Published on : 09/11/2017
By : Arista Asmawati
Ex-top staffer discusses Syria, Charlottesville and continued growth of Jihadism.
Sebastian Gorka and the Steve Bannon camp still have sway with US President Donald Trump, former White House senior staffer Sebastian Gorka told the Jerusalem Post
“The president remains loyal to those who served him well” and though “we left the building, we did not leave Trump,” explained Gorka on the sidelines of IDC Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-terrorism conference
Bannon was a Trump co-campaign manager and a chief White House strategist who was recently forced out after a prolonged battle with other Trump administration forces considered to be more moderate. Gorka, who worked for Bannon, resigned shortly after. He said he resigned from the Trump administration when he felt that Trump’s new Afghanistan and other policies contradicted the Make America Great Again and America First ideologies, but that he would “still support Trump from the outside.”
He said Trump called him the day after he resigned and “assured me that he will stay on with his original agenda.”
In that spirit, Gorka predicted that “the current state of affairs” in which competing ideologies have grown in power within the administration “is temporary and very soon the president will realize he is not being well-served by his senior staff.”
He said that once that occurs, Trump will ask “people associated with his ideology to come back,” which could include advisers like ex-campaign manager Cory Lowandowski, who Trump never stopped regularly advising with.
Acknowledging that White House Chief-of-Staff John Kelly had brought about “a drastic change in the way things are done inside the White House,” he implied that on ideology and even matters of Trumpian-style, Kelly would need to buy-in to Trump to have lasting influence.
Moving on to the constantly in flux Trump-Israel relationship, Gorka was pressed on how Trump could continue to claim the pro-Israel mantle after many Israelis thought he had thrown Israeli security interests under the bus in a Syria ceasefire deal
Israel issued a rare public rebuke of the Trump deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the deal did not include provisions to keep Iran off the Syrian side of the Golan border, an issue of major concern since it could give Iran a new point to threaten the country.
Gorka said unequivocally “no one has thrown anyone under the bus. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as our strongest ally in the region.”
Explaining further, he said, “The president’s priority was simply to stop the bloodshed. A political resolution, the future of Assad and the disposition of Iranian forces” were all issues the US would still attend to even if they were not part of the initial deal.
“The bottom-line is this is the most pro-Israeli administration, not just in modern times, but since 1776,” he said. Pressed further that a favorable tone toward Israel did not cure concrete Israeli security concerns, he said that as a private individual he would note that Trump was still running into interference on foreign affairs from the bureaucratic state.
He said that, “Trump is the quintessential disruptor, but that even a disruptor fighting 15-20 years of institutional momentum” faces “massive inertia” in trying to fix “20 years of disastrous foreign policy.”
Honing in on how disturbed the Jewish community was about Trump’s reaction
to recent white supremacist violence and incitement in Charlottesville, Virginia, he “rejected new labels.”
He said that Trump “unequivocally condemned Nazis, antisemites and fascists,” and pointed out that he has orthodox Jewish grandchildren.
Next, he was asked how any of that absolved the president of making what many viewed as a false equivalence between violent white supremacist actions in Charlottesville and the non-violent activism of some left-wing activists there.
He said that this obscured Trump’s broader point that the media focuses endlessly on right-wing violence, but underplays left-wing violence – giving James Hodgkinson, who attacked Republican Congressmen, and a left-wing Oregon man who knifed multiple people as examples.
Later, Gorka spoke at the conference itself, saying he doesn't believe the US is winning the war on terrorism.
His argument for why was twofold. On the one hand, he said, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have focused too heavily on the physical aspect of terrorism, instead of focusing on undermining the ideology of those they seek to defeat. Trump's strategy, he said, is one of obliteration of ISIS, but that this also does not address the bigger issue.
On the other hand, he said that the US - like Israel and other Western countries - has not done enough to de-incentivize terrorists.
By focusing on killing low-level "lone wolf" terrorists, they aren't attacking the root of the problem, according to Gorka's model.
He said that the current administration must attack the "center of gravity" of terrorist organizations, whom he described as the people with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.
He did note that the US is bound by the First Amendment, and that effectively removing content from social media sites would be stifling freedoms of speech and expression. However, he suggested that threats of national security outweighed the "videos on YouTube that seek to kill you, and your children."
He cautioned private citizens and politicians alike from prematurely celebrating the small successes in the war on terror. Against the idea that the war is "being won" because there has been no mass casualty attack on US soil since 9/11, he noted that the frequency of attacks has increased, which signals that the war is far from over. "Jihadism, as a global phenomena, is increasing." He added that groups like ISIS don't aim for mass casualties like they did in previous years.Terrorist groups have adapted to changing times
, encouraging a kind of "irregular warfare" that recruits individuals in the country they hope to attack, rather than bringing foreigners abroad.
This new warfare also aims to scare populations more than it aims to annihilate them, which helps to explain the frequency of attacks in public places that only kill three or four individuals, rather than dozens, hundreds, or thousands. Gorka, who has been accused of antisemitism and Islamophobia, said definitively that there is "no war on Islam" since there is "no monolithic Islam."
He said that anyone who thinks there is only one Islam is an idiot. The war on terror is being fought, he says, against political and radical Islam. "We've only paid lip service" in terms of combating terrorism in the last 16 years, he asserted. He divulged to the audience his personal insights from his short time in the White House. "The best answers," he opened, "are those found outside the government. I know this especially after my stint in the White House."
While he defended the president several times throughout the 30-minute speech - "most people really misunderstand the president, but he's a patriot, and a pragmatist" - he expressed some lighthearted anger at the White House.
Playing on an American expression, he joked that "When the going gets tough, that's when you find out who your real friends are."