15 March 2018

Tillerson Firing and the Irrelevance of the State Department Under Trump

Most pundits believe that it was Rex Tillerson calling the Orange Man "a fucking moron" that did him in.

Credit Reuters
Trump hold grudges for a long time, they say and his revenge was to fire him via Twitter when he was out of the country.

Others point to a fundamental incompatibility between the two men and Trump himself alluded to that as a chemistry issue or lack thereof.

I am sure these and other problems played a part in the latest The Apprentice moment.

But to my contrarian eyes, there is a more fundamental reason why Tillerson had to go.

Most people assume that the main job of of the State Department (or any diplomatic service for that matter) is to represent the US abroad, negotiate with partners and adversaries and propagate and emphasize the messages of its government.

In fact, this last function makes the previous two possible and it is what should properly called foreign policy.

In clearer terms, it consists of vigorously pushing meticulously crafted narratives around America's imperial, or to put it more bluntly, imperialist actions.

These narratives are designed to obfuscate the real motives of such acts and offer more palatable justifications. And they are based on soothing and innocuous notions like democracy, freedom, free market economy, America's national security and, of course, its benevolent approach to being a superpower.

In short, the mission is to convincingly defend the indefensible.

Defending The Indefensible

This is how it works:

Say the president decides to invade a country, overthrow a government, implement new tariffs, meddle in elections, engineer a coup against elected officials, commit war crimes and torture suspected terrorists.


Now, no Administration has ever acknowledged its actions in these terms. They have always been explained or presented in euphemisms referring to American ideals like freedom and democracy.

Funding fascist squads in Nicaragua was supporting freedom fighters. Engineering a coup against the duly elected Salvador Allende in Chile and cheering the murder and incarceration of thousands of people was called restoring democracy and preventing communist authoritarianism. Waging war against Ho Chi Minh, originally a nationalist who admired the US, was to stop the domino theory of communism.

Torturing is using Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to protect Americans, overthrowing a government is liberating its people and invading a country is bringing democracy to it.

It is the State Department's job to push these justificatory narratives and to have its diplomats  around the world to charm, cajole, pressure and bribe local politicians, media personalities and any other relevant figure to ensure that the real motives behind the actions are substituted with a new and nicer narrative.

Concrete example. Remember the Iraq War?

The real motive was to use the Saudi funded 9/11 as a pretext to implant the US into the Middle East in order to control the flow of oil and gas as a way to keep in check the energy needs of emerging powers like China and India.

At the time, 72 and 73 percent of oil and gas flows, respectively, were going through the region. Iraq was, in the immortal words of a Wall Street oil analysts “a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath."

The initial justification, the presence of WMDs, came from the Pentagon and the State Department forcefully pushed it everywhere, including Secretary of State Colin Powell going to the UN with a bogus Powerpoint presentation.

When it became obvious that there were no WMDs in Iraq and that the US invaded a sovereign country for no good reason and without a UN Security Council authorization, the new narrative focused on the evil dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and how the US acted selflessly to liberate the Iraqi people.

I could give you hundreds of other examples from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America and of course the "Banana Republics" in Central America and the accompanying idealistic justifications but you get the idea.

Not to give you the wrong impression let me add that the State Department's narratives are not limited to these acts of belligerence. It also covers other indefensible positions like supporting Saudi Arabia.

We know that the title of the world's most oppressive regime should go to either North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

It's probably a tie, unless you are a feminist like me, in that case, Saudi Arabia wins the trophy.

Yet the US has always been ready to nuke the former to smithereens but have always sided with the latter. And no matter what.

These are the folks who behead as many people as ISIS on any given year, who keep half of their population under house arrest, who surveil everyone and who incarcerate, torture and lately extort money from their subject with absolutely no due process.

They raised over $200 billion (by 2008, it is probably $300 billion by now) for Jihad, for radicalizing young Muslims and for funding Wahhabi institutions around the world.

Yet, the State Department has always defended America's fondness for this pernicious regime. The narratives, depending of the decade, were (a) oil dependency, it is our fault, (b) stability of the region and security of Israel, (c) a bulwark against Iranian ascendency.

Anyone who knows a little bit about foreign policy can tell you that this is all rubbish.

Oil dependency was never an issue, as, at the time, between Canada and Venezuela and its own reserve, the US had all the oil it needed. As for the second claim, if the security of Israel depended on the House of Saud, the biggest raiser of terrorist funds of all time, I would pity the Jewish State. And Saudi Arabia couldn't last two days against Iran, let alone being a bulwark.

The real reason has always been the protection money they pay to America's military industrial complex, as Saudis are by far the best clients of the US defense industry. I guarantee you that the day they stop buying those shiny deadly toys is the day the House of Saud and the House of Wahhab will collapse.

In fact, this is why Mohammed Bin Salman was desperate to find the funds to pay for the protection racket after he promised to buy $110 billion worth of arms during Trump's visit.

And this is why the Saudis remained an important US ally after the rise of fracking industry and American oil independence.

But we cannot say any of that, can we? The only narrative in mainstream media will be the one pushed by the State Department.

However, all of this changed with the Orange Man.

America First: the President as the "Ugly American"

As I outlines, through this duality between deeds and discourse, the US has always been able to present itself as a beacon of freedom, a tireless supporter of democracy and the defender of the underdog, while doing the opposite.

With Donald Trump this duality is no longer necessary. Because, just like he made openly racist statements to his domestic audience instead of relying on GOP dog whistles, he now tells the world exactly what his goals are and what he thinks of them.

In one of his first speeches (to the CIA) he argued that after liberating Iraq, the US should have kept the oil for itself. International law? What international law? We have the military might and next time we'll take it.

His approach was the same for Article 5 of Nato. He openly said that no Nato country who didn't use 2 percent of its GNP for defense expenditures should expect America's help when they trigger Article 5. Since most Nato defense procurement goes to American military industrial complex, it was his way of asking for protection money.

And who cares about treaty obligations.

When he launched his trade war, his goal was to have a trade surplus with every country. And for no other reason than the US is more powerful than other countries. And he clearly stated it.

Same with Iran, he is itching to abandon the nuclear deal so that he can bomb the country. And it looks like he is about to hire John Bolton, the perfect guy to do this as his National Security Advisor:
In 2015, he wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” and last month, he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining the legal case for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.
Trump does not call torture Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. He calls it torture and states that "torture absolutely works" and he might just use it. In fact, his new pick for CIA Chief, Gina Haspel ran the first CIA black site in Thailand in 2002 and implemented waterboarding and other "enhanced techniques."

African nations and Haiti are shithole countries.

With Trump, there is no need to defend the indefensible. He says it in so many words and he doesn't want it defended. In fact, if you try to soften his remarks he will attack you on Twitter and double down on his rhetoric, as Tillerson discovered many times.

He does not care about soft power. He only cares about military power.

Tellingly, he increased the Pentagon's budget by the same percentage he decreased Foggy Bottom's.

And let's not forget the fact that the reason Tillerson called Trump a "fucking moron" was because the Orange Man was asking a ten-fold increase in America's nuclear arsenal.

In short, by removing its main function, Donald J. Trump made the State Department irrelevant.

He thinks he will just tell Kim Jong-un and Hassan Rouhani to disarm and it they don't, he will nuke them. That's as simple as that.

Tillerson might have objected, his replacement Mike Pompeo will ask to be in the room when Trump pushes the button.

As one recent op-ed noted, Trump is the Ugly American as the President.



From the desk of Nikki Haley, the next Secretary of State after Mike Pompeo:
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is proposing a sweeping reassessment of U.S. foreign assistance with a view to punishing dozens of poor countries that vote against U.S. policies at the U.N., according to a confidential internal memo drafted by her staff. 
The move to make foreign aid conditional on political support follows a U.S. decision to cut tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Palestinian refugees, a cut made in retaliation for Palestine’s sponsorship of U.N. resolutions denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haley now wants to apply a similar principle to decisions about aid to other needy countries.
That's America First with a chin flick.

Who needs a State Department when this is your attitude.

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