If Steve Bannon had been more open minded and less angry in his quest to stop America from getting itself stuck in self–defeating foreign wars he would have had more success. Instead, he finds himself increasingly sidelined and potentially on his way out at the White House.
The problem is that Bannon’s modus operandi is one that draws its strength from bluster and destruction rather than the construction of a viable alternative to what so many Americans are rightfully angry about in the first place. Less driven by emotion and more by reason he would have found that there is significant group of experienced realist foreign policy thinkers and organizations whose goal is to craft a way forward based on American interests rather than special interests.
These are thinkers like Stephen Walt, Andrew Bacevich, Paul Pillar, James Baker, Barry Posen, Rand Paul, most of the Liberty Caucus in Congress, and even Democrats and progressives like Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb and Ron Wyden. The entire Koch Brothers network including the Cato Institute and The American Conservative, along with think thanks like the Baker Institute are organizations that espouse a realist foreign policy. There are even some Democratic organizations like J–Street and Ploughshares Fund that, while not in the realist camp, work on issues that are. They express their opinions differently and have different points of entry into the discussion, but it’s no reason not to work in a bi–partisan manner when possible.
Steve Bannon’s failing emotion over reason foreign policy has not only led him to neglect realist resources in favor of bomb–throwers like Mike Flynn, but it has also drawn him to political conclusions that are wrong. His anger with Islam in general has clouded his judgment and made it impossible to see the real enemy. Bannon and his cohorts endorse the notion that America’s war against terrorism that began on 9/11 is one against a generalized “radical Islam” and not the clearly defined enemy that actually attacked, and attacks, us: radical Wahhabi – Salafist organizations like Al – Qaeda and ISIS, underpinned by ideological and financial support from the Arabian Peninsula.
The clash of civilizations paradigm flies in the face of a realist foreign policy crafted in America’s interest. A too broad definition of the problem is a recipe for endless conflict, a game of whack–a–mole that only serves to create terrorism. This view is often strangely attached to strong support of the Israeli settler movement, which think what one may of its morality, is not an alliance based on realism. That movement’s political and financial supporters are often the first to pine for regime change in the Middle East.
The end result of Bannon’s anger based foreign policy is that he does not have a coherent foreign policy proposition that serves American interests, nor does he know to draw on the resources of the realist community. But even if he did know, would it matter? Or is Bannon more interested in just kicking over sandcastles without any vision of how to build a better structure? It increasingly appears just that. And that is why the empire seeking and special interest oriented foreign policy of the swamp is winning again, and America is losing again.