Bannon's out, but agenda may stay

President Donald Trump's key inner circle include (from left) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mr Stephen Miller and Mr Stephen Bannon, who has since been pushed out as chief strategist.
President Donald Trump's key inner circle include (from left) his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Mr Stephen Miller and Mr Stephen Bannon, who has since been pushed out as chief strategist.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

Ex-chief strategist's view on issues like trade, China and Afghan war could outlast him

WASHINGTON • In his West Wing office, Mr Stephen Bannon kept a chart listing trade actions - on China, steel and cars - that the Trump White House planned to roll out, week by week, through autumn.

Now that President Donald Trump's chief strategist has been pushed out, the question is whether his agenda will be erased along with him. It is not just trade.

Mr Bannon has had a strong voice on issues from climate change and China to immigration and the war in Afghanistan. He has been an unyielding advocate for a visceral brand of nationalism, and though he lost as often as he won in policy debates, his departure could tip the balance on some fiercely contested issues towards a more mainstream approach, even if the core tenets of his philosophy survive.

Mr Bannon's office functioned as a sort of command centre for the administration's nationalist wing.

He met there with a coterie of mostly young, like-minded colleagues, planning strategy and plotting against foes, from national security adviser H.R. McMaster, to Mr Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council.

Some of Mr Bannon's proteges have already been sidelined while others may depart soon, people in the White House said.

He will no longer have access to briefing papers or sit in meetings, like a regular Tuesday morning session in the Roosevelt Room where he sparred with Mr Cohn and other officials over the timing of trade moves against China. Still, there are reasons to believe Mr Bannon's core world view will outlast him.

Last Friday, the United States announced it would open an investigation into China's alleged theft of technology from US companies.

The decision, only days after Mr Trump formally asked his trade representative to look into the issue, suggested the US would continue to pursue a hard economic line against China, even without Mr Bannon.

On immigration, Mr Trump listens to another adviser, Mr Stephen Miller, who pushed the administration's travel ban on Muslims.

"Trump and Bannon share similar views on these issues," said Mr Chris Ruddy, a long-time friend of Mr Trump who said he advised both the President and Mr Bannon to part ways. "The big difference is that Donald Trump is much more practical and pragmatic than Steve."

Even if Mr Bannon had hung on to his job, it is clear his bomb-throwing style was not going to work well in a West Wing under the control of Mr Trump's new chief of staff, Mr John Kelly. The retired Marine Corps general has moved to tighten discipline and access to the President.

Mr Bannon, a former Navy officer who spent most of his career in banking and media, also immersed himself in how the US should wage the military campaign in Afghanistan.

He pushed unorthodox proposals, like substituting mercenaries for US soldiers, which were greeted with disdain by military commanders but appealed to the President.

His departure helps those in the administration who favour a more interventionist military approach, whether on Syria, where Mr Bannon opposed Mr Trump's missile strike on President Bashar al-Assad, or on Afghanistan.

Last Friday, Mr Trump met with his national security team and has all but decided on a more conventional plan that would keep nearly 4,000 US troops in the country.

But, prompted in part by Mr Bannon's questioning, the US will place more demands on the Afghan government, according to officials.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline 'Bannon's out, but agenda may stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe