A major obstacle for Trump’s drive towards one-man rule is the bureaucracy in the key agencies of the US government, two of which are the State Department and, even more important, the National Security Council (NSC). This was shown by the witnesses who testified in the recent House impeachment hearings, witnesses such as Alex Vindman (NSC) and Marie Yovanovitch (State Department). They and others like them have built careers around carrying out the “national interest”, which means the interests of US capitalism, especially internationally.
National Security Council
Especially important is the NSC, whose chief is not even confirmed by the Senate. The NSC as a body is similar to a president’s chief of staff. Where the latter is a gate-keeper between the president and all her or his major appointees (cabinet members, etc.), the NSC plays a similar role between the president and all the major federal agencies. It controls communication in both directions, and coordinates and brings together all the relevant government bodies from the Pentagon to the State Department and feeds their information and views to the president. According to Wikipedia, it is “the principal forum used by the President of the United States for consideration of national security, military, and foreign policy matters with senior national security advisors and cabinet officials… The Council also serves as the President’s principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies.” According to the NY Times the NSC “sets the government’s agenda” regarding foreign and domestic policy.
The same Times article also says we are now seeing the “trumpification” of the NSC. ‘Mr. Trump certainly tried to conquer the [NSC] staff, naming a loyalist retired lieutenant general, Michael Flynn, as his first national security adviser and his nationalist adviser Steve Bannon to a high-level committee within it,’ the Times writes. ‘The message was, as a Trump hire told one member of the staff, “The president doesn’t care about the things you care about, and the sooner that you know about it, the better.”’
Also under the present NSC head Robert O’Brien, about a third of the NSC staff has been cut, all the better to control those who remain.
Something similar has been happening in the State Department, where the number of career ambassadors has been reduced by 60%, and those who remain have often been humiliated by being assigned “menial” jobs. While some ambassadors have always been political appointees, Trump has vastly increased this tendency. As veteran State Department diplomat Steven Kashkett writes “The current U.S. ambassadors to the U.K., France, Israel, South Africa, and the United Nations are, respectively, two current or former sports team owners, a bankruptcy lawyer, a handbag designer, and the wife of a coal magnate.” Like the NSC gateway role, the State Department ambassadors and staff play a similar role between the US government and that of the country to which they are assigned. They are the key communicator in both directions. “Our enemies rejoice when the White House sends out naïve amateur ambassadors whom they can manipulate,” says Kashkett.
Even under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the State Department budget was cut by almost a third, but it’s not only that. An opinion piece in the NY Times complains that the result is “an incoherent policy toward China and North Korea, and lesser failures elsewhere” They ask regarding Tillerson: “What did he do to forestall war with North Korea, manage the rise of China, check Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy, lay the groundwork for postwar stability in Syria and Iraq, and protect America’s international standing?”
There is a personal interest involved here: As the NY Times writes: “A smaller staff mean fewer potential witnesses and fewer questions about Mr. Trump’s priorities.” The same holds true for the NSC. In other words, fewer Vindman’s and Yovanovitch’s.
There is also the overt political roles. For example,Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, caused a major stir shortly after he arrived in that country and, in an interview with Breitbart, made comments that were widely perceived as aiming to make links with Germany’s semi-fascist AfD party. And as for the NSC, it is now being led by the apartheid South Africa trained lawyer, Robert O’Brien.
But there is a wider overall policy also involved. With the hollowing out of the State Department, foreign policy tends to be set and
carried out purely by and through one individual: Donald Trump, and his most trusted emissaries, like Rudy Giuliani, Jared Kushner and Donald jr. The NY Times reports: “The [National Security] council is now tailor made for a president who sees foreign policy in transactional, bilateral terms, as either decisions to make alone or deals to be cut with another head of state.” What is true for the NSC is also true for the State Department.
Inevitably, when government policy flows through one individual – the president – such policy becomes subordinated at least in part to the personal, including financial, interests of that president. That is doubly true in the case of this petty little money grubber, Trump, whose subservience to Putin is mainly due to the fact that he’s been a money launderer for Putin’s oligarchy for decades. Trump also has similar “conflicts of interest” elsewhere. In fact, he even openly said: “I have a little conflict of interest [regarding Turkey] ‘cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” He was referring to the Trump twin towers in that city.
Capitalist democracy vs. one-man rule
From reasons of simple competence to those of establishing and carrying out policies in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole vs. those of a single individual, we see why the capitalist class in general prefers to rule through “democracy” rather than one-man dictatorship, AKA Bonapartism. Once again, it is a symptom of the crisis of US capitalism that they are slowly slip-sliding towards the latter. Whether they will be able to arrest this slide is open to question.