U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist came to the defense of the administration’s foreign policy, denying it is either isolationist or Islamophobic, while taking repeated swipes at “foreign policy elites” for creating a mess he said must now be cleaned up.
“I don’t think there’s anything that President Trump has done in this administration that makes us look isolationist at all,” Steve Bannon said Monday in Washington.
As proof, he pointed to a counterterror speech the president gave this past May at a summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, adding it “should have put to bed [the notion] that President Trump was an Islamophobe.”
Bannon, who left the administration in August, also credited Trump with engineering the collapse of the Islamic State terror group’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria by changing the U.S. strategy from one of attrition to annihilation.
But the former chief White House strategist admitted much of the fight was carried out by U.S. partners on the ground, including Iraqi and Kurdish forces, which he said would serve as a model for future U.S. actions.
“That’s once again what President Trump is trying to get across — it’s not going to have to be America that has to lead here," he said. “It’s what’s in the vital national security interests of the United States is what you should commit to.”
Bannon's remarks Monday, coming at the conclusion of a conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute, stood in stark contrast to the thoughts of two other prominent, former officials who spoke earlier in the day.
“We’re living in a world where there are a huge number of flashpoints…probably more flashpoints than we’ve seen since the end of World War II,” warned Leon Panetta, a former secretary of defense. “It demands very strong U.S. leadership."
Panetta, who also served as CIA director in the Obama administration, further warned President Trump to “lower the volume of rhetoric” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
The former commander of U.S. Central Command and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, retired General David Petraeus, also noted U.S. leadership is vital, especially in the fight against terrorism.
“The U.S. invariably has to lead,” Petraeus said. “We have the assets that are proving to be the most valuable of all.”
But Bannon rejected such criticism, blaming “geniuses of both political parties” for creating what he called a slew of messes, from North Korea to the long-running war in Afghanistan.
“President Trump in his whole candidacy from the very beginning … was a repudiation of the elites,” he said. “A repudiation of this concept we’ve had of this rules-based international order of which the American middle class and working class underwrite with their taxes and more importantly with the blood of their children.”