Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Inside Washington: Acts and scenes

Yes, Steve Bannon is out of the White House. But no one believes that he will be out of the Washington scene, at least in the foreseeable future. Just a few hours after departing the West Wing of the White House, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Bannon returned to the conservative Breitbart News as executive chairman.

He told Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, “if there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents – on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America.” Green, who wrote the book “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,” later tweeted that “Bannon sounded like he’d just consumed 40 Red Bulls” (an American energy drink).

That was last Friday evening. Two days later on Sunday evening, Breitbart News published an article on national security adviser H R McMaster, describing him as soft on Islamist extremism and terrorism. The article, headlined “H.R. McMaster Endorsed Book that Advocates Quran-Kissing Apology Ceremonies,” was written by Aaron Klein from Tel Aviv. It claims that the US army lieutenant-general threw his support behind a book advising US military personnel to avoid desecrating the Quran, so as not to inflame religious tensions with Muslim populations in countries where American troops are deployed.

The article further notes that the book is titled “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat” and is authored by US Military Officer Youssef H Abul-Enein. McMaster wrote in his blurb for the book that “militant Islamist Ideology deserves a wide readership among all those concerned with the problem of transnational terrorism, their ideology, and our efforts to combat those organisations that pose a serious threat to current and future generations of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

According to the US Naval Institute Website, Abul-Enein serves as a senior adviser and analyst for the US Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism. From 2002 to 2006, he served as country director for North Africa and Egypt at the Office of the US Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs. He has advised at the highest levels of the defence department and intelligence community.

Post-Charlottesville: After Trump’s shocking response to what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, blaming “all sides,” it became the talk of the nation and consequently the talk of Washington. Republican as well as Democrat congressmen, military and business leaders as well as the media – all adopted a harshly confrontational position against the president’s view and took a firm stand supporting the idea of the nation’s diversity.

Among others, Senator Bob Corker of the Republican leadership harshly criticised Trump’s handling of the racially motivated protests in Charlottesville, telling reporters that “he has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today, and he’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that.” The Tennessee Republican senator also said, “the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” and asked for “radical changes” within the White House.

What was observed on Sunday morning was that not a single Trump administration official appeared on any of the Sunday political talk shows in the US, including Fox News. As commentator Jonathan Swan wrote, “I’m told the White House made no serious efforts to convince officials to go on, knowing the hosts of the shows would pressure the guests relentlessly on the president’s response to the racist carnage in Charlottesville. The White House judged it was better to have nobody out there than risk providing fuel for another 24-hour negative news cycle on Charlottesville.”

Who’s Next? “There’s certainly a lot of people on the White House staff and [National Security Council] staff that shouldn’t be there,” representative Adam Schiff (Democrat-California) said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” TV programme.

“People like Miller and Gorka and others not only I think represent the same thing that Steve Bannon did, but aren’t capable of doing the job well,” he continued. “So yes, I think there’s more cleaning house that ought to take place.” Stephen Miller is Trump’s senior policy adviser, and Sebastian Gorka is a national security aide. Yet it is not clear how far the retired US Marine Corps General John Kelly, White House chief of staff since 31 July, will do to take the White House “out of chaos” and “put it in order.”

On the other front, with Bannon back at Breitbart, it looks like the right-wing army is getting ready to start a war not just against McMaster, but also against the “globalist” enemies that have taken over the West Wing, namely Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser to the president and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser.

Powell, an Egyptian-American, is a US policy-maker who served before in the George W Bush administration. It was reported that Bannon told friends that Powell belongs to a group of “globalists” or “West Wing Democrats” who threaten Trump’s agenda. The influential social conservative leader Ralph Reed tweeted last Friday, “sloppy reporting falsely claims Dina Powell is a moderate or liberal in the WH. Wrong. She is a solid conservative & a woman of faith.”

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