Max Blumenthal and Paul Jay on Firing of Steve Bannon
Max Blumenthal and Paul Jay talk about the forces that backed Bannon and what his firing from the White House means for far right politics in the US
PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. Welcome to Real News Live. We’re live on Facebook and YouTube and Periscope, and of course, we’re live at TheRealNews.com, where you’ll find all kinds of stories about Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, of course. On Friday, Steve Bannon was fired from the White House, a short announcement saying that the new chief of staff, Kelly, and Bannon had agreed that today would be his last day. Now joining us from Washington, D.C. to give his understanding of why Bannon is out and what this might mean to the Trump presidency is Max Blumenthal. He’s an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. He’s the author of Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, and Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, and his latest book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Thanks for joining us Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be on with you.
PAUL JAY: So there’s all kinds of pieces of this one can dissect, so let’s just start with what we know of what went on in the White House. Bannon’s fights with chief of staff Kelly, and national security advisor McMaster, and the soap opera we’ve been hearing about for quite some time, which seemed that it was inevitably going to lead up to this day, especially the way Bannon gives an interview to American Prospect where he talks in such a loose and even reckless way that he puts the word Kuttner himself used about the way Bannon was talking. Bannon undermines Trump’s position on Korea, North Korea where he says, “There’s no military option,” and in other words, debunks the fire and fury argument. He talks about the need for a massive trade war with China, and talked derogatorily about various people in the White House. So, with all that said, what do you make of the events?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: It’s a lot to chew on. First of all, I see Bannon calling Bob Kuttner at the American Prospect as a way of foreshadowing what was to come. He saw that he was on his way out after Charlottesville, which is kind of a watershed event and is really the beginning of the end for the Trump administration. He probably wanted out, he wanted to force his way out. He’s much more effective in the opposition, and so he called someone who is also … Who he considered an honest liberal journalist. He did something out of the box, and it had its desired effect, I think, for Bannon. Bannon’s gonna function much more effectively now that he’s gonna be back at Breitbart, and in control of the Mercer political empire. The Real News probably did the best online documentary about Bannon and the Mercer political empire.
PAUL JAY: We’re gonna re-release a new version of that later this afternoon.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And what Bannon’s departure does is, first of all, it’s going to totally change the editorial line of Breitbart. Joel Pollak, the editor in chief of Breitbart, just tweeted one word: “War,” which means war on the Trump administration and what they consider the deep state elements that have taken charge. And I actually kind of agree with that critique of what’s happening. The Breitbart attack on the Trump administration will give Trump cover if he wants it to move to the center, and he’ll be supported in doing so not only be the Pence/Haley wing, or the McMasters of the administration who could have served in a Clinton administration. I think you’ll see MSNBC and CNN supporting any battle between him and Breitbart. So in that sense, Bannon and Trump both benefit from this departure. Bannon’s gonna be way more effective and happier in the opposition.
Another point is that at Camp David today, and the principals of the administration, including Dunford and McMaster, the head of the NSC, met on Afghanistan. McMaster has been reportedly lobbying for Trump to surge U.S. troops to Afghanistan at a level of up to 50,000 troops. That’s really what it would take to make a dent in the Taliban’s influence in the country. In my opinion, it’s not only going to be disastrous for the US, it’s foolish geo-strategically, but that’s a separate issue. McMaster was a key force in forcing Bannon out, and you’ve seen this proxy war for the past two weeks. For the first time I can remember, you’ve seen a conservative grassroots revolt against a member of a Republican administration, a particular member of a Republican administration. And McMaster won this round, thanks in part to Charlottesville and Trump’s response.
So, we’ll have to see what happens going forward, but I think life is gonna be hell for Donald Trump, and things are looking up for McMaster and his forces, and Bannon is just back in his sweet spot in the opposition, throwing rocks at the White House.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, I do this show, as people who watch The Real News know, called Reality Asserts Itself. And I’ve been saying all along that reality is gonna assert itself on Trump. All this supposed promises of more jobs, higher wages, and even reconciliation with Russia … The real power of the United States will assert itself, and the real power in one sector is the military-industrial complex that wants this rivalry with Russia, and they weren’t gonna stand for decades and decades of anti-Communist, anti-Russia rhetoric being thrown out as part of the rationale for having such a massive military. And on the economic stuff, Bannon in that Kuttner article, his major thing he talks about is the need for a trade war with China. Well, there’s way too many American corporations way too invested in cheap labor, and China and not paying higher wages in the United States. All that campaign rhetoric was nonsense, and maybe Bannon believes some of this stuff. But if he ever thought it was gonna be implemented in a serious way, I think he was dreaming. And now, this kind of alt-right metaphysical vision of the world has come up against corporate America, reality.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I predicted on my friend Sam Knight’s radio show on election night that Trump would face what would amount to a deep-state coup. He would run up against the reality of the national security state, and that his anti-interventionist line on the campaign trail would completely dissolve into thin air under the weight of the forces that have controlled both parties maybe since Eisenhower. One development which has gone totally unnoticed by US media is that two days ago on Vesti FM, which is a state FM channel in Russia … It’s what American liberals would call Russian propaganda.
One of the key voices of pro-Putinism inside Russia, a pundit who you could kind of call Putin’s version of Sean Hannity. His name is too long for me to pronounce. He delivered a tirade against Donald Trump, denounced Trump not only for his failure to bring détente to Russia, but for embracing Nazism in the United States. And this is actually something that we hear about Russia as the fascist internationals. It’s actually something that Russia takes very seriously, and it was on the Daily Stormer, a fascist neo-Nazi website of Andrew Anglin taking out a Russian domain after getting kicked off by GoDaddy, which had hosted it for years. That really set this pundit off, and he said, “Trump is bringing this dark force to us. We can’t be patient anymore with him, it’s over.”
So the Kremlin has kind of lost it’s patience with Donald Trump, and that’s another factor I think in Steve Bannon giving up, along with the comments he made about North Korea, which really exhibits a side of Steve Bannon that I think … I don’t want to say the word ‘underappreciated,’ but maybe ‘under-acknowledged’ by people who are against militarism, which is that Bannon did embody this kind of Bucananite non-interventionism, and on some level-
PAUL JAY: But only in certain areas, Max. I mean, Bannon’s been calling for a war against what he calls ‘radical Islamic fascism,’ or he has various terms for it … In terms of targeting Iran, which is mostly what they talk about when they talk about a war against Islamic terrorism, they really mean whenever they actually dissect and elaborate, they mean Iran. And certainly Bannon’s been in on this policy of strengthening this alliance with Saudi Arabia, isolating Qatar, and some of the pushback by McMaster has been actually getting rid of some of Bannon’s allies, most hawkish anti-Iranian advocates in the national security council and elsewhere.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. Well, I don’t think that was entirely McMaster’s motivation, although Ezra Cohen-Watnick brings that pro-Israel dimension. I’ll address that in a second, that’s someone who McMaster got rid of who’s one of the wack jobs that came in around Michael Flynn. But let’s just talk about, yeah, I don’t see Bannon as some pro-peace figure, but his comments on North Korea were of note. He stated that he would have been willing to remove US troops and military installations along the DMZ in South Korea in exchange for a North Korean freeze on its nuclear program. That’s really significant. And he said that it would be a catastrophe, there is no military option against North Korea.
Joseph Dunford, the head of CENTCOM, said that he agreed with Bannon that there’s no military option, but that we can still win. Which was sort of a chilling comment. And Bannon’s really paying the price for that North Korea remark. He also was reportedly involved in the disastrous raid in South Yemen that killed dozens of children, including one of the cousins of the Awlaki family.
PAUL JAY: I think Bannon’s strategy is, you don’t get embroiled with North Korea so you can throw all your forces at what seems to be a strategy in Iraq and the isolation of Iran.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: No, I think Bannon has … He said to Bob Kuttner, “China is everything,” and there can be a trade war with China. He’s obsessed with … He said that there’s gonna be a war in the South China Sea, and I think that might be an accurate forecast, there’s definitely an element in international relations that has this cynical view that we’re sleepwalking into a military conflict with China over the South China Sea. And it’s unclear if Bannon’s an advocate of that, but the way to get at China is through North Korea. I can tell you that a group of anti-war conservatives in Washington that I’m aware of have been lobbying Bannon, and Bannon had been receptive to their lobbying to replace McMaster with someone named Colonel Doug Macgregor, who is an anti-war conservative. And Macgregor actually appeared on Tucker Carlson, and you could even play a clip of what he said. And he delivered a very calmly worded but thoroughly strong denunciation of putting more troops in Afghanistan.
But you’re right, Paul, Bannon has taken a hard line against Iran, and that comes from the overlap in the Mercer political network with the Adelson political network. The axis of Adelson is another factor here.
PAUL JAY: Let me just quickly, for people that don’t know, Robert Mercer is a hedge-fund, quantitative high-speed trade from Renaissance Technologies, and made tons of money. And after the Republican Convention, Trump wins the nomination, Mercer had originally backed Cruz. Trump’s campaign is going down the toilet, he’s in all kinds of chaos after the various tapes of him saying outlandish things about women. Mercer comes in, gives him financial backing, and even more importantly, brings him two Mercer operatives, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah.
PAUL JAY: So when we talk about Mercer, and watch on The Real News later today, there’s a whole documentary about who this Mercer guys is, and where he stands right now in the Trump White House, who knows. Because there’s a lot of Koch brother people in the White House now, and there was some rivalry there. Anyway, sorry, go ahead.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, and yeah, I really urge viewers to watch the Mercer documentary by Thomas Hedges. Thomas did an incredible job of piecing the whole empire that Mercer has created together. But then there’s the Adelson political empire. Sheldon Adelson is the casino baron who has invested his money into building up the right wing of the pro-Israel lobby. He’s very close to Benjamin Netanyahu and his political empire in Jerusalem. And Adelson basically is the single funder of the Zionist Organization of America, which occupies the right wing of the pro-Israel lobby now. Morton Klein is the director, and it was the Zionist Organization of America and its allies that were helping to lead the attack on McMaster on behalf of Bannon, trying to paint McMaster as anti-Israel, which is sort of laughable, but McMaster is-
PAUL JAY: And it’s important to add, also led by Breitbart News, the big right-wing website, who, by the way, is mostly owned by Robert Mercer.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right, sure. So, Ezra Cohen-Watnick is kind of a part of this element, and so was this figure Rich Higgins, who was supposedly ousted because he wrote this absurdly conspiratorial memo about an Islamic conspiracy to join with the cultural Marxists and take over America. That was really a pretext to get rid of a Trump loyalist. Adelson’s whole reason for funding Trump, and funding the ZOA, and the ZOA’s reason, Zionist Organization of America’s reason for attacking McMaster is the same reason that Adelson spent $100 million to try to elect Mitt Romney. It has to do with one thing, and that is stopping the Iran deal and now unraveling the Iran deal. So that’s why Bannon has taken that line on Iran, and I think it has to do with just kind of catering to a political ally where there aren’t that many on his side.
PAUL JAY: It’s also part of, I think, his whole philosophy, which I guess we’ll need to find out just how much of this philosophy of the apocalyptic war with the East … Bannon, a couple of years ago spoke to a meeting that was taking place in the Vatican, and we have some of this in the documentary. And Bannon’s talking to this Opus Dei, essentially, Cardinal Burke, who’s one of the Opus Dei leaders in the United States, talking about the coming, enormous configuration war with the Western values versus Eastern. But when you dig into it, Eastern usually means Iran, although it also means Islam in general.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I think what Bannon wants to do is bring that war home, and the war has come home in so many ways. Bannon wants to bring it home, because he sees the culture war as a means to overwhelming the left, painting the left … I wouldn’t even call it the left, really the Democrats, as a bunch of East coast, cultural Marxist elites who are out of touch with middle America. And that was part of his strategy to get Trump elected. Hillary Clinton played straight into it with her “Love Trumps Hate” message at the end of the campaign instead of a message about jobs, and painting Trump as an elitist billionaire. It was hard for her to do when she was surrounded by elitist billionaires.
PAUL JAY: Of course, now, so is he.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Now so is he, and Mnuchin is the perfect example. So I don’t really see … If you look closely at Bannon’s comments to Bob Kuttner in his American Prospect interview, he says it very clearly, that he has no love for the white supremacists in Charlottesville, but at the same time, to the extent that the Democrats focus on race and what he calls ‘identity politics,’ and what he might also call ‘cultural Marxism,’ and the conservatives focus on economic nationalism, which is building up industry and hyper-capitalism, but on a nationalist basis that benefits middle American people who will mostly be white … The Republicans and the Bannon wing of that party will win.
So for Bannon, it’s a classic Buchananite strategy that he’s embracing. It’s nothing new, and the Pence wing of the party is fully aligned with the Democrats in rejecting it. But that’s where he sees Charlottesville, I guess, benefiting him. The more culture war, the more the Democrats are forced to take down Confederate statues, Bannon thinks that white Republicans will come to Trump’s side. And if you look at the SurveyMonkey poll today, 65% of Republicans agreed with Trump’s statement on Charlottesville. They agree that both sides are responsible, and this is an intensification of the ‘all lives matter’ message. Not just an obfuscation, but a conflation of neo-Nazis with multi-cultural people protesting against them.
PAUL JAY: And I think it’s important that the Clintonesque wing, corporate Democrats, are so disingenuous and so difficult to believe when it comes to the issues of economic equality and disparity of income, and wealth and so on, and they need to focus on this identity politics.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yes.
PAUL JAY: And it is a losing proposition, because it’s lost an election with exactly that formulation. The Sanders wing, which actually has a left economic populist message, the Clinton Democrats are fighting as if they’re more the enemy than the right-wing Republicans.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, Bannon’s essentially daring the Democrats to put up someone like Kamala Harris, who is a pure creation of Silicon Valley, who has actually very few progressive credentials except opposing Trump nominees and really represents the application of a very neo-liberal understanding of identity politics to cloak her very regressive economic attitude. I mean, Cory Booker is someone who would be even more of almost a cartoonish figure that the Republicans could knock down because of his connections to corporate America. I mean, the guy was basically Chris Christie’s man in Newark.
And I think that a lot of the Clintonite Democrats have forgotten that there has always been a wing of the Democratic party that is urban. One perfect person I’d point to is Ras Baraka who replaced Cory Booker, and is trying to bring jobs in public schools and defending public schools in Newark. Sharpe James before Cory Booker was unfairly demonized for doing that same thing. Jesse Jackson’s whole concept of a rainbow coalition included white workers, and we’ve forgotten that and allowed the Clinton Democrats to paint Bernie Sanders and his supporters as a bunch of racists. And it’s just not gonna work if they try to do that after Hillary Clinton’s defeat. If they try to pump up someone like Kamala Harris it’s not gonna work at this point.
And I want to make one final point on that note, which is that for the past months, not the past year, people like me and you have been attacked as the alt-left by people who have never represented the left and actually hate the left. And they’re trying to equate us with neo-Nazis, sure, but they’re also trying to tear down the traditional left that’s not only anti-war but also believes in big government and things like that. It was the “alt-left” that has brought the Trump Administration to it’s knees by confronting Sieg Heiling Nazis in the streets of Charlottesville and taking bodies, literally taking bodies to stop these characters from marching down the street. It wasn’t the centrist Clinton Democrats who have been pushing Russia Gate since the beginning, it was the “alt-left” in the streets, and I feel like they deserve some credit. And I never want to hear about this fake horseshoe theory again about a meeting between the far right and the far left.
PAUL JAY: Agreed. Okay, thanks for joining us Max. We’re gonna hopefully go live with Max at least once a week, so we’ll continue this maybe next week. Thanks for joining us.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: First time I’m hearing about that, but I agree.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, well, it’s better to corner you on air. Thanks for joining us live on The Real News. Of course you’ll be able to find this entire discussion at TheRealNews.com sometime in just a little while later in the afternoon, and don’t forget we’re gonna watch The Bizarre, Right-Wing Billionaire That Backed Bannon and Trump. That’s the documentary, it’s about half an hour, and we’ll be reposting a new version of that with updated material, new music, and I hope to hear from you what you think of it. Thanks for joining us on The Real News Live.