The war is over for former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The political combatant has won major battles but lost his self-imposed war. Being forced unto the line of “you’re fired” to leave the last castle-hold in Washington after his removal from the National Security Council in May, this good-guy of the US president is banished by the trend of history.
No doubt his startling phone-talk to Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect could be the last straw that helps sink this super-heavyweight. Maybe he didn’t expect his candidacy in desperate reaching-out to one more think-alike supporter could spread like wind.
The US president himself may not like it because Bannon’s confession of “no military solution” to the Korean Peninsula crisis compromised Donald Trump’s verbal bombardment of “fire and fury” against real threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Other presidential aides, both his allies and foes in the White House, may distance Bannon as well for his revelation of his day-by-day back-door fighting often veiled by spokespersons.
The real reason for his fall, however, is that Bannon’s queer and sole obsession for an apocalyptic warfare between the United States and mainly the Islamic and/or Chinese societies goes against facts, history and humanity. Such obsessive projections are doomed to fail as they are misplaced historically and mis-oriented in the internet era of global interconnection.
Bannon has been an avid provocateur for war, first against establishment in Washington, then against Islamists and against China at least. His sufferings during growing-up years in Virginia and his navy drills toughened his youthful dream to fundamentally transform the country. His film productions In the Face of Evil and Generation Zero are manifestations of his ambition. And by his intuitive grasp of rising populism behind US facades of democracy, he eventually won his most important battle of life in 2016 by masterminding Donald Trump’s campaign.
Then he couldn’t wait to get the White House engaged in “wars” he had declared years ago against Islamists and/or Chinese in his videos and publications.
“We’re at economic war with China,” he abruptly told Kuttner on Aug 16, who quoted his words. “To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything.” Kuttner said Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. Judging from the fact that days ago Trump signed an administrative order to investigate into trade with China, Bannon’s words are real and biting.
But the US and China have been in the same boat in economy and Bannon and his think-alike should have first checked with economists for facts. Take iPhone for example, China buys US designs and key parts for which the US profits once, acquires necessary materials from all over the world with multinational capital including that from the US, assemblies, manufactures them and exports the final products for US and other consumers to get them at affordable prices. US benefits again. With the dollar earned, China buys the greenback US bonds, thus lending money to the US for it to buy more Chinese goods at cheap prices, US gains in capital means one more time. For decades the Chinese sweating in sending real products to the US result in the holding of only some virtual US promises that are often devalued by fluctuations of US interest rates. Moreover, China has been keen in buying US manufactured products, only to be limited by US policy restrictions and production line limits.
So the US-China trade deficit has been a product of US economic operations instead of China’s faults. US protectionist policies only pile up the deficit further. China happens to hold complete production chains in various industries largely because the Chinese, not the Americans, are willingly forced to get less pay and less profits. It’s the US capital that reduces Chinese to manufacturing status, for the US capitalists to harvest the interest with their most powerful product, the greenback. But China’s production lines manage to link the world and let everyone gain from the chain.
It seems Bannon neither takes global production chain seriously nor could have rested with economy alone. “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years,” he said in March 2016. “There’s no doubt about that.” A Feb 2 online article in The Guardian quoted him as accusing the Chinese “come here to the United States in front of our face”.
How long and wide the US’ face is to Bannon, from the coastline of California across thousands of miles of Pacific waters right to the door of Chinese coastline and islands! Maybe in the strategist’s mind the Chinese should forget about their travels across the oceans in the past and forget all about the centuries-old fishing grounds near the isles in the South China Sea, stay forever close the shore and, possibly, waving welcome signs for daunting US aircraft carriers and frigates and bombers coming close to Chinese land.
Again this strategist got the facts upside down. Since the days before the birth of the US, the South China Sea had been calm and mostly peaceful until Washington “pivoted” its military to the West Pacific some years ago. Indeed, US warships have sailed close to Chinese isles in the South China Sea and conducted stealthy reconnaissance missions. It is the US military that has been challenging the interests of the Chinese in the region; it is the Chinese who have been conducting talks with nations involved in disputed isles and even cooperating in joint developments. If Chinese reinforcements of some isles in the region are taken as a threat, what could US war machines close to the Chinese door be?
Both on economy and on South China Sea, Bannon in fact is picking China to fit into his belief that the US is approaching the Fourth Turning, as was written by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their same-name book arguing for “the cycles of history telling about America’s next rendezvous with destiny”.
When taking video of David Kaiser for a movie, Bannon tried hard to get the historian to predict a coming war. Kaiser quoted Bannon as saying in a Frontline video by pbs.org, “Look we have the American revolution, we have the Civil War, that’s bigger. Then we have WWII, that’s even bigger. So what’s the next one going to be like?”
However, such arguments for a bigger and bigger war are short-sighted. The US history itself is short compared with other nations. If Bannon had broadened his sight further east to Asia or south to South America, he could have come to self-corrections. Influential wars in modern history occurred not because of a certain cycle, but because of expansionist greed for capital and resources. Should Bannon be reminded that the US has been in some war every month for the past decades?
The same logic of searching for or even creating enemies made George W. Bush jump into Iraq War in 2003, having coerced the West into believing Saddam Hussein’s possession of mass-killing weapons and leaving the region that is one of the most ancient origins of human kind in decades of chaos ever since.
Today, by projecting China into its target line, Bannon has been jeopardizing not only US interests but the fate of West Pacific and even the whole humanity. For today we human species face the very task of saving Planet Earth from possible destruction by ourselves due to excessive greed for power and resources.
By dumping Bannon, Trump makes a sharp turn towards the right track of win-win partnership for development championed by the United Nations and observed by China. But Trump has to sink Bannon’s conflict perceptions of the US and the world in order to right his wrongs. The US cannot make a living by fighting imaginary foes.
It is said that Bannon loves reading. For a change of his own destiny, it will do himself good if he reads I Ching to learn something true about the coexistence of yin and yang instead of fighting each other to the end; or he get some ABC of Confucian harmony with diversity. There lies our future.
The author is a senior journalist with China Daily.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org