Whether President Trump knows it or not, he is in a battle with a powerful ‘Deep State’ that wants to suck him into its neocon foreign policy orthodoxy or destroy him politically, as ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke explains.
By Alastair Crooke
Beware ego, well two egos actually. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law who seems to believe that he can solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and who is trying to persuade his father-in-law that “a foreign policy coup” can be his.
Behind the scenes, stand the dubious former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (lobbying via media baron Rupert Murdoch’s former wife Wendy Deng, who reportedly reconciled Kushner and Ivanka Trump after their 2008 split) and the equally dubious gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, plus the Israeli Ambassador, Ron Dermer (who is a Bibi Netanyahu confidant, reportedly).
Trump would not be the first U.S. President to be glamour-struck by the prospect of being the one to solve the Palestinian conflict, if he should take the bait. He would be one of many. Yet it has proved to be a prize for none of these former Presidents, but rather has proved itself to be a poisoned chalice, time after time.
For Trump however, it would not be the standard hemlock imbibed by his predecessors, but more a case of welcoming into his Administration a Trojan Horse. It is, as journalist Robert Parry rightly asserts, a Trojan Horse carrying the neocons right back into the heart of foreign policy. It would result in “President Trump’s foreign policy sliding toward neoconservative orthodoxy on the Middle East …”.
What is “the bait” this time? Something very simple. Instead of Israel making peace with the Palestinians, leading to peace with the surrounding world, it would be the other way round: Israel would befriend the Arab world, which would then agree on some “solution” with Israel and impose it on the Palestinians.
This plan has been given a catchy sound-bite by Netanyahu: “Outside” (i.e. the Arab world), “in” (imposition on Palestinians), instead of “inside out.” The selling point is that the Palestinians are now so weak and divided, it is claimed, they have not the strength to object.
Leaving aside the fact that if the Israeli government had actually wanted a negotiated solution – the premise on which the 1993 Oslo Accords was founded (that it was in both parties’ interests to agree on a compromise) – there have been any number of occasions over the last quarter century, when Israel could have had one. History shows that Israel has always preferred continuing the (so-called) Peace Process to actually concluding peace. This understanding of the situation is common ground for both American and European officials, who have been part of “the process” over the years, (of which I was one).
The Wrong Starting Point
But for Trump, it is not the probability of failure in this venture that makes the Israeli initiative potentially so damaging, but rather that to launch his foreign policy from this platform may well prove lethal to his wider aims. Where you start matters. It matters a lot. It dictates the subsequent alignment of alliances.
Initially (and perhaps it still is so), Trump’s start point was détente with Russia. In terms of his aim to transform America’s foreign policy, that made sense. And one can understand why President Trump might be treading somewhat slowly on Russia, in the wake of the Deep State coup against Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the continuing attrition aimed against the President, but simply, were he to pursue his son-in-law’s plan, Trump will be handing over his foreign policy to the neocons.
Why? Because if Trump wants the Arab world (and Saudi Arabia in particular), to help Israel impose a settlement on the Palestinians, Trump will have to embrace Israel’s false narrative that Iran is the chief sponsor of terror in the Middle East. And, Trump equally will have to pay court to the equally false Israeli narrative of the threat of the Iranian “nuclear bomb.” He already has, at his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It has never been Iran’s non-existent “bomb” that has concerned Israeli security officials: It has been Iran’s conventional military power and even more so, its soft, revolutionary power.
It is precisely this back-to-front neocon world view that has so corrupted American foreign policy: America, for decades now, has aligned itself with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States who finance, arm and support terrorist movements (such as Al Qaeda), while labeling Iran, which actually fights and defeats these “jihadists,” as the chief sponsor of terror in the Middle East. One really cannot get it more back-to-front. This is now more widely understood by the American public, yet the neocons never pull back; they never desist in trying to tie America to the Saudi Arabia-Israeli axis and to promote phobia towards Iran.
Will President Trump see the danger? His vaunted “war” on radical Islam will be laughed off the stage in the Middle East – as was Obama’s – if he is seen to have aligned himself this way: with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It will be viewed in the Middle East as another round of America “at war” with terrorism, and tucked up “in bed” with it, too.
And in Moscow, eyebrows too, will be raised at such a strategic alignment: Will Trump be any more serious than Obama in defeating radical jihadists, policy-makers in Russia may be asking? It will be yet another question mark to put beside the bigger question mark arising from President Trump’s acceptance of General Flynn’s resignation.
Journalist Pepe Escobar notes that “even before Flynn’s fall, Russian analysts had been avidly discussing whether President Trump is the new Victor Yanukovich – [the Ukrainian President] who failed to stop a color revolution on his doorstep.”
This has become a key question. Flynn’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador over an open telephone line (which he will have known to be routinely monitored by the security services), broke no rules: He spoke, as any diplomat about to assume office might. There was nothing improper in his conduct.
A British Shadow Foreign Secretary would be constantly in touch with foreign Ambassadors. It is expected, and required of him or her. If there were any breaking of rules, it would seem to have occurred elsewhere: in the intelligence services perhaps, or in the Department of Justice. The rules are that you do not intentionally tap your own officials (or about to be officials), and should this occur inadvertently, their identity and their contribution to the conversation should be minimized, i.e., redacted under privacy rules. Never should it leak.
And if there is a puzzle to this episode, it lies not so much in Flynn’s conduct, but in the response by the President. So, Vice President Mike Pence was miffed that General Flynn had been economical with his account of events to him. Why not call them both in: tell Flynn to apologize and Pence to accept the apology? End it there. Why give a scalp to Deep State opponents?
A puzzle it remains. Eli Lake on Bloomberg View draws out the wider implications: “…unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.
“Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.
“He was also a fat target for Democrats. Remember Flynn’s breakout national moment last summer was when he joined the crowd at the Republican National Convention from the dais calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed.
“In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama’s incoming national security adviser and Iran’s foreign minister leaked to the press before the nuclear negotiations began? The howls of indignation would be deafening.
“In the end, it was Trump’s decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. [Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin] Nunes told me Monday night, that this will not end well. ‘First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,’ he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entrée.”
So this is the question: Has the Deep State already neutered Trump’s foreign policy? It is too early to tell, but there are straws in the wind suggesting that Trump’s policy might be sliding towards neocon orthodoxy on Russia (as well as on Palestine), as Moon of Alabama web site observed:
“[On Feb. 14] the White House spokesperson said: President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.
“[On Feb. 15] Trump tweeted: Donald J. Trump Verified account @realDonaldTrump
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
4:42 AM – 15 Feb 2017
“That is a position Trump had not previously taken. ‘Return Crimea’ is a no-no to any current and future Russian government. If Trump insists on this, the prospective détente is already dead.”
Flynn’s sacrifice does not allow a final judgment to be made. On the bigger chessboard, Trump has decided that “a pawn” can be sacrificed. The General had certain qualities (the ruthlessness perhaps necessary to wield an axe to the intelligence agencies), but also he had displayed a lack of political “nous” and basic understanding in Flynn’s book, The Field of Fight, (that unwisely he had co-authored with neocon Michael Leeden). Trump chose not to risk a more important piece to defend a pawn (especially as one more important “piece” (Bannon) reportedly was calling for this pawn to be sacrificed).
The question, finally, is about Trump’s character: Has he the “steel” to “drain the swamp”? Can he recruit tough-minded allies within the Deep State, ready to conduct a vicious internal war and to purge it thoroughly? Can he eliminate the sleeper cells from within his own administration? Tweets will not be enough. He will have to act soon.
Or else, will he “slide” (towards the neocons), and take the Netanyahu bait. And fall into the embrace of the neocon alignment with the Saudi-Israeli axis – and, having absorbed the basic hook of Iranophobia, go on to try to split President Putin from Iran (and China), in true neocon style?
This portends a vicious internal war within the U.S. – for even were the Deep State “color revolution” to succeed, it would not represent the end of the war, but perhaps the loss of a major battle within the wider war.
Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.