Much has been written about the glaring contradictions between the uber-nationalist views of President Trump and those of the foreign-policy team he has appointed.
Some (myself included) have expressed hope that the more mainstream views of Defense Secretary James Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster could compensate for the president's insistence on policymaking by tweet. Yet even as Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traversed the globe last week trying to reassure rattled allies, as did Homeland Security chief John Kelly and Vice President Pence, Trump contradicted them at every stop.
Moreover, as Trump and top strategist Steve Bannon made clear at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, the White House worldview diverges so radically from that of Mattis, McMaster, et al., that it's impossible to paper over the differences. All the more so since the president appointed Bannon to full membership in the National Security Council, unprecedented for a political adviser. Moreover, Bannon has been busy assembling a so-called Strategic Initiatives Group that seems destined to undercut McMaster's efforts.
This guarantees a schizophrenic foreign policy.
Unless, that is, Bannon follows deposed rabble-rouser and national security adviser Michael Flynn out the door of the White House. But there's no sign Trump is willing to cut his alter ego loose.
The president's view of America's role in the world, encouraged by Bannon, was neatly summed up by this proclamation at CPAC. "I'm not representing the globe," Trump declaimed. "I'm representing your country."
As if the United States could pull up the drawbridge and separate from the world.
Trump and Bannon have made clear their distaste for the European Union, America's key ally. Both hailed Brexit; Bannon backs radical right European parties that would like to see the EU disbanded. While Mattis has tried to calm nervous European allies, Bannon conveyed his disdain for the EU to the German ambassador of Washington.
The Trump adviser has made clear he'd like to see the implosion of almost all multilateral organizations that America is involved with. (No wonder Saturday Night Live portrays Bannon as the Grim Reaper.) He prefers strong nationalist states, and balance-of-power politics along the model he says worked so well before 1914. Guess he never noticed that the blood-and-soil nationalism of the sort he embraces led to two world wars.
"I'm a Leninist," Bannon famously told the Daily Beast in 2013. "Lenin wanted to destroy the state. That's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment." The Trump adviser now says he can't remember this interview. But, lo and behold, at CPAC, in revolutionary fashion, he declared he'll fight relentlessly for the "deconstruction of the administrative state" at home.
McMaster and Mattis have an entirely different worldview than Bannon's, believing that existing alliances must be reinforced, and allies supported. They see complexity where Trump and Bannon see only black and white. They want to create a coherent global U.S. strategy where Bannon seems bent on tearing things down.
But what makes the president's top White House adviser even more dangerous are his ideas about what to build on the ashes of destruction. Here, too, his values and vision are at direct odds with the rational members of the president's foreign-policy team.
His predilection for far-right nationalist movements laced with religious values has led Bannon to extol Vladimir Putin as a Christian traditionalist. This clearly syncs with Trump's strange bromance with Putin. Yet Mattis, McMaster, and Pence have no such illusions about the Russian leader.
Nor do the president's seasoned foreign-policy advisers surround themselves with the kind of unsavory characters that recently clustered around Bannon as chief executive of Breitbart News. Indeed, Bannon bragged that Breitbart was "the platform for the alt-right," which included white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Among the Breitbart stars were Milo Yiannopoulos, whom CPAC invited to speak this year but then disinvited because he praised pedophilia with 13-year-olds. And the neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic Richard Spencer, whom Bannon once called a "leading intellectual." Spencer was also banned this year from CPAC.
Yet the enabler of both men, Breitbart's Bannon, was applauded as a star by CPAC attendees.
There is worse. Bannon has appointed as his counterterrorism adviser an Islamophobe named Sebastian Gorka, who sports a medal worn by Hungarian collaborators with the Nazis and has forged past ties to far-right Hungarian anti-Semitic groups.
That someone with Gorka's background is helping make U.S. foreign policy is itself astounding. But apparently Gorka's dark past is accepted because he shares Bannon's insistence, as does Trump, that we are engaged in WWIII against Islam. Out of this obsession came a secretive, misguided immigration order that, even in its new form, is likely to create more enemies than it stops.
This Islamophobic approach certainly isn't endorsed by the new national security adviser. "Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you're working for the enemy," McMaster told Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks. It's hard to imagine this Iraq and Afghan veteran tolerating an obsessive, counterproductive approach to the war on Islamist jihadis.
But it's easy to imagine there will be a clash, sooner rather than later, between the conspiratorial Bannon and Trump's serious foreign-policy advisers. America's foreign-policy future, indeed its future security, depends on who ultimately wins that battle. Right now it appears Bannon has the president's ear, but the battle of worldviews has only begun.