Steve Bannon Launches His Big Foreign Policy Crusade
“It’s again a pleasure to be in Doha, a place I’ve visited and known for many, many years,” Tillerson, the former Exxon chief, said in Qatar on Tuesday. “Let me make clear that the U.S. does not have any intention to impose a solution on anyone in the current dispute.” That language contrasts sharply with Bannon’s. “The original twelve demands that were put out [by the Saudis, the UAE, and their allies] . . . I think these demands are, quite frankly, pretty straightforward,” Bannon said. “I took a very hard line on that. I thought the UAE and the Egyptians and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a well thought-through plan,” though he noted he didn’t necessarily agree with every single demand.
And Bannon forcefully denied a McClatchy report out Monday that he has an implicit financial stake in going hard against Qatar. Bannon, though, ever a political combatant, said the report was a fair play by his enemies; at one point he reiterated that he still views establishment outlets like the New York Times as the “opposition party.” Of the report, liberal writer Charlie Pierce asserted Tuesday in Esquire that Bannon is “in it for the money, and the UAE, which presents all the same problems that Bannon attributes to Qatar, was willing to meet his price.”
Yousef Al Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador and a top Washington powerbroker, was seated in the front row during Bannon’s segment. Other officials from the Saudi embassy were scattered among the crowd. “Neocon Hudson Institute got Petraeus and Bannon to back UAE-Saudi attack on Qatar yesterday. But how much did UAE have to pay them for that?” complained investigative historian Gareth Porter Tuesday.
But on other the issues, Bannon sounded more like a Buchananite paleoconservative. It formed a stark contrast with Petraeus who, along with veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, argued that direct U.S. involvement in the Middle East is a “generational struggle.”
“There’s nobody in the United States that wants to be engaged in combat operations, Special Forces operations, drone operations,” ad infinitum, Bannon said. “That’s just not where the American people are,” Bannon continued. “It’s not the way our country was founded or formed. . . . What we don’t want is these countries to be protectorates. It’s not our fight.”
Daniel McCarthy, editor at large at the American Conservative, attempts to parse what’s going on. “Bannon is an example of parallel evolution: he resembles the paleoconservatives or Buchananites in some respects . . . but he’s not the same species,” McCarthy tells me. “On the campaign trail, Trump appealed both to voters who were more hawkish than the establishment and to those who were more dovish. . . . The trouble is that while Buchananism is a well-developed as a worldview, it didn’t win elections. Bannonism can win elections, but it’s not as clear how its various pieces fit together, especially in foreign policy.”
Should Bannon continue to be a larger-than-life presence in the DC game, we should get an answer on how his foreign policy works in practice soon enough.