New Eastern Outlook
by Seth Ferris
Donald Trump has no choice but to detour from the obviously failed foreign policies of his predecessors. The Middle East is a firestorm waiting to happen, and the death count in Syria is at least 500,000 and still rising. Therefore the selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, subject to the usual Congressional hearings, rubber stamping, tells us a lot about how far Trump’s campaign rhetoric will be reflected in practice. Even John McCain and others who initially screamed foul of this choice are backing down with their rhetoric, so not to totally lose face with the American public.
Tillerson will potentially become the most powerful person in the new Government. However he has not come to this position overnight. Tillerson may not be a household name yet, but that is because he has proven more useful to the US behind the scenes, accountable to no one, than he has been trusted to be in a public role to date.
Rex Tillerson is not in the mould of Secretaries of State of bygone years – the likes of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who have been compromised by their associations with the System Behind the System, which does what it wants regardless of who is in the White House and has the resources to do so. Tillerson is himself an integral part part of the System Behind the System. Appointing him gives a blank cheque for that system to do openly what it has done under cover of legality until now.
Is Trump unaware that it is the System Behind the System, acting independently, which has created the failed foreign policy adventures of the past two and a half decades? If he is going to drain the swamp, as he promised, why does he want to appoint another member of it to run the show? If you ever wondered what Chicago would have been like if Al Capone was the actual Mayor instead of merely controlling the elected officials, you may be about to find out.
Pledge of allegiance
Tillerson does not need an army of gangsters behind him. He is the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, the giant oil company which controls much of the world’s legitimate energy resources. His diplomatic experience has been gained by negotiating and fulfilling pipeline contracts in different parts of the world, rather than through any form of public service, of which he has done none whatsoever.
This appointment is therefore in line with Trump’s vision of a USA in which the politicians are all corrupt and people in the “real world” of business are more trustworthy. But exactly who has Exxon Mobil been working for these past forty years, while Tillerson was embedding himself in it and rising through the ranks?
Big business still has a glamorous image in the US, and this is what enabled Trump to rise to the top. To an extent, the successful businessman still embodies the American Dream, and thus appeals to the common man. Therefore it is widely accepted that big business serves the people, regardless of what it actually does.
Former British diplomat Craig Murray now goes round the world saying that all the wars being fought are about which energy company controls the resources that country has, rather than any political issue, and that lives should not be sacrificed to make a few big energy corporations richer. Throughout his campaign Trump said that it was bad for the US to be involved in all these expensive foreign wars, and that putting America first means stopping this practice. But if we accept this argument, who are all these wars being fought to benefit? The American people, or companies, such as Exxon Mobil?
Much has been made of Exxon Mobil’s links with Russia, implying that Tillerson’s main role will be to cut US-friendly energy deals with that country. At present, the US’s strategic partners, including OPEC, are encouraging overproduction to get into an “oil price” pissing contest with Russia, and this has allowed all kinds of side deals to come to fruition. So is Tillerson really going to use oil to serve the American people, or, as he has done to date, expect America’s interests to serve his own?
We know that Trump is not a supporter of the idea of climate change, and does not want to spend money addressing it. Exxon Mobil does accept the general scientific argument, and has supported the most recent agreements on the matter. But it also spent a great many years sponsoring climate change denial activities. Why? Because it had studied the issue itself, and concluded that climate change was real but would harm Exxon Mobil’s profits if accepted.
Not only does the System Behind the System provoke and continue wars to gain control of energy resources for corporations. It has a long history of recognising the facts about different partner governments and similarly denying them until it wants them gone – at which point they are suddenly revealed to a public which already knew. What Exxon Mobil has done over climate change on Tillerson’s watch is no different to the CIA installing and propping up South American dictators by sending them intelligence officers and torture trainers, refusing to publicly admit that these governments are doing the opposite of what US allies are supposed to do.
As CEO of Exxon Mobil Tillerson has long been a significant part of the “swamp” Trump has pledged to drain. The public officials who were part of it were subject to at least nominal accountability, he was merely accountable to stockholders who could be bought ad sold at will. It might be argued that making Tillerson a public official now makes him and the System Behind the System more accountable. But Trump said he would drain the swamp, not try and make it his own plaything, and that he would put America first, not make it ever-more dependent on the whims of corporations which answer to the System Behind the System, not here-today-gone-in-a-few-years presidents.
Confusing Smoke Signals
By appointing Tillerson Trump has signalled that he simply wants to remove oversight of the swamp rather than drain it. Rex Tillerson represents all its filthiest aspects, and has been part of it all his life. He has demonstrated no interest in stopping wars and interventions and will support whatever position supports his bottom line, no matter how wrong it is and what the consequences are for everyone else. Could he have risen so high at Exxon Mobil if it were otherwise?
So what is Tillerson’s qualification for being Secretary of State? He’s very rich, and as such belongs to the circles Trump moves in and favours. He gives Trump insider access to other parts of the swamp, though merely as a paying guest with no vote. But most of all he is a public relations stunt for a man whose whole life has been built on bluff, bluster and imaginary money.
Trump campaigned on two principles: everything I say is good because I say it is, and everything I say is true because I say it is. Tillerson’s qualification for the job of Secretary of State is not that he brings something new and better to the table. It is that Trump says he does, and therefore he is beyond criticism.
It is common for governments and presidents to preset a worldview which only they have. The more they fail, the more they present their failures as successes. It will be remembered that George W. Bush published a list of his achievements on the day he left office. This was widely ridiculed because no other outgoing president had done this, even the most inept or disgraced ones. The public knew they had done at least some worthwhile things, even if they were now unpopular, and did not need to be told.
Usually however these fantasy presentations emerge when a government has been in office for some time and there are many things it can be blamed for. Of course any government will emphasize the positive, even if this involves massaging figures and ignoring big issues which affect a lot of people. But generally it plays this game when it wants to disguise failures – not before it has even taken office, and has no actions of its own to disguise.
Trump sold the American people a vision which bears little relation to reality, just as he has throughout his business career. He got away with it because people don’t want to have to address those realities. US manufacturing industry wasn’t purely harmed by trendy governments, foreigners and immigrants: the US itself, and individual workers, played a part in that process. Muslim terrorists didn’t come into existence because the US intervened in foreign wars but because it controlled other countries, and their resources, in peacetime, and individual American turned a blind eye to this as long as they could fill up their cars.
Trump needs to surround himself with people who can likewise sell things and make a lot of money doing so, as this is supposed to guarantee that the product is good. With such a senior executive from the System Behind the System running his foreign policy
Trump has an international poster boy of the idea that whatever he says is good must be good. He has succeeded in doing what the System Behind the System wanted all along – removing even the basis of debate over anything it does, because if everything depends on whether Trump says it’s good or not, there is no argument.
The endless parade
Tillerson is just one of many. It is already clear that the US people have voted to remove the guarantees they thought they had in their fabled Constitution, and allow increasing numbers of very dubious anti-state actors to start openly running the show without even the semblance of playing by the rules.
One name very familiar to global US-watchers is that of the mercenary firm Blackwater, which has been implicated in the illicit transfers of arms and personnel to many conflicts. It was founded by Erik Prince, who has advocated reestablishing multiple versions of the notorious Phoenix Program, a notorious and effective CIA death squad from the Vietnam War era. Prince is advising the Trump transition team, and his wife was in his campaign HQ on election night.
Prince is also helping vet Cabinet picks. One of those is his sister, prospective Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been called back for further questioning by Democratic members of her Senate confirmation committee because she did not make her full financial records available prior to her hearing. DeVos wants to eliminate public schools but confirmed at her hearing that she has never had to be part of the public school system herself and has nothing but vague ideas about how to stop fraudulent private educational schemes ripping people off. One such scheme was Trump University, and the President of the United States might yet face many more actions from the people he cheated unless he can take control of the legal system too, which he will certainly try.
Trump is trying to Make America Great Again by cutting America out of the equation. He has decided that the worst people in the country make him look good, so is filling his administration with them to somehow make the actual United States, the one real people really live in, go away. Inside Trump’s Shadow National Security Council … it’s understood that Bannon, Kushner and Priebus have the most influence with Trump and the most decision-making power. washingtonpost.com. Ronald Reagan was often accused of bring the world to the edge of destruction with his warlike rhetoric. Compare that to this.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.