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Draining the Swamp at State

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

If there is one hopeful sign in the Presidency of Donald Trump, it is his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ as it relates to those special insider interests who run the show and those outsider interests who own the show.

It is a hugely ambitious task and hardly achievable in four short years but there is a branch of the Federal government where the President-elect (PE) would find immediate results and bring the satisfaction that American foreign policy would no longer be dependent on globalization or spreading unwinnable wars on wasteful adventurism overseas.  If the PE is, in fact, favorable towards a non-interventionist role, the opportunity for a thorough housecleaning and a reshape of the State Department is Now. According to current reports, the struggle is underway within the transition team for the soul of the State Department and ultimately the Trump Administration.

As HRC continued her crazed war talk about Syria and defended NATO encroachment on Russian borders while uttering unprovoked attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin, there was every reason to believe that minutes after concluding her inaugural address, HRC would have walked off the stage and signed the order initiating a No-Fly Zone over Syria, right then and there. And bingo-bango-bongo, Putin would have responded.  I knew it as sure as I know my own name.  At some point it became clear, as Green Party candidate Jill Stein said so precisely, HRC would be more dangerous than Donald Trump.

Even as he talked about modernizing the US military, Trump’s campaign rhetoric about disentangling from foreign entanglements, making NATO nations pay their fair share and dialogue with Putin rather than the usual “Blame it on the Russians” bombast, struck a chord; there was reason for hope.  Unlike Bernie Sanders who has proven to be just another Democrat, Trump dared to question whether there were any ‘moderate’ rebels (aka terrorists) in Syria, the mythical existence of which justified the Obama administration’s lust to overthrow the Assad government.  Trump’s positions, limited elucidation though there was, were always far more reasonable than HRC’s inflammatory saber rattling and aggressive militarism that stirred justified fears of WW III.   If anyone bothered to listen, Trump was voicing foreign policy concerns that not one Democrat in Congress has dared to articulate in the last eight years.

While I am in the ‘wait and see’ category of pragmatists regarding the PE, I agree with Robert Parry’s point that Trump has the opportunity to be a truly great president IF, and it’s a big IF,  he uses his inner grit and a street savvy to break the globalist/neoliberal/neocon  stranglehold (with its links to shadow government) on foreign policy at the State Department, a concept that President Barack Obama never understood or even aspired to.  The PE appointment for Secretary of State which is currently an intense subject of debate within the transition will indicate which direction the PE will take US foreign policy.

In the early days after the election Trump communication advisor Jason Miller offered reassurance with the following:

There will be non-traditional names, a number of people who have had wide-ranging success in a number of different fields; wide-ranging success in business … People will be excited when they see the type of leaders the President-elect brings into this administration.”

One not so non-traditional and not so exciting appointment is that of Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the Select Committee on Benghazi, as Director of the CIA.  Pompeo, who graduated first in his class at West Point and then Harvard Law School and was a backer of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) during the primaries, would hardly qualify as anything more than the ‘same old’ school of CIA Directors that have dominated the agency for decades under the Republicrats.  Pompeo, known as a rabid political ideologue, is not expected to break with the past and can be expected to continue the agency’s widespread unconstitutional violations with an unabashed torture program as if that ever revealed reliable ‘actionable intelligence’ or curtailed dedicated terrorists.  So what message does that appointment send?

During their interview, it would be interesting to know if there was discussion that PE Trump’s opposition to the Iran nuclear treaty has been largely based on non-inclusive trade concerns.  If, in fact, the PE’s view of foreign policy includes trade as a legitimate tool for negotiations, the House of Representatives recent party-line vote in rejection (a plum for Israel) of the sale of  Boeing and Airbus commercial jets to Iran would be considered a diplomatic setback (under a Trump Administration).

Yet to be determined is whether Trump will roll over and appoint his good friend Rudy Giuliani who has no diplomatic experience whatsoever to qualify him and will inevitably be utterly lost in the State Department’s bureaucracy and political snake pit –  or will the President-elect allow himself to be pressured to accept former Bush UN Ambassador, the wacky conniving John Bolton who will owe his allegiance to the professional warmongering neocons.   Sen. Rand Paul (R-SC) who frequently shows some good Libertarian common sense on foreign policy issues, has announced his intention to block either nomination.

While former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney who has been recently added to the list for Secretary of State would add a certain gravitas, he is another not non-traditional name with little first hand, on the ground knowledge of today’s foreign policy complexities. More importantly,  does Romney know how to clean house?

As soon as the votes were counted, certain neo-cons jumped Clinton’s sinking ship without so much as a fond adieu and, being shy, retiring types, sought to elbow their way onto the Trump Ship of State.  More recently, Eliot Cohen’sattempts at a tryst soured as he expressed displeasure after having ‘made the case that young conservatives should volunteer to serve”  now concluded he ‘was wrong’.

Other neo-con names floating as transition team members have been the especially slimy Richard Perle known appropriately as the Prince of Darkness, foreign policy analyst Michael Ledeen who supports the use violence to spread democracy and  noted Islamaphobe Frank Gaffney,  who denied he was on the transition team and had never been contacted.

If the PE and his closest aides are naïve enough to believe that a conciliatory gesture will engender cooperation from the foreign policy establishment, they are woefully misguided.  If Trump fails to rein in the neocons and war hawk neolibs (including assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries and lower level staff) with dispatch, they will quickly discover that if you get into the swamp with alligators, you had better be prepared to wrestle alligators.

At the same time, the reality is that the estimated hundreds of embedded neocons and neolibs at State have the potential, as they clean out their desks, to pilfer (an ultra serious legal violation) the last decade worth of top secret and confidential memos, notes and reports, contacts and network names and other vital information necessary for the transition of foreign policy to the Trump administration. It would not be surprising for a situation to develop similar to some months ago when fifty plus State mid level careerists ‘leaked’ an internal memo criticizing President Obama’s policy on Syria without any apparent repercussions. If the Trump Administration takes foreign policy in a new, improved direction, how will the new President deal with being subtly, or not so subtly, undermined by his own staff.   There is no reason to believe that the most virulent elements of the US foreign policy establishment closely tied to Israel will ‘go quietly into that good night.”

Less than a week after the election, PE had his first phone conversation with Putin and they reportedly talked extensively about Syria and promised a face-to-face in the near future.  Moscow reported that Putin told Trump he was ready for “dialogue of partnership based on principles of equality, mutual response and non-interference in the internal affairs of each other.”  The Trump transition team statement said that the PE told Putin ‘he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia” which is considerably more encouraging than what HRC would have told Putin if she had been elected.

In a Wall Street Journal interview three days after the election, Trump suggested a shift from Obama’s foreign policy objectives regarding support for the Syrian opposition and its insistence on ousting Syrian president Bashar al Assad.   “We’re backing rebels against Syria and we have no idea who these people are.”

Not unexpectedly, Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (2012-2014), as his National Security Adviser succeeding Obama NSA Susan Rice.   Flynn resigned or was pushed out of the DIA because of a public difference of opinion regarding the Obama Syria strategy which was to support those mythical ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels to oust Assad rather than focus on the destruction of ISIS.  Flynn is being portrayed by the NY Times and others as ‘hotheaded’ and irresponsible with  ‘poor judgment’ as well as an “alarming pick” for NSA.

In an interview with Fareed Zakaria in 2015 which was replayed on CNN since his appointment, Flynn spoke about threats from ISIS:  “We are not winning, we are participating. We need to do more to defeat this problem than just go kill a couple more radical Islamists.”   Flynn took the discussion beyond a military solution citing the need for an “economic transformation beyond building schools” while creating “other aspects of energy to achieve that economic transformation” and the use of “water as a means to increase the economic health of the region.”

Zakaria debunked Flynn’s thoughts with “that would require a huge transformation of the whole region” and would be “incredibly costly, laborious and generational. I think the Obama Administration would say it’s not worth the effort; not the kind of existential threat to the US that would warrant that massive expenditure of time, money and resources.” As if the US war-related $20 trillion deficit is peanuts.

Currently, Flynn is being criticized for comments referring to radical Islamists as ‘a political ideology hiding behind the notion of it being a religion” which brings to mind a discussion re the true tenets of Islam that I had with a Florida Imam.  His comparison was that as certain fundamental Christians have distorted Christianity to suit their political agenda; so too have certain Moslems used their religion to justify their ideology.   The fact that Flynn sees that distinction is encouraging.

More articles by:

Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31

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