What Does Bannon Want?

by Jim Lobe

Like Daniel Luban, I don’t believe Steve Bannon, who seems to have been in charge on foreign-policy issues since the inaugural and has now inserted himself onto the National Security Council, really cares very much about destroying the Islamic State despite that being the avowed priority of the administration. I also don’t think he cares that much about protecting the United States from terrorist attacks by radical Islamists. That’s been made perfectly clear both by the choice of the seven countries covered by the immigration executive order. No immigrants from any of the seven has carried out a lethal terrorist attack in the United States as opposed to, say, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Pakistan. And no serious expert, including even one of Gen. Flynn’s heroes, Gen. David Petraeus, thinks the order is anything but counter-productive in the “global war on terror,” as the Bush administration used to refer to it.

I’m increasingly persuaded by Daniel’s argument that Bannon seeks to make it increasingly difficult for Muslims in this country to live here, let alone to immigrate. But that’s too modest a goal for a man who sees himself as a world-historical figure whose aim is to midwife a “new political order” similar to that achieved by Thomas Cromwell under Henry VIII. (Who else would come up with the idea of making January 20, 2017 a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion?”) As implied by the excerpt below (taken from his 2014 Vatican interview), he wants the entire “Judeo-Christian West” to be Muslim-free. His aim is to purify the Western world of Muslims (and probably other “alien” influences later) as part of a Manichaean civilizational clash.

If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places.

Of course, Bannon recognizes that times have changed and that the ongoing conflict is not one between armies in battle as at Tours or Vienna. Rather he sees it as an unconventional war using unconventional methods such as agitprop (to use the Leninist term) and terror. He’s quite practiced at the first, which he honed at Breitbart (as did at least two of his White House staffers). As to terror, I don’t have the impression that he’s above deploying violence—or, preferably, provoking it—to achieve his political ends. This was already clear during the election campaign. Indeed, most of the campaign was based on stoking fear, especially of “the Other,” meaning Muslims and/or Mexicans and their purportedly violent or criminal proclivities. I have little doubt that he and his putative boss will use anti-Trump demonstrations that turn violent—as well as actual terrorist acts—to further polarize the country and isolate and repress their intended targets. The opposition should be extremely careful about both agents provocateurs and playing into an escalatory cycle that favors Bannon’s strategy of polarization.

A few days ago, I tweeted:

Bannon’s aim isn’t beating ISIS; it’s radicalizing Muslims. Radicalization=more terror attacks=stronger ultra-right parties.

That last goal seems to be paramount for Bannon who clearly believes the ascendance of ultra-nationalist, perhaps even fascist parties to power throughout the West will succeed in tearing apart the post-World War II international order that he believes has been built at the expense of the West’s (white) working class. Hence, during a passage in his interview in which he praised Putin, he noted:

I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.

Now, this is one of the most curious statements in the interview, if only because, in his initial remarks, he spoke about World War I and the “barbarity” that it ushered in for the next half century. (The interview took place on the eve of the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.) He asserted a parallel between the globalization of the period that preceded the war and that of the present day, suggesting that the cause of that earlier catastrophe was indeed the kind of international integration that exists today, and hence we are on track to enter “a new Dark Age.” If I understand the gist of the argument (which is not easy to do), his prescription for averting such a calamity is strong nationalist (and anti-immigrant) movements, coupled with a reformed capitalism.

There are far too many problems with this analysis to go into here. But I’m particularly struck by his blaming globalization—as opposed to “strong nationalist movements”—for the advent of World War I. Of course, there is a relationship between economic globalization and nationalist or sub-nationalist sentiment. But World War I had multiple causes, and one of them clearly was “strong nationalist movements” throughout Europe. And why he would assert that “strong nationalist movements …make strong neighbors” is quite beyond me given the history of modern Europe. Indeed, what has contributed to West European recovery and prosperity over the seven decades is not nationalism. It’s been quite the contrary, symbolized by the institution—for all its faults and weaknesses—of the European Union. Which, of course, ranks at or near the top of Bannon’s list of targets for destruction.

What’s even more baffling is the notion that reviving strong nationalist movements throughout the West will make “Judeo-Christian” civilization stronger in its existential struggle against Islam and/or other non-Judeo-Christian challengers. If the institutions that were created and sustained to bolster Western unity and influence—not to say domination—of the global world order are torn apart, as Bannon appears to favor, how can the “West” rally in the face of the Islamic or any other threat? I fail utterly to understand the logic. Is he contemplating a new Crusade under a unified (Judeo-Christian) church? But then what happens to all those strong nationalisms he wants to promote? I just don’t get it.

Which is where the nihilism comes in. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,” he told Ronald Radosh. Now, that makes more sense.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Bannon seems to think that 300 million Americans, weakened by creeping secularism (don’t forget he’s a fanatical Roman Catholic), can take on 1.5 billion fanatical Muslims all around the world and win. His favourite book is said to be “The Art of War”, although – judging by his reckless aggressiveness – he appears not to have read past the title page.

  2. It is really hard to believe that western civilization which justifiably prided on highest moral values of freedom, liberty, tolerance and human rights will take 180 degree turn towards dystopic dark ages. This xenophobia and fear could hardly be understood as Western world was instrumental in letting out genie of jihad. It is now stalking the nook and corner of Islamic countries to wreak havoc and occasionally visit the west. Why should innocent Muslims be held responsible for the crimes which were and are being committed against them by those who were at times regarded as the likes of their forefathers by no less than the President they revere most.

  3. This concentration -Trump has it too, as do so many neocons- on “terrorism” especially Muslims, the present favorite, following communists for so many years, instead of the real dangers we face really worries me. All this does is stir up more hatred and violence, to no good purpose. Meanwhile, man-made climate change exacerbates the environmental problems of the world and the “defense” men blame Iran and Nth Korea for nuclear danger, which leaves out the rogue states of Israel, India,Pakistan and the “legal nuke powers” who are madly increasing the chance of all-out nuclear war and the end of us all.

  4. “I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward…If I understand the gist of the argument (which is not easy to do), his prescription for averting such a calamity is strong nationalist (and anti-immigrant) movements, coupled with a reformed capitalism.”

    Bannon didn’t say that he wanted to avoid war or that he wanted global peace. He didn’t say that at all.

    By “strong” countries, “strong” neighbors etc, I think what Bannon means to say is that he wants western countries to be strong and WAGE WAR and destroy the enemies of the west!

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