NEEDED: Better Quality Lies

The White House fired Steve Bannon today.

Well, not totally. He was removed from his controversial and wholly unwarranted seat on the National Security Council. Bannon has no, as in none, as in zero qualifications to sit on the NSC apart from the fact that he sets the white nationalist, xenophobic, anti-Islam agenda for the administration. This was clear from the beginning, especially when Bannon was given a permanent NSC role while people whose jobs are actually national security-related, like the chair of the JCS and the Director of National Intelligence, weren’t given permanent NSC seats (both, by the way, had their seats restored in today’s shakeup). Between the public/media criticism that attended Bannon’s initial NSC appointment and the appointment of new National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, a guy who, if nothing else, appears to take the professional conduct of the NSC seriously, there was no place there for Bannon anymore. He had to go.

Of course, the administration can’t say that. But the reason they’re giving for removing Bannon is so unbelievably lame that you have to wonder if these guys are even trying anymore:

A White House official said that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.

If there was anybody in the Trump administration whose views on the world, foreign policy, and national security aligned with Bannon’s, it was Michael Flynn. Moreover, Flynn was Trump’s Favorite General™, chosen to fill the most influential national security role in the administration despite myriad evidence to show that, temperamentally at least, he was a bad choice for the gig. He’s gone now, fired over meetings he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition that he apparently concealed/lied about, and now we’re told that Bannon was put on the NSC to “monitor” Flynn, as though the administration had concerns about him from the beginning.

What a crock of shit. If the administration had concerns about Flynn, serious enough that Bannon needed to be on the NSC to “monitor” him, why appoint him in the first place? Because Trump wanted him so badly? If that were the case, Trump probably wouldn’t have fired him so easily. Bannon is “no longer needed” with McMaster running the NSC probably because McMaster isn’t interested in turning the NSC in a ideologically-driven shop given over to pushing Bannon’s and Flynn’s pet theories about war with Islam, the global Legion of Doom amassing to destroy America, threats to Christendom and the white race, etc. So, in reality, it would be more accurate to say that Bannon is no longer, you know, wanted.

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Conflict update: March 14 2017


According to Foreign Policy, nominal Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter recently to a group of nonprofits warning that the Trump administration is prepared to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council unless “considerable reform” is undertaken in that body. Tillerson’s letter highlighted the presence on the UNHRC of such human rights luminaries as Saudi Arabia and China (and, uh, the United States, while we’re at it), but that’s all smokescreen. By “reform,” what the Trump administration–and, indeed, much of the US foreign policy community–means is “lay off Israel.”

While I take a backseat to nobody in my loathing of Israel’s human rights record, which deserves all the criticism it gets, these folks do have a point about the UNHRC–or, rather, they have part of a point. Something like half of the resolutions issued by the UNHRC since it was formed in 2006, and nearly a third of its special sessions over that time, have had to do with Israel. As shitty as Israel’s human rights record is, that’s disproportionate. Of course, the Trump/Republican solution to this problem is, essentially, that the UNHRC should cease to exist, or at least be less active with regards to Israel. My solution would be for the UNHRC to be at least as active on Israel as it is now, but also be way more active when it comes to, well, everybody else (no government in the world actually cares about human rights, is the real problem here).

But while the Trump administration’s instinct is to withdraw from any international body that doesn’t toe the line, denying them that all-important TRUMP Brand stamp of approval or whatever, if their aim is to steer the UNHRC in a different direction then quitting is exactly the wrong way to do so. The Obama administration, being thoroughly a creature of the Washington foreign policy establishment despite its occasional tepid criticisms of that establishment, also objected to the HRC’s overemphasis on Israel, so it joined the council (the Bush administration refused to be part of it) and, lo and behold, was able to use America’s international heft to push the council to focus attention on Syria, Iran, and nonstate actors like ISIS. If the Trump administration follows through on its threat to withdraw from the council, then it will be giving up its ability to influence what the council does.

I’m torn in cases like this between my instinct, which is that the administration doesn’t think through the ramifications of these kinds of decisions and/or doesn’t really give a shit about them, and my skepticism, which tells me that they must surely realize what they’re doing and are acting purposefully to try to wreck as many international institutions as they can. Of course there’s no reason it couldn’t be both–no presidential administration is a monolith.


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