US President Donald Trump  speaking next to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts
US President Donald Trump speaking next to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

In the past, Donald Trump criticized the war in Iraq and US military operations in Syria, stating that the US should focus on fixing itself rather than nation-building abroad. During his presidential campaign, Trump played up his alleged resistance to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and heavily criticized Bush and Blair for getting the Unites States into the Iraq war, calling it “…a terrible terrible thing that happened.” Statements like these seemed to hint at a non-interventionist foreign policy stance and seemed to suggest that a Trump presidency could be a detour from the neo-con agenda of endless imperial war. This made me guardedly optimistic following his victory last week.

Though Trump slammed the war in Iraq, he named former CIA director, James Woolsey, as his senior adviser on national security issues during his campaign. Woolsey was an ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq and was one of the first American officials to blame Iraq for 9/11. This does not seem to bode well for diminishing or ending the war on terror. At the same time, it is worth nothing that Woolsey is more or less a pre-neocon conservative. Woolsey’s conservatism and realpolitik pre-dates the neocon era, and his policy perspectives are not necessarily in keeping with the neocon tome.

Unlike Hilary Clinton, George W. Bush and numerous others, Woolsey is not a huge fan of Saudi Arabia, for instance. He has argued “that reducing America’s reliance on foreign sources of energy will help the United States break with oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia who bankroll radical Islamic ideology.” A possible reduction in relations with, and oil-dependence on, Saudi Arabia—the US’ biggest imperial ally in the Middle East—could be good for anyone that wishes to see a reduction in US imperial aggression in the region, as well as a reduction of the US’s covert support—through imperial vassals like Saudi Arabia and Turkey—for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. But given Woolsey’s ardent support for the war on terror and military spending, a reduction in US-Saudi relations may not necessarily guarantee a cessation or reduction of the US imperial war machine.

The latest shake up to Trump’s anti-establishment potential comes from reports that since last week’s election victory, at least five former George W. Bush advisers will be possible picks for Trump’s cabinet or other top positions. They include “…Stephen Hadley, a Bush national security adviser, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who developed interrogation programs for terrorism suspects, Zalmay Khalilzad, who served in multiple capacities, including ambassador to Iraq; John Bolton, a hawkish former UN envoy who’s called for bombing Iran; and Fran Townsend, Bush’s homeland security adviser.”

None of these five individuals represent the “alternative right” or the isolationist and non-interventionist agenda of paleo-conservatives, two sentiments Trump is thought to represent. But it remains to be seen if any of these Bush-era aides will end up in Trump’s Administration.

This is very much a “feeling out” phase and just because names are being floated around does not mean that they will end up in the administration. We also do not know who is releasing these names. Some neoconservatives have actually personally approached Trump’s team with offers to work with the administration, only to be turned away. One example is Eliot Cohen, a hard line neoconservative and war on terror aficionado. While Cohen was very anti-Trump during the presidential campaign, he “reached out” to him and his transition team after his win, and even advised “young conservatives” (i.e., modern neocons) to do the same. After being turned away by Trump’s transition team, Cohen took to social media to denounce Trump and his team as arrogant and angry (note: that Facebook post has since been taken down).

That Cohen was turned away by the Trump transition team could be a positive sign, or, at the very least, could signify fractures within the establishment. As I have stated elsewhere, the establishment is not a monolith and there may be divisions and factions within the current establishment.

James Woolsey very recently said in an interview with Russia Today that the administration will likely be made up of “individuals who would normally be regarded as part of the establishment, but who are willing to work for him, with him to make some changes in American policy.” Woolsey went on to say that, “as a man who was opposed by both parties and major media outlets during the election, Trump has endured to spark a ‘populist spirit across the US.’” And that, “positive change” under the Trump presidency can spread beyond US borders, stating that “there are opportunities for former adversaries such as the US and Russia to work together on some things,” particularly noting the Islamic State (formerly ISIL/ISIS).

What that that may or may not actually mean remains to be seen, of course. But it could suggest, as I argued recently, that, “there may be divisions and factions within the global elite that do indeed oppose the present and historical direction of the global establishment.” To reiterate in this post, “Is that what Trump represents, the division within the global power structure? Does he have friends in high places that wish to ‘revamp’ the current establishment?”

While my thoughts on Woolsey are still unclear, the fact that he is open to positive relations with Russia hints to a potentially saner foreign policy than that of the Obama-era or what we could have expected with Hilary Clinton.

Presently, so much remains uncertain and up in the air. A lot hangs on who ends up in the Trump administration. The people he chooses to fill his cabinet will be more than just the company Trump keeps; they will be the individuals advising him on all matters of politics and governance.

Given that Trump does not have a background in politics or diplomacy (or intelligence), and is not an experienced career politician, one can expect that he may rely on them a lot. If he packs his administration with neo-cons, their influence will be substantial. And if that is the case, it could mean the end of Trump’s anti-establishment potential, before it even had a chance to take off. It remains to be seen.

Ghada Chehade

Dr. Ghada Chehade is an independent analyst, writer and spoken word artist/poet. She holds a PhD from McGill University. Her research on the war on terror received the national Award for Best Dissertation in the Field of Rhetoric, Writing Studies and Discourse Analysis. Her poems have been published online and in several books.