Crisis, Conflict and Taxonomy
The period of 2006-2008 brought the final implosion and collapse of the George Bush regime. Many of the ideologues had been forced out or had willingly abandoned ship. US foreign policy was in shambles, the military was shaken and the economy was on the brink of catastrophe.
This crisis which would extend over the whole of the Obama presidency has created the conditions for what could be rightly called an Establishment Crisis or even a Deep State Civil War.
This hasn't quite degenerated into a shooting war but the divisions have become sharp enough that the stability of the United States and the post-war order it dominates are being called into question. The groups vying for power have splintered and now the various groups are forming alliances and in the same moment turning on each other. It has created strange bedfellows and there have been defections and betrayals.
This period has been marked by a somewhat severe domestic adjustment, social crisis, political gridlock, Russian resistance, as well as social and economic crises within the EU. It has afforded a new Nativist wing to form which has in part combined with a new phase of Unilateralist insurgency within the Deep State. The Rollback faction hasn't gone away. It's simply carried over into a new generation. This period has also been marked by a new phase of conflict, what might be called War on Terror II. Seeking to recover the lost and destroyed momentum which came out of 9/11, it has capitalised (if not utilised) a new series and style of terrorism and while Europe was hit over a decade ago by terror attacks, this new era is marked by operations that are lower-scale in terms of death toll but dramatic and certainly traumatic. The tempo has increased and the situation is agitated by frustration with immigrants and refugees. This brings us to 2017, certainly a year that's already shaping up to be one of crisis.
As we attempt to understand the nature of the various factions we must necessarily acknowledge these lines are less than clear and there is considerable overlap. Individuals may easily migrate between some of the groups. In other words they are generalisations but they mark some of the unprecedented and even unimaginable splits within the Deep State. The tendencies have always been there but the crisis has amplified these tendencies as well as the tensions.
First we'll call Group #1 the Unilateralist Neo-conservatives.
This group was shaped by the crisis of the Cold War's ending. They're thinking is in terms of the world as it stood in 1991-2001. They view the great enemy as Russia and an irredentist USSR. They fear a regime in possession of nuclear weapons that due to nearly three-quarters of a century of domination continues to wield great cultural, economic and strategic influence over Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They see the USSR forming again under Putin and they believe the project to destroy Russia must not only continue but must be enhanced and accelerated. Russia remains an existential threat to US security let alone American global hegemony.
They would continue the larger Middle Eastern War in the framework of the original War on Terror. The War is ultimately about geostrategic posturing and control of resources.
They would destroy the Iran Nuclear Treaty, they are generally pro-NATO and while they have little love for the EU they see it is a tool. They would rather deal directly with Germany, France and other nations and thus would prefer the EU to exist but in a weakened form.
They would annihilate ISIS, reinvigorate the fight with al Qaeda and once those tasks are complete, they would certainly initiate a new series of wars. In terms of economics they tend toward Corporatist or Crony Capitalism. They are quite hostile to Libertarianism even while they tend to be centrist in terms of social issues. Again this is a generalisation as some of them do identify with the Christian Right.
Military spending must be increased and if it breaks the back of the social safety net... then so much the better.
While this position is not Trump's he has certainly allowed some of these folks to enter his administration. One thinks most prominently of Vice-President Pence who has been close to Dick Cheney. Anyone associated with Rumsfeld also falls into this camp. This is in many ways a continuation of the Bush administration's agenda.
At the same time there are figures like John McCain and Lindsey Graham as well as a few democrats who more or less hold to this position and yet are quite hostile to Trump and the other forces he represents.
Erik Prince, Jerry Boykin and other members of the Christian Right belong in this group as well. Prince and Boykin probably represent a radical fringe within the group.
This brings up to group #2, what I'm calling the Multilateralist Neo-conservatives.
Similar to group #1, they would also support an aggressive posture vis-à-vis Moscow but they are strong believers in multilateral organisations. Unilateralism is risky, costly, alienating, prone to degeneration and ultimately foolish and destructive. Power can be wielded but not in a brutal or blunt manner. Considerably more patient than group #1, these people believe in the many institutions formed under US leadership since the conclusion of World War II. Even if at times they prove frustrating, they are viewed as important and effective tools. They would continue to expand the power and range of NATO, they would like to see a strong EU and they are less ideological. Believers in Realpolitik, they are happy to negotiate with groups that are outwardly opposed to US interests. They will work with Islamists and view proxy wars as an effective means of implementing policy goals while allowing for plausible deniability. Regime changes are necessary but they must be done in a manner that does not shake confidence in the democratic order. They believe strongly in optics, perception and narrative. Their main problem with group #1 is with regard to style. The Unilateralists are brutes.
And yet don't be fooled the Multilateralists are just as much imperialists in the end.
This is essentially the dominant position with the DNC. This is the view of the Clintons and their allies, people such as Madeleine Albright. There are many prominent figures within Langley, the Pentagon, the State Department and even Wall Street that support this view.
Wars and other nasty business are necessary but they should be done in a manner that's both smart and hopefully cheap.
They are also concerned about China and viewed the TPP as a mechanism to build future alliances, restrict Chinese reach and at the same expand the state-corporate alliance on an international scale.
This group which also comprises many Republicans, especially those of the pre-Tea Party era and those less than thrilled with Bush represents a large portion of what I have called the Establishment Deep State. Not a few figures of importance within The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) for example would largely support this type of thinking and in many ways represents its viewpoint.
This brings us to another group that has formed in the wake of the crisis generated by the Bush foreign policy, more extreme forms of Islamism and the growing economic crisis.
I call this third group the Neo-Conservative Nativists or you could even call it the Nativist Blue Team, or even to some degree just The Blue Team.
Again this is a broad group drawn from many sectors and not a few would be hostile to be labeled as or identified with the Neoconservatives.
They believe in American hegemony but they believe the globalist/Establishment model has done untold damage to both US power and the domestic economy.
While not overly friendly toward Moscow this group believes that the primary threat to the United States comes in the form of a menacing China. It is China that represents a great danger due to its ascendant military and economic power. The trade deficit, debt holdings, Beijing's expansion in Africa and growing domination of East Asia will in the end prove a catalyst for the breakdown of US power.
They view the Middle Eastern episode as something of a mistake, at least in how it was prosecuted and now it has become a dangerous distraction. They would for the most part keep the Iran deal in place and they would hope the Middle East would cool down and stabilise.
This faction would continue to reach out to and even empower Middle Eastern allies and allow them to deal with the region through their own methods as long as they comply with US objectives. They support the rise of Qatar as a US proxy and eagerly support operations such as the US-sponsored war in Yemen. The Saudi-US model of cooperation is what they would like to see in the region.
They would use these same forces to neutralise ISIS. These Middle Eastern allies more than any other actors know that the whole ISIS movement contains farcical elements and they would certainly know best how to quickly dismantle and defeat the movement.
In terms of Europe the Blue Team has no love for the EU and view NATO as lopsided and in many ways something of a drag on US power. They would reinvigorate the alliance and demand more from its members. Though they have no great love for multilateralism they view the EU and NATO as necessary for the present.
Unlike groups #1 and #2 they have no desire to Rollback Russia but rather to contain it.
Russia can wait. The real imminent threat is in Asia. They would see the regime in Beijing fall. The question of Pyongyang goes hand in hand. They fear that if this situation is allowed to continue, American domination of South Korea, Japan and even Australia may come into jeopardy. Other nations the US is trying to woo into its orbit, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka will slip away. Longtime collaborators Taiwan and Singapore could be put at risk.
They view the East Asian question as of utmost importance.
Rex Tillerson, other figures within the GOP and some of the less-than-fanatical figures within the Christian Right have come to this position. This position also represents a more aggressive Neo-conservative flavoured modification of Obama's policy. Obama himself wanted to turn from the Middle East and Pivot to Asia. While some Democrats support this way of thinking it's actually a position that finds more resonance within Republican circles.
The war with China is also very much cast in economic terms. Capitalists to be sure, they question the viability of globalism and believe the West has reached a point of necessary correction and adjustment. Most but not all opposed the TPP. Their reasons were based on economic principles to be sure but also many of them don't appreciate that kind of soft-handed institutional and long-term approach to challenging China. They believe the need is for something far more aggressive.
Tillerson certainly does not share this anti-globalist view and would differ from many of them when it comes to questions of energy independence... a key plank in the Nativist platform. And yet Tillerson knows all too well that Putin is not unreasonable. If the US shifts its posture with regard to Moscow, a potential ally could be found.
Those in the know realise Russia is no real threat. Its GDP cannot begin to compete with France or Germany. Its military capacity has been greatly exaggerated. Essentially it's a middle-rank nation with a large nuclear arsenal.
China is viewed as something very different and represents a real threat to US power. The trade deals and agenda conducted during the Clinton and Bush years represent a tremendous mistake they wish to correct.
Arriving at #4, we have a group I've identified as the Nativists.
This faction differs from the former in that it is acutely anti-globalist in principle. It is hostile to all forms of multilateralism. Global trade is to be conducted within bilateral frameworks that are easy to adjust or abandon. NATO must be wholly subject to US domination or it should be abandoned. The US does not serve NATO, on the contrary these nations must serve Washington. They need to greatly escalate military spending and be willing to come at Washington's beck and call. There must be no repeat of the 2002 vacillations and challenges to the Washington agenda. Article 5 must be dispensed with or re-written to afford Washington the option of assessing each potential crisis as to whether or not its worthy of an intervention.
The EU represents an economic challenge and must be broken. A temporary revision that allows German leadership and thus bilateral negotiation with Washington might be acceptable.
The domestic economy must be strengthened and restructured. The social contract needs to be recalibrated on the basis of race and civilisation as opposed to ideals. The anti-immigrant platform of this faction is well known. They are capitalist and yet would reject a Free Market that doesn't take national considerations into account. While there is some denunciation of Cronyism, the economic views of this camp find a great deal of commonality with earlier versions of 'socialism' when viewed through a Nationalist lens. The socialism in this case is not anti-Capitalist but demands the capitalist impulse serve the needs and goals of the nation. Another term that could be employed is Economic Nationalism.
Social programmes need to be largely eliminated and are viewed as superfluous in a harmonised, streamlined and reinvigorated economy. Their continuation while perhaps permissible in a tribalist context are hindrances to national greatness. They have a tendency to delay and restrict economic growth.
This view has heartily embraced the Huntington Clash of Civilisations thesis. The Neo-Conservatives have as well but this group has taken to it in an almost literalistic fashion.
In this paradigm the great threat for the West is in the form of Asiatic hordes and Islam. Some within this camp would throw Secularism into the mix.
In this epic conflict, Russia is no enemy but a natural ally. As mentioned in the previous section, it is known that Russia's strength is vastly overrated and yet it can wield a great deal of cultural influence throughout its former sphere. Russia has despite some multilateralist moves always been somewhat wary of Beijing and Moscow is absolutely hostile to Islamism. In addition under the revived Russian Orthodox Sacral model it is also increasingly hostile to Secularism. From the standpoint of this faction Putin has a better grasp on the current geopolitical and cultural context. He's moving Russia in a positive direction and while uncouth is a source of inspiration.
This faction is fine with Russia wielding influence within its Eurasian sphere and wish to bury the hatchet and chase what they perceive to be the real villains. Putin doesn't represent a Soviet revival but a return to Tsardom which while contrary to Classical Liberalism is nevertheless a positive corrective to the Secularism of Europe and the religious challenges out of the Middle East.
This is Trump's position and certainly one held by numerous figures closely associated with his administration. While some, especially within the Neo-conservative and Establishment factions view the rapprochement with Russia as treasonous, from the standpoint of the Nativists it is the Secularists, Liberals, Globalists and pro-immigration advocates who are the traitors. This view closely parallels the European Right.
The various factions are vying for power and influence and some are growing quite hostile to one another. In particular an umbrella faction is forming that in many ways incorporates elements of group #2 (and even #1 to a lesser degree) but largely it represents a longstanding Establishment within Washington. This group which has long dominated the major think-tanks, multilateral institutions and finds a great deal of support within Wall Street. By naming the latter I immediately must signify that Wall Street overlaps with numerous actors associated with the State Department, Pentagon and Langley. Again the lines are blurry.
I call this fifth group the Mainline or the Old Establishment Deep State. Literally connected in many ways to the old Eastern Establishment this is the group comprised of educators, academics, bankers, diplomats and others who have floated in and out of politics.
The other factions have their share of these figures as well but the group I'm speaking of has wielded power a long time and thus has deep connections. This is what's left of the Containment and especially Detente factions from the Cold War. A broad group, some are even willing to try and exert some influence within Trump circles. If they're having an internal debate it's what to do about Trump and the Nativists. Should they be influenced and steered or must they be destroyed?
The Mainline would contain Russia to be sure and yet they have no desire to destroy multilateral institutions. They are similar to the DNC dominated #2 position but are far less bellicose, more willing to make concessions to retain domestic and geopolitical stability. No friends to the Constitution they would retain the War on Terror but in its second incarnation. They would distance US policy from the Bush-Neoconservative platform and re-cast security questions in light of humanitarian issues, Assange and ISIS rather than al Qaeda and the Bush Doctrine.
They recognise the need for a controlled adjustment to the world order but fear the instability generated by radical measures. While Putin and the anti-Western order he represents is something of a threat, the threat of populism and radicalism within the Western Liberal order is perhaps more immediate and even existential . For them the forces that have brought Donald Trump to power spell the doom of a century's labours. He will in a short time discredit and destroy the structures and system that serve as the foundation of US power and the stability of not only the West but the entire world.
They do not fear China. In fact it was these figures, men like Brzezinski, Kissinger and the Rockefellers that exploited the Sino-Soviet split and worked to bring about the US-China detente and flip China over to the capitalist side.
This faction has less celebrity these days and it has suffered from no small degree of splintering and even disintegration. They are in a state of crisis and yet they will wield a great deal of power and influence. Be sure they are moving even now to check the power of Donald Trump. It is evident they are finding common cause with the Anti-Russia wings and trying to paint Trump and those around him as traitors and insurgents.
They sense a real volatility to the world order and social consensus. The economic order is fragile and could easily be wrecked by radical ideologues. Possessing a greater sense of history they have a genuine fear of war. American recklessness could push nations like China and Russia into existential crisis. Escalating tensions can quickly cycle out of control.
While I'm sorry to admit it and even hate to say it, this evil faction does possess a degree of sanity. Nothing will change if they're allowed to continue in power and yet at this point, things being as they are, change is very dangerous. This group represents stability even if it is brutal and unjust at times.
This group found a great deal of resonance with the Obama administration's beginning and perhaps what it represented at the end. The middle period from 2011-14 was more aggressive in terms of geopolitics and agenda and they were critical of his moves. In fact it could be argued that his agenda during this period only escalated the crisis. Today they wish to calm the world scene and allow for a time of respite and repair. Trump's ascension all but guarantees that things are going to get worse and it may happen rapidly.
This group is comprised of the aforementioned Establishment figures. On the Republican side it's represented by a dying wing. Men like George HW Bush and James Baker are quickly fading from the scene. The Republican Party of Nixon, Ford, GHW Bush and even the final years of Reagan is reaching its end.
The institutional leadership represented in the think-tanks and various academic structures perpetuates their views. They're getting a hearing today but it's unclear to me how much political power they wield at the moment.
This is the nature of the Establishment Conflict. There are other groups that play a part. The Christian Right is presently divided between Neo-Conservatives and Nativists. Some Libertarians have thrown in with the Nativist movement and some have supported Trump even though many of his policies absolutely contradict their doctrines. Some have tried to find a home within the Republican Party but it must clear to them by now, that it's a dead end.
The Establishment Left represented by figures like Sanders and Warren is largely phoney and is doing little more than steer the Left into the Democratic Party. The fact that so-called Third Way politics are viewed as Left shows just how far things have moved to the Right. Compared to the extreme positions of some Unilateralists and Nativists, the Multi-lateral imperialism of the DNC seems like a Left-leaning socially responsible position. The truth is the US political spectrum has virtually no Left-wing. Even the Green Party embraces Social Democracy and while their platform is more explicitly Left wing, their embrace of identity politics and certainly some of the machinations in 2016 demonstrate the party is at best pragmatic and certainly willing to accommodate Third Way figures.
For the most part even the 'Left-wing' advocates of regulation, distribution and identity politics still advocate the Capitalist and Militarist model which will forever militate against their positions. It can be questioned as to whether or not identity politics can be even be classified as Leftist. As I've argued elsewhere that kind of individualism is the fruit of bourgeois decadence and in many ways represents no political spectrum at all but is anti-social and divisive. It's a degenerate form of the corrupted Civil Rights movement. The leaders of the Civil Rights era who entered the mainstream have been bought and sold and no longer represent the genuine interests of their communities or the underclass. Identity-focused legislation has become cynical at best and does little to address the real issues behind growing social tensions and injustice. It is utilised handily by the various political factions as a means to divide-and-conquer as well as to rally support based on platitudes and crocodile tears.
Will a real and genuine Left rise up and begin to challenge these Establishment paradigms on the basis of working class interests?
What will happen when the Nativist factions shatter? Will they openly embrace fascism? It has long lingered in the background of American politics and even now is at the door. The time is certainly ripe for it to come to erupt. Long a real element and impulse within the US Establishment it now has the chance to declare itself openly and display all its ugliness without shame.
If the social consensus disintegrates under Trump, the Nativists may find another means to power and it will afford a way to channel their anger. If this happens look for the Establishment to capitalise on this impulse even at the temporary cost of domestic stability.