“Enough. We can’t fight everyone.”
If you ask former White House Strategist Steve Bannon, the growing coziness between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin — which came on full display in Helsinki last week, and left the American political class shocked, confounded, and appalled — has little to do with collusion and kompromat, and everything to do with China and Christianity.
In a conversation published on Haaretz Thursday night between Bannon and Israeli public intellectual and historian Gadi Taub, the former chairman of Breitbart described present-day international affairs as a melodrama: A clash between declining Western powers, and an ascending new world order.
Power and politics: Scribbling a triangle on a page, Bannon told Taub that America is facing a new axis of evil: Iran, Turkey, and China.
All three are dictatorships set on expansion; they’re ideologically ruthless, and hostile to Western powers. Iran is striving to become a nuclear superpower and to reign supreme over one of the most explosive regions in the world. Turkey is quickly turning its Mediterranean neighbors into satellites. But China dreams biggest: It’s finally ready to dethrone the United States as the leader of the world.
Bannon, whose message of ethno-nationalist populism is considered by many to have been key to Trump’s victory, believes that US elites are resigned to America’s gradual decline and seek only to “manage” it, like a terminal patient whose doctors have given up.
“Both parties have been telling us for 25 years that the rise of China is the second law of thermodynamics,” he told Taub. “But the outcome is unacceptable. It weakens America on the global level. So many geniuses here and in the West think that if we trade with them freely, if we bring them into the market, they’ll become like us. That’s bullshit. They’re not like us.”
Trade deals with China, according to Bannon and Trump, have ceded unnecessary ground in an attempt to temporarily placate the rising giant. But the giant wasn’t placated, China wasn’t culturally Westernized, and American workers, whose industries were outsourced across the Pacific, paid the price.
This assumption is at the heart of current American populism — whether that of Trump, Bannon, or Bernie Sanders — and it’s the reason the US is now bracing for a trade war.
Russia, no less ambitiously, is playing both sides at the moment. If the US stands any chance to level its trade balance against China, it can’t afford to lose Russia as an ally. China must be isolated.
And Bannon believes that Trump understands this “deeply,” he told Taub, a week before the Helsinki summit.
But it’s also culture: Bannon’s worldview is colored by civilizational differences — and struggles. The West, as he sees it, is the product of Judeo-Christian tradition. This overarching belief, for which he’s been criticized as a white supremacist, guides his — and presumably Trump’s — geopolitical strategy.
“Russia is part of Judeo-Christian tradition. We don’t need to pick a fight with them,” he told Taub.
In Bannon’s mind, the shared identity between the nations makes Russia — the mecca of Europe’s ethno-nationalist movement and the American far-right — a potential ally in Trump’s scourge against Islamism. But for that to happen, Russia must forgo its staunch support of Iran and its mercenaries.
Obama, Bannon seems to imply, has antagonized Putin and, in effect, strengthened Russia’s ties with Iran. Trump hopes to reverse the trend.
“[Russia is] not nice,” Bannon told Taub, paying lip service. “I’m not saying they’re nice. But the Cold War is over. Enough. We can’t fight everyone.”