PATRICK LAWRENCE: Voting in a De-Facto Military State

Between Biden and Trump, U.S. voters have no alternative to our anxious empire’s lawless conduct abroad.

Honor Guard stands at attention on South Lawn of White House during a flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, July 4, 2020. (White House, Andrea Hanks)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

What are we in for on the foreign policy side come Nov. 3? Whoever wins this election, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, the answers before us are grim. For those who vote, the choice lies between a mentally impaired restorationist and a paralyzed captive of what some of us call the Deep State.

Think about this. The illiberal liberals, the only kind there are now, advertise Nov. 3 as the most decisive election in generations. This assertion is questionable even in the domestic context, but that is another conversation. As to the direction of U.S. foreign policy, there is no question: Between Biden and Trump, we are at bottom offered no alternative to our anxious empire’s conduct abroad.

Lawlessness, war and more war, destructive interventions in the name of righteous humanitarianism: We have no one but ourselves to blame for what will confront us in the four years to come. The divisive, nonsensical distractions of identity politics, “intersectionalism,” and all such narcissistic preoccupations carry a cost: No word is spoken among “progressives” about America’s imperial adventures. The lives of our countless victims abroad do not matter. The structures of power remain unchallenged.

This election is indeed of great significance, in my view. Given the absolute absence of any check on Washington’s projection of hegemonic power, known politely as “global leadership,” it will force a question upon us it is long past time to pose: Do Americans live under a de facto military government?

Tenuous Civilian Control of Pentagon

9/11 dawn memorial at Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2017. (Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD)

9/11 dawn memorial at Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2017. (Dominique A. Pineiro/DoD)

Anyone who thinks this suggestion is extreme should consider how tenuous civilian control of the Pentagon has been for many years. The defense industries bought Capitol Hill long ago — this is documented fact, however seldom acknowledged. The military-industrial complex’s power over the executive is just as real but less defined, and it has been especially apparent since Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015.

Foreign policy took up several important planks in Trump’s platform, readers may recall. He campaigned promising to reduce the military’s presence abroad, end our wars of adventure, ease NATO into the history books, and make a constructive relationship with Russia out of the unnecessary hostilities Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, left behind. These positions won him votes.

They won him enemies, too. A bevy of top national security officials and retired generals published open letters in The New York Times calling Trump a threat to national security. Michael Hayden, a retired general and former CIA director, suggested in February 2016 that the military would refuse to follow orders if Trump were elected and pursued his campaign promises.

Foiled Incumbent   

President Donald Trump on Aug. 18, arriving in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

Unsurprisingly, we have seen virtually no progress toward Trump’s objectives since he took office in January 2017. The Pentagon and the national security apparatus have ignored, circumvented, or otherwise subverted his orders to withdraw troops from foreign theaters, notably Syria and now Germany. Relations with Russia have dramatically worsened. NATO still pretends it has a function in the post–Soviet era.

These failures have three causes.

One, Trump is surrounded by people vigorously, ideologically opposed to his foreign policy goals, chief among them John Bolton, briefly his national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The only way to explain these appointments is to assume they were forced upon him. Trump, after all, doesn’t refer to the State Department as “the Deep State Department” for no reason. He is telling us something about his circumstances.

Two, Trump has proven impossibly erratic, saying one thing and doing another or doing one thing and later on saying another. This reflects his ignorance of the policymaking process and his near-complete lack of an intellectual framework through which to judge events and formulate strategies to sustain his objectives. Dealmaking in the fashion of a New York real estate developer simply doesn’t do it.

Three, Trump is far too conscious of his image. This prompts him to cave when the Pentagon or the spooks defy or circumvent him. In spring 2017, when the military contradicted his early efforts to deescalate in Syria, Trump entered his “my generals, my military” phase, saying he granted the Pentagon “total authorization” to act as it saw fit. With after-the-fact capitulations such as this, Trump has made himself a pushover for the hawks and Deep Staters who surround him.

There are a couple of things working in Trump’s favor. He’s to be credited for sticking with his original policy goals, even if they lie around him in ruins at this point. A second term might give him a chance to begin cleaning house and installing people who reflect his objectives.

Stage being set outside White House as part of preparation for Republican National Convention, Aug. 23, 2020. (Angela N, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In July Trump nominated Douglas MacGregor, a retired Army colonel, to replace loyalist Richard Grenell as ambassador to Berlin. MacGregor, like Grenell, is entirely on Trump’s page: He favors a reduced military footprint in the Middle East, a peace deal with the North Koreans and altogether a foreign policy to replace what now amounts to a military policy. A severe critic of NATO’s advance toward Russia’s borders, McGregor called the alliance a “zombie” in remarks made public last year.

But let us avoid mistaken judgments. First of all, a Situation Room stuffed to the rafters with Doug MacGregors is unlikely to bring the hamstringing of our 45th president to an end should Trump win a second term. The Deep State is also broad, and it has been both for a long time. Second, when Trump took office a few of us argued that he was a peculiar messenger but held out the promise of a renovated foreign policy. I was among the erring. After three and some years, I don’t think Trump has the grounding or consistency to get any such thing done. Washington is simply too much for him.

More of the same under a second Trump term is my call — a muddled White House at odds with itself, no worthwhile shift in policy permissible. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently offered a pithy take on Trump and his people, as recounted by Pepe Escobar, the peripatetic free-lancer for Asia Times: “Negotiating with Team Trump is like playing chess with a pigeon: The demented bird walks all over the chessboard, shits indiscriminately, knocks over pieces, declares victory, then runs away.”

I do not know the veracity of Escobar’s account, but it will make four more messy, dangerous years if this is anything like what we have to look forward to should Trump carry the vote a few months from now. Through all the fog, “his generals” will remain “totally authorized.”

Biden & Renewed Interventionism   

Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris during a Democratic primary debate. (Screenshot)

There will be no such fog should Biden win in November, no ambiguity in his foreign policy plans. Biden promises a straight-ahead return to the policies that prevailed under Obama and Obama’s predecessors: a reclamation of “global leadership,” a renewed emphasis on interventions we justify, per usual, by casting ourselves as humanity’s archangels.

The wars and occupations will grind on, the extravagant Pentagon budgets will remain, the reigning Russophobia will remain.  Biden is already well on board with the emergent Sinophobia.  

The thought of a Biden presidency reminds me of the succession that followed the death of Leonid Brezhnev as the Soviet leader in 1982. The befuddled Yuri Andropov, who succeeded him, was a fill-in who came straight from the taxidermist and lasted 15 months. Biden is our Andropov. The take-home here: Those around Biden are the ones to watch, as they will have disproportionate power over policy. This will be a replay of the George W. Bush administration, to strike another comparison.

Team Biden’s foreign policy advisers are vast in number. Foreign Policy counts more than 2,000 of them, organized into 20 working groups covering specific issues — arms control, defense, intelligence, humanitarian missions, and so on —and geographies: Europe, the Middle East, East Asia. These people come from consultancies, think tanks, the State Department, academia. There is a heavy layer of Obama administration holdovers and, of course, Pentagon bureaucrats, some quite senior.

DNC Delegates United for Peace protest, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 16, 2020. (Susan Ruggles, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

It is those to whom these groups report who count. Biden’s inner circle appears to include Jake Sullivan (Obama loyalist, apostle of American exceptionalism), Antony Blinken (Obama man, Russophobe), Susan Rice (warmonger, Russophobe, liar in public), Samantha Power (the humanitarian interventionists’ Joan of Arc), Nicolas Burns (State vet, “global leadership” hack), and Michele Flournoy (Pentagon careerist, hawk). These are joined, let us not forget, by the scores of anti–Trump Republican warmongers who have recently colonized the Democratic Party.

There are a threat and two certainties here. This election could end up opening the way for the U.S. eventually to become in fact what it has long been in effect — a one-party state. The foreign policy consensus the Biden camp now represents could solidify to the consistency of granite. This should frighten all of us — more, in the long run, than the Trump regime’s evident and many ineptitudes.

As to certainties, a Biden regime would force us back to an interim that began in response to the 2001 attacks and now ranks among the most disastrous foreign policy failures of the past 70 years, up there with the Vietnam War years. In addition, this will be an administration more thoroughly wedded to the military than Trump’s first term has proven. At least with Trump there was contention, bureaucratic warfare, infighting, objection. There will be none between the Biden White House and the Pentagon.

Is there somebody to vote for on Nov. 3? Is any vote a vote for generals?

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist.His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Voting in a De-Facto Military State

  1. Jeff Harrison
    September 2, 2020 at 12:38

    I agree with Patrick but I make the following assessment. The Republicans are destroying Social Security, Medicare, and the Post Office. That has to be stopped first. Unfortunately, the US as a democracy and free country is toast.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    September 2, 2020 at 12:12

    I will likely vote for Biden, no one in their right mind would consider the alternative.

    So it is the lesser of two evils because evil seems to be the rule of the day.

    But there is a problem with the potential of Biden being elected and that is his assault rifle ban. If he doesn’t back off this promise he will never be successful in fulfilling it may very well cost him the election.

    Even if he gets elected and implements a ban the size of the operation needed to confiscate all assault weapons will be so long winded and controversial it might cost him re-election. Yes kids it will take two terms by a president to take all those guns away from the millions upon million of people who own them.

    In the last few months of Trump’s fascist right wing postulations many right wing gun dealers have become vocal, their concerns are the number of “liberal pinkos” who are gun shopping. Fear is starting to rule the day. Not a good thing at all.

    The growing gun violence associated with both right and left wing political organizations , the inaction by law enforcement against right wing offenders, many of whom law enforcement embraces and claims to “appreciate”, has made a great deal more people fearful of not being able to protect themselves with out weapons.

    We may well be witnessing the beginning of the end of life as we have known it in the “Good Ole’ U S of A”.

    Why? The Department of Home Land Security claims to be the largest law enforcement organization in the country, which means we now have, on top of every other member of the U.S. legal justice system another layer of suppressive government.

    It will be interesting to see who the National Guard decides to defend.

    Many may not realize how close we all are to having to make some serious decisions about our survival. The time is coming when choosing sides, left, right, or hiding in the hills will become the only viable path to survival.

    I watched a video of the shootings in Kenosha Wisconsin and it burned into my brain. Kyle Rittenhouse is seen shooting and wounding individuals and then fleeing down a street being chased by others, he knocked to the ground and responds with more shots, then gets up and walks toward police who initially fail to detain him. If he had been black he would be dead now and we all know it.

  3. Tony
    September 2, 2020 at 11:00

    Yes, but a Trump win would almost certainly mean the end of the new Start treaty. This would mean no treaty governing strategic nuclear weapons for the first time since 1972.

    It would also probably mean a resumption of nuclear testing for the first time since 1992.

    Be in no doubt that these two events would make nuclear war more likely. And so it does make sense to vote for Biden if you live in a swing state. After the election it will be necessary to address the wider issues raised in this article.

    • PEG
      September 2, 2020 at 17:21

      It’s no longer clear that a Trump win will mean the end of the new START treaty. The Trump Administration has dropped its demand that China take part in any negotiations, which was a major impediment to treaty extension. According to a report in Bloomberg a couple of days ago, Secretary of State Pompeo stated that the U.S. has made progress toward a new nuclear arms control agreement with Russia after talks earlier in August in Vienna, and raised the prospect that the two sides could sign a deal by the end of the year.
      But you’re right that the Trump Administration is no friend of arms control treaties, having almost dismantled the existing framework of control of nuclear weapons.

  4. E Wright
    September 2, 2020 at 02:02

    Pretty well sums up what I think as well (so I might be falling into the confirmation bias trap). If you have ever watched Trump being interviewed on the Late Late Show you will observe that he was more articulate in his youth. There is intellect there, perhaps he has had a minor stoke at some stage which hss affected verbal reasoning. Or perhaps he is deliberately dumbing down to reach his audience. As for Biden, I love the Andropov (Hand drop of) comparison. I was thinking that the Dems might set up a sponsored VP to wield real power but it now looks more likely to be a Triumvirate scenario, if they get away with it.

  5. Nathan Mulcahy
    September 1, 2020 at 14:29

    Which of the two evils should we vote for this time? This is a question that comes up every four years as predictably as the sun rises in the east. And the answer is as simple as knowing that the sun will go down in the west (no pun intended here). How so?

    I could cite several excellent reasons why, since many election cycles already, I have not been voting for either of the two evils. For the sake of brevity, I will bring up just one here. There is no denying the fact that both parties, led by their leaders of various colors, have been committing war crimes. Knowing that, my vote for either of the two parties (definitely at the federal level) would make me a complicit in war crimes – even if not legally, certainly morally. And I cannot live with that.

    Therefore, I have been voting for the Green Party. Refusing to legitimize either of the two parties that continue to commit war crimes is not a “waste” of my vote. Rather it is a small act of courage because I believe in Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    BTW, that small act of courage doesn’t always seem that small when that means losing friends and being ridiculed for “wasting” my vote. But I take that a s badge of honor.

    • robert e williamson jr
      September 1, 2020 at 19:47

      And so an honorable man you are, I concur with your position. I see your choice as being a quicker route to the redemption of the country, that is restoring order and justice to our current or some other system.

      I mean hell given King Fluy Trump, the current want a be dictator is seemingly soothed by the reduction of the world population I would have to say I agree with you 100% anything would be better that the condition of the current human condition.

      Don’t be too rough on yourself, those friends you lost are part of the problem, and ridicule is a two way street. As the right wing, 43 water carriers claimed, it is now time that the left states unequivocally, “You are either with us or against us” no quarter given no quarter expected. Be forewarned that this road will not be a peaceful one, but then when have any of us had any real peace.

      A man, any man but especially a “good man”, needs to know his limitations and stick to his principals if he is to remain relevant. Using the power of your vote will be enhanced not diminished.

      Trumps wants to put the fire out with gasoline, my take is that sometimes only fire will really fight fire.

      PEACE . . . . in kind of a feisty way.

    • Rob Roy
      September 1, 2020 at 22:23

      I am with you and will vote Green. I can’t see ever voting again for a Democrat or Republican. They are two sides of the same coin. Or I may write in Tulsi Gabbard who was unfairly silenced at every turn. All my friends are voting Biden and I find that simplistic at the least. If elected, he will either bring back the Iran deal (which was a phony setup) or bomb Iran outright for his first love, Israel. But Trump’s October pre-election ploy may beat him to it. Both major parties’ presidential candidates are deplorable.

  6. Dfnslblty
    September 1, 2020 at 14:27

    Agreed – little change in policy – oligarchy on the menue.

    • jdd
      September 1, 2020 at 15:36

      That’s not what I took away from this analysis. Reread the last two paragraphs. Mr. Lawrence’s reference to the “one-party state” is to the Democrats + Bush Republicans of the Biden camp, the same forces behind the ongoing coup attempts against Trump.

  7. Aaron
    September 1, 2020 at 13:41

    The main common thread of both parties’ policy is Zionism and, to achieve that end, it’s necessary to superfund the military. Each and every decision and action in the Middle East and with respect to Russia, is precisely consistent with the goals of Israel’s growing power and influence and global dominance using the money and power of America, and almost total control of all media platforms. The state of Israel is playing chess, and everybody else is playing checkers. After all, the “War on Terror” is a Zionist construct and plan. A literally perpetual war that America has to fund and fight, which only helps Israel? As Dana Carvey’s SNL character might put it, “How CONVENIENT!!” //

  8. September 1, 2020 at 10:35

    With all said and done and further, It Is Believed In, what is going to happen is yet to be seen by the people who do not know how to live together.

  9. PEG
    September 1, 2020 at 10:31

    Brilliant analysis by Patrick Lawrence of the sad situation we are facing.

    Question what people like us, progressively inclined but wanting a realist, non-interventionist foreign policy, should do. There appears no home for us, neither in the Democratic Party – a Tulsi Gabbard is treated with total disrespect, not even being invited to the convention, while the liberal interventionist hypocrites rule the roost – nor in the Republican Party, which is either bellicose or incoherent.

    It’s time for someone in the footsteps of a Theodore Roosevelt to establish a new Progressive Party….

    • DC_rez
      September 1, 2020 at 12:45

      For the future:

      see: //

      For now there is always the Green Party

  10. AnneR
    September 1, 2020 at 10:18

    Thank you, Patrick, for this – highly depressing, of course – overview of our so-called “choices” for Nov. 3. Enough to make one scream…

    Several points you raise are apposite:

    The heavy concentration of a large proportion of the electorate on those so-called “issues”: “intersectionality,” “diversity.” And much of that “progressive” mind capture is focused on LGBTQ…stuff; (as a real female there are aspects to this that are very troubling for the future of real females, BUT I’m not going to talk about those here).

    Meanwhile we are busy, as we have been since 1945 (I would expand the time zone of our murderous behavior to include Korea), destroying other cultures, peoples, societies because: well, we can and they don’t bend the knee, don’t/won’t let us decide who gets to benefit from their resources, lands; their governments refuse to follow our commands, so they must be eradicated one way or another. Meanwhile at home we continue to favor the wealthy, the comfortably off, the cushily existent and ignore the poverty (growing as we speak), the lack of decent affordable housing (and I don’t necessarily mean to buy), decrepit infrastructure, increasingly decrepit public transport (already, anyway, inadequate). And that doesn’t even begin to consider healthcare and the grotesque reality of a profiteering structure – at all levels – which is unavailable to millions.

    The intersectional “progressive” crowd don’t give this more than a shrug of the shoulders, particularly our obscenely enormous, ever growing spending on offense – warmaking – known incomprehensibly as defense; don’t give a flying F*** about the millions of lives we have killed, the environmental damage we have caused and continue to via our military machine, the millions of homes we have destroyed, lands and waters ruined…Over there so not our problem, apparently is the attitude. And anyway we always mean well when we kill you, irradiate your land with deplete uranium…no harm intended. Gor Blimey – how can this deliberate ignorance, lack of concern exist?

    Nothing will change, whether Biden or the Strumpet are in the WH and not just because of the Deep State. Both fundamentally believe or go along with the notion that the US – by right of might – determines the world’s direction, political, economic (the latter being all that matters, it would seem). And should, as is highly likely, Harris assumes the Pres spot, even less will change for the better for us and definitely not for the rest of the world.

  11. September 1, 2020 at 10:02

    Informative and insightful as always, Mr. Lawrence. I have come to rely on your articles as a source of much insight grounded in facts. Also, the humor in this article had me rolling on the floor laughing (figuratively of course) between the description of playing chess with a pigeon to the Andropov / taxidermist equation, it was quite an amusing read. So thank you for that.

  12. Guest
    September 1, 2020 at 10:02

    A vote for Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for president, is not a vote for the generals (or, more importantly, not a vote for the civilian militarists, several of whom are named in this article, who advocate sending the military all over the world to kill and be killed). He may not be elected this time but voting for him sends an unambiguous message.

    It’s not much but it’s better than not voting at all.

    • James Whitney
      September 1, 2020 at 12:56

      I plan to vote for the Green Party candidate. And all Consortium News readers are invited to do the same.

      • Guest
        September 1, 2020 at 17:33

        The author of this article has written that he doesn’t vote because he thinks it’s demeaning. He has a point but I think a vote for a candidate who supports policies that you support but who won’t win is better than no vote at all.

        I haven’t yet decided between Biden and Green. I probably won’t until the ballot is in front of me.

  13. venice12
    September 1, 2020 at 09:41

    “Obama The Chess Playing Pigeon Struts Around the Board & Claims Victory Over Putin
    Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:28 pm

    Obama’s cultists often compare him to a chess master, playing the long game. There is another chess metaphor that is far more apt, however. Specifically, there is a story that has gained wide currency in which Vladimir Putin compares Obama to a chess playing pigeon. Putin supposedly said: “Negotiating with Obama is like playing chess with a pigeon. The pigeon knocks over all the pieces, shits on the board and then struts around like it won the game.”

    This story is almost certainly false. The chess playing pigeon meme dates to far before Obama’s time. But there is no person that the story fits better. The story has resonated precisely because it is so right. If Putin didn’t say it, he should have, and he would have been dead on.”


  14. Daniel
    September 1, 2020 at 08:59

    I always appreciate a Patrick Lawrence article. Thank you, CN. And I think his observations here, as usual, are correct (or at least align with my own thinking.) When it comes to war, the choice presented by our owner parties is between continuing unprincipled, erratic violence and a return to cool, calculated, well-marketed violence. “Violence is on the ballot!” I would not be surprised to hear Biden say.

    “…a Biden regime would force us back to an interim that began in response to the 2001 attacks and now ranks among the most disastrous foreign policy failures of the past 70 years…”

    Sad but true. Only, our owners and their sycophantic mouthpieces do not see the last 20 years of war-making as a string of disastrous foreign policy failures, even if we the people do. They love it. They get rich from it. They owe their careers to it. They’ve embedded it into our culture and government so that there can never be any alternative to it. And they are happy that they’ve been able to carry it all out these last 20 years without the nagging of the people’s conscience, a la the 70s. Finally – and this is their most favored accomplishment – they’ve brought their disastrous foreign policy home for domestic consumption. And we are shamed into believing this is all there is, all there ever can be, and what the US was always meant to be. To be anti-war is now considered naive and un-American. Heartbreaking.

    None of this will change with Biden except for the window dressing. We are well and truly f#@ked.

  15. September 1, 2020 at 07:43

    The United States entered a new era with the Kennedy assassination. It was a watershed event.

    And for that very reason all Americans should be skeptical about it.

    But sadly, they are not. Just as relatively few question the immense destruction and killing carried on regularly by the Pentagon and the CIA. It just goes on in the background like the quiet ticking of a clock.

    Kennedy was the last President to assert the authority of elected office over the Pentagon and CIA. And that is the fundamental reason half of his head was splattered in the streets of Dallas.

    Whether you look at Obama and Trump or Biden and Trump, you see the same underlying structure of power in the United States. Elected Presidents are not in control.

    Kennedy was only too aware of this possibility. That’s why he had encouraged the making of the film, “Seven Days in May.”

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