Bannon ridicules White House adversaries in wide-ranging interview
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon pledged to shake-up staffing at the Departments of Defense and State and said his adversaries, both inside the White House and out of it, are “wetting themselves” at the prospect of his plans.
He also appeared to take on National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn and said the U.S. must ready itself for an “economic war with China” that has already begun.
Bannon, in the same interview with the liberal magazine The American Prospect, labeled hate groups of the type that marched in a deadly rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “a collection of clowns.” But he also said the cultural issues raised by the hate groups had lured Democrats into a rhetorical trap that would allow Republicans to succeed.
On North Korea, Bannon struck out a position different from that of his boss, President Donald Trump, telling The American Prospect, that “there’s no military solution” to the repressive regime’s nuclear program and that the U.S. should “forget it.” Trump has said that the U.S. will not allow North Korea to obtain a nuclear weapon capable of striking the continental U.S. and has pointedly refused to take a military option off the table.
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us,” Bannon said.
But North Korea, Bannon continued, was “just a sideshow” on which China is “just tapping us along” relative to the economic battle he sees brewing with the Chinese. He predicted that either the U.S. or China would be the world’s dominant nation in the next quarter-century, “and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.”
Bannon told his interviewer that part of his plan to turn the economic tables on the Chinese government would be to issue complaints under the 1974 Trade Act, a move that he said had other government officials “wetting themselves” with concern over upsetting the international trading system or removing the possibility that China might help tamp down North Korea.
“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover.”
Pushing his get-tough-with-China approach is “a fight I fight every day here.” At least part of his strategy, he said, would be to change out staff members at the State Department and Department of Defense, specifically naming one official he planned to remove.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton out at State,” Bannon said, naming the acting director of East Asian and Pacific affairs at the State Department. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”
Bannon, who rarely speaks to reporters on the record, initiated the phone call with The American Prospect because he agreed with something the author had written on China. Robert Kuttner, the author, said his discussion with Bannon did not include any requests to put any of their conversation off the record.
The interview comes as Bannon has been under increasing pressure of late inside a shifting White House, with newly-installed chief of staff John Kelly seeking to impose greater discipline in the West Wing. Asked about Bannon’s future in the White House at a press conference earlier this week, Trump offered no guarantees.
“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” the president said. “He is a good person, and I think the press treats him frankly unfairly… I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist.”
Bannon, the former head of the conservative media outlet Breitbart News, has been blamed by some for bringing to the forefront the type of fringe nationalist...