Steve “The Gaslighter” Bannon, perhaps with cigar and glass of bourbon in hand, decided to call American Prospect cofounder and coeditor Robert Kuttner, supposedly to talk about China policy. But in reality, to undermine his boss and issue a series of threats to defenestrate rival members of the Hobbesian madhouse that is the Trump White House.
At the end, he asked to keep the whole thing off the record. This, gentle readers, is truly the era of great men.
According to Kuttner — who noted that American Prospect’s first two headlines after the election were “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump” — Bannon rang him up to talk about Kuttner’s recent analysis of Chinese trade policy, then quickly moved on to North Korea.
Bannon made the refreshingly honest observation that there is no military solution to the standoff with North Korea that doesn’t involve unacceptable humanitarian impacts, at variance with Trump’s threats of “fire and fury.”
"There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no military solution here, they got us," he explained.
This wasn’t the only instance where Bannon appeared relatively “dovish.”
Trump’s Svengali seemed to set store by the old Cold War logic of “mutually assured destruction,” acquiescing to a nuclear balance of power to keep the peace in the Korean Peninsula.
That’s not to say the notoriously combative presidential advisor has gone soft.
“To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.”
At least one goal of the call was to put some sunlight between himself and white supremacists, whom he dismissed as “clowns” and “losers." He said: "Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”
As far as the opposition, Bannon evinced confidence that identity politics is paralyzing the left: “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Then Bannon ventilated a bit about his wars with the bureaucratic deep state at the State Department, Defense Department and elsewhere. Bannon frankly informed Kuttner of his intention to collect several pelts in the near future: “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense. I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
Bannon crowed: “Oh, they’re wetting themselves.”
Thus is the way of greatness.