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January 17, 2020

How Trump Rebelled Against The Generals

In early 2017, just as Trump was inaugurated, we wrote how an old power center theory that seemed to explain how Trump won the elections:

Seen from the perspective of power centers Clinton once had all the support she needed. But she then lost a decisive group due to her uncompromising neo-conned foreign policy. Here is an interesting take based on a theory from the 1950s:

[T]he power elite can be best described as a “triangle of power,” linking the corporate, executive government, and military factions: “There is a political economy numerously linked with military order and decision. This triangle of power is now a structural fact, and it is the key to any understanding of the higher circles in America today.”

The 2016 US election, like all other US elections, featured a gallery of pre-selected candidates that represented the three factions and their interests within the power elite. The 2016 US election, however, was vastly different from previous elections. As the election dragged on the power elite became bitterly divided, with the majority supporting Hilary Clinton, the candidate pre-selected by the political and corporate factions, while the military faction rallied around their choice of Donald Trump.


The decisive political point in this election round was the fight between neo-conservatives/liberal-interventionists and foreign policy realists. One side is represented as exemplary by the CIA with the U.S. military on the other:

A schism developed between the Defense Department and the highly politicized CIA. This schism, which can be attributed to the corporate-deep-state’s covert foreign policy, traces back to the CIA orchestrated “color revolutions” that had swept the Middle East and North Africa.

The CIA created bloodthirsty future enemies the military will later have to defeat. ...

That explanation has held up well. At the beginning of his regime Trump stuffed the White House with the military faction while the executive government -the deep state- waged a war against him. The corporate side of triangle of power was quite happy with his tax policies.

But Trump soon discovered that the military faction did not concur with his 'America first' isolationist tendencies. The 'grown ups' and generals wanted to explain to Trump why they believe that the U.S. needs many allies and bases and why the many long wars the U.S. fights are sensible policy.

According to a new book, partly adapted in a Washington Post piece, that effort did not end well:

Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner of “America First,” but [Secretary of Defense Jim] Mattis, [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson, and [Director of the National Economic Council Gary] Cohn feared his proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America’s superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump’s impulsive ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, even, where countries were located. To have a useful discussion with him, the trio agreed, they had to create a basic knowledge, a shared language.

So on July 20, 2017, Mattis invited Trump to the Tank for what he, Tillerson, and Cohn had carefully organized as a tailored tutorial.

The meeting in the Tank, a secure conference room in the Pentagon, were part of an effort to subdue Trump's insurgency against the top military's world view. and the presentation by top generals came off as a lecture which Trump immediately disliked:

An opening line flashed on the screen, setting the tone: “The post-war international rules-based order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation.” Mattis then gave a 20-minute briefing on the power of the NATO alliance to stabilize Europe and keep the United States safe. Bannon thought to himself, “Not good. Trump is not going to like that one bit.” The internationalist language Mattis was using was a trigger for Trump.

“Oh, baby, this is going to be f---ing wild,” [White House chief strategist Stephen K.] Bannon thought. “If you stood up and threatened to shoot [Trump], he couldn’t say ‘postwar rules-based international order.’ It’s just not the way he thinks.”

Bannon was right. Verbal scuffles about NATO, South Korea and U.S. bases followed. Then Trump took on the generals:

“We are owed money you haven’t been collecting!” Trump told them. “You would totally go bankrupt if you had to run your own business.”

The discussion turned to the war on Afghanistan:

Trump erupted to revive another frequent complaint: the war in Afghanistan, which was now America’s longest war. He demanded an explanation for why the United States hadn’t won in Afghanistan yet, now 16 years after the nation began fighting there in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump unleashed his disdain, calling Afghanistan a “loser war.” That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders at the table but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey their commander in chief’s commands, and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war.
“You’re all losers,” Trump said. “You don’t know how to win anymore.”

When one reads the recent Congress testimony of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan one can see that Trump has a point. The war is long lost and the military is lying about it:

“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,” John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”
“When we talk about mendacity, when we talk about lying, it’s not just lying about a particular program. It’s lying by omissions,” he said. “It turns out that everything that is bad news has been classified for the last few years.”

Trump's rant during the meeting with the generals continued:

Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. “I don’t think he knows how to win,” the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.
“I want to win,” he said. “We don’t win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore.”
“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

A drill sergeant act performed on recruits with four stars on their shoulders. I find that quite impressive. Those perfumed princes must have fumed.

While some will certainly say that Trump disgraced the military with his rant most of the soldiers in the field will likely agree with his opinion about their generals.

Most of the 'dopes and babies' who were in that room have since been fired or retired. Their replacements are yes-men more to Trump's liking. They did not even protest about Trump's latest blunder. He rented out scarce air defense units to Saudi Arabia and went on to murder Qassem Soleimani in Iraq while the U.S. bases there no longer had air defenses to protect them against the inevitable retaliation.

The anti-Trump leaders of the executive side of the triangle have likewise been removed and replaced with people who are unlikely to put up a fight against Trump.

The third side of the triangle, the corporate faction, is happy that Trump pressed the Fed to douse the markets with free money. Unless the inevitable stock market crash comes before the election, which is unlikely, they will stick to Trump's side.

With all three sides of the triangle of power inclined to favor him or neutralized Trump seems to have a good chance to win the next election.

That is unless he continues to follow the advice of neocons with a bad record and, by sheer stupidity, starts a war against Iran.

Posted by b on January 17, 2020 at 18:47 UTC | Permalink

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Russ @200

Okay, so we're in agreement except for conclusion. I cite Sanders abysmal concession to Hillary in defence. A politician for the peoples (that's a very specific inside joke, pluralizing people) is marginalized by a system which champions duality. Witness for example the 1992 campaign of Perot.

Posted by: psychedelicatessen | Jan 19 2020 11:17 utc | 201

medicare for all does change things. so would actually fighting climate change instead of contributing to it. sanders wants to work within the system, and he's blind on foreign policy, but within the domestic borders sanders is indeed fighting to change things for the middle class. look at the donors.

Posted by: pretzelattack | Jan 19 2020 14:07 utc | 202

141# Bubbles
Modern western people don't come to opinions by thinking and taking as much information as they can get into consideration,but they are pavloved from the cradle to the grave especially on the topic of Russia.It's emotions,stupid,that determine their so called political views.Modern people are a devolution,crippled by inbreed and education,not an evolution.Notice how virtually every people think they are the most advanced,humane,clever etc.And in the end this leads to despise the other and being a Liverpool supporter you have to get insulting and even violent to a Manchester United fan.Ain't that stupid?Well,that's sport and competition for ya...I think indeed it would be better if we were to be destroyed,and I don't think God will start over again in creating us.Experiment failed.

Posted by: willie | Jan 19 2020 14:44 utc | 203

@ c1ue | Jan 18 2020 23:28 utc | 183

This statement seems to assume some things that may not be true, you wrote> "The question still remains: Trump could have had an Iran war if he wanted. All that would be necessary is to not evacuate the base and have a few dozen Americans killed."

Well, some guys were not evacuated - they were flying drones from exposed comm shelters and some did get hurt...and probably some did die. This of course is being minimized. They say 9 transports flew out of the target zone right after the party.

And what Trump "wants" probably doesn't matter, after all, he's a nut and ignorant as hammers. It's more a matter of what the group around him manages to get him to do - any they're a poor lot structurally they're insane, drifting, dangerous, mean, and stupid.

And it assumes that Trump did not get a war. This is highly questionable. The opponent decides too about when war exists. Iran has made it plain what their ideas are - "MAGA" (make America go away)

It seems more reasonable that their lordships felt that prudence and strategy obliged them to build up forces further from Iran and disperse the forces that they had to keep in "theater". Perhaps this includes the bombers at Diego Garcia - "out of range..." (Personally I think DG is a BFT (big fat target) for Mr Chin and Mr Ivan - they must have submarines, eh?)


It's interesting to consider that if, miraculously, America did kiss off the Empire, then she might recover and avoid abject ruin. If that's true, then the Iranian position is in fact favorable to America. How Jolly! Very smart...always give an opponent a way out...

Posted by: Walter | Jan 19 2020 15:17 utc | 204

@walter just thinking of countries that kissed off their empire, offhand, the only one that comes to mind is russia.

Posted by: pretzelattack | Jan 19 2020 15:28 utc | 205

@ kissing off empire...

Yes, I believe you're right.

It's remarkable how history revolves... Szilard more or less said that USSR and USA were a pair, antipodal elements...and if one were to disappear, the other would too. Wm Pfaff wrote something about this idea.

If history resonates, then perhaps we will see the US willingly, sorta, give up the noose 'round her neck, the chains she's forged.

It would be lots better n' nuclear obliteration, eh?


PS, I see that the summit @ Berlin held a photo op. Brother Vlad made 'em wait... tricky dude! Forced them into admitting he's the man with the hammer. "Gee whiz I wish we had one of those..." (Buck Turdgison from Strangelove)

Posted by: Walter | Jan 19 2020 16:15 utc | 206

@Walter #204
It seems quite clear Trump doesn't want a war. He's had plenty of opportunities.

As for Iran getting a vote: no, not really. If the US decided to respond to its drone shootdown as a casus belli, and attacked into Iran - Iran would either surrender or fight. And they're not going to surrender.

It would be more accurate to say that Iran won't surrender and won't start a war.

And equally accurate to say that the US, under Trump, won't leave and won't start a war.

Compare the sequence of recent events vs. Libya, Iraq 1 & 2, Yugoslavia, Panama, etc - there is a very big difference: Iran is a large country that could definitely do a lot of damage to any attacker, plus economic damage to the world.

Again, I'm not in any way ascribing Trump as peace-loving or moral or whatever. I am describing what he has done: pulled back many times from escalation.

Posted by: c1ue | Jan 19 2020 23:34 utc | 207

I think that this piece missed the mark because whatever insights the President had and whatever he said had zero tangible impact on the policy in Afghanistan. In fact, more troops were sent, there was no new plan for "victory". So whatever was said ultimately was of no practical consequence.
It seems that it does not really matter who is President, there is a funny paradox whereby the President has almost unlimited power to do evil, create more wars etc but the power of the position is negligible when it comes to doing anything positive.
This could be seen even in the Obama Presidency, in the final months of the Obama administration, Secretary of State Kerry made a deal for the US to co-operate with Russia in Syria. There was to be a joint operations room and a co-ordination of future operations.
US military commanders baldly stated they were not going to do it and responded by massacring 80 plus Syrian soldiers on Mount Thardar in Deir ez Zor on September 17th, 2016, offering the lame excuse that they mistook the Syrian soldiers for ISIS fighters.
Throughout the attack, the Russian military attempted to contact the US via the deconfliction hotline but their calls were ignored.
The Syrian Army had been in complete control of those positions for months.
An ISIS offensive followed shortly after the hour long air attack and they managed to seize the strategically important positions overlooking the Deir ez Zor military airport.
Trump is indeed likely to win the election but anyone thinking that it matters is not understanding the situation at all in my opinion and in fact is merely feeding an empty illusion. The same goes for anyone hoping for a Democrat victory.
They are both merely empowering a childish lie-that the US has a democratic government and the identity of the President is immensely important. It is closer to completely irrelevant.

Posted by: James R | Jan 20 2020 1:29 utc | 208

good comment James R.. thank you... to me this statement of yours defines a rogue nation - " the President has almost unlimited power to do evil, create more wars etc but the power of the position is negligible when it comes to doing anything positive. " that seems to sum it up exactly.. wishing for anything different with a dem or repub leader is truly wishful thinking for anyone crazy enough to still entertain it..

Posted by: james | Jan 20 2020 2:02 utc | 209

@SteveLaudig #152

Ike saw it, but didn't have the courage to say it until immediately before giving up the reigns of power at his farewell address.

He was embedded in the system for decades before that, but didn't try to change it.

I will agree to a h/t for his support of desegregation (in DC & the Armed Forces) in 1953.

Posted by: RenoRich | Jan 20 2020 16:06 utc | 210

@ "...pulled back many times from escalation..."

I did that once, but she got a vote too. That's how little Water Junior who's outside with his BB gun terrorizing the cat, was conceived... )
Seriously, in addition to Iran, they say the Russian regarded, regard, the Ukraine coup and occupation to be an act of war. Evidently they prefer not to emphasize this for practical reasons, but they have..ah.."responded"...witness all that they've done since 2014...

So far it's mostly sitzkrieg, thanks goodness.

Posted by: Walter | Jan 20 2020 17:28 utc | 211

@DFC #184
While you might be right, I would personally say that the possibility of a "change" is extremely unlikely. Trump was over 70 when he got elected - people don't change personalities without medical reasons at that age.
Equally, I would argue that he already though of himself as Trump the Great.
Starting a war to build/enhance a reputation - that's what a Trump Derangement Syndrome person would say, but there is no evidence of this whatsoever actually working in recent history.
We know Trump talks shit.
We also know Trump had many chances to get a war - and he turned them down.
I really can't repeat this enough, because the ever-more convoluted attempts to paint him as a warmonger have to explain away the missed opportunities first.

Posted by: c1ue | Jan 21 2020 17:53 utc | 212

@Walter #211
Fair point, but the primary point is still valid: if Trump is a warmonger - why did he pull back?
Did he somehow change in the last 3 months from before? If so, it isn't detectable to me.
As for Ukraine: the Ukraine was not a shooting war. Yes, $5B was funneled to "freedom loving" Nazis to promote democracy, but the US military wasn't officially involved.
And yes, it was an act of war in Russian eyes - and their response was in kind and defensive.
Ironically, the much the same type of support the "freedom lovers" in Ukraine got, is what Soleimani was doing in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

Posted by: c1ue | Jan 21 2020 17:57 utc | 213

I don't think I ever said he's a warmonger, and I don't see him as one...more as a tragic victim of his hubris,his fated star, a pharmacos. A life-long con-man he's run up against the one mark he cannot beat - the mark inside. (May Wm Burroughs forgive me!) The Clowns, with feeble educations all, those around him share this absurd and tragic quality, it's pitiful.

I see the situation a a colossal zuswang. Empire teeters on financial collapse and absolutely must control the pricing of oil (and all the rest). At the same time it must conquer Persia, Russia, China - at the same time it cannot retreat, it must retreat - and the domestic chaos which is a powerful driver ("pitchforks you know") for externalizing, for war, that it must coordinate the domestic population in mythic delusions casts powerful excuses for attacking "enemies" to control the people by terror - fear of reprisal. It's the old army game. It's what Churchill did when he bombed Berlin 6 times, until the Germans began to do the same Churchill's position was shaky...

I see the war against Iran as beginning in 1946, when Truman threaten to use the atomic bomb on Northern Iran. Against Russia...well surely immediately upon the USSR ending. It's not a matter so much of the individual - it's built in to the system since forever in one way or another...the modern affair surely began with the 1944 Democratic convention. The plans to nuke USSR were being made before they tested at Trinity.

Of course, if I know more about it I might think differently.

Posted by: Walter | Jan 21 2020 18:57 utc | 214

Trump. The "Anakim Skywalker" of Global politics...
"The Rebel" that will Make (A-America) Israel Great Again... or at least that's what Mossad though at the time. Was it MIGA under MAGA after all?
What is the core issue here? It is Mossad and circumstantial allies vs the CIA. Cache of secrets, what CIA knew and when. What Mossad doesn't know.
What all that have to do with the Yinon project? Study your Greek philosophers and learn the ancient grammar. Because maga reffers to the Giants that walked the earth some time long ago and their magic. It's all about "magic" just ask the Nazis and their Ahnenerbe.

Miga on the other hand means the fly, and it ussualy ends up get caught in a flytrap...

"Anakim" meaning Anu-na-khim meaning "the Giants" in proto-Persian by the way and are depicted as winged giants in ancient Iraq...

Posted by: Qparticle | Jan 22 2020 22:55 utc | 215

The genius generals have been creating more enemies, not defeating them.

Posted by: Dan Chapman | Jan 23 2020 11:25 utc | 216

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