Bannon’s grand ambitions should inspire the same soul-deadening déjà vu, the existential exhaustion, with which Bill Murray’s weatherman greeted every morning in Punxsutawney, Penn. They should bring to mind both Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence and his warning that if you stare deep into the abyss, it stares into you.
.. What Bannon is promising is what the Tea Party actually delivered, in a past recent enough to still feel like the present: a dramatic ideological shake-up, an end to D.C. business-as-usual, and the elevation of new leaders with a sweeping vision for a new G.O.P.
.. The ideological shake-up took the form of paper promises, not successful legislation. The end to D.C. business-as-usual just created a new normal of brinkmanship and gridlock. And when the Tea Party’s leaders — Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, above all — reached out to claim their party’s presidential nomination, they found themselves steamrolled by a candidate who scorned all their limited-government ideas and offered, well, Trumpism instead.
.. when it comes to governance, Trumpism turns to have two fatal weaknesses:
- the dearth of Trumpists among elected Republicans, and
- the total policy incapacity of Trump himself.
So having failed in his appointed role as Trump whisperer and White House brain, Bannon has decided to do the Tea Party insurgency thing all over again, except this time with his
- nationalist-populist cocktail instead of the
- last round’s notional libertarianism.
.. Maybe the Tea Party was a dead end, but some Trumpist primary candidates will finally produce a Republican Party capable of doing something with its power.
.. His professed nationalism, with its promise of infrastructure projects and antitrust actions and maybe even tax hikes on the rich, is potentially more popular than the Tea Party vision ..
.. But this imaginative exercise collapses when you look at Bannon’s own record and the candidates he’s recruiting... At the White House, Bannon did not manage to inject much heterodoxy into any part of the same old, same old Republican agenda. But he did encourage the president to pick racialized fights at every chance... his new grass-roots populism promises to be more of the same:
- a notional commitment to some nebulous new agenda,
- with white-identity politics and the
- fear of liberalism supplying the real cultural-political cement... Especially because the would-be senators he’s recruiting are a mix of cynics and fanatics who seem to share no coherent vision, just a common mix of ambition and resentment... if you believe figures like Roy Moore and Erik Prince are going to succeed where Trump is obviously failing, I have some affidavits attesting to Harvey Weinstein’s innocence to sell you... He and his allies are the latest group to recognize the void at the heart of the contemporary Republican Party, the vacuum that somebody, somehow needs to fill.
- .. The activists and enforcers of the Tea Party era tried with a libertarian style of populism.
- Paul Ryan tried with his warmed-over Jack Kempism.
- My friends the “reform conservatives” tried with blueprints for tax credits and wage subsidies.
.. now they, too, need to reckon with a reality that has confounded every kind of Republican reformer since Barack Obama was elected: Our politics are probably too polarized, our legislative branch too gridlocked, and the conservative movement too dysfunctional and self-destructive to build a new agenda from the backbenches of Congress up, or even from the House speaker or Senate majority leader’s office.
.. Our system isn’t really all that republican anymore; it’s imperial, and even an incompetent emperor like Trump is unlikely to restore the legislative branch to its former influence. So if you want to remake the Republican Party as something other than a shambolic repository for anti-liberalism, the only way it’s likely to happen is from the top down —
- with the election of an effective, policy-oriented conservative president (which Donald Trump is not),
- surrounded by people who understand the ways of power (which Bannon, for all his bluster, didn’t) and
- prepared to both negotiate with Democrats and bend his own party to his will.
.. I would not be wasting my time trying to elect a few cranks and gadflies who will make Mitch McConnell’s life more difficult.
Instead I would be looking for the thing that too many people deceived themselves into believing Trump might be, and that Bannonite populism for all its potential strength now lacks: a leader.
Erik Prince, Blackwater Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican
Mr. Prince appears increasingly likely to challenge John Barrasso, a senior member of the Senate Republican leadership, according to people who have spoken to him in recent days. He has been urged to run next year by Stephen K. Bannon, who is leading the effort to shake up the Republican leadership with financial backing from the New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.
.. While his ties to Wyoming are thin, the state is attractive to Mr. Prince because it has none of the personal political entanglements he would face in his home state of Michigan. Public records show that Mr. Prince, a former member of the Navy SEALs who has lived all over the world, had an address in Wapiti, Wyo., in the state’s northwest corner, for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
.. For months this year, Mr. Prince — with Mr. Bannon’s support — pushed a plan to replace soldiers with contractors in Afghanistan. The proposal, which would have radically changed the way the fight in that country is conducted, was vehemently opposed by the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, and the defense secretary, Jim Mattis.
.. Mr. Bannon is expected to throw his support behind Chris McDaniel, a conservative state senator from Mississippi who is considering a primary challenge to United States Senator Roger Wicker, who has served since 2007 and is close to Republican leaders.
.. Mr. Bannon is also hoping to persuade Ann LePage, the wife of Maines outspoken governor, Paul LePage, to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Angus King, an independent who is up for re-election in 2018.
The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan
Consolidate authority into one person: an American viceroy who’d lead all coalition efforts.Afghanistan is an expensive disaster for America. The Pentagon has already consumed $828 billion on the war, and taxpayers will be liable for trillions more in veterans’ health-care costs for decades to come. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there, with more than 20,000 wounded in action.For all that effort, Afghanistan is failing. The terrorist cohort consistently gains control of more territory, including key economic arteries
.. First, he should consolidate authority in Afghanistan with one person: an American viceroy
The coalition has had 17 different military commanders in the past 15 years, which means none of them had time to develop or be held responsible for a coherent strategy.
- .. In Afghanistan, the viceroy approach would reduce rampant fraud by focusing spending on initiatives that further the central strategy, rather than handing cash to every outstretched hand from a U.S. system bereft of institutional memory.
- .. Troops fighting for their lives should not have to ask a lawyer sitting in air conditioning 500 miles away for permission to drop a bomb. Our plodding, hand wringing and overcaution have prolonged the war—and the suffering it bears upon the Afghan population.
- .. Third, we must build the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces the effective and proven way, instead of spending billions more pursuing the “ideal” way. The 330,000-strong Afghan army and police were set up under the guidance of U.S. military “advisers” in the mirror image of the U.S. Army. That was the wrong approach. .. frequent defections, which currently deliver the equivalent of two trained infantry divisions per year to the enemy.
.. a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and—when necessary—fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.
.. the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.
.. The military default in a conventional war is to control terrain, neglecting the long-term financial arteries that fund the fight, and handicaps long-term economic potential.
The Taliban understand this concept well. They control most of Afghanistan’s economic resources—including lapis, marble, gold, pistachios, hashish and opium—and use profits to spread their influence and perpetuate the insurgency. Our strategy needs to target those resources by placing combat power to cover Afghanistan’s economic arteries.
.. We need to encourage the growth of legitimate industries to raise tax revenue while choking off the Taliban’s sources of income. It’s absurd that Afghanistan—which holds an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral resources—still doesn’t have a mining law, after 15 years of American presence and “advice.”
.. Our failed population-centric approach to Afghanistan has only led to missed opportunities
.. A smarter, trade-centric approach will boost Afghanistan’s long-run viability by weaning it off donor welfare dependency.
.. Mr. Trump must not lose sight of the reason we became involved in Afghanistan: to deny sanctuary to those who want to destroy our way of life.
.. The U.S. should adjust course from the past 15-plus years of nation building and focus on pounding the Taliban and other terrorists so hard that they plead for negotiation. Until they feel real pressure and know the U.S. has staying power, they will win.
Trump Aides Recruited Businessmen to Devise Options for Afghanistan
Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner
.. “The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”
.. Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers.
.. Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.
.. in essence, that the private sector can operate “cheaper and better than the military” in Afghanistan.
.. his strategy would also give the C.I.A. control over operations in Afghanistan, which would be carried out by paramilitary units and hence subject to less oversight than the military
.. Mr. Bannon has also questioned what the United States has gotten for the $850 billion in nonmilitary spending it has poured into the country, noting that Afghanistan confounded the neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration and the progressives in the Obama administration.