is destroying America’s moral authority abroad and risking everything we love about our country.
Unsupervised by people who know what they’re doing, Trump and Bannon could also bring the world closer to the brink of a nuclear holocaust.
Editor’s note: Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” now available in paperback.