Iran, Trump and The Blob Behind The Curtain
Guest Perspective Written By: Planefag
How the US Foreign Policy Establishment Speaks Through The Media To Push Their Agenda
Last week’s hyperventilating headlines over US-Iranian tensions are passé, a tired pattern of media efforts to sabotage, discredit and undermine President Trump’s foreign-policy position in moments of crisis. POTUS summarized the dangers neatly; “With all of the Fake and Made Up News out there, Iran can have no idea what is actually going on!” The Fourth Estate playing fifth column is old hat, but most don’t realize the complicity of D.C.’s foreign-policy establishment in propagating these dangerous and seditious slanders – lifetime foreign-policy experts well aware of the dangers they’re exacerbating. The media’s role as echo-chambers and amplifiers for these professionals cloak them from criticism, blame falling upon the ignorance of journalists rather than the darker truth of deliberate sedition.
The deeper patterns behind last weeks headlines (and every similar imbroglio that preceded it) we must understand the breadth and scope of this foreign policymaker establishment, how the media serves as their mouthpieces, and how the vast discrepancy between the media’s portrayal of current events and reality is thus linked to the witting and deliberate ill will of that semi-invisible establishment. It all starts with the culprits themselves, who they are, and how they came to be.
The Establishment “Blob,” a.k.a The Oft-Quoted “Experts”
That America’s political leaders are a self-contained caste of the wealthy and powerful who take active measures to perpetuate their oligarchy (as evidenced by the Ivy League admissions scandals) is common knowledge after the 2016 election revealed a political-spectrum spanning establishment united to resist the outsider usurper (i.e. Trump.) Less commonly understood is how this caste includes the government bureaucracy itself, the mid-level managers and paper-shufflers whom translate Presidential policy into action. The District of Columbia; overwhelmingly populated by the bureaucratic class; consistently vote 90% Democratic, and in 2016’s Democratic primary voted for establishment candidate Hillary by 77.95%. These staffers often retire to foreign policy think-tanks, who’s subsequent pontifications on international relations and the proper conduct thereof are taught to the next crop of post-grad students angling for their own jobs in D.C. Josiah Tsui’s excellent breakdown deserves reading in full, but his summary of six main institutions (think tanks, government agencies, universities (post-grad policy schools, especially), media outlets and multilateral organizations) neatly illustrates the wide scope of the bureaucratic establishment. Young students are educated and influenced by these organizations; graduate to work in the bureaucracy for decades, rubbing shoulders with the similarly-minded all the while, then retire to think tanks or post-grad teaching positions to continue the cycle.
Calling this “the swamp” fails to evoke the sheer inertia of groupthink at play, unlike Ben Rhodes’s term “the blob”, which stuck (which the Blob didn’t appreciate, as Tsui points out.) This “foreign policy establishment” was begun to wage the secretive shadow-wars of the Cold War and the academic/bureaucratic feedback loop has been building it up ever since.
“Experts” and “Officials” – Media Complicity
The Blob’s scale and all-encompassing scope is largely responsible for the media’s reliance on it – journalists need someone to quote, and most every academically-sourced “expert” is a product of The Blob. This recent Business Insider story on the Iran situation is a case-study; the “experts” cited include:
- A senior research fellow from Chatham House, a London-based think tank
- A research fellow from Brookings Institution, a left-wing think tank based in D.C.,
- A professor from Brandeis University who’s also a former Obama administration official.
Some experts show up more often than others as they’ve come to specialize in providing media commentary. Fox News turns often turns to Harry J. Kazianis for foreign-policy commentary; unsurprisingly he also runs think-tank The National Interest’s publishing arm (think opinion site/blog.) Similarly, left-leaning media prefers “the wonkosphere,” think tank/policy experts whom write for the blog/podcast “arms control wonk.” “Wonk” Jeffery Lewis also wrote “The 2020 Commission Report,” a masturbatory fantasy of a knuckle-dragging Trump caricature “stumbling into” nuclear war with North Korea. In short, there’s a market for publicly-facing foreign policy media, analysis and op-eds; some Blobbers specialize in it.
Then there’s the pernicious habit of anonymous sourcing; from whence the current crop of journalistic attributive phrases springs; “administration officials,” “former officials,” and of course the ever popular suffix “familiar with the thinking of,” oft combined in increasingly questionable formulations. Americans increasingly believe the media makes lies up wholesale, and sometimes statements attributed to “anonymous officials” are outright lies, as evidenced by the Pottinger incident. The New York Times claimed a “senior White House official” said Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un would be “impossible” to hold on June 12, prompting Trump’s decrying the source as false. The Times named the source – Matthew Pottinger, who’d been giving a confidential media briefing – and crowed about Trump’s “falsehood,” despite their own article revealing Pottinger had never used the word “impossible.” By any standard, this was outright lying. Most astounding was the Times’s triumphal admission of such; so blind was their self-righteous faith. (Incidentally, the summit did indeed happen on June 12th, proving the Times wrong in putative assumption as well as fact.)
Don’t assume all claims sourced to “administration officials” are lies of this stripe, however – with D.C. voting 90% establishment Democrat, most are likely ideological allies of the media venting spleen directly to reporters unable to verify their claims even if they wanted to (which they don’t.) Young journalists are routinely taught that quoting only people whom agree with you is tantamount to fabricating lies; mainstream journalism routinely and deliberately ignores this rule. The link between leftist career bureaucrats actively sabotaging the President’s policies and the media whom serve as their mouthpiece is no supposition, but established fact after the New York Times published an op-ed from an anonymous administration official openly boasting about his and others seditious efforts to undermine the President’s policy.
In short, the newspapers are more often publishing the lies of the Blob itself, not their own inventions. They need the excuse of an actual source; if only to maintain their own delusions of journalistic honesty, and the Blob need them as a mouthpiece – now more than ever.
Trump’s ascendancy is the final piece of this puzzle. As Joe Hockey, the Australian Ambassador to the US, so accurately summarized (start at 49:14,) Trump entered office owing the establishment – including the Blob – nothing, as the entire establishment had vigorously opposed him. Trump’s mandate comes entirely from the voting electorate, the people, which means that the establishment (and the Blob) cannot reign him in by pressuring Congressmen to withdraw support (lest they share Jeff Flake’s fate.) Stopping Trump can only be done by turning his voters against him, so the Blob’s only remaining weapon is the media itself.
And the Blob desperately wants to stop Trump.
Anathema to the Dogma – Trump’s Foreign Policy
Sir Basil H. Liddell-Hart said “[The] aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy.” Nuclear-age battle being infinitely decisive meant losing the strategic positioning game was guaranteed defeat (e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis.) Defeat would be total – the vaporization of one’s country, people, entire culture and ideology in thermonuclear fire.
The Blob formed by fighting this strategic chess-battle for generations, and the existential stakes saw many horrifying policies justified in the name of survival. Toppling democratic governments and installing dictatorial butchers is well-known, but less appreciated is the brutal realities of foreign diplomacy for smaller nations caught in a showdown of titans. Admission to the shelter of America’s “nuclear umbrella” came with big strings attached, nations having their foreign policy dictated to them by America enough that they felt like client states more than allies – but given the grave stakes, it could’ve hardly been otherwise.
The Soviet Union’s collapse and China’s subsequent rise has forever banished this world, and the consequences are being felt. NATO’s armies are neglected ghosts of their former selves, feeling little pressure with America still shouldering Cold War commitments and Russia’s conscript, obsolete army backed by a GDP equal to Canada’s. China’s meteoric economic rise has it bursting with newfound power and hell-bent on staking its claim in the world against the imperialistic western powers that wronged it long ago, following the footsteps of Imperial Japan before it.
Five decades of established international relations, diplomacy, and foreign policy thinking has been made violently and abruptly obsolete, and the inertia is too great for the Blob to change course.
Most of Trump’s foreign policy is simply addressing things as they are, as opposed to the Blob’s policies optimized for how they were. The one-sided economic arrangements which once bought our allies compliance are just coffer-draining wastes. Most of NATO’s largest members now face no real threat from Russia and shortchange their armies accordingly, leaving Poland and the Baltics out to dry. Europe has little to fear from China and Iran’s regional ambitions, but much to gain from trade with them. Trump’s foreign policy – hell, Trump’s tweets acknowledge these realities whilst the Blob, as heard through the media and their own publications (Foreign Policy et al) seemingly cannot.
Produced by a closed-feedback loop decades in the making, these people are accustomed to their inherited role as America’s helmsmen, as trained and educated experts. For the unwashed proles to have chosen a leader equal or superior in faculties to their army of ivory-tower intellectuals is simply unimaginable to them. Recall the existential stakes of the Cold War; the gravity of those duties informs the Blob’s institutional memory and self-image.
Nothing showcased this better then the Blob’s earth-shaking rage when Trump announced the withdrawal of ground troops from Syria. Democratic politicians, think tanks, Fox News anchors, Reuters editors, and many individual foreign policy analysts all screeched the same strident line: that Turkey (our own NATO ally) would “slaughter” Kurds in Syria en-masse as soon as the last US boot left Syrian sand. The sheer psychosis wasn’t just “Twitter as usual,” but a true bellowing roar from the Blob itself – as evidenced by SecDef Mattis’s prompt resignation letter, which also cited abandonment of allies.
The staggering stupidity was obvious even then. As Trump explicitly threatened, the US could impose devastating economic consequences on Turkey for attempted genocide even without military action, never-mind the ability of the Kurdish YPG to defend itself; a battle-hardened fighting force that’d borne the brunt of anti-ISIS operations for years, with US training, equipping and support. Six months later, the prophesied Kurdish genocide is conspicuously absent.
The usual cavalcade of slanders were dutifully regurgitated vis a vis Trump’s decision being the impulsive declaration of a mental toddler – claims even Foreign Policy magazine ridiculed – but it was none other than The Atlantic which explicitly identified the ideological tunnel-vision of the Blob:
“But one false note is being struck again and again in coverage of Mattis’s departure: the treatment of U.S. withdrawal from Syria as though it is a self-evidently reckless, borderline-illegitimate course.”
After obligatory denunciations of the ideological infidel, the Atlantic’s Condor Friedersdorf concludes with this:
“Even so, disdain for Trump and excessive deference to the foreign-policy establishment has caused much of the news media to err in their coverage—to treat the risky, costly, unconstitutional policy of maintaining a troop presence in Syria indefinitely as though it is obviously best, and to fail to treat the withdrawal of troops as a legitimate, reasonable position, even though it fulfills a campaign promise, enjoys popular support, remedies ongoing illegality, and has many plausible arguments that recommend it over quite unappealing alternatives.”
When The Atlantic comes to Trump’s defense, the situation is grave indeed.
What’s Actually Going On With Iran
With the above in mind, exploring the actual geopolitical situation with Iran and contrasting it with the Blob’s takes (as expressed directly or through their media surrogates) should be revealing.
Trump’s Iran policy finds its roots in the abandonment of Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deal (JCPOA,) which forked over millions of dollars to Iran and withdrew punishing economic sanctions in exchange for Iran’s halting nuclear development programs. Unfortunately, this left Iran free to pursue its regional goals by financing, supporting and supplying terrorist and militia groups, including building missile factories in Syria to supply Hezbollah and Hamas rockets to shell Israel with, establishing an overland supply route through northern Iraq to southern Syria to aid same, and most crucially, supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen with various weapons, including Scud missiles and drones.
This situation was untenable for two reasons. One, the Israelis were not going to stand for it, and Israel has the demonstrated willingness to perform pre-emptive strikes on Iran and the means to do it – including nuclear weapons. Israel’s nigh-constant air raids into Syria to destroy Iranian supply shipments and missile factories have already exacerbated tensions at times – and yet it’s only a preview of what could come. The second relates to geography. Consider:
Iran’s shore borders the Strait of Hormuz, controlling access to the Persian Gulf and the constant flow of oil tankers that feeds the world’s economy. Threatening to close the strait has long been a cornerstone of Iranian diplomatic saber-rattling, and sailing a carrier battle group through the strait while daring Iran to so much as sneeze at it has long been the US response.
Now look at Yemen, and note how it borders the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb which links them. Anything passing through the Suez Canal – one of the world’s most important chokepoints for maritime commerce – must pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. Multiple attacks by Houthi forces on shipping in the strait has made the Iranian threat to this global trade artery explicit and actual.
Attacks to date include the successful missile attack on the Saudi HSV-2 Swift (with what was most likely an Iranian “Noor,” domestic copy of a Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missile,) three separate missile attacks on USS Mason, (whom successfully defended herself on all occasions), and the successful attack on Saudi frigate Al Madinah with a remote-controlled kamikaze drone speedboat, which may be the same weapon recently used to damage some Saudi oil tankers.
Compared to the long-standing Iranian threat to the strait of Hormuz – which has never been backed by force – the spate of missile and drone attacks, including three separate missile attacks on a United States warship, illustrate how proxies give Iran freedom to strike without fear of reprisals.
Withdrawing from the JCPOA to re-apply economic sanctions to halt Iran’s terrorism-by-proxy is already working and working well, as even the Washington Post admits, and the current military saber-rattling is an extension of this policy – signaling to Iran that the United States will hold Iran directly responsible for attacks conducted by its cats-paws, which is why “Iranian proxy forces” have been mentioned in every breath by administration officials. That this is a warning to Iran is also evidenced by Trump’s (typical) policy of flexing muscle while leaving the diplomatic door open; as seen in his May 15th tweet saying “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.” The current situation (and subsequent signaling) was triggered by intelligence of imminent Iranian proxy attack; but this is incidental; even if Iran’s not reaching for their go-to tool now, they eventually will; this message was going to be sent.
Key to Trump’s signaling strategy is the bushy-mustached personage of John Bolton himself, world-infamous as a key architect of the Iraqi War. Bolton’s fearsome reputation as warmonger stems from both his long-standing hardline stance on Iran and his evidenced competence as a bureaucrat, which is what his detractors fear most – Bolton can twist the Federal bureaucracy into compliance and make things happen.
Bolton’s consequent reputation as Death Incarnate – endlessly inflated by hyperventilating psychotics in Mother Jones, Slate and sundry – makes him tremendously useful as a scarecrow; Bolton is the saber Trump rattles. This lends Trump’s threats credibility despite his obvious distaste for Middle East entanglements; all he need do is let go of Bolton’s leash.
When one considers this succinct ten-paragraph summation of the current situation, the media/Blob complex’s inability to mention even half of it becomes rather conspicuous.
Lies, Libel and Lunatics
As usual, media malfeasance includes both reliable standby slanders used for decades and story-specific cherrypicking that studiously ignores obvious explanations to shape the narrative. The ever-popular “POTUS is a moron being puppetmastered by his cabinet” (last used against Bush) is in full effect, with claims that Trump simply can’t hold his underling’s leashes a close second. As usual, they’re sourced entirely to anonymous “officials” and their spleen-venting (i.e. lies.) The voice of the Blob is much clearer in this New Yorker piece, who’s author reads Trump’s intentions crystal-clear and identifies the media/Blob’s hysteria for the psychosis it is, but still fears Trump stumbling into war because he’s “blown up the old way of American foreign-policymaking,” and he no longer has Blob-educated advisers to hand to tell him what to do. This Washington Post article is a shockingly honest treatise from the Blob’s POV; explaining how Presidents traditionally rely on their advisers – whom are all products of the Blob – to make their decisions, before complaining about Trump’s penchant for ignoring experts and over-ruling their opinions. This article, in a nutshell, encompasses the complaints of the Blob entire; right down to Bolton being the black sheep of their fraternity.
With this considered, the media’s cherrypicking is better understood as deliberate sabotage of the President’s credibility; the Blob’s effort to punish decisions made without its input. Included here is every fearmongering effort to compare a sea-control campaign against Iran’s fleet of glorified speedboats to the Iraqi ground war, from the New York Times’s insinuating comparison to this frothing screed from a card-carrying member of the blob itself. Reporting on the “skepticism” of our alleged “allies” is used to undermine the administration’s case, whilst ignoring our European allies recent flaunting of US economic sanctions on Iran to continue their profitable trade, which would cast doubt on the sincerity of their skepticism. (The EU refused to budge on this to Pompeo’s face during his trip to Brussels just last week.) It also neatly ignores that the accuracy of the intelligence doesn’t matter when all Trump’s doing is defensive signaling, because either way Iran would deny everything and the message would be sent. It’s meant to invite comparisons to Operation Iraqi Freedom’s lead-up; i.e. building casus belli for large-scale land war. It’s a combination of the Blob’s incomprehension of concepts like limited force and short-term regional objectives, and a punitive effort to control Trump by terrifying the public with specters of the long, embroiling conflicts the blob itself is responsible for creating every time they’ve held the helm. Even after Iraq, their confidence is unshaken; the strategy is unquestionable, if only their expert fraternity are allowed to implement the tactics.
As I type, both Washington and Tehran have declared their defensive intent; any Iranian plots have doubtlessly been abandoned with a carrier battle group breathing down their neck and said vessel’s retreated to a politely ominous distance. Mere days after wall-to-wall hysterics over Trump’s leading us to imminent doom at Iranian hands, the media’s quoting think-tankers to mock Trump for looking weak for not following through on threats of force, or casting Trump’s willingness to negotiate as a “plaintive” plea.
Trump must be wrong, no matter what he does, until he heeds the high priests and allows them to sit at his right hand once more – damn the consequences, damn the country, and double damn the sailors and Marines who will die if the waters they’ve muddied conceals a closing shark.
The Old Guard On Defense
The Blob’s behavior is strikingly similar to their media compatriots – not just in their self-righteous conviction in their own wisdom and higher purpose, but also their defensiveness. Trump has cast them from the palace and their position of privilege, and they’re reacting much like the media did when likewise wounded – with panic. The media meltdown over Trump eating a steak dinner without informing the media is Exhibit A. Both cases illustrate that experts are only human, individuals swept up and surrounded by institutional ideologies that have pervaded their entire adult lives; and academic achievement imparts knowledge regardless of the recipient’s intellectual ability to apply it.
There are sane experts yet existing in this fraternity, but with the Blob’s public outreach filtered through a viciously biased media, they oft go unremarked. There’s also young up-and-comers challenging the Blob’s dusty scripture, they often go ignored. If we seek these thinkers out, amplify them, empower them by inviting them to our platforms, we can begin bending the Blob to the realities of our new multipolar world. The vindictive establishment is more than useless; they’re actively harmful and willfully seditious. It’s not enough to neuter their power by letting them sink with the dying press they’re chained to; Presidents do need advisers from somewhere and the current well is poisoned. If we’re to free our Republic of the kinds of people and institutions that have given us two decades of bloody and largely fruitless war, we need to supplant or replace the foreign policy establishment with one that works.
And if current events are any indication, we’d better do it fast.