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The Politics of Military Ascendancy:

The rise of the Generals to Strategic Positions in the Trump Regime

By James Petras

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 2, 2017 

Generals appointed to high positions in the Trump administration  


Clearly the US has escalated the pivotal role of the military in the making of
foreign and, by extension, domestic policy. The rise of ‘the Generals’ to strategic
positions in the Trump regime is evident, deepening its role as a highly autonomous force
determining US strategic policy agendas.

In this paper we will discuss the advantages that the military elite accumulate
from the war agenda and the reasons why ‘the Generals’ have been able to impose their
definition of international realities.

We will discuss the military’s ascendancy over Trump’s civilian regime as a result
of the relentless degradation of his presidency by his political opposition.
The Prelude to Militarization: Obama’s Multi-War Strategy and Its Aftermath
The central role of the military in deciding US foreign policy has its roots in the
strategic decisions taken during the Obama-Clinton Presidency. Several policies were
decisive in the rise of unprecedented military-political power.

1. The massive increase of US troops in Afghanistan and their subsequent failures
and retreat weakened the Obama-Clinton regime and increased animosity between

the military and the Obama’s Administration. As a result of his failures, Obama
downgraded the military and weakened Presidential authority.
2. The massive US-led bombing and destruction of Libya, the overthrow of the
Gadhafi government and the failure of the Obama-Clinton administration to
impose a puppet regime, underlined the limitations of US air power and the
ineffectiveness of US political-military intervention. The Presidency blundered in
its foreign policy in North Africa and demonstrated its military ineptness.

3. The invasion of Syria by US-funded mercenaries and terrorists committed the US
to an unreliable ally in a losing war. This led to a reduction in the military budget
and encouraged the Generals to view their direct control of overseas wars and
foreign policy as the only guarantee of their positions.

4. The US military intervention in Iraq was only a secondary contributing factor in
the defeat of ISIS; the major actors and beneficiaries were Iran and the allied Iraqi
Shia militias.

5. The Obama-Clinton engineered coup and power grab in the Ukraine brought a
corrupt incompetent military junta to power in Kiev and provoked the secession
of the Crimea (to Russia) and Eastern Ukraine (allied with Russia). The Generals
were sidelined and found that they had tied themselves to Ukrainian kleptocrats
while dangerously increasing political tensions with Russia. The Obama regime
dictated economic sanctions against Moscow, designed to compensate for their
ignominious military-political failures.

The Obama-Clinton legacy facing Trump was built around a three-legged stool:
an international order based on military aggression and confrontation with Russia; a
‘pivot to Asia’ defined as the military encirclement and economic isolation of China – via
bellicose threats and economic sanctions against North Korea; and the use of the military
as the praetorian guards of free trade agreements in Asia excluding China.
The Obama ‘legacy’ consists of an international order of globalized capital and
multiple wars. The continuity of Obama’s ‘glorious legacy’ initially depended on the
election of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, for its part, promised to dismantle or
drastically revise the Obama Doctrine of an international order based on multiple wars,
neo-colonial ‘nation’ building and free trade. A furious Obama ‘informed’ (threatened)
the newly-elected President Trump that he would face the combined hostility of the entire
State apparatus, Wall Street and the mass media if he proceeded to fulfill his election
promises of economic nationalism and thus undermine the US-centered global order.
Trump’s bid to shift from Obama’s sanctions and military confrontation to
economic reconciliation with Russia was countered by a hornet’s nest of accusations
about a Trump-Russian electoral conspiracy, darkly hinting at treason and show trials
against his close allies and even family members.

The concoction of a Trump-Russia plot was only the first step toward a total war
on the new president, but it succeeded in undermining Trump’s economic nationalist
agenda and his efforts to change Obama’s global order.

Trump Under Obama’s International Order

After only 8 months in office President Trump helplessly gave into the firings,
resignations and humiliation of each and every one of his civilian appointees, especially
those who were committed to reverse Obama’s ‘international order’.
Trump was elected to replace wars, sanctions and interventions with economic
deals beneficial to the American working and middle class. This would include
withdrawing the military from its long-term commitments to budget-busting ‘nation
building’ (occupation) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other Obama-designated
endless war zones.

Trump’s military priorities were supposed to focus on strengthening domestic
frontiers and overseas markets. He started by demanding that NATO partners pay for
their own military defense responsibilities. Obama’s globalists in both political parties
were aghast that the US might lose it overwhelming control of NATO; they united and
moved immediately to strip Trump of his economic nationalist allies and their programs.
Trump quickly capitulated and fell into line with Obama’s international order,
except for one proviso – he would select the Cabinet to implement the old/new
international order.

A hamstrung Trump chose a military cohort of Generals, led by General James
Mattis (famously nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’) as Defense Secretary.

The Generals effectively took over the Presidency. Trump abdicated his
responsibilities as President.

General Mattis: The Militarization of America

General Mattis took up the Obama legacy of global militarization and added his
own nuances, including the ‘psychological-warfare’ embedded in Trump’s emotional
ejaculations on ‘Twitter’.

The ‘Mattis Doctrine’ combined high-risk threats with aggressive provocations,
bringing the US (and the world) to the brink of nuclear war.

General Mattis has adopted the targets and fields of operations, defined by the
previous Obama administration as it has sought to re-enforce the existing imperialist
international order.

The junta’s policies relied on provocations and threats against Russia, with
expanded economic sanctions. Mattis threw more fuel on the US mass media’s already
hysterical anti-Russian bonfire. The General promoted a strategy of low intensity
diplomatic thuggery, including the unprecedented seizure and invasion of Russian
diplomatic offices and the short-notice expulsion of diplomats and consular staff.
These military threats and acts of diplomatic intimidation signified that the
Generals’ Administration under the Puppet President Trump was ready to sunder
diplomatic relations with a major world nuclear power and indeed push the world to
direct nuclear confrontation.

What Mattis seeks in these mad fits of aggression is nothing less than capitulation
on the part of the Russian government regarding long held US military objectives –
namely the partition of Syria (which started under Obama), harsh starvation sanctions on
North Korea (which began under Clinton) and the disarmament of Iran (Tel Aviv’s main
goal) in preparation for its dismemberment.

The Mattis junta occupying the Trump White House heightened its threats against
a North Korea, which (in Vladimir Putin’s words) ‘would rather eat grass than disarm’.
The US mass media-military megaphones portrayed the North Korean victims of US
sanctions and provocations as an ‘existential’ threat to the US mainland.

Sanctions have intensified. The stationing of nuclear weapons on South Korea is
being pushed. Massive joint military exercises are planned and ongoing in the air, sea
and land around North Korea. Mattis twisted Chinese arms (mainly business comprador
linked bureaucrats) and secured their UN Security Council vote on increased sanctions.
Russia joined the Mattis-led anti-Pyongyang chorus, even as Putin warned of sanctions
ineffectiveness! (As if General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis would ever take Putin’s advice
seriously, especially after Russia voted for the sanctions!).

Mattis further militarized the Persian Gulf, following Obama’s policy of partial
sanctions and bellicose provocation against Iran.

When he worked for Obama, Mattis increased US arms shipments to the US’s
Syrian terrorists and Ukrainian puppets, ensuring the US would be able to scuttle any
‘negotiated settlements’.

Militarization: An Evaluation

Trump’s resort to ‘his Generals’ is supposed to counter any attacks from members
of his own party and Congressional Democrats about his foreign policy. Trump’s
appointment of ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a notorious Russophobe and warmonger, has
somewhat pacified the opposition in Congress and undercut any ‘finding’ of an election
conspiracy between Trump and Moscow dug up by the Special Investigator Robert
Mueller. Trump’s maintains a role as nominal President by adapting to what Obama
warned him was ‘their international order’ - now directed by an unelected military junta
composed of Obama holdovers!

The Generals provide a veneer of legitimacy to the Trump regime (especially for
the warmongering Obama Democrats and the mass media). However, handing
presidential powers over to ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and his cohort will come with a heavy

While the military junta may protect Trump’s foreign policy flank, it does not
lessen the attacks on his domestic agenda. Moreover, Trump’s proposed budget
compromise with the Democrats has enraged his own Party’s leaders.

In sum, under a weakened President Trump, the militarization of the White House
benefits the military junta and enlarges their power. The ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis program has
had mixed results, at least in its initial phase: The junta’s threats to launch a pre-emptive
(possibly nuclear) war against North Korea have strengthened Pyongyang’s commitment
to develop and refine its long and medium range ballistic missile capability and nuclear

weapons. Brinksmanship failed to intimidate North Korea. Mattis cannot impose the
Clinton-Bush-Obama doctrine of disarming countries (like Libya and Iraq) of their
advanced defensive weapons systems as a prelude to a US ‘regime change’ invasion.
Any US attack against North Korea will lead to massive retaliatory strikes costing
tens of thousands of US military lives and will kill and maim millions of civilians in
South Korea and Japan.

At most, ‘Mad Dog’ managed to intimidate Chinese and Russian officials (and
their export business billionaire buddies) to agree to more economic sanctions against
North Korea. Mattis and his allies in the UN and White House, the loony Nikki Hailey
and a miniaturized President Trump, may bellow war - yet they cannot apply the so
called ‘military option’ without threatening the US military forces stationed throughout
the Asia Pacific region.

The Mad Dog Mattis assault on the Russian embassy did not materially weaken
Russia, but it has revealed the uselessness of Moscow’s conciliatory diplomacy toward
their so-called ‘partners’ in the Trump regime.

The end-result might lead to a formal break in diplomatic ties, which would
increase the danger of a military confrontation and a global nuclear holocaust.
The military junta is pressuring China against North Korea with the goal of
isolating the ruling regime in Pyongyang and increasing the US military encirclement of
Beijing. Mad Dog has partially succeeded in turning China against North Korea while
securing its advanced THADD anti-missile installations in South Korea, which will be

directed against Beijing. These are Mattis’ short-term gains over the excessively pliant
Chinese bureaucrats. However, if Mad Dog intensifies direct military threats against
China, Beijing can retaliate by dumping tens of billions of US Treasury notes, cutting
trade ties, sowing chaos in the US economy and setting Wall Street against the Pentagon.
Mad Dog’s military build-up, especially in Afghanistan and in the Middle East,
will not intimidate Iran nor add to any military successes. They entail high costs and low
returns, as Obama realized after the better part of a decade of his defeats, fiascos and
multi-billion dollar losses.


The militarization of US foreign policy, the establishment of a military junta
within the Trump Administration, and the resort to nuclear brinksmanship has not
changed the global balance of power.

Domestically Trump’s nominal Presidency relies on militarists, like General
Mattis. Mattis has tightened the US control over NATO allies, and even rounded up stray
European outliers, like Sweden, to join in a military crusade against Russia. Mattis has
played on the media’s passion for bellicose headlines and its adulation of Four Star

But for all that – North Korea remains undaunted because it can retaliate. Russia has
thousands of nuclear weapons and remains a counterweight to a US-dominated globe.
China owns the US Treasury and its unimpressed, despite the presence of an increasingly
collision-prone US Navy swarming throughout the South China Sea.

Mad Dog laps up the media attention, with well dressed, scrupulously manicured
journalists hanging on his every bloodthirsty pronouncement. War contractors flock to
him, like flies to carrion. The Four Star General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis has attained
Presidential status without winning any election victory (fake or otherwise). No doubt
when he steps down, Mattis will be the most eagerly courted board member or senior
consultant for giant military contractors in US history, receiving lucrative fees for half
hour ‘pep-talks’ and ensuring the fat perks of nepotism for his family’s next three
generations. Mad Dog may even run for office, as Senator or even President for whatever

The militarization of US foreign policy provides some important lessons:

First of all, the escalation from threats to war does not succeed in disarming
adversaries who possess the capacity to retaliate. Intimidation via sanctions can succeed
in imposing significant economic pain on oil export-dependent regimes, but not on
hardened, self-sufficient or highly diversified economies.

Low intensity multi-lateral war maneuvers reinforce US-led alliances, but they
also convince opponents to increase their military preparedness. Mid-level intense wars
against non-nuclear adversaries can seize capital cities, as in Iraq, but the occupier faces
long-term costly wars of attrition that can undermine military morale, provoke domestic
unrest and heighten budget deficits. And they create millions of refugees.
High intensity military brinksmanship carries major risk of massive losses in
lives, allies, territory and piles of radiated ashes – a pyrrhic victory!

In sum:

Threats and intimidation succeed only against conciliatory adversaries.
Undiplomatic verbal thuggery can arouse the spirit of the bully and some of its allies, but
it has little chance of convincing its adversaries to capitulate. The US policy of
worldwide militarization over-extends the US armed forces and has not led to any
permanent military gains.

Are there any voices among clear-thinking US military leaders, those not
bedazzled by their stars and idiotic admirers in the US media, who could push for more
global accommodation and mutual respect among nations? The US Congress and the
corrupt media are demonstrably incapable of evaluating past disasters, let alone forging
an effective response to new global realities.


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