Gaius Publius: Honeymoon of the Generals in the Age of Trump – Wolfowitz on McMaster, Mattis

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By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

“Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war” (image source).

“What I do is I authorize my military. We have given them total authorization…”
—Donald Trump, April 2017

The war strain is strong in both parties.
—Yours truly

Short and impossibly bitter. In all the talk of the multiple domestic disasters that the Age of Trump will usher in — health care destruction, assaults on immigrants, a new surge in death-by-lying-cop, a breaking broken climate, and all the rest — Americans have conveniently forgotten one of the worst, the loosing of our generals and their weapons of war upon the poor and brown of the world.

In short, Donald Trump, with what looks to me like bipartisan consent, has unleasked the dogs of war. That’s my first point in this brief piece. My second point is this: There will be a price, and no one in this country will want to pay it.

The Dogs of War

Tom Englehardt considers my first point in a much longer piece, “The Honeymoon of the Generals.” Near the middle he writes (my emphasis):

Institutionalizing War and Its Generals

Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered a set of generals or retired generals—James “Mad Dog” Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security—men already deeply implicated in America’s failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he’s then left them to do their damnedest. “What I do is I authorize my military,” he told reporters recently. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”

As the 100-day mark of his presidency approaches, there’s been no serious reassessment of America’s endless wars or how to fight them (no less end them). Instead, there’s been a recommitment to doing more of the familiar, more of what hasn’t worked over the last decade and a half. No one should be surprised by this, given the cast of characters—men who held command posts in those unsuccessful wars and are clearly incapable of thinking about them in other terms than the ones that have been indelibly engrained in the brains of the U.S. military high command since soon after 9/11.

That new ruling reality of our American world should, in turn, offer a hint about the nature of Donald Trump’s presidency. It should be a reminder that as strange… okay, bizarre… as his statements, tweets, and acts may have been, as chaotic as his all-in-the-family administration is proving to be, as little as he may resemble anyone we’ve ever seen in the White House before, he’s anything but an anomaly of history. Quite the opposite. Like those generals, he’s a logical endpoint to a grim process, whether you’re talking about the growth of inequalityin America and the rise of plutocracy—without which a billionaire president and his billionaire cabinet would have been inconceivable—or the form that American war-making is taking under him.

And lest anyone be confused, the dogs of war have bipartisan masters:

When it comes to war and the U.S. military, none of what’s happened would have been conceivable without the two previous presidencies.  None of it would have been possible without Congress’s willingness to pump endless piles of money into the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex in the post-9/11 years; without the building up of the national security state and its 17 (yes, 17!) major intelligence outfits into an unofficial fourth branch of government; without the institutionalization of war as a permanent (yet strangely distant) feature of American life and of wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that evidently can’t be won or lost but only carried on into eternity. None of this would have been possible without the growing militarization of this country, including of police forces increasingly equipped with weaponry off America’s distant battlefields and filled with veterans of those same wars; without a media rife with retired generals and other former commanders narrating and commenting on the acts of their successors and protégés; and without a political class of Washington pundits and politicians taught to revere that military.

In other words, however original Donald Trump may look, he’s the curious culmination of old news and a changing country. Given his bravado and braggadocio, it’s easy to forget the kinds of militarized extremity that preceded him.

The piece is good; I strongly recommend clicking through to read the rest. Get ready for more war; lots and lots of it. Why? Read on.

Paul Wolfowitz, “Mad Dog” Mattis, General McMaster

By his own admission, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the primary neocon architects and prosecutors of George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War, has had a long relationship with both Mattis and McMaster and approves of them both. At the moment, both have primary roles in Trump’s foreign war policy, especially in the Middle East, Mattis as Pentagon chief and McMaster as National Security Advisor.

The Mattis and McMaster ties to Paul Wolfowitz go back a long way. From an interview conducted by Politico here’s Wolfowitz talking about Trump’s foreign policy (my emphasis):

Glasser: … You know, there’s no one particular guide except the quirky personality of Donald Trump at times, it seems. How do you navigate understanding who this guy is when it comes to foreign policy?

Wolfowitz: Well, it’s certainly unpredictable, as an understatement. But at the same time you have in his national security team two individuals who are nearly the opposite, who have a long consistent record of thinking clearly, strategically. I’m talking about McMaster and Mattis.


Glasser: Have you talked with anyone in his White House since they have been set up and trying to figure things out?

Wolfowitz: I have some. I know McMaster quite well from before. And Mattis actually was my senior military assistant when I first came to the Pentagon in 2001, and I worked with him quite a bit later on in his various later capacities, including in Iraq. So I know them pretty well, but I haven’t—I’ve occasionally emailed them, but I have not had direct contact with them.

Wolfowitz later describes Mattis as a “peace through strength” advocate … whatever that means. For me, a recommendation from Paul Wolfowitz, who thinks President Obama was not warlike enough, is the Neocon Seal of Approval. Later in the interview, Wolfowitz says of Obama: “Look, my big reservation about Trump, and I said it, was that he was sort of like Obama on steroids, particularly with respect to Russia and Ukraine.”

In other words, weak. Wolfowitz hasn’t changed his stripes. And there’s certainly no question, based on the rest of the interview, that Wolfowitz still wants regime change in Syria, and also that he thinks McMaster and Mattis will bring it.

By the way, General McMaster is the author of the obviously false White House Intelligence Report that justified, after the fact, his Tomahawk attack on Syria. Details here and here. He’s off to a fine Wolfowitzian start.

The War Will Come Home

To my second point, that America’s endless war — and seemingly endless love of war — will come home at last, consider two points.

First, the war strain is strong in both parties. In modern times it runs nearly unchecked through the last three generations, starting with the immediate aftermath of WWII and Truman deciding to “scare the hell out of the American people” and not stand down the war machine. Or even earlier, when according to Gore Vidal, Truman dropped the bomb on Japan despite the fact the Japanese were actively trying to surrender, because he wanted to “send a message to Joe [Stalin].”

​​Americans experienced one moment of revolt against the well-greased, well-glorified, bipartisan war machine​​ — during the Vietnam War, when almost everyone knew someone whose life was at risk due to the draft. In those years, the war “came home” in the sense that people feared for their personal future or the future of those in their immediate circle. Since then, with the all-volunteer army, nada.

But second, what if these wars “come home” in spades via bombings at home, followed by the typical American response, self-righteous “muscular security” in the frighteningly named “homeland”? We will likely never recover from that twin blow.

For example, imagine the Mall of America blown up at Christmas, along with two or three others. What does security look like in every mall in the country after that? Does going to the mall look like going to the airport, or worse? And if malls in America do look like the airport, will Americans grow to hate their new life or accept it? Will they stand down their international violence or launch even more of it, retaliating with a literal vengeance?

Whatever the response, for the second time in this still-new century the country will have turned a corner it can never turn back to, and life in America will once more never be the same. If we don’t stop these wars, we will soon be in them in full, the way Europe is in them, with a battlefield locally, not just overseas.

As I said above, there will be a price for America’s endless war, and no one in this country will want to pay it.

By then, of course, it will be too late. We’ll have eaten the meal; all that will be left is the bill. Or to change the metaphor, the generals will have had their honeymoon. The rest of will be left to live in the marriage they created.

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    1. Paul Greenwood

      That is a really interesting post. Thanks ! I knew about SORM and FAPSI, Roskomnadzor but that is really a neat piece of information !

    2. Mark P.

      Cute. The other shoe should drop in the next few weeks, unless the actor responsible is playing a very long game or else the effected institutions manage to keep the cover on.

      Thanks for calling attention to this.

  1. RBHoughton

    Meanwhile, over at the Real News Network, Larry Wilkerson is predicting US involvement in Afghanistan for the next fifty years. Its not just this generation’s tax dollars, its our children and grand-children too.

  2. mle detroit

    “What does security look like in every mall in the country?” Hey, it’s a jobs guarantee.

    1. RepubAnon

      Given the articles regarding the death of brick & mortar stores, I’d say the new mall look will be “ghost towns.”

      The interesting thing will be when China and Russia spring their trap. The US is in the same position as Britain in the late 1930s: the need to fight a two-ocean war without the resources and funding to do so. Currently, China has successfully tricked Trump into letting them do whatever China wants in the South China Sea by having North Korea act out. Russia’s getting ready to force an end to the Syrian conflict – after which they’ll start talking to Iraq. China’s increasing their influence across Africa, as well.

      What happens if simultaneous crises occur in the Middle East, the South China Sea, and maybe Venezuela? Knowing Trump, we’d be looking at defeat in detail (occurs when forces are split up into small pieces which can be attacked and defeated in turn) after he orders the military to fix all the crises simultaneously. Even if the military wins all the battles, we’d be too broke to pay for replacements for all those gold-plated weapons systems. Go read Twilight’s Last Gleaming ( for a possible scenario.

      1. Huey Long


        Late 30’s British Empire indeed!!!

        Vast amounts of treasure was flushed down the drain in Singapore during this period when the Empire was at its largest territorial extent.

        Reminds me of Diego Garcia.

        Excellent post, and nice to see another jmg reader here at NC.

  3. Norb

    In WWII, motivating the population to participate in the war was not a problem. Fighting fascism in order to preserve democracy was a believable and worthy goal. 70+ years of covertly undermining the principles of democracy have left only a hollow shell of national strength. The elite and the MIC seem to think that they can endlessly leverage technology and use a small cadre of neoliberal fanatics in order to maintain control over the population, but how can that be maintained if the endless wars are brought home in a big way? The suffering and destruction will be real, not some digital representation on a screen.

    The strategy of the neoliberal war hawks has been to jin up enemies. That strategy is less effective as time goes on. It seems the next phase is to reverse 180, dispense with the pretense of spreading democracy, and go full out conquering empire mode. It pains me the consider that most of my fellow citizens have no problem with that outcome. They have been successfully conditioned to believe that “winning” is the main goal of life, whatever that means.

    The blind are leading the blind here in America.

    1. Paul Greenwood

      Fighting fascism in order to preserve democracy was a believable and worthy goal.

      Really ? My family members receiving an “Invitation” from the Government inviting them to wear a uniform or go to jail. Thrilling as it may seem to you I don’t think my cousins who have a Portland Stone memorial in a CWGC Cemetery were dying to “fight Fascism”……..I really don’t. Do you write slogans on T-shirts for a living ?

      1. Norb

        No, I don’t write slogans for a living. I’m not a jingoist, either. The problem people face living in society always comes down to individual sacrifice to preserve the greater whole. It is a choice brought about willingly or coerced as you note. But what is that whole? The immediate family, region, or Nation?

        Only in a democracy can peaceful will be expressed, all else is physical power. How would you recommend that citizens not buying into corporate propaganda resist the next round of “invitations” to preserve their system? When competition is the goal, a rival is always needed. Even if a global hegemony was achieved, in the end, a rival would be created to keep the system running. The ultimate rival is one that can be conjured in the imagination, which would be eternal.

        To my limited social experience, very few wish to change the system as a whole or even see the dangers. They embrace competition as the natural state of human existence. They believe in incremental change even though change never truly materializes, only temporary concessions easily overturned. They champion individualism while failing to make the connection between success and collective action. Most either openly or discreetly admire billionaires instead of reviling them. This mindset seems to make endless war inevitable.

        Whatever strategy is chosen, at its core needs to be anti-capitalist, which by definition, is treason. Where once people truly believed in the cause of capitalism leading the way to secure a better life, that is no longer the case. They don’t believe in the system, but lack the will or imagination to see any alternative life. It is easier to pretend and not think about the dire situation that is on the horizon and leave the system basically intact.

        Well, the easy days are coming to an end, and the choice will once again be upon the majority, choose to follow the orders of our superiors or break the law and go to jail. The natural state seems to blindly march off to war. Its easier, until it isn’t. The same lessons need to be learned the hard way.

        Not that I would like this scenario to unfold. It is all wasteful, senseless tragedy.

  4. Michael C

    I once believed that the reason for US military interverntion around the world was for sustaining a global economic hegemon. That seems to be no longer the purpose. The fallout from all of these interventions, the impending blowback, cost, and destruction of endless war doesn’t seem to be a problem to the neocons “vision” of success will not (and never will) create a peaceful Pax Americanna. It now seems it is only about meglomaniacal, naked power, and let the earth be damned even when the runaway machine destroys all in its path. My once optimistic view that we can create a better, saner world is now gone, and unfortunately a sense that deep cynicism about the ability of humankind to save itself. “Pit this busy monster, manunkind” as cummings put it.

    1. Jules

      Anyone who thinks murdering innocent men, women and children as after dinner entertainment,
      should be locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane.

      These neocons are out to rebuild their mythical Empire of Eretz Israel, opportunistically supported by capitalist war profiteers and a gungho military who would happily murder anyone to justify their massive ‘defence’ budget. Trump is just the enabler, too naive to understand the grand plan being carried out by these sophisticated manipulators. I guess that Neocons never really go away, they just lie low waiting for their moment, and unfortunately, this is it. My question is what can really be done about it?

  5. Synoia

    Q For example, imagine the Mall of America blown up at Christmas, along with two or three others. What does security look like in every mall in the country after that?

    A Amamzon

    1. Vatch

      I was wondering which DRC this was (there are a lot), so I listened to the first minute of the video, and from the context, it must be the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Coincidentally, there’s probably a huge demand for mercenaries as well as milk and eggs in that large troubled country.

      1. diptherio

        Prince’s attempt at re-branding would be funny if it weren’t so dark. But he has a hard time hiding the real him. Suggesting that the East India Company is a good model for modern US imperialism, for instance, kinda gives the game away. And I’m quite sure his grocery-delivery and Med-evac business isn’t beyond doing a little extra work on the side…

      2. lyman alpha blob

        I hear Price is making arms deals with Patty Hearst and is only hiring headless Thompson gunners this time around.

        1. Stephen Gardner

          Ah, another Warren Zevon fan. I love that song. So dark and funny at the same time. Hopefully one of those headless gunners will track Erik Prince down to a bar in Mombasa. . . ;-)

  6. Susan the other

    Trump avoids the question when he says he has given the military total “authorization.” He successfully avoids the question because nobody asks it. Authorization to accomplish what? Trump himself said he was going to bomb the shit out of the terrorists. But that is as detailed as he got. So all we can do is assume that the military have been given full authorization to bomb the shit out of “the terrorists.” So many questions. So little time. But of course we already know that Trump will not destroy the terrorists because they are our enablers. Even crazy little Kim is helping us install a missile system in South Korea – not to bomb North Korea, but to “contain China” and Russia. To just follow the treadless logic of American war: how do we manage to “contain” the entire planet? We might be abdicating our responsibilities as citizens if we do not demand to know what the actual policy is besides bombing the shit out of the “terrorists.”

    1. Susan the other

      I’d forgive the secrecy if it turned out that we are really setting up the eco-police. I really wouldn’t care if we bombed the shit out of polluters … but then we’d be very hypocritical not to bomb ourselves.

      1. Vatch

        Chapter Four of Dark Money by Jane Mayer makes it quite clear that Koch Industries committed acts of terrorism by fatally poisoning and burning people, although she doesn’t use the specific word “terrorism”.

    1. Vatch

      Your link doesn’t work, but it’s possible to do web search for several words, and I found the bill in question:

      I don’t think the bill is trying to establish authority over any of those locations. It would require reports about activities at those ports. But maybe I’ve misunderstood. Anyhow, it does seem strange, and as you point out, is likely to offend people in various governments (it already has offended Russians).

      1. Paul Greenwood

        Each report required under subsection (a) shall include specific findings with respect to the following ports and airports:

        “(1) The ports of Dandong, Dalian, and any other port in the People’s Republic of China that the President deems appropriate.

        “(2) The ports of Abadan, Bandar-e-Abbas, Chabahar, Bandar-e-Khomeini, Bushehr Port, Asaluyeh Port, Kish, Kharg Island, Bandar-e-Lenge, and Khorramshahr, and Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

        “(3) The ports of Nakhodka, Vanino, and Vladivostok, in the Russian Federation.

        “(4) The ports of Latakia, Banias, and Tartous, and Damascus International Airport, in the Syrian Arab Republic.

        I think they have a sense of humour

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