Trump Sends the World Muddled Messages

Moving from Tweets to Tomahawk missiles, President Trump enjoys sending messages with exclamation points, but those messages often are muddled and thus dangerous, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Trump administration’s miscommunication about the whereabouts of a naval strike force that includes the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson underscores the emptiness of the administration’s tough-sounding but vague rhetoric about putting states “on notice” and ending eras of “patience.”

USS Carl Vinson in the Pacific Ocean

The episode with the Vinson — which was sailing south for an exercise with the Australians as the administration was suggesting publicly that it was sailing north toward Korea — will lead additional foreign observers to conclude that the muscular talk is just talk. This is on top of what was already a severe international credibility problem with a president who has established a well-deserved reputation for dishonesty.

All of this is bad enough, but it obscures further problems entailed in Donald Trump’s use of military force to send messages to foreign regimes. This form of messaging, as illustrated by the cruise missile strike in Syria, plays so much to Trump’s inclinations that we are likely to see many more instances of it. It is an emphatic and dramatic gesture that may be grounded, as the strike in Syria evidently was, more in emotion than in any careful thought about long-term strategy. Sort of like a tweet with lots of exclamation points.

Following the embarrassment involving the Vinson, Trump’s advisers may lean more than before toward favoring actual use of force, lest the empty rhetoric seem even more empty. But as long as either the advisers or the President himself are disinclined to become deeply committed in any one situation, most of the use of force will be rationalized as the sending of “messages.”

Probably the message from the strike in Syria that the White House valued most was one sent to domestic audiences. The missile strike won support across a wide part of the American political spectrum. The action could be presented as a break from Barack Obama, amid a plethora of international problems that the current administration has no better ideas or options for solving than Obama did.

The missile strike was especially cheered by neoconservatives who see any use of military force against a disliked regime as one more step toward neocon recapture of control over U.S. foreign policy. But as for sending messages to foreigners and foreign states, there is no indication that the Trump White House fully understands the principles involved in making that kind of messaging effective — principles that the strategist Thomas Schelling explained half a century ago.

Inarticulate Bombing

There is, first of all, the question of what exactly is the message. Bombs and missiles are not articulate things; they are incapable of explaining objectives, limits, red lines, or anything else that the users of them may want to communicate. Trump’s cascade of flip-flops, and the vague nature of the rhetoric about putting people on notice and running out of patience, do not help in the communication.

President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to a state dinner during their summit at Mar-a-Lago, Florida, on April 6, 2017, after Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile strike on Syria. (Screen shot from whitehouse.gov)

The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons. But if the purpose was to enforce an international norm and international law about use of chemical weapons, persuading anyone of that was made more difficult by the lack of any effort to obtain international sanction, especially through the United Nations Security Council, before a retaliatory strike.

Moreover, other bellicose administration rhetoric about Syria has sounded much broader. And indeed, casualties from chemical weapons have been a tiny fraction of overall casualties — including civilian suffering inflicted by the regime’s military operations — in the Syrian war. So if it really was just about chemicals, how much good did any message-sending strike do? The Syrian regime evidently was not deterred from promptly attacking again the same neighborhood (with conventional weapons) that was the scene of the chemical incident. [For more on the uncertainty about what happened at Khan Sheikhoun, see Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Mocks Skepticism on Syria-Sarin Claims.”]

Mixed-up Messaging

Messages — like names, and unlike sticks and stones—don’t necessarily hurt very much. A message-sending military attack can actually help the regime or group that is targeted, by giving it an opportunity to demonstrate to its constituencies how it is surviving the attacks of, standing up to, and striking back against the American superpower.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ford Williams)

And it does so with the added benefit of riding any popular resentment against foreign, especially U.S., intervention and resentment against any casualties inflicted by foreign military operations.

A key, per Schelling, to making a message-sending action effective is to link it in the minds of the targeted regime to the prospect of more destructive action if certain demands or standards are not met. One way of achieving such linkage is for the message-sending operation to carry, by its very nature, the risk of escalation into something bigger and more destructive.

The missile strike in Syria did involve a danger of escalation, especially if it had killed any Russians, but there is no indication that the Trump administration wants a military clash with Russia (although the administration’s current posture toward Russia is yet another topic infected by muddled messaging).

What is most important in the end is not only the message and the risk of escalation but a belief in the minds of the leaders of the other state that our own leaders consider the issue at stake to be so important that they are willing to fight a bigger war over it. But that is not true of the civil war in Syria. The United States simply does not have that kind of stake in its outcome, which is why the Obama administration wisely did not immerse the United States in that civil war.

With North Korea, the prospect of nuclear weapons atop long-range missiles represents high stakes, but so do all the other dimensions of that problem, including the danger of sparking a new Korean War, that have made the issue a difficult puzzle for all the U.S. administrations that have had to deal with it.

Once the Vinson finally gets to the vicinity of Korea, as we are told that it will, what exactly could its aircraft do that would make sense given this panoply of U.S. interests and hazards to those interests? It is hard to answer that question, and it is hard also for Kim Jong-un to answer it.

Underlying not just the Trump administration’s attitudes but also a larger discourse in the United States about military message-sending is the recurrent tendency, especially among those cheering neocons, to believe that lashing out militarily anywhere in the world buys the United States some kind of leverage or influence with regard to issues anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t.

That is simply not how international reputations and credibility work. What matters is the strength of interest that the United States has in any one issue, along with its ability to communicate to others how strong that interest is.

Donald Trump may not be a neocon, but he clearly is inclined toward the lashing-out-wins-points approach rather than careful issue-by-issue consideration of where U.S. interests do and do not lie. And the lashing out also satisfies whatever internal demons sustain his eruptive nature. He already had Twitter for sending out angry messages.

Now he also has cruise missiles and other military hardware for sending such messages. His use of the latter may show some of the impulsiveness he habitually shows with the former.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 

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64 comments for “Trump Sends the World Muddled Messages

  1. Zachary Smith
    April 20, 2017 at 10:37 am

    A possible explanation for all this is connected to Trump’s actual status.

    “ATTACKING PEOPLE WITH FLEETS OF MISSILES BEFORE YOU HAVE ANY FACTS”

    I just do not believe Trump is effectively in charge. The only other explanation for this bozo attack is that Trump is mentally unbalanced, changing his policy daily in response to passing whims, but I do not believe that to be the case, despite his tendency to behave clownishly at times.

    He’s been reduced to the same figurehead status as Obama, signing off on official papers to order things pretty much decided by others, others not elected to anything but enjoying immense power and privilege. Of course, all the contrived but ceaseless attacks he has endured since being elected and the important staff he has had to let go signaled exactly the same fact.

    This theory explains much of the “erratic” behavior. Trump is extremely lazy, quite susceptible to having his “buttons” pushed, and has found that doing what the Neocon Establishment wants makes life easier for him.

    The US Military has evidently been “empowered” to a previously unheard of degree, and so far nobody has adjusted the public relations machinery to reflect this.

    As I said, it’s a working theory.

    www*bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article23606

    • backwardsevolution
      April 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Zachary – “Trump is extremely lazy.” That’s not what people who work with him have been saying. To their dismay, he is energetic and hard-working, staying up into the wee hours of the morning to get stuff done. When these people spoke about his work ethic, you could tell by the way they said it that they almost wished he wasn’t so tireless.

      Look at him on the campaign trail – he was on the move constantly, then had to give another speech, maybe two or three, all the while protesters were trying to shut him down.

      I think Trump is a lot of things, but I don’t think “lazy” is one of them.

      • Ol' Hippy
        April 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm

        The fact that he seems not to read makes for a type of mental uninformed ‘laziness that is on full display on a daily basis. The neocons now have their perfect man in the thrown and can do at will, through Trump, all of the heinous vulgar actions they could ever want.

        • backwardsevolution
          April 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

          Ol’ Hippy – I know, there were no wise and intelligent people around before the written word.

          Look, it would be nice if Trump had read stacks of books. But Obama was well-educated (as was Clinton), and look what we got! I know lots of educated, well-read people who are book smart, but not street smart.

          The Democrats, media, neocons, neoliberals have attacked Trump with everything they’ve got. They dug up old dirt on him, they vilified him. Most people would have folded under the barrage, but he didn’t. He won.

          The Syrian attack created very little damage, and all players were warned ahead of time that it was coming.

          The attack in Afghanistan – ditto.

          • John Doe II
            April 21, 2017 at 7:31 pm

            backwardsevolution, a narrow focus misses much detail, go deeper in evaluations… .

  2. Abe
    April 20, 2017 at 11:50 am

    “The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons.”
    – 28 year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency

    Another muddled message interpretation from one of the CIA’s top analysts.

    The best face-value interpretation of the attack in Syria is that it had to do with derailing peace negotiations in Syria by “punishing and deterring use of chemical weapons” following a false flag chemical incident perpetrated by CIA-supported terrorists Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the latest rebrand of Al-Qaeda / Al-Nusra / Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in Idlib.

    • D5-5
      April 20, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      I may have missed where you posted a link to this idea of the incident arranged by CIA-supported terrorists, but have been thinking along these lines (the dreadful speculating), plus the possibility all of it was laid out ahead of time from the moment the US knew the attack was coming on the warehouse (available via the de-conflicting agreement, and why the Russians canceled that agreement). I’m also speculating Trump knew of the missile revenge maneuver well in advance of Ivanka’s and his made-for-media emotions justifying the response.

    • Abe
      April 20, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Here’s a former CIA guy who got the message loud and clear:
      “That’s America doing something unilaterally for what I call the good of the order”
      http://thehill.com/policy/international/middle-east-north-africa/328063-ex-cia-head-trump-had-remarkable-flip-on-syria

      The “good of the order” being CIA-supported Al-Qaeda terrorist-instigated “regime change” in Syria and beyond.

    • Abe
      April 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm

      The smartest guy not in the room, CIA Director Mike Pompeo got that Trump’s message was for Iran.

      Speaking at the Center for Strategic Strategic Studies on April 13, Pompeo said Trump’s airstrike reflected “a decision making process that was decisive, thoughtful and truly based on a factual understanding of the geostrategic importance of the things that are facing our nation today”.

      Pompeo not insignificantly mentioned the real reason why Trump ignored the air-dropped chemical weapon that wasn’t in the hole in the road in Idlib:

      “We had someone violate the chemical weapons ban. This is not insignificant. So I do think the Iranians ought to take note of the fact that this administration is prepared to engage in activities that are different from what America has been doing these past few years.”

      CIA Director Pompeo understands that you don’t bomb “someone” when they are CIA-supported Al-Qaeda terrorists. Duh.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    April 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    For the sake of respecting a sovereign nations credibility I will refer to Assad’s Adminstration as Syria’s Government and not call it a regime.

    The only thing Trump accomplished by firing off 59 Tomahawk missiles, is that when his favorability numbers are down then everyone who’s in America’s dog house had better watch out. Trump also showed to the world that by his attacking a sovereign nation that America can ignore international law, but other nations better not. Trump gave credence that two wrongs in his world makes his response a right. Trump’s attack on Syria’s Shayrat Air Base, which had questionable results to it’s devastation, turns out to be nothing than more of a show for his warhawk followers to get all excited about, than whatever it was suppose to mean to Assad or Putin.

    When it comes to the location of the aircraft carrier attack group, I’d like to know why our media feels it’s so important to give out the location of this armada in the first place. In a smart way if all this news about the where abouts of the USS Carl Vinson could be a clever ploy to confuse the N Koreans, or otherwise revealing this information is a stupid boost to look tough. I would hope that our Navy is doing something clever, because I can’t see any Flag Admiral agreeing to give away the armada’s vital stealthiness just for bragging rights. Then again who said Flag always does smart things?

    On another level there is big money being made by the armament industry for every missile fired, and every mile an armada may travel, and with that one may see the genius of our military strategy.

    • backwardsevolution
      April 20, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      Joe – “Big money being made by the armament industry.” Yes, and lots of new debt for Wall Street. Debt is money.

      • Ol' Hippy
        April 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm

        Never is mentioned the cost of the last two messages and the debt incurred. The best figure I could come up with is approximately $130 million for the last two messages. (The cruise missiles and MOAB, $115 and $15 million respectively. Ratheon,(the cruise missile guys) stock rose the next day. The only people screwed by this ‘message’ are the Syrian civilians and the American taxpayer. The priorities in this country are totally out of whack and getting worse on a daily basis.

      • Joe Tedesky
        April 20, 2017 at 3:43 pm

        Debt is the real bonus for the elite bankers, you are right.

    • Abe
      April 20, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Pillar meanly mutters the two-syllable word “regime” six times. No muddled message-sending there.

      I guess “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” has too many syllables.

      So do “Al-Qaeda” and “CIA”.

      Economy of language is the essence of CIA analysis. What to do.

      • Joe Tedesky
        April 20, 2017 at 3:51 pm

        I’ve had it with all of the denigration and slanted opinion always used against those who won’t conform to our wishes.

    • Abe
      April 20, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Also unsurprisingly missing from Pillar’s analysis is “Pompeo”, a three-syllable word for Iran. And “Wikileaks”. And “Israel”.

      Three-syllable “Korea” is apparently OK.

      At least one thing is clear. All that shit you can’t talk about and all those syllable restrictions make for quite the muddled message from one of the Agency’s ex-top analysts.

      • Joe Tedesky
        April 20, 2017 at 3:55 pm

        Because Pompeo didn’t have the right intelligence to confirm Syria’s supposed chemical attack he didn’t get an invite to sit at the table…better luck next time Mikey boy, I guess.

      • Abe
        April 20, 2017 at 4:20 pm

        The problem was that evidence pointing to CIA’s special “someone” (Al-Qaeda) in Idlib didn’t quite qualify as the “right intelligence” to support an airstrike on those former Iranian Su-22 aircraft that the Syrians had parked at Shayrat Airbase.

        So Mikey Boy had to go pee or check his email or do some important CIA Director-type stuff.

        But don’t you worry, Mikey Boy is itchin’ for a second crack at impressing Israel
        http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.767122

        • Joe Tedesky
          April 20, 2017 at 5:16 pm

          Ah the ‘I had to take a leak’ excuse, this has worked for the totally inept for centuries….very funny Abe.

    • Zachary Smith
      April 21, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      For the sake of respecting a sovereign nations credibility I will refer to Assad’s Adminstration as Syria’s Government and not call it a regime.

      Good catch. Mr. Pillar is either mighty careless or a stealth agent of somebody or other.

  4. Abe
    April 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    “Trump, like Obama and Bush before him, has omitted any substantial evidence implicating the Syrian government, and like his predecessors, he is attempting to rush the nation and its allies into a course of action before evidence and reason can be applied to unraveling the events surrounding this latest incident.

    “Also omitted from the Trump administration’s rhetoric, as well as that of voices across US-European media, is the fact that Idlib is the defacto capital of Al Qaeda affiliates. In other words, the US is attempting to rush into action in defense of one of the last remaining, and now endangered bastions of Al Qaeda in Syria […]

    “A US-sponsored, staged attack, however, makes perfect sense and fits well into a pattern of deceit, murder and mayhem that has punctuated virtually all aspects of modern American foreign policy. Even as the repercussions of American deceit versus Iraq continue to unfold in cities like Mosul, the US appears poised to predicate another entire war and the destruction of another entire nation on tales of ‘weapons of mass destruction.'”

    Syria: Trump’s Bush-Obama WMD Remix
    By Ulson Gunnar
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2017/04/syria-trumps-bush-obama-wmd-remix.html

    • April 20, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      lets cut to the chase on Trump…he is doing to this country what he has done in his business all his life….he will say anything to get investors(voters) to back him…he gets what he wants and coldly cuts the throat of anyone in his way….how many things did he say he was running on and then completely has done the opposite? All of it was a lie….he is an extremely cold business professional with alot of legal wrangling exp…he hasnt actually flipped…he is simply showing his actual agenda, as he is sure he is safe….make no mistake…War is Coming…

  5. Abe
    April 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    “The so-called chemical attack – something that CIA itself is guilty of previously supporting and overlooking in the US manufactured gulf war – is the latest excuse they seem to have invented to legitimize direct military intervention to prolong the war and facilitate materialization of their own sinister objectives for the region that extends far beyond Syria […]

    “the perception being built in the US via the mainstream media that Washington is not following a coherent policy vis-à-vis Russia is factually incorrect.

    “What doesn’t add up here is how can one disregard the reality that the well-proven system of proper intelligence gathering, analysis and decision making of the US Establishment can allow such ‘knee jerk’ decision making by the US president, even if he happens to be the unpredictable Donald Trump?

    “On the other hand, what appears more likely and logical is that that US government does have a proper plan to apply such ‘checks moves’ to counter Russia’s moves to expand its own geopolitical influence in certain region to checkmate that of the US.

    “However, what is not yet certain is whether US plans to commence its long-term intervention moves in Syria, or would US prefer to apply only the ‘check moves’ according to the evolving situation. So far what appears more likely is that US may not prefer to intervene militarily alone in a big way in Syria because US ’public is averse to heavy causalities of their kith and kin in US military, and dontinuation of the mutual attrition of the Muslim world helps US and its allies to maintain their geopolitical superiority and enables them to profit from the war (Read: the missile strike has added a whopping US$ 5billion to the Tomahawk market).

    “That is to say, while the US does want to garb some of the geo-political space it has lost to Russia, it wants to do this through a limited military engagement. On the one hand, this would help the US in maintaining its erstwhile allies, such as Turkey, in its own ambit and use them against Russia/Iran, and on the other, a tussle with Russia would equally help it maintain its military and political credibility amongst its European allies who have been expressing their ‘reservations’ with regard to Trump’s possible opening up to Russia—something that now appears to be unrealistic and an ‘out of the question’ thing!

    “The attack on Syria, in this context, was not a spontaneous outcome of Trump’s emotions, it was a well calculated move, a part of the US new strategy for the region, in the war that is likely to go on in the years to come. And, although missiles landed on a Syria airbase, the target was Russia and the message was loud and clear enough: the US wouldn’t allow Russia and its allies to end the war that allows the US to maintain its superior position amongst its allies as well as enemies.”

    Russia was the Actual Target of America’s Strikes in Syria
    By Salman Rafi Sheikh
    http://journal-neo.org/2017/04/15/russia-was-the-actual-target-of-america-s-strikes-in-syria/

    • April 20, 2017 at 7:59 pm

      very much in agreement…Trump played the nationalist, populist clown act just long enuff to get us to sign on the dotted line…A major conflict or serious conflict plays into the agenda of all the dark globalists and helps accelerate their programs….As a viscous bankruptcy weasel and tax fraud without conscience…the globalist bankers and corps could scarcely have picked a more perfect individual to lead this phase of their programs…to steal the last remaining trillions from america by all means…War is Coming…

  6. mike k
    April 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    The unholy crew Trump has brought on for this crazy voyage of his presidency now realize that the captain really doesn’t have a clue about anything; so whoever can get his ear and manipulate him can have their way without shouldering any responsibility for what happens. Trump’s weakness makes him the perfect fall guy for the demented lot of them.

  7. backwardsevolution
    April 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Charles Hugh Smith talks about the “Long Game”:

    “Whatever you think of President Trump–pawn, buffoon, loose cannon, evil incarnate, whatever–please understand that his administration is viewed as a potentially disruptive threat to the dominant Neocon camp, which expected a seamless transition in the Executive branch from President Obama to Hillary Clinton, echoing the seamless transition from G.W. Bush to President Obama.

    The possibility that the anti-Neocon camp might gain a foothold in the Trump administration has caused the Neocon camp to launch an all-out war against anyone and anything that could offer the “rogue” insiders a toehold.

    The Neocon behavior is that of a cornered beast. Every potential adversary is deemed a potentially mortal threat, generating a ceaseless flow of self-destructive over-reaction.

    What does an opponent do in this circumstance, against an enraged, hyper-reactive foe who senses its own erosion of control? You play along, at least publicly. You bide your time, keeping secret communication lines open with allies and potential adversaries. You stage the Kabuki theater publicly, and communicate about real issues in private.

    You give the hyper-reactive Neocons a sense they’ve regained the upper hand; you placate them in small, meaningless ways to boost their wounded egos, and seek to reassure them that their power is still absolute.

    Then you begin chipping away at the foundations of their grasp on power. Two can play at the damaging-secrets-released-to-the-public game, so you play that, releasing the goods to WikiLeaks and other sources.

    When a key Neocon player becomes vulnerable, you cashier them under the guise of “moving on to other opportunities.”

    You plant articles undermining the core Neocon narratives in influential journals such as Foreign Affairs.

    You hold private meetings with private-sector and public-sector movers and shakers, letting them know that the winds have shifted against globalization, Neoliberalism and Neocon narratives. You let them know that hedging their bets by advancing anti-Neocon people and narratives would be smart–very smart.

    This is how The Long Game is played. For crying out loud, people, the political threat to the Neocon Empire hasn’t even been around for three months, and it’s already been declared dead on arrival.

    Put yourself in the shoes of a patriotic insider who understands the Neoliberals/Neocons are a mortal threat to America’s interests. If you go public with your views, you’ll get your head handed to you. The only way to play The Long Game in an internecine war is with great patience, and out of the public gaze.

    Let’s see how things play out over the next few years before we declare the insider opponents of the Neocons have already lost.”

    • Ol' Hippy
      April 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      This type of ‘long game’ nonsense has caused the collapse of the US empire. It began in earnest around 2000 CE and became unstoppable after 9/11. If things would have been run differently after the cold war ended perhaps the co;;apse could have been averted, but now I’m afraid it’s too late.

      • mike k
        April 20, 2017 at 1:41 pm

        Right. The long game is the drive to rule the world. It has caused infinite pain and trouble as far back as man can remember. It is finally coming to it’s grand finale, empowered to become our last act by modern science

        • backwardsevolution
          April 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm

          Sometimes the long game is the only play you can make. When you are surrounded by paranoid, warmongering idiots who view you as a direct threat, and who have and will assassinate you if you push them too hard, then the long game it is. There are too many vested interests (arms dealers/weapons manufacturers/security agencies, etc.) who view Trump as a real threat to their wealth machine.

          If you don’t play the long game with people like this, then you’ll be playing the short game, replaced by a McCain or Hillary-type. Not a good plan. You don’t play a short game with entrenched interests.

    • mike k
      April 20, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      See how things play out over the next few years? Hope springs eternal…. We may all be dead in the next few years. Either we turn this juggernaut aside soon, or the only thing we will be waiting for is the END.

  8. Bill Bodden
    April 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    For the record in case anyone missed it:

    “The Nerve Gas Attack Described in White House Report Did Not Occur, Expert Says of Syria Incident”
    Posted on Apr 19, 2017- By Theodore A. Postol – http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/nerve_agent_attack_did_not_occur_in_syria_expert_finds_20170419

  9. Bill Bodden
    April 20, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    “Trump Sends the World Muddled Messages”

    So, what else is new? Now, if the headline were “Trump Sends the World Clear and Reliable Messages” that would be news.

    • backwardsevolution
      April 20, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Bill – and if Trump were to send the world clear and reliable messages, he would say what he said during his campaign: let’s cooperate, let’s do business, let’s stop the senseless wars.

      But then if he said this, he’d get his “head handed to him”, as Charles Hugh Smith said in my above post. He must play the Long Game.

      • mike k
        April 20, 2017 at 1:25 pm

        This “long game” somehow reminds me of the “gradualism” that African Americans were offered as a substitute for immediate radical change. We know what they did. Maybe we don’t have the guts to follow their example?

        • backwardsevolution
          April 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm

          mike k – yes, as soon as slavery was abolished, the Africans should have been sent home to their home countries, back to their families. Immediate radical change was needed right then and there.

          Same with the neocons and the neoliberals. Immediate radical change is again absolutely necessary, but whoever steps up to talk about it is beaten up and pummeled.

          You are right, it is always best to rip the Band-Aid off, but special interests get in the way. And special interests are running things right now. Trump stepped up to fight them, and the Left sided with the neocons/neoliberals. Go figure!

          • Bill Bodden
            April 20, 2017 at 7:21 pm

            yes, as soon as slavery was abolished, the Africans should have been sent home to their home countries, back to their families. Immediate radical change was needed right then and there.

            By the time slavery was officially abolished “home” for the “freed” slaves was where they happened to be at the time. After four or more generations enslaved on plantations defining their places of origin would have taken years.

        • Joe Wallace
          April 22, 2017 at 7:39 pm

          mike k:

          Comparing the “long game” to the “gradualism” African Americans have suffered is right on the money. As Blacks know all too well, it is naive to suppose that there will be “pie in the sky by and by,” when institutional racism withers away and dies on some long-deferred someday. Likewise, an entrenched bureaucracy that has promoted American hegemony and full spectrum dominance for decades, despite the electorate’s opposition to these imperial aspirations, will not wither away and die. It must be uprooted. The neocons’ control of our toxic foreign policy must be openly and forcefully opposed.

      • Gregory Herr
        April 20, 2017 at 10:09 pm

        O.K. It’s still early in the first quarter, but Trump and his long game (cooperation, doing business, ending wars) is behind 28-0 already, courtesy of 4 pick-sixes. Trump is the quarterback.

  10. Bill Bodden
    April 20, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    All of this is bad enough, but it obscures further problems entailed in Donald Trump’s use of military force to send messages to foreign regimes. This form of messaging, as illustrated by the cruise missile strike in Syria, plays so much to Trump’s inclinations that we are likely to see many more instances of it. It is an emphatic and dramatic gesture that may be grounded, as the strike in Syria evidently was, more in emotion than in any careful thought about long-term strategy. Sort of like a tweet with lots of exclamation points.

    Many voters were opposed to Hillary Clinton because of her avowed hostility towards Russia and other nations that made more wars likely. Trump, on the other hand, may do the same thing in what appears to be a script in the making for a new survivor show.

  11. roger noehren
    April 20, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    I’m reminded of the surprise invasion of Grenada when Reagan sent a fleet, supposedly headed for Lebanon in response to the bombing of the US Marine barracks there. Trump said that he doesn’t believe in signaling his intentions “You never know…you never know”. Perhaps the “armada” is actually heading for the South China Sea to confront China’s growing presence there. He also mentioned submarines, some of which may be headed towards N Korea, while the conspicuous surface fleet lingers.

    Rex Tillerson is visiting Indonesia, where according to an article by Allan Nairn published by the Intercept yesterday, Trump’s business partners are supporting a possible coup and his close associate Carl Icahn has major mining interests. Meanwhile Exxon is applying for a waiver of sanctions imposed on Russia, so it can proceed with drilling in the Black Sea in partnership with Russian oil giant Rosneft. While the administration appears to be lurching from one theatre to another, it also has elements of a game of Three-card Monte (with extra cards being added like tweets…).

    • mike k
      April 20, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Trump is flying by the seat of his pants and mostly blind. He doesn’t have a clue what he is going to do next. This is not a clever strategy – it is a recipe for disaster.

    • backwardsevolution
      April 20, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      roger – see my post (above) by Charles Hugh Smith re the “Long Game”.

  12. mike k
    April 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Trump is an impulsive grabber for short term gain. He will lie or flip-flop or do whatever to make a quick score. Long term games are not his shtick.

    • backwardsevolution
      April 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      mike k – “Trump is flying by the seat of his pants and mostly blind. He doesn’t have a clue what he is going to do next. Trump is an impulsive grabber for short term gain. He will lie or flip-flop…..”

      You don’t know that, mike. You are wildly speculating.

      • mike k
        April 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm

        Well I could always be wrong about anything. Maybe the wise and inscrutable Trump will show his true colors at a crucial time when he seems to be tipping us all into nuclear war, and save the day in spectacular fashion revealing his long term plan he had kept secret until the right moment. Maybe he is just playing the inept fool, kinda like Prince Hamlet. If that’s the case, I must say he is an excellent actor – he has me fooled with his idiot act right now. How shrewd of him to surround himself with warmongers when his game is really peace! He may be a genius at deception……

        • mike k
          April 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

          Now I am beginning to rethink my idea that Trump made all those millions ripping people off in phony real-estate deals because he is a greedy bastard. What if he has a secret plant to give all that money to the poor? Who knows?

          • mike k
            April 20, 2017 at 2:26 pm

            typo – should read – secret plan.

  13. D5-5
    April 20, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    “Following the embarrassment involving the Vinson, Trump’s advisors may lean more than before toward favoring actual use of force, lest the empty rhetoric seem even more empty.”

    This could be one of Mr. Pillar’s best comments in the article.

    Trump’s credibility hangs loose and feeble following such moments as when he mistakenly told President Xi he had just launched Tomahawk missiles into Iraq, and Xi stared at him for a full ten seconds. An aide then clarified he meant Syria.

    These embarrassing moments are piling on. I don’t find confirmation, only numerous theories, about the missing 36 missiles. Also, how can this number be so precise? All 59 hit or not, doing pinpoint damage somehow (although 9 victims, including four children weren’t so pinpointed), and the 36 gone astray is false?

    The kneejerk “by damn!” to fire them missiles within a few hours of a highly unlikely chemical incident story may play very well to a brainwashed news audience, but how is this likely to impress foreign leaders?

    Appointing McMaster, right next to Pretaeus, Hillary’s guy, is another question mark on credibility. What sense does that make following your blowhard on avoiding regime change, taking care of America, and then all the contradictions via Haley, Mattis, Tillerson on the “Assad must go” popular phrasing?

    Now, even the North Koreans are laughing at him, scoffing in that way they have, probably as a little relief from all the demonizing they’ve assumed all these decades.

    So, yes . . . “Trump’s advisors may lean more than before toward favoring actual use of force, lest the empty rhetoric seem even more empty.”

    • mike k
      April 20, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      The old “you think I’m bluffing? I’ll show you!” pattern? This could have some deadly consequences. I have a feeling Trump is a terrible poker player, and avoids the game entirely. His impulsive shit would not take him very far against real players – who he is up against now.

  14. April 20, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    For about a month now it’s been reported that Navy Seals were training to take out Kim Jong-un, others must have seen it, was on Zero Hedge, Breitbart, The Sun, and more, as you can find with Google. Trump is intentionally sending mixed messages, which he usually does anyway? The strike on Syria toned down Russia-gate, but would he have thought of that?

    Hard to figure any strategy goes on in Trump’s muddled brain. He stated when campaigning that he sleeps only 4 hours a night, so busy with business! A brain doesn’t function well with so little sleep, especially over time harmful effects would set in and he’s 70.

    Also, who got hold of him to set those neocon generals in control of him? After all he said about winding the wars down? Of course, he also said “we should just take the oil”. ??!! Functioning brain?

    His administration is most bizarre! Pompeo would like to kill Assange, McMaster is big anti-Russia, Tillerson doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing except he’d like to do oil business, Haley is a foaming-at-the-mouth aggressor hawk-lady (has to show she can run with the generals), Ivanka and Jared are a real weird mix of foreign policy opinions with no experience whatsoever. Man, we are in for a wild ride, with a nearly 20 trillion dollar debt staring the empire down! (Hillary would be a more acceptably warmongering sanitized version of the empire.)

    I came upon Karl Rove’s statement to Ron Susskind of the NYT Magazine in 2004 when Rove was interviewed about the Iraq War, and his choice words were: “”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. ” Psychopathy? And he’s not the only one…

    • mike k
      April 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Karl Rove openly expressed what all of the “elite’s” think – they hold the rest of us in contempt.

  15. April 20, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    So the question is, what is the purpose of the Vinson sent to North Korea? Are Navy Seals on board?

  16. Gary Hare
    April 20, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    I think Trump has sent a most unambiguous message. He does not give a fig about the Rule of Law, whether it be International or domestic. “We, the US, are, and will continue to be, the sole arbiter of what is right, and what is wrong, and what is to be done about it. The rest of you Earth-occupiers – just do what you’re told.” After all, he is just another arrogant American, just a bit more impetuous than most.

    • mike k
      April 21, 2017 at 7:16 am

      You got it Gary

  17. Don Bass
    April 21, 2017 at 4:34 am

    Sweetheart,
    It’s not a “regime”, it’s the democratically elected government of Syria.
    Or maybe the Trump administration should be referred to as a “regime”, as a lot of Americans have “issues” with the “democratic” procedures which resulted in Trump being inaugurated.

  18. fuzzylogix
    April 21, 2017 at 7:05 am

    Obviously, Trump is just a mouthpiece and very poor one at that. There is absolutely nothing in his character or history that demonstrates any concern other than self-interest. Trump can’t hold the country together like Obama could and when the Republicans fail to legislate or govern, there will be mass unrest. If a deep recession occurs, then the decline of the Empire is expedited.

    The MIC and bankers run this country and it appears that they are beginning to realize they are running out of options. The empire is bankrupt and in overreach while stronger alliances and players are gaining ground. The fact that they want to arrest Assange demonstrates their desperation. They have lost control of the narrative and their “soft” power so now it is only “hard” power that is left. But the hard power may just be a paper tiger that once exposed creates a greater world danger.

    • mike k
      April 21, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Yes fuzzylogix. Unfortunately for all of us, you are right on. The Empire of America is collapsing, and the only question remaining is how much it will take down with it? All of us? That’s possible at this point in our brief history on Earth. Human survival is in play now…….

      • D5-5
        April 21, 2017 at 10:56 am

        Both these comments are right on . . . Well said.

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    April 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm

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  20. John Doe II
    April 21, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    FTR #950 Shock to the System: Further Reflections on the Breitbart Axis
    BY DAVE EMORY ?
    MARCH 17, 2017 ?

    This broadcast updates coverage of key aspects of the Nazi/fascist, oops, we mean “alt-right,” milieu that moved into government courtesy of the Trumpenkampfverbande and Breitbart.

    Further developing the terrifying reality of what Artificial Intellligence (AI) can accomplish for the dedicated fascist, oops, we mean “alt-right” adherent, we note an important address given at SXSW. Microsoft researcher Kate Crawford gave a speech titled “Dark Days: AI and the Rise of Fascism.” The presentation highlighted the social impact of machine learning and large-scale data systems. The take home message? By delegating powers to Bid Data-driven AIs, those AIs could become fascist’s dream: Incredible power over the lives of others with minimal accountability: ” . . . .’This is a fascist’s dream,’ she said. ‘Power without accountability.’ . . . .”

    Turning next to the political philosophy of Steve Bannon and the seminal influences on its development, we refresh our acquaintance with Curtis Yarvin, aka “Mencius Moldbug,” a herald of the Dark Enlightment.

    Curtis Yarvin has actually opened a backchannel advisory connection to the White House.

    Note that the Bannon influences all seem to agree that what is needed is “a shock to the system.” We may very well experience just that. ” . . . . . . . . Bannon’s readings tend to have one thing in common: the view that technocrats have put Western civilization on a downward trajectory and that only a shock to the system can reverse its decline. . . . ”

    Fascist philosopher Julius Evola is another of the key influences on Bannon. Evola was an early occult fascist, with strong connections with Mussolini’s Italy. Eventually Evola established strong, lasting connections with the Nazi SS, both operationally and ideologically.

    He is another advocate of the “shock to the system”/”blow it up” approach to the status quo. ” . . . Changing the system, Evola argued, was ‘not a question of contesting and polemicizing, but of blowing everything up.’ . . . .”

    A revealing influence on Bannon is a French novel The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail. “. . . . The Camp of the Saints — which draws its title from Revelation 20:9 — is nothing less than a call to arms for the white Christian West, to revive the spirit of the Crusades and steel itself for bloody conflict against the poor black and brown world without and the traitors within. The novel’s last line links past humiliations tightly to its own grim parable about modern migration. ‘The Fall of Constantinople,’ Raspail’s unnamed narrator says, ‘is a personal misfortune that happened to all of us only last week.’ . . . . ”

    In FTR #947, we highlighted Sebastian Gorka, a Breitbart alumnus and Hungarian fascist. Gorka is now the Trump administration’s point man working against Islamic terrorism. His view (and Bannon’s) that we are engaged in an historic clash of civilizations. That is precisely the point of view expressed by ISIS (and The Camp of the Saints) and will play into their hands.

    That, in turn, will help propel the U.S. into more endless wars on the periphery of our empire, ultimately sapping the nation’s vitality and leading to the fall of the U.S. in a manner delineated in FTR #944.

    After reviewing Gorka’s anti-Semitism, his profound connections to three generations of Hungarian fascism dating to the pre-World War II period and confirmation of his allegiance to the Order of Vitezi Rend, we highlight the fact that Gorka is part of the Strategic Initiatives Group, something of a parallel NSC formed by Steve Bannon. It reminds us of Hitler’s creation of a parallel general staff, born of a mistrust of his own senior officers and a desire to have a trusted cadre to obey his orders.

    investigate – who is Sebastian Gorka? and what does he mean to the future of America in Trumps administration?

  21. R Davis
    April 22, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    What if attention to Syria is a ploy, a means of luring fighters from Lebanon in Syria, with the intention of weakening Lebanon as an opponent when their tun comes. Lebanon is very next door to Israel .. it is hard to see how .. even their nuclear weapons will prevent their total eradication.
    US General Wesley Clark told the world .. the Pentagon has planned 7 countries in 5 years. Yes they are way behind scheduled .. but hey ..
    1. Iraq – done.
    2. Syria – in progress.
    3. Lebanon – working on it .. according to the Lebanese .. if Lebanon goes the whole of the Middle East will be aflame.
    4. Libya – done.
    5. Somalia – fighting.
    6. Sudan – Fighting.
    7. Iran – this will be the straw that breaks the camels back .. only who is the camel ?

    • R Davis
      April 22, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Israel must be relying on Saudi Arabia to be there for them & they probably will .. but if someone is determined .. how many concentrated air strikes would it take to wipe them off the face of the earth .. Israel is only the size of a postage stamp.

      • R Davis
        April 22, 2017 at 3:39 pm

        Unless Israel is the original target.

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