Friday, April 07, 2017
Richard Seymour: "A few things to bear in mind.
First, this bombing in Syria is not a departure from the existing policy. That is because the policy is the one left by the Obama administration, which included a number of lines of escalation and expansion within the terms of the existing strategy: medium footprint, bombing & auxiliary forces. The only major difference is that Trump has relaxed the political oversight exercised by the Obama administration on the military's actions: hence, the major bloodshed in Mosul and Raqqa recently. He has expanded the war along lines indicated by his predecessor, in Somalia and Yemen, and has changed the rules of engagement so that parts of these countries are deemed 'war zones' which can be targeted under the laws of war.
Second, this bombing in Syria is not worse than the bombings in Mosul or Raqqa in terms of its death toll. The major significance is that, by punishing Assad, it is a slap in the face to Russia. But this would be less of a surprise if people hadn't inhaled the laughing gas about Trump being Putin's puppet. (Indeed, watch as big chunks of the alt-centre collapse into support for a war president.) Trump's amateurish pre-inauguration diplomacy with Russia involved urging Putin's envoys to relax support for Iran and Syria. Currently, his team is trying to enlist Russia for a confrontation with North Korea. Indeed, North Korea is notable for being a front of escalation on Trump's part. Whatever connections Trump has to Russian capitalism will be far less important than the extant strategies and interests of the US empire.
Third, Bannon's departure from the National Security Council is not unrelated to this. This was part of a wider shift, putting the old military and intelligence leadership back in charge of the NSC. Trump has accepted the Iran deal. The ousting of Michael Flynn, who was responsible for the organisation of the NSC with Bannon on it and the demotion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, was the first step toward the re-establishment of the traditional leadership's dominance. Many mandarin liberal pundits talked about a military coup against Trump. Such a move would have reflected sheer panic, indicating a complete breakdown of the embedded knowledge, cohesion and technological sophistication of the old state elites. Now, the foreign policy commentariat speaks of Trump 'learning' -- and that's right. The pedagogy has been crude in some ways: a ferociously alarmist media campaign fed by intelligence leaks and more or less open dissent in the apparatuses of state, culminating in Flynn's downfall. But it still showed far more patience and guile than a simple coup. So, what has been achieved on the empire front is not the recomposition of forces at the top that Bannon et al were aiming for, but a consolidation of the Pentagon's priorities.
However. This is the Trump administration. This is not business as usual. The military establishment has succeeded in reining Trump in for now, but Bannon is still his chief advisor, and his team is still dominated by lunatics. The obvious thing to do, as their agenda falls apart on a number of fronts, and domestic support collapses, would be to organise a major war. That would consolidate the chief executive's authority. It would give an organising impetus to the administration, cohering the apparatuses of the state and, if done well, summoning a degree of popular support. It would license a major augmentation of repressive capacities, and justify renewed aggression against the media (21st century fascism finds the diffuse spectacle superior to the concentrated spectacle), and of course filter new loads of racist ideology into civil society. I don't believe we're about to see that war in Syria, but Bannon et al will certainly be thinking about the possibilities."