Reports surfaced yesterday morning that Steve Bannon, goblin king of white nationalists, had been ousted from the National Security Council.
Amidst months of rumors of infighting within the Republican administration, Bannon’s removal from the NSC has been celebrated, as it ought to be. However, as happy as the news may be, it should also be noted how small of a victory this is in the face of such sobering circumstances. Bannon remains Chief Strategist, Donald Trump is President, and the two are backed by a terrifying collection of Republicans with a proven track record of inefficient and violent policies.
While some outlets have focused their coverage of the palace intrigue on claims that Trump greenlit Bannon’s demotion out of jealousy, others have chosen to celebrate General McMaster’s rising star within the Republican administration. Whereas Bannon may have advocated military decisions based on political popularity and an Islamophobic clash-of-civilizations worldview, McMaster is an experienced counterinsurgency expert who respects Islam and will prevent us from blundering into war in Syria, or so the argument goes.
The problem, of course, is that we are already at war in Syria, and have been for some time. Trump has continued to escalate US troop deployments to Iraq and Syria since McMaster’s appointment to National Security Advisor in February. As Congress pressures Trump to ramp up military involvement in light of the sarin gas attack that killed 74 people in Khan Shaykun this week, it seems likely that such troop increases will only continue.
McMaster has been hailed for developing counterinsurgency strategy designed to “win over hearts and minds” through public works and cultural education of US soldiers. His current fans have lauded this in the hopes that it may mean more humane military strategy and a more cautious approach to coordinating with Russian military forces, who have been accused of war crimes in Syria.
What this ignores, however, is that the relative “cultural competency” of a military invasion does not change the fact that it is a military invasion. Though some may argue that further military intervention is necessary to prevent further use of weapons of mass destruction, there is no guarantee that this is something the US can accomplish. Increased US military involvement through air or ground forces does not equate to an improvement in the lives of Syrian people, as evidenced by the slaughter of over 40 civilians in the bombing of a mosque in Al-Jinah village on March 17. The only thing that can be definitively declared to be in the interest of the Syrian people from an outsider’s perspective is fewer bombs and bullets.
McMaster may not harbor the same paranoid delusions as Bannon, but he cannot singlehandedly divert the US military from the course Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon direct it in. So long as our nation’s sense of safety and global justice is measured in how many bombs we drop in the Middle East, people will suffer, counterinsurgency strategy be damned.