Soaring After Bannon's Departure
His exit is a win for backers of a more
traditional — and interventionist — U.S. foreign
By Michael Crowley
21, 2017 "Information
- Stephen Bannon may have been a political
adviser to President Donald Trump, but his
firing Friday could have an impact on U.S.
foreign policy from Europe to the Middle East
Bannon's exit clears an obstacle for backers of
an active U.S. foreign policy in line with
recent presidencies — and is a resounding win
for Bannon’s internal rival, national security
adviser H.R. McMaster.
was a regular participant in national security
debates, often as an opponent of military action
and a harsh critic of international bodies like
the United Nations and the European Union.
also been a withering critic of diplomatic,
military and intelligence
professionals—“globalists” he says have
repeatedly shown bad judgment, particularly when
it comes to U.S. military interventions abroad.
That put him at loggerheads with Defense
Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson, as well as McMaster.
look at the balance of power of isolationists
versus internationalists in the White House now,
it seems safe to say that the pendulum has swung
towards the internationalists,” said Danielle
Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and
defense policy studies at the American
Bannon has not described himself as an
“isolationist,” he has proudly adopted Trump’s
“America First” motto, which he says argues for
spending less blood and treasure overseas for
anything less than America’s most vital
also alarmed European leaders with his criticism
of the E.U. and his expressed support for some
European nationalist movements. Bannon actively
backed Great Britain’s 2016 “Brexit” from the
E.U. and introduced Trump to its chief political
advocate, the populist British politician Nigel
European allies are happy about Bannon's
departure,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow
with the Atlantic Council.
immediate term, foreign policy insiders agreed,
Bannon’s departure also could increase the
chances of a U.S. troop increase in
Afghanistan—a plan championed by McMaster but
strongly opposed by Bannon, who managed to draw
out debate on the issue with direct appeals to
generally, it will remove an internal brake on
U.S. military action abroad. Bannon has argued
greater U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria and
was among the few White House officials to
oppose President Donald Trump’s early-April
missile strike in Syria.
is not totally conflict averse: He calls for a
far stronger U.S. posture against China and has
warned that war with Beijing could be
inevitable. But he pressed Trump to take
economic, not military action against Beijing.
Wednesday, Bannon told the American Prospect
magazine that there is “no military solution” to
Trump’s standoff with North Korea—undermining
the president’s recent military threats against
that country, and echoing China’s view of the
the policy realm, Bannon’s exit is a clear
victory for national security adviser H.R.
McMaster, who at times seemed to be in zero-sum
struggle with the Trump adviser for power and
influence in the White House.
policy veterans were startled when, in early
February, Trump designated Bannon as a member of
the National Security Council’s elite principals
committee—calling it unprecedented for a White
House political adviser to have a reserved seat
at the table for life-and-death debates.
McMaster stripped Bannon of his official NSC
position in April, after succeeding the ousted
Michael Flynn—a Bannon ally—as national security
adviser. Bannon continued to attend NSC meetings
and debates about foreign policy in the Oval
Office. But Bannon resented McMaster for
demoting him, and for purging several Flynn
allies from the NSC.
and McMaster also sharply differed on how Trump
should discuss terrorist groups like ISIS and al
Qaeda. Bannon favors using the phrase “radical
Islamic extremism,” but McMaster has largely
prevented Trump from saying it in public on the
grounds that it could alienate moderate Muslims
who hear it as an attack on their religion.
McMaster’s defenders have accused Bannon of
spearheading a campaign of leaks meant to
undermine the top national security aide.
campaign to get him out was clearly coming from
Bannon or his allies,” said Brian McKeon, a
former NSC chief of staff and senior Pentagon
policy official in the Obama administration.
“The national security adviser’s job is hard
enough without having to always look over your
shoulder to see who’s trying to knife you.
will make McMaster’s days a little easier,” he
to share McMaster’s satisfaction at Bannon’s
ouster is Tillerson, who chafed at Bannon’s role
in State Department personnel decisions.
Speaking to the American Prospect this week,
Bannon boasted that he was working to remove
Tillerson’s top official for China and East
getting Susan Thornton out at State,” Bannon
said in the interview.
pointed show of support the next morning,
Tillerson shook Thornton’s hand in front of
when Tillerson recommended in February that
Trump nominate former Reagan and George W. Bush
administration official Elliott Abrams to be his
deputy, Bannon intervened to block the choice,
according to Abrams.
“Bannon’s departure probably means a return to
normalcy, where the State and Defense
Departments will have greater influence on
foreign policy,” Abrams said.
also told the Prospect that he was “changing out
people” on the Pentagon’s China desk. Mattis,
too, has had personnel disputes with the White
“Anything that Tillerson and Mattis really push
for will now have a better chance of winning
out—for better and for worse,” Abrams added.
and others said that Bannon’s exit makes it more
likely that McMaster and Mattis will convince
Trump to send more U.S. troops in Afghanistan,
the subject of a meeting among Trump and his
national security team at Camp David today.
sources downplayed the significance of Bannon’s
departure, however—noting that, on military and
diplomatic issues, Bannon was more dissenter
than policy maker.
Rhodes, a former top national security aide to
former President Barack Obama, said Bannon’s
main contributions was his backing for Trump’s
early executive orders restricting travel from
several Muslim-majority countries. Bannon was
also a defender of his friend and ally Sebastian
Gorka, a controversial White House adviser who
often appears on television.
national security, it was hard to see Bannon’s
influence anywhere other than the Muslim ban and
Gorka doing cable hits, so I don't think it
changes that much,” Rhodes said, adding: “It
does suggest a greater likelihood of a troop
increase in Afghanistan.”
several sources cautioned that while Bannon may
not longer occupy the White House, his worldview
is still frequently reflected in the words of
the most powerful policymaker of all: President
European allies “will not be popping champagne
corks because their main source of worry remains
in the White House, Donald Trump,” Benitez said.
“Most Europeans blame Trump personally rather
than Bannon or other subordinates for damaging
president gets the last vote,” McKeon added.
“And he has a different approach to foreign
policy than all his predecessors.”
Eliana Johnson contributed