Googling “Deep State” and “Donald Trump” will return 833,000 links, with most posing the question of whether the CIA and other government agencies operating beneath the radar are working to unseat the president. While this concern has been expressed even before he took office, it spiked after Michael Flynn was fired by Trump for lying about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. For most on the left, their hatred for “Deep State” tactics trumps their hatred for Donald Trump. Glenn Greenwald probably spoke for most in a Democracy Now interview:
One of the main priorities of the CIA for the last five years has been a proxy war in Syria, designed to achieve regime change with the Assad regime. Hillary Clinton was not only for that, she was critical of Obama for not allowing it to go further, and wanted to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and confront the Russians. Donald Trump took exactly the opposite view. He said we shouldn’t care who rules Syria; we should allow the Russians, and even help the Russians, kill ISIS and al-Qaeda and other people in Syria. So, Trump’s agenda that he ran on was completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted. Clinton’s was exactly what the CIA wanted, and so they were behind her. And so, they’ve been trying to undermine Trump for many months throughout the election. And now that he won, they are not just undermining him with leaks, but actively subverting him. There’s claims that they’re withholding information from him, on the grounds that they don’t think he should have it and can be trusted with it. They are empowering themselves to enact policy.
As should be obvious, there is a strong affinity between people like Greenwald and the Baathist amen corner. These people don’t understand how ridiculous it is to refer to the CIA trying to achieve regime change in Syria for 5 years. If the CIA was truly intent on removing Assad, it would have not acted with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the three nations supposedly most committed to such goals) to block the shipment of MANPADs to Syrian rebels as the Wall Street Journal reported on October 17, 2012:
U.S. officials say they are most worried about Russian-designed Manpads provided to Libya making their way to Syria. The U.S. intensified efforts to track and collect man-portable missiles after the 2011 fall of the country’s longtime strongman leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
To keep control of the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar formed a joint operations room early this year in a covert project U.S. officials watched from afar.
The U.S. has limited its support of the rebels to communications equipment, logistics and intelligence. But U.S. officials have coordinated with the trio of countries sending arms and munitions to the rebels. The Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey’s southern border as the weapons began to flow to the rebels in two to three shipments every week.
In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said.
Reading between the lines, the Pentagon and the CIA only “coordinated” with the Sunni states to get its foot in the door. Without having a presence on Syria’s borders, it never could have been able to block the shipment of weapons that could have made the country a graveyard for MIGs and armored helicopters. That would have been the best way to facilitate a no-fly zone, by removing air power from the equation. There is little doubt that “regime change” could have taken place if the USA had not intervened.
Others like Alistair Crooke, a former British diplomat writing for the Putinite Consortium News, emphasize Trump running afoul of the Deep State for seeking détente with Russia:
Initially (and perhaps it still is so), Trump’s start point was détente with Russia. In terms of his aim to transform America’s foreign policy, that made sense. And one can understand why President Trump might be treading somewhat slowly on Russia, in the wake of the Deep State coup against Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the continuing attrition aimed against the President, but simply, were he to pursue his son-in-law’s plan, Trump will be handing over his foreign policy to the neocons.
I always get a chuckle out of the notion that Trump and the neocons are mortal enemies. Do you know who co-wrote Michael Flynn’s “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies”? Does the name Michael Ledeen ring a bell? A profile on Flynn in the New Yorker Magazine revealed that much of the book is practically plagiarized from Ledeen’s sorry body of books and articles. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. This is about as neocon as you can get with founder Clifford D. May now serving as President, who is also a member of the Henry Jackson Society, an outfit that is infamous for supporting the war in Iraq. Here is Ledeen on the countries posing the greatest threat to the USA:
It’s no coincidence. Russia, Iran and North Korea are in active cahoots. They are pooling resources, including banking systems (the better to bust sanctions), intelligence and military technology, as part of an ongoing war against the West, of which the most melodramatic battlefields are in Syria/Iraq and Ukraine.
To judge by their language, the leaders of the three countries think the tide of world events is flowing in their favor. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered an ultimatum to the West, saying that Iran’s war against “evil” would only end with the removal of America. Russian President Vladimir Putin marches on in Ukraine, blaming the West for all the trouble, and the North Koreans are similarly bellicose.
They are singing from the same hymnal. And they aim to do us in.
Right, they aim to do us in. So it turns out that the guy that Flynn is most closely allied to ideologically is ten times scarier than Hillary Clinton. If you still have doubts about Flynn’s close ties to Ledeen, I recommend The New Yorker profile linked to above. It states:
Flynn and Ledeen became close friends; in their shared view of the world, Ledeen supplied an intellectual and historical perspective, Flynn a tactical one. “I’ve spent my professional life studying evil,” Ledeen told me. Flynn said, in a recent speech, “I’ve sat down with really, really evil people”—he cited Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Russians, Chinese generals—“and all I want to do is punch the guy in the nose.”
Get that, people? Flynn said he’d like to punch a Russian in the nose. People get confused over Flynn’s ideological core beliefs by missing that his interest in Russia is solely based on its usefulness against ISIS. Just because he favored a united military front against ISIS, it does not mean that he has the same affinity for the Kremlin that someone like Stephen F. Cohen has. Just remember that the USA and Stalin were allied against Hitler. You know how far that went.
Even the NY Times got in the act, sounding a bit like Glenn Greenwald. In an article titled “As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America” co-written by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, there are concerns that the USA is becoming more like Egypt and Turkey where you had an elected president (Morsi) toppled by a deep state and another (Erdogan) overcoming the Kemalists, who are in many ways the deep state paradigm. For Taub and Fischer, the main worry is the leaks that Washington insiders are channeling to the Washington Post and the NY Times. Trump, of course, loved such leaks when they were used against Hillary Clinton. Now he is beside himself with anger. He has announced plans to have financier Stephen A. Feinberg conduct a review of the agencies responsible for such leaks and perhaps recommend a clean sweep that might look like Erdogan’s purge of the Gulenists who had become embedded in the military, police, universities and courts just like the Kemalists before them.
There is always the possibility that the campaign to dump Flynn had other motives besides his supposed tilt to Assad and Putin, even if there is scant support for such an analysis. CounterPunch editor Jeff St. Clair weighed in:
In an administration where prevarication has gone pathological, are we really to believe that Flynn was fired for not fully briefing Mike Pence on his calls with the Russian ambassador? Perhaps Flynn was canned for a simple reason, namely that he was in over his head, like most of Trump’s inner circle. Like many intelligence officers, Flynn is a professional paranoid, seeing conspiracies everywhere he looks. This can be a useful psychological trait in a field agent, but it can prove disastrous in an administer. Consider the case of spy-hunter James Jesus Angleton, one of the most wretched figures in the history of the CIA, whose mental collapse led him to see Soviet agents on every barstool and bus bench in DC.
Probably the most intelligent analysis of the Deep State was written for The Nation by Greg Grandin. Titled “What is the Deep State?”, it makes many very good points especially about the tendency for it to become a pet hobbyhorse of the conspiracist left. He writes:
Much of the writing frames the question as Trump versus the Deep State, but even if we take the “deep state” as a valid concept, surely it’s not useful to think of the competing interests it represents as monolithic, as David Martin in an e-mail suggests. Big Oil and Wall Street might want deregulation and an opening to Russia. The euphemistically titled “intelligence community” wants a ramped-up war footing. High-tech wants increased trade. Trump, who presents as pure id wrapped in ambition motived by appetite, wants it all—which makes him both potentially useful and inherently unstable, simultaneously a product and target of the deep state. In 1956, C. Wright Mills wrote that “the conception of the power elite and of its unity rests upon the corresponding developments and the coincidence of interests among economic, political, and military organizations.” If nothing else, the “Trump v. Deep State” framings show that unity is long gone.
In my view, trying to understand the concept as it applies to the USA is made more difficult by the political terrain that inhibits the growth of political parties tied to a social class. In a typical parliamentary system, you can have dozens of parties that speak for clearly delineated segments of society even if they use rhetoric that aspires to the universal. For example, there have been parties that cater to the interests of the landed gentry, the manufacturers, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the workers and even fractions within each distinct class formation, especially in France and Italy–always referred to in my high school civics classes as places where it is impossible to get things done.
When you form a government based on a parliamentary majority, you typically bring in loyalists from the winner or a coalition of parties. In the USA, there is an extreme tendency to homogenize politics with Obama’s “team of rivals” setting the tone for the bipartisanship over an 8-year period. The Democrats are obviously more committed to this type of governance but even the Republicans have reached “across the aisle”. When he was a Senator, John Kerry chastised Republicans for failing to be more like Reagan, who supposedly “put politics aside” to work with the Dems, especially “Tip” O’Neill. Within the state apparatus, there are bureaucrats who are less interested in party politics than advancing their own career goals. Given Trump’s open hostility to this machinery that operates within the narrow framework of Democratic-Republican centrism, you can expect resistance just as you would in a corporation that has a new CEO bent on shaking things up. As someone who has worked in places like Goldman-Sachs, I can assure you that the same internecine battles that are taking place in the American state apparatus also take place in the corporate world where sharp elbows are a fact of life.
To a large extent, the torrent of abuse directed against Trump from CNN, the NY Times and Washington Post as well as the leaks are rooted in the desire of all the Democrats and a growing number of Republicans like John McCain to return to the status quo ante. It is not so much Trump’s programs that stick their craws but his utter lack of the talents and experience that are need to shepherd the world’s biggest imperialist power in a period marked by economic decline and instability. Trump is under siege not from the “deep state” but by the professional political class and their servants in the media who would much prefer someone like Mike Pence to run the country. In other words, like Trump on “The Apprentice”, they desperately want to see him fired even if they are incapable of mounting a serious resistance to those of Trump’s choices who were not hoisted on their own petard like Flynn.
The challenge for the left in this period is to stake out and define its own identity and goals when much of the country will be mobilizing because of initiatives taken by Democratic Party officials, labor unions, university presidents, mainstream environmental organizations, et al. Without going too far in making such an analogy, it might be possible to see the current period as having something in common with the late 50s as the USA began thawing from McCarthyism. The winds of change were generally being fanned by groups such as SANE, the NAACP and the UAW. As the civil rights and student movement began to pick up speed, the demands became sharper and the independence from liberal politics became more pronounced. By 1967, there was a feeling that if the radical movement could break out of its confines and connect to the working class, it would be possible to have a revolution in the USA. That, of course, was an over-projection. But given the failure of the American economy to satisfy the expectations of a working population that can remember when the country was “great” (for those fortunate enough to get a union job), things can get very polarized rapidly. As Lenin put it, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Even if it is only apocryphal, it makes a lot of sense.