[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]n my daily column “The Caligula Presidency,” and elsewhere, I have attempted to delineate the background of Steve Bannon’s egregious conspiracy theories as well as his political convictions. Here, I’d like to further delineate the intellectual profile of the man.
There is no doubt that he likes to be perceived as a serious intellectual with a vast scholarly horizon who reads deep impenetrable books not accessible to regular, slightly stupid people. Somebody, in other words, who wants to dismantle (he calls it “deconstructing”) the Deep State or the established institutional bureaucratic order, a la Lenin; one who governs by chaos. But is this mere cleverness by half, a pure myth, and a dangerous one at that? Let’s see.
Since he is the master-mind, the man of ideas in the White House, to understand Trump’s insane and dangerous beliefs, we may need to understand Bannon’s first, then decide if what they are selling is rational and normal or highly toxic. For, to normalize Bannon is to normalize Trump; there is no two way around it. In other words, we need to decide whether or not we wish to buy what they are selling; in other words, make a deal. And what, pray, might that be?
For one thing, he wants to be seen not as a conspiracy theorist but as a bright ideologue eager for a Big Ideological Battle. What might that battle be? Nothing short than a global holy war against Islamic fascism, never mind if this entails resurrecting nationalism and fascism of old, which is not a Moslem invention but a Western product.
Having insinuated himself into tremendous political power, he is now realizing that he might be able to do something with it, not just write about it in a conspiracy theory blog. It’s dawning on him that some of his ideas on white supremacy and extreme fascistic nationalism might be brought into the realm of the possible. He imagines he is writing his own clever by half conspiracy book and that people in general are stupid enough to read it and be persuaded. His only obstacle as of now is the media which he perceived as “the enemy of the people” and part of the Deep State.
He supposedly has already outlined a three part movie wherein the Muslims invade America and establish the Islamic States of America based on Sharia law. All made possible by the enablers who constitute the Deep State, or the establishment, if you will, and which need to be eradicated by any means available. If it sounds deranged, so it is. That kind of scenario is actually physically impossible, given today’s geo-political facts. But since when did facts stop a Bannon or a Trump.
Another surprising find is that Bannon, like Paul Ryan, considers himself a good Catholic, a theologian of sorts who consorts with the likes of Cardinal Raymond Burke in the Vatican, a severe conservative in open opposition to Pope Francis. What would a Burke and a Bannon chat about in the Vatican? Well, for one thing that Western Civilization is in the midst of a perilous decline. What it desperately needs now is the Christian militant wing of the Catholic Church to call for a new crusade against the infidels. This view has nothing to do, by the way, with Ayn Rand’s brutal form of capitalism that creates wealth for the few and uses people as commodities. In that sense he differs from Ryan or even Trump’s political-economic ideology. His ideology is grounded in an idealistic, if racist, vision and world view and is therefore more fanatical and extreme, and therefore more dangerous.
It is important to keep in mind that this Christian civilization that Bannon and Burke have in mind is not based on traditional universal Christian principles based on the Fatherhood of God vis a vis all human beings, but it is racial, based on white supremacy and extreme nationalism often parading as populism and concern for people’s welfare. The populism makes it easier to present it as Christian but on closer examination it looks neither Christian nor peace oriented.
Consider the executive orders on travel bans from Muslim nations, which are understood to have been drafted by Bannon, the man who has zero experience in foreign policy but now sits on a permanent seat as a permanent member of the National Security Council. Trump signed the order without even bothering to read it carefully. Trump reads nothing and therefore what you are hearing in those executive orders is Bannon, the puppet master. One can hear Bannon’s voice and disruptive ideology in most of Trump’s campaign speeches.
Even the inauguration address was mostly written by Bannon with some help from Miller. Later Bannon praised the speech in an interview with the Washington Post saying that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.” And he said a mouthful. Jackson was a populist and a racist who passed the Indian Removal Act defying the Supreme Court ruling against it, relocating the Cherokees to reservations. A few days later a picture of Jackson appeared in the oval office. Remember the expression “American carnage” which the speech contained?
So Jackson is the president Bannon wants Trump to be. But the courts stopped them both. They served notice that they just can’t do what they wish with immigration and that the judicial branch has a pivotal voice in it. A rewrite was necessary; one that has taken Bannon a whole month. Even Trump got a bit impatient.
So Bannon has proven intellectually that while he can be clever, by half, he seems to be unable to be wise and that his world is not so visionary and large as he’d like us to believe. He is not a builder. He is a mere destroyer. Most of what he writes about is dark and negative with no real vision or plan visible. And what is his motive? The need to be right, which he shares with his puppet: the president of the US. The crucial question then is this: have we become their enablers?
In one of his addresses, at a prayer breakfast speech Bannon made the following disturbing statement: “It may not be pretty for a little while.” What was he referring to? He might have been thinking of what he announced a few months ago while explaining his conspiracy theories, that the US and China will eventually fight a war over islands in the South China Sea. This will happen relatively soon, over the next decade. As he put it: “there is no doubt about that.” He also announced a shooting war in the Middle East.
Some two thirds of America now believe those “prophecies” of sorts, and that is troubling indeed. Here again, will we, the public and the citizens who put those two con-men in the White House become his enablers? Will the media, at least, continue to be skeptical and investigate the truth no matter where it leads, or will it succumb to the intimidation of the true believers, or worse, begin to discuss their wrong-headed ideas as rational and plausible? That is to say, will genuine intellectuals and journalists continue to indulge and feed their delusions of grandeur? It all remains to be seen.
The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world
In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.
The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.
The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.
Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.
Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.
The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.
With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.
The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji , who was born when Algeria was a French territory):
Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12
If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.
About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.
Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.
The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.
The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.
IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.
E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.
Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.
The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.
The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.
In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.
Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.
The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.
Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.
Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)
Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics
The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.
Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.
These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.
The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.
“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.
The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.
To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.
Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.
In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.
Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.
To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting; guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.
Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.
Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.
The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”
Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn
US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.
So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.
Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”.
That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.
The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards.
That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.
The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.
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