The Establishment Strikes Back

Donald Trump’s win shook up the System but the empire is already striking back as the same-ole powers-that-be seek to “guide” Trump back to establishment-friendly and pro-war policies that many voters rejected, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The immediate impact of Donald Trump’s victory among those of us who favored his candidacy over Hillary Clinton’s was triumphalism on the day after. This euphoric mood was very well captured on a special edition of the Russia Today’s “Cross Talk” show, which registered an audience of more than 110,000 on-line viewers, a number which is rare if not unprecedented.

But much of the potential for positive change which came with Trump’s victory will be dissipated if all of us do not do what Barack Obama and Donald Trump did a couple of days ago: reach out to shake hands with political opponents, who will remain opponents, and nonetheless move forward together in a constructive manner.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

If left to its own devices, the U.S. foreign policy establishment will continue doing what it has done since Nov. 8: wishing away the whole Trump victory. At present, these think tank scholars and major media columnists are in denial, as we see from op-eds published by The New York Times and other anti-Trump mainstream media. They question his mandate for change and his ability to execute change. They offer to hold his hand, bring him to his senses and ensure that his election (at least regarding its message about trying to cooperate with Russia on shared goals such as fighting terrorism) was in vain.

These spokesmen for the Establishment choose to ignore that Trump’s first moves after winning were to reward those in his party who had first come out in support of him and who stood by him in the worst days of the campaign, of which there were many. I note the rising stars of Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, among others. This makes it most improbable that he will also reward those who did everything possible to stymie his candidacy, first, and foremost the neoconservative and liberal interventionist foreign policy loudmouths.

Perhaps to comfort themselves, perhaps to confuse us, these foreign policy elitists say Trump is interested mainly in domestic affairs, in particular rebuilding American infrastructure, canceling or modifying Obamacare. They call him an isolationist and then fill in the content of his supposed isolationism to suit their purposes. They propose to give him a speed course on why continued global hegemony serves America’s interests and the interests of his electorate.

Yet, the record shows that Trump formulated his plans for U.S. military and foreign policy explicitly during the campaign. He said he would build up the U.S. military potential. He spoke specifically of targets for raising the number of men and women under arms, raising the construction of naval vessels, modernizing the nuclear arsenal. These plans are cited by the Establishment writers today as contradicting Trump’s thinking about getting along with all nations, another major motif of his campaign rhetoric. They propose to help him iron out the contradictions.

Explaining Trump’s Contradictions

But the answer to the apparent contradictions could well be that Trump was saying what he had to say to get elected. Consistency has not been at the center of Trump’s style. I maintain that the apparent contradictions were intentionally planted by Trump to secure the support of unsophisticated patriots while a very well integrated program for the way forward has been there in his pocket all the time.

A sign supporting Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

A sign supporting Donald Trump at a rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. June 18, 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Expanding U.S. military might will cost a lot, at the same time Trump has said he will not raise taxes nor raise debt. This means, in fact, reallocation of existing budgets. The most obvious place to start will be to cut back on the number of U.S. military bases abroad, which now number more than 600 and which consume $600 billion annually in maintenance costs.

The Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky recently described this spending rather colorfully when reassuring his compatriots that the U.S. is not as powerful as it appears. Said Zhirinovsky, a lot of the Pentagon’s allocations go to buying toilet paper and sausages, not military muscle as such. Moreover, the bases abroad tend to create local, regional and global grievances against the United States that, in turn, increase the need for still more bases and military expenditures.

If Trump begins by cutting back on the bases now surrounding and infuriating the Russian Federation, he would take a big step towards relaxation of international tensions, while saving money for his other security and domestic priorities.

Trump also has said he will require U.S. allies to pay more for their defense. This particularly concerns Europe, which is prosperous, but not carrying its weight in NATO despite years of exhortations and cajoling by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The U.S. pays two-thirds of the NATO’s bills. Trump has declared that this is unacceptable.

The Pentagon budget represents a bit over 4 percent of GDP, whereas in Europe only several countries have approached or crossed the 2% of GDP minimum that the U.S. and NATO officials have called for. As a practical matter, given the ongoing stagnation of the European economies, widespread heavy indebtedness and the ongoing national budgets operating at deficits that exceed the guidelines of the European Central Bank, it is improbable (read impossible) for Europe to step up to bat and meet U.S. demands.

This will then justify the U.S. withdrawal from NATO that figures at the sidelines of the wish list of Trump supporters, not isolationism per se. Trump supporter and military analyst Andrew Bacevich wrote recently in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. may well pull out of NATO completely in the early 2020s.

As a fallback, the Establishment spokesmen speculate on how the President-elect will be taken in hand by members of his own party and by their own peers so that his wings are clipped and his directional changes in U.S. foreign and defense policy are frustrated before they are even rolled out during the 100 days of the new administration.

Very likely, that same foreign policy establishment will resume its howling in the wind if they are proven wrong after Trump’s Inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, and he proceeds precisely down the path of policies that he clearly enunciated during the campaign.

Why do I think that Trump as President will follow through on the foreign policy promises of Trump, the candidate? There is a simple explanation. His announced policies regarding accommodation with Russia, renunciation of “regime change” as a U.S. government priority abroad and the like were all set out by Trump during the campaign in the full knowledge they would bring him lots of well-organized criticism and gain him few votes, given the electorate’s focus on domestic policy issues.

He also knew that his positions, including condemning President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, would cost him support within his own party leaders, which is what happened. He even weathered Hillary Clinton calling him a “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the third presidential debate and other McCarthyistic innuendo portraying him as some kind of Manchurian Candidate.

A Clash over Wars

Thus, we may assume that once he is in the saddle, he will not shy away from implementing these clearly stated policies. The impending clash between a foreign policy establishment with its supercilious attitude toward the new incumbent in the Oval Office and a determined President pulling in the other direction will surely create political tension and prompt many angry op-eds in Washington.

Seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Accordingly, I have some constructive recommendations both to my fellow Trump supporters and to Trump’s opponents in the foreign policy establishment and mass media. I earnestly ask the editors of Foreign Affairs magazine and their peer publications serving the international-relations expert community to finally open their pages and give equal time for high quality contributions by followers of the “realist” school, who have been systematically excluded over the past several years as the New Cold War set in.

I address the same message to the mainstream electronic and print media, which has engaged in a New McCarthyism by blacklisting commentators whose views run counter to the Washington consensus and also publicly denigrating them as “tools of Putin.”

To put it in terms that anyone in the Russian affairs field and even members of the general public will understand, we need a six-to-nine month period of Glasnost, of open, free and very public debate of all those key international security issues which have not been discussed due to the monopoly power of one side in the argument.

I am calling for genuinely open debate, which allows for opinions that clash with the bipartisan “group thinks” that have dominated the Democratic and Republican elites. This concerns firstly the question of how to manage relations with Russia and China. Without any serious consideration of where the West’s escalating hostilities have been leading, we have been plunging forward blindly, stumbling towards a potential nuclear war — precisely because alternative policy views were kept out.

For those of us who have been part of the silenced opposition to the Washington consensus of the Bush and Obama years, we must engage with our intellectual opponents. Only in this way can we strengthen our reasoning powers and the quality of our policy recommendations so that we are fully prepared to deal with the fateful questions under review.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.

23 comments for “The Establishment Strikes Back

  1. Lawrence Fitton
    November 15, 2016 at 14:51

    whether bacevich supports trump in total, or in one policy, is not as important as his support for a military draft. that the state can force a citizen into servitude (some would say slavery) means not only the loss of freedom, but possibly the loss of life.
    also, i believe their is an article which proscribes any forced servitude.

  2. November 15, 2016 at 07:42

    Friends, Keep in mind that Donald Trump’s wife Melanie is from Slovenia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, before the area was bombed in 1999 for 78 days by NATO/U.S. during Clinton’s administration. Might she have some lessons on war and peace?

  3. vladimir Brovkin
    November 15, 2016 at 06:59

    Bravo, thank you Dr. Doctorow. I hope they will engage in debate but I sincerely doubt. The reason is that American Liberalism has dissolved in American messianism and imperialism. the ruling elites a mergeed elite of Democrats and Republicans in their majority all believe in American mission to lead the world in the 21 century. This messianism convinced them of their right to promote democracy in the image of what they believed the best way the american way. A more profound question is why do we have this imperialist messianism? The answer it seems lies in the unexpected and quick comeback of Russia as a Great Power. Just twenty years ago, the end of history was proclaimed, the American century was hailed, Western values of free markets, globalization and democracy a la americaine was supposed to be the future of mankind. And now all of a sudden America is in debt 20 trillion and mounting, American cities in decay, American political system in chaos, and the world increasingly doubtful of the American way. In these conditions you need a scapegoat and they found it in Putin. He was blamed for everything. He was demonized in ways that were not used even in regard to mass murderer Stalin. Anti Putin anti Russian hysteria is a sign of american insecurity a sign of American self doubt of American loss of confidence. That I am afraid is not going to go away but may get only worse.

  4. November 15, 2016 at 00:44

    If Donald Trump is not the Manchurian, Machiavellian candidate but the real deal continuing the legacy of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and others striving for justice, nuclear disarmament and world peace, sadly, and in the human experience’s greatest paradox, he will confront the sacrifice of his very life. If the truth is he’s the former – one installed by the “deep state” and status quo – then may God help us all. If he’s the latter – one whose intentions are representative of human qualities of the highest order – then may God keep the man away from any harm. There is no turning back… Pray for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.

  5. Cantertius
    November 14, 2016 at 15:27

    I find it hard to believe Doctorow’s claim that Andrew Bacevich is a Trump supporter! Can anyone cite a reliable source for it? (I do not include the Andrew J. Bacevich FaceBook page, since it is not an official representative of his views.)

    • FobosDeimos
      November 14, 2016 at 19:45

      Your doubts are well founded, Cantertius. This is what Bacevich had to say about Trump back in March, as pubslihed in Tomdispatch, reproduced in Salon:

      “Should Trump or a Trump mini-me ultimately succeed in capturing the presidency, a possibility that can no longer be dismissed out of hand, the effects will be even more profound. In all but name, the United States will cease to be a constitutional republic. Once President Trump inevitably declares that he alone expresses the popular will, Americans will find that they have traded the rule of law for a version of caudillismo. Trump’s Washington could come to resemble Buenos Aires in the days of Juan Perón, with Melania a suitably glamorous stand-in for Evita, and plebiscites suitably glamorous stand-ins for elections”

      I think he doesn’t like Trump at all

      • Gilbert Doctorow
        November 15, 2016 at 03:24

        Read his article “Ending Endless War” in the September-October 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.
        He validates the Trump foreign policy.

  6. Wobblie
    November 14, 2016 at 14:35

    This is mostly wishful thinking.

    Pres Trump is like the rest. He’s already indicated that he is not interested in pursuing an investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

    Mike Pence was Cheney’s point man in Congress. Not a coincidence Trump “picked” him.

    He’s groveled to Israel several times, which means Middle East poicies will remain the same.

    New boss same as the old boss. But each election the authority of Tweedledum and Tweedledee is loses credibility.

  7. Anna
    November 14, 2016 at 05:20

    The one comment I appreciated most in the debates was Trump asking why can’t we be friends with Russia. For the first time since 1964, I did not vote Democrat. Hillary’s psychopathic warmongering scared the heck out of me.

  8. JWalters
    November 13, 2016 at 22:03

    Thanks for this exceptionally insightful analysis. This exemplifies why truly independent sources of news and analysis are so important to democracy.

    Big money has clearly shut down key discussions in the land of the free press. Trump “condemning President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq”, and his blunt statement that Bush lied to Americans to attack Iraq, was a blip in the news media rather than the huge discussion it should have been. Similarly the LIBOR international banking conspiracy was noted and flushed from discussions. Even America’s own criminal bankers have been kept off the public’s radar screen amazingly effectively, given they robbed virtually the entire American economy for their “record profits” in the Great Recession heist. And especially forbidden to discuss is the quasi-hidden hand of Israel, fanning the flames of Islamophobia and thumping for more war.

  9. FobosDeimos
    November 13, 2016 at 20:12

    I’ve just read that Trump is appointing a crazy war monger, fanatical pro-Israel and former Goldman Sachs lackey by the name of Stephen Bannon, as his chief “strategist”. He served the nauseating sewage pond called Breitbart until recently. I am sorry but this pretty much destroys the little hope I had that Trump would walk away from 36 years of neocon domination. Very sad!

    • November 14, 2016 at 06:39

      Chomping at the bit to get into The Donald cabinet
      The list of names being floated for Trump cabinet positions raises alarms:

      I have a whole list of 15 undesirables like the Stephen Bannon type starting with:

      Pence is a super conservative neocon, who has supported all things Bush. He supported the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, is pro-torture (opposes the closing of Guantanamo Bay), and supports war in the Middle East and is hawkish on Russia. He supported the toppling of Libya, and thanked Hillary Clinton for doing it. He supports globalization and free trade agreements, supported NAFTA and CAFTA.

      He is a corporatist who opposes banking and campaign finance reforms, who praised the criminal Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that made corporations people. Although Trump openly disagreed with Pence on certain foreign policy issues, he trusts Pence, who now heads the transition team.

      Having watched The Donald over the years sometimes he has shown not so good commonsense, so let’s wait and see this time around.

      Trump alone stands between himself and forces capable of co-opt his presidency, and worse. He faces opposition from a Congress full of Bush surrogates, and angry Hillary Clinton loyalists eager to destroy him.

      Will Trump keep the burned bridges burned, or make amends with political enemies?

      Will he hold true to the promises made to his supporters, or instead cave to the pressures and intimidation of the political players with whom he will be forced to work with?

      Will Trump be threatened by New World Order figures, if he defies their agenda?

      The odds are against him. But Trump is a businessman, and the art of business deals is compromise and negotiation, not purity. He must control the looming figures within his own cabinet, defend against legions of political enemies, battle a hostile Congress, a vicious mainstream media, and deal with hatred from segments of a deeply divided country,

      • FobosDeimos
        November 14, 2016 at 15:04

        Yes, let us all hope for the better, but unfortunately Doctorow’s optimism is being disproved by the hour with each new announcement on Trump’s aides and advisors. If he appoints John Bolton as Secretary of State that would be it, at least for me. I know it would have been the same or worse with Hillary the Crooked Bomber, so in the end it would just be another nail in the coffin of international law and peace, delivered by the temporary tenant of the White House. Still sad.

      • Curious
        November 14, 2016 at 15:58

        Pence has also said Dick Cheney is his hero. This statement alone should pause anyones enthusiasm for a very important, needed, and rational transition from the past two administrations.

  10. Linda Furr
    November 13, 2016 at 13:47

    Let’s give the man a chance. He’s said wild and crazy things, but he’s also said graduated income taxes are logical, we need to get along with people – not isolate them, and let’s look into the value of NATO … plus other sensible things we haven’t heard from either party this century. The NATO Security Investment Program – 1993 has made far too much money for big investors of the world to accept NATO without question.

  11. Skip Scott
    November 13, 2016 at 12:38

    We can only be hopeful that the course Doctorow outlines is what happens. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I think that there is so much money and power in the Deep State that Trump will either be co-opted or assassinated. His cabinet choices will say it all in the days and weeks ahead.

  12. dahoit
    November 13, 2016 at 11:20

    Soft on Russia,tough on zion sounds great to me.It aint Russia that is our mortal enemy.

  13. ltr
    November 13, 2016 at 10:16

    November 12, 2016

    The Danger of Going Soft on Russia

    Will Donald Trump, who has been Vladimir Putin’s apologist, change his tune in the White House?

    [ The prejudiced Russian-disdaining McCarthyism of the editors of the New York Times. ]

    • jaycee
      November 13, 2016 at 13:38

      This editorial is a perfect example of the need for differing voices and something of a debate in the media landscape. The Times editors stay true to form, presenting a series of allegations and half-truths which would whither faced with any informed counterpoint. Their recommendation that the Obama administration take the initiative and attack the Russians in some way ahead of Trump’s inaugaration is exactly the kind of reckless mindlessness best regarded in a rear view mirror.

  14. Litchfield
    November 13, 2016 at 09:48

    So glad to see Gilbert Doctorow here at Consortium News. He is one of my favorites from CrossTalk.
    He always presents a thoughtful analysis, delivered in a quiet tone.

    I hope some establishment foreign policy “experts” follow the advice he gives here, to open up the foreign policy debate.
    I think there have been a few noises from Foreign Policy magazine that questioned the establishment foreign policy stance.

    I also hope that Andrew Bacevich will be accorded a place in Trump’s circle of national security and military advisers.

    • Peter Loeb
      November 14, 2016 at 08:07


      Thanks for you cogent article.

      As to the so-called “protesters” against Trump, they have
      bases for fear. But it makes no sense to scream about
      your own failures and blame it on someone else.

      Protest an event and I am with you. Just jumping up and
      down in sophomoric pain is totally useless.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  15. John Anderson
    November 13, 2016 at 09:44

    Reddit is famous for its propensity for moderator banning or downvoting you into oblivion if you espouse working with the Russian Federation.

  16. Erik
    November 13, 2016 at 08:56

    Excellent thoughts on the necessity of openness of debate to all points of view. It is exactly this closing of public debate that results in groupthink and state propaganda. Of course it is deliberately done by the oligarchy owners of mass media. If they could be persuaded to tolerate other views, it is only because they will be disregarded otherwise, which is probably best. The media that call each other “respected” are right wing extremists uniformly injurious to humanity. They will only seek to create another groupthink on behalf of the zionists and warmongers, because they are owned by such people. They should be left in disrepute and new media found. But of course those money interests will form most new media.

    The restoration of democracy requires constitutional amendments to protect mass media and elections from the influence of money, the economic concentrations that did not exist when the Constitution was written, but now control the tools of democracy needed to debate and pass those very amendments. Executive emergency powers are probably needed to restore democracy, and Trump could do that, having seen the press abuses himself.

    I am suggesting a federal college of policy analysis constituted to protect all points of view, and to debate among university experts of several disciplines the status and possibilities of each world region, and the policy options. Prevention of bias is the major issue, but if made an independent branch of the federal government it would be free of the groupthink bias of other branches.

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