Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and several Breitbartians are heading up a new think tank called the Strategic Initiatives Group reported The Daily Beast
, the purpose of which is to provide an “alternative lodestar of power and influence to supersede the traditional centers of influence.”
There’s a new center of influence that’s quietly being built in the White House—and answers to two of President Donald J. Trump’s most influential, most controversial advisers. Counselor to the president Steve Bannon, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner—arguably the top two aides to Trump—have set up a brand-new body called the Strategic Initiatives Group, an internal White House think tank that answers to them, as well as to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a senior administration official tells The Daily Beast.
The idea is not to make but to inform policy, helping guide a new president unfamiliar with the levers of power in Washington, D.C., and bridge the gap between the White House and industry, said the official, who spoke anonymously as a condition of describing White House deliberations.
Less-charitable observers say the SIG is intended to be an alternative lodestar of power and influence to just possibly supersede the advice coming out of the traditional centers of influence like the National Security Council and the wider agencies of government.
“This is how Bannon will watch Flynn,” said one person briefed on Bannon’s thinking, referring to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the national security adviser. “That’s why he’s made sure he’ll be in every NSC meeting,” the source said, referring to a controversial presidential memo Trump signed over the weekend, slightly tweaking the NSC to give Bannon a permanent seat at the table.
The source said Bannon has been frustrated with Flynn’s immediate focus on counterterrorism and the campaign against the so-called Islamic State and al Qaeda to the detriment of wider issues like Brexit and the U.S. relationship with NATO.
The goal of only "informing" policy and guiding Trump along unfamiliar corridors may seem laudable indeed. Unfortunately, the new SIG and specifically Steve Bannon and Steve Miller were responsible for penning the controversial executive orders that went out into the world. RawStory said February 1st:
Several former members of Republican administrations — who are all seeking jobs with the Trump team — blamed SIG for last week’s chaotic rollout of an executive order temporarily banning refugees and travelers from several majority-Muslim nations.
Those orders usually come from the National Security Council, but in this case, it appears to have originated from the think tank staffed by corporate heavyweight Christopher Liddell and former Breitbart writer Sebastian Gorka, the website reported.
“You can’t have a principals and deputies process and then have this other cabinet,” one former Bush staffer told The Daily Beast. “If this SIG starts spewing policy with no way to implement it, you’re going to have more and more incidents like this.”
A former Obama staffer was even more explicit about how the new quasi-governmental agency — and its overseer, Bannon — could infect White House policy.
“To put it bluntly, this is truly crazy,” the former Obama staffer told the website. “Being a racist and misogynistic political advisor is one thing, but when that person controls domestic and national security policy, it’s time to break glass because of emergency. I shudder to think what is next, once Bannon’s operation is fully staffed up.”
Bannon's operation is getting fully staffed up and its philosophy has long been embraced by not only his Breitbart colleagues but also by none other than presidential senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, as Ruth Ben-Ghait a history professor at New York University, warned in a CNN column a few days ago. Ben-Ghiat said that Trump and his chief strategist intended to remake American politics in their own image, and she cites some revealing comments by Conway to back her claims.
Welcome to the shock event, [Muslim ban executive order] designed precisely to jar the political system and civil society, causing a disorientation and disruption among the public and the political class that aids the leader in consolidating his power.
Those who still refuse to take Trump seriously cite his incompetence for the rough start in office. Yet this blitzkrieg was intentional. "Get used to it. @POTUS is a man of action and impact ... Shock to the system. And he's just getting started" his counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted Saturday.
As Conway implies, these first days of the Trump administration could be considered a prologue to a bigger drama, and one that reflects the thinking of Trump and Bannon alike. From their actions and pronouncements, we cannot exclude an intention to carry out a type of coup...this week has provided many indications that his inner circle intends to shock or strike at the system, using the resulting spaces of chaos and flux to create a kind of government within the government: one beholden only to the chief executive.
"Strike at the enemy at a time and place or in a manner for which he is unprepared," reads one US Air Force formulation of the old military doctrine of surprise. Trump has long been an advocate of this tactic and complained various times during the campaign that our armed forces were far too transparent about their planned operations.
Yet Bannon is the mastermind of this takeover strategy as its been adapted to the domestic realm. Well-versed in military tactics and the history of the radical left and right, Bannon has repeatedly talked about
"destroying the state" in the name of securing power for "an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment."
Besieging your targets until nothing makes any sense -- giving them no time to absorb or recover from attacks -- is a time-tested strategy in the history of war and authoritarian takeovers. One might cite what's gone on in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Trump ran on a ticket of unifying America and all that he and Steve Bannon and associates have done is set us to fighting one other and marching in the streets. The Bannon cabal creates one emergency after another and each emergency is not only its own reward, it also acts as a smokescreen masking more urgent pending stories, like Trump's tax returns or ties to Russia. Ben-Ghiat had this to say further about authoritarian takeovers.
Second is the unleashing of the political purges that authoritarians so love. Some purges are punitive (say the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates because she defied Trump's immigration order) and some pre-emptive (the expulsion of senior State Department staff) but the effect is to cleanse the government of troublemakers and leave a power vacuum to be filled with loyalists -- or not filled at all, for added disruption of the state bureaucracy.
There you have it from the horse's mouth, Conway said, "It's time to put in his own security and intelligence community." Yes, indeed, can't depend upon the intelligence community that is in place. Trump has already characterized them as "Nazis." As to Trump's own security being put in place, that measure is apparently going along fine as well. According to Ian Berman, vice president of the conservative American Foreign Policy Council think tank, the White House turned off its recording equipment during Trump’s recent telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House released only a vague one-paragraph statement saying that Trump received a “congratulatory call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
The call went for two hours but the American public now has no record of the specifics of the conversation. If you want to know what was said between the two most powerful leaders in the world, you'll have to ask either Steve Bannon or the Kremlin for details. To a reasonable mind, it would seem that where the question of a Bannon authored coup taking place is concerned, the question is not whether it will happen, but exactly to what extent it has happened already -- and how pervasive and detrimental will it get?