Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist close to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” campaign, a failed effort within the Republican Party in 2016 to prevent Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination for president. He has been called Haley’s “eyes and ears” in Washington and the adviser she relies on most. Lerner recently received a lot of attention when he was selected by Vice President Mike Pence to be his national security adviser, a decision which reportedly angered President Trump. Soon after Trump’s response was reported—and even though reports were that Pence had reassured the president about him—Lerner backed out of the post.
Zealous anti-Islamic political activist Pamela Geller is co-founder with Robert Spencer of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America advocacy coalitions, both of which have been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-Muslim hate groups. She recently revived the debunked myth of “no-go zones” in Europe. “Muslim immigration is tied directly to Islamic terror,” she said. “If there’s no Muslim immigration, you would not have Islamic terror. The more Muslim immigration, the more Islamic terror you have, and the more of the Muslim zones—these no-go zones.”
Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian based at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a prominent anti-Trump Republican and a leading advocate for U.S. intervention overseas. “Staying in Syria appears to be another one of those moves—like not abandoning the Iran nuclear deal or not imposing tariffs—that was forced on Trump by his advisers and that he is reversing now that he has decided to stop listening to people who know what they are talking about.” Regarding Russia, Boot recently said, “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has remained a highly influential figure in Republican Party politics and is often credited with a leading role in the party’s sharp rightward shift. A staunch hawk in foreign affairs, he believes the United States faces an existential threat from Islamic terrorists who “want to kill us because they want to kill us.” Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.
Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran, an outspoken advocate for aggressive U.S. action against Iran, and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies. Since leaving Congress, Kirk has worked to link the issues of North Korea and Iran, writing “With the clear understanding that Iran has played a central role in helping North Korea advance its missile technology, it’s time for America to show that our rhetoric in response to rogue states is matched with concrete action.”
Kimberly Kagan is a military historian and the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. She and her family are prominent neoconservative figures, described by journalist Robert Parry as “neocon royalty.” Kagan is a leading advocate of long-term U.S. military engagement abroad, advocating for a combination of military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to ensure “stability.” She has been critical of the policies of both Barack Obama and Donald Trump in Syria, stating, “[W]e see extraordinary continuity between President Trump and President Obama. … I think neither had a robust enough humanitarian or civil society or military approach.” Kagan has served as a civilian advisor to commanding U.S. generals in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a neoconservative think tank founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It advocates for aggressive policies to press the “global war on terror,” support for the Likud government in Israel with little to no reservations, and escalating U.S. threats to Iran, including regime change. FDD analysts recently wrote, “The potential for a democratic transition exists in Iran, where such aspirations have been growing for over 100 years. As regime-shaking street protests have repeatedly revealed, the country is a volcano. We want it to erupt.” FDD also calls for changes to the Iran nuclear deal that most believe would kill it.
Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.
The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.
The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.
Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.
As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.
We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it. Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.