Lonely at the Top

By Andrej Mrevlje |

I’ve been around the world

Had my pick of any girl

You’d think I’d be happy

But I’m not

Everybody knows my name

But it’s just a crazy game

Oh, it’s lonely at the top

Listen to the band, they’re playing just for me

Listen to the people paying just for me

All the applause-all the parades

And all the money I have made

Oh, it’s lonely at the top

Listen all you fools out there

Go on and love me-I don’t care

Oh, it’s lonely at the top

Oh, it’s lonely at the top

Randy Newman, 1971

The first person to say it out loud was General Raymond Thomas of the Special Operation Command – SOCOM: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.”

Thomas is a powerful general; he commands every branch of the military whenever they participate in covert and clandestine missions. These kinds of operations – be it an assault action, a special reconnaissance, or a counter-terrorism operation – are based on scrupulous intelligence gathering and data analysis. This is the type of material the National Security Council provides for the president who then decides a course of action and gives orders to General Thomas and other commanders. But General Thomas is now objecting the current standstill, lack of input, and inaction of his forces. This objection sounds an alarm because America is in a war but only watching things happen, the general is saying. He secretly desired a reaction from the White House or Pentagon. Instead, all he got was mild media coverage.

If something similar had happened a few months ago, when President Obama was still issuing orders, General Thomas would be stripped of his command in no time, which is what happened to Stanley Allen McChrystal, another top commander who took the liberty to criticize Vice President Joe Biden and other high-ranking officials in an interview with Rolling Stone.

Not only did the general dare to criticize his supreme commander, but he went unpunished. These facts indicate severe symptoms of paralysis in the Trump executive administration.

As a consequence of this paralysis, the country went through some stormy days.

After protracted doubts concerning the transparency of General Michael Flynn in his contact with Russians, the Washington Post published the story that compromised Trump’s security adviser. In front of the evidence, Trump had to fire Flynn, hoping the storm would wind down. It did not. The Flynn resignation could not resolve any of the questions already opened because it came too late and became almost irrelevant in light of other stories and speculations already circulating in the media. Nevertheless, there were enough serious questions being asked concerning the president and the background of this whole Russian buzz. Had Flynn followed the president-elect’s instructions when talking to Russians or did he act on his own? Is Vice President Pence out of the loop and instead the inner Trump circle is trying to take command over this country?

Considering that General Thomas’s complaints went unpunished, some of the intelligence sector members in company with media people started leaking–even more–information. One of these anonymous leaks appeared in a bizarre story reported by the Wall Street Journal ( paywall) as the Business Insider brought it: “US intelligence agencies are said to be keeping some sensitive information away from President Donald Trump over concerns about potential leaks,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night.

“The newspaper cited unnamed current and former US officials who told the Journal that their hesitations were due in part to lingering questions over possible links between Trump associates and Russia, which they said could compromise the security of such classified information.”

Since this kind of information was considered over the top and directly invited the foreign adversaries to bore even bigger holes into cheesy U.S. national security, someone had to stop it.

Enter Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense during Obama’s presidency, who in the name of the national interest and with some authority tried to sweep the ongoing war between the intelligence community and the White House under the rug. When Chuck Todd in Meet the Press asked him if  withholding information to the president is plausible, Panetta answered:

“No, it’s not. In my experience, I have never had intelligence officers who have a responsibility to provide full information to the president and other leaders in the country ever withhold a piece of intelligence. So it’s something that certainly hasn’t occurred when I was there, and I doubt whether it’s happened this time.

Because your first responsibility is to provide the truth to the president. And if you start thinking about how the President’s going to use it, what he’s going to do with that information, then frankly, you’ll never provide the truth to the president. And that’s what intelligence officers are supposed to do.”

I find this thinking correct. But it doesn’t help resolve the conflict. After months of humiliating the intelligence community, calling them incapable, ignoring their briefings as irrelevant and pretending to know more than they do, the president went off limits when called his spies Nazis. It was like a dagger in their back; an announcement of what is possible in the future. It was a stomach-jolting comment that added to the persisting effort to present America’s major cold war adversary as a future partner. The words of General Thomas quoted above prove how deeply rooted is this antagonism that Trump is trying to bridge. It is inconceivable that the CIA and other counter-intelligence agencies would accept this proposal since everything they learned and built was based on the decades of spy warfare waged against the KGB and its spies. The challenges and spying games with Russia are a cornerstone of Western contemporary intel agencies.

It was for these and some other reasons (described in more details in two of my previous posts on the topic, here and here) that the disgruntled members of the intelligence community started to show signs of disrespect and disobedience towards executive power.

As Panetta acknowledges at the end of the interview:

“Obviously, it’s not a real situation. Because there is a lack of trust between the president and the intelligence community, and between the intelligence community and the president. And, you know, every time he demeans the intelligence community or accuses it of leaks or accuses it of doing things that it’s not doing, that obviously impacts on the morale of that institution.”

Panetta’s observation is pertinent to an earlier stage of the conflict when the language and the actions of the new government hinted towards major subordination of the intel community when the president lamented excessive politicization of his spies. Does this hint to disobedience and overly independent investigative initiative? From those early times – alas! it was only one month ago; Trump evolved a more aggressive attitude and course of action. As a consequence, the agencies and the Pentagon have almost no power in the decision-making process within the powerful NSC. I see no way how this distrust and hate could be resolved without leaving the victims on the ground.

Trump’s government has already moved from exercising the freedom of framework in which the very fabric of reality can be manipulated through simple techniques based on memetic symbology. While memetic warfare can be easily built and dismantled, Trump’s government is now moving forward, bulldozing everything in its way. We are in the phase of destruction. If China is interesting to watch now, it is because China is adding and expanding every day, but Trump’s America is shrinking and emptying its vault with every new executive order coming from the White House. Dismantling America is the order of the day: not only repealing Obamacare and the travel ban that will be refreshed in even more restrictive form, but trashing painstakingly build environmental regulations, allowing the fossil fuel industry to get wild again, attacking the judiciary power, declaring media the enemy of the country, and at the same time backing out of any possible international treaty or agreement. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, with some Leninist inclinations, calls himself a national economist but also sits in on the powerful National Security Council, following the rule that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun – an old Mao Zedong’s slogan. On Thursday Bannon said “that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to ‘deconstruct’ an outdated system of governance. If you look at the Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction”. The president’s chief strategist and intellectual force of the new government then said that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history. Is it because this way the U.S. leaves the dominion over the Far East to China and therefore creating chaos among the allies in the region? We do not know, but the same pattern of deconstruction seems to also be in play in Europe. There the U.S. continues to request more money from the members of the NATO without proposing anything but spreading worry and panic among the European allies. The Munich Security Conference – a few days ago – was a complete disaster. The two sides never engaged in a serious discussion on the pressing security issues. Everyone in Munich was repeating old mantras that no longer fit the new world.

The reality is that we are facing dramatic changes that are radically reshaping the geopolitical landscape. Russia’s thirst for power, China’s expansionist moves, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, escalating consequences of climate change, terrorism, and precipitous socioeconomic disparity are the problems that need urgent attention and solutions. But Trump’s America no longer wants to be part of this process, does not want to contribute to finding the solution. While busy with the destruction of its institutions and customs, America does not seem to know what to build on the ruins. We do not know if what we are witnessing is just a period of iconoclasm that hides the secret desire of purity and monolithic power–white nationalism, or is what Trump’s clan is doing just a simple playbook of improvisations?

The more one tries to get to the bottom of these events, the more the situation becomes incomprehensible. Still, it would be intellectually and morally dishonest not to resist by trying to understand the crazy whirlpool of events occurring in front of us. Since many aspects of Trump’s regime are new for this country, there is a growing collective effort to dig out enough data to be able to solve the puzzle of Trump’s administration.

One of these efforts represents the  story on the data science firm, Cambridge Analytica, which conducted Trump’s “campaign in targeting voters through psychological profiling.” Now, with Trump in office, Cambridge Analytica’s British parent company is ramping up its U.S. government business by pursuing contracts that could be driven by the new president’s policy agenda, according to multiple people with knowledge of the firm’s activities who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe “private interactions.” As The Washington Post reports, the company “in recent weeks pitched officials in key national security agencies on how its technology could be used to deter terrorism, bolster the military’s capacities as it prepares for a possible buildup and helps assess attitudes about immigrants.”

The question that Cambridge Analytica presents is not outsourcing of the federal government, but about its use as a tool to further dismantle the existing order.

In addition to this kind of factual reporting, there is a long series of speculation on whether the Russian affair might trigger something much bigger than the sacrifice of General Flynn. Since then there has been a multiplication of political and other critical voices requesting an independent investigation into possible ties between the new administration and America’s global rival.

Or as Paul Krugman summarizes the situation, hinting on business interests between Trump and Russia: “A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate – and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador – but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier but took no action.

Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.”

It is my present conviction – while not excluding other hypotheses- that we are watching the birth of the new regime composed of an unprecedentedly high percentage of plutocracy, filled with billionaires, retired generals, tech tycoons and some nerdy fanatics. In numbers, this country might be running towards a government that will represent a just tiny little bit of the 1%. How is this possible?

Because Donald Trump read correctly the need for change in this country. Like Bernie Sanders, Trump used populism to approach the classes that were most endangered by globalization, that by its very nature creates the conditions for the victory of the plutocracy. Perhaps the American working class understood that their only chance is to join the plutocrat that talks their rough language. Let’s say that Trumps voters were desperately willing to take a risk. In some distant times and contexts, such a vote would be called a betrayal of the class consciousness. Today we would be calling it political repositioning, as it happened with the Labour party in Great Britain. Cameron and Trump deceived the threatened by promising them to end globalization. In Britain that mean Brexit, stepping out of EU and in the U.S., making America great again. While Brexit will not resolve anything, Trump’s America might fulfill something, but it will only be for richest of this country. Besides the consequences that Trump – Bannon policy will have for the world order, keep an eye open what might happen on the streets of America. We are only in the second month of the Trump era, so perhaps it is still a little too early to speculate except for the fact that this story is about even higher profits for the local plutarchy.

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