We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Carolyn Kaster

'Get ready for a rollercoaster' Tom Clonan on Trump’s Cabinet and Defence Secretary

There has been much economic analysis around the likely impact of Donald Trump’s presidency but there are important security concerns too, writes Tom Clonan.

IRISH MEDIA AND commentators have been understandably fixated on the likely economic impacts on Ireland arising from both Brexit and President-elect Trump’s win at the polls.

Aside from the economic analysis, there is a great deal of speculation in the media as to the likely political implications of Trump’s elevation to the office of President of the United States.

There are fears that the President may appoint a cabinet that will herald a shift towards very conservative political positions on domestic issues such as race relations, immigration, equality, gun control and the status of the LGBT community in the US.

Whatever the political outcomes of Trump’s presidency – they remain to be seen – the cultural shift within the United States has been seismic. In registering some sort of protest vote at the polls, the US electorate have delivered what Enda Kenny might describe as a ‘whallop’ to establishment politicians and their apparatchiks.

Austerity has always triggered populism

The pro-austerity political elite in both the US and the EU are witnessing an unanticipated outcome across America and Europe in the form of a resurgence in nationalism, xenophobia, and the rise of populist and right-wing politicians.

This is nothing new. History teaches us that when austerity and hardship are imposed upon the masses, conflict always ensues.

The political establishment in Washington and across the EU, against which US and European voters have rebelled, wittingly or unwittingly, created broadly similar conditions to those which allowed the rise of figures such as Mussolini and Hitler in the last century.

In Ireland, the two leading broadsheet newspapers have published editorials for over a decade now that have consistently endorsed austerity measures. The same newspapers are now expressing amazement and dismay at the advent of Trump’s presidency – an inevitable and organic consequence of austerity. It would be funny if it were not so serious.

Misogyny, racism and homophobia have been normalised

Aside from the potential political implications of Trump’s win, the cultural implications are writ large. In a bewilderingly rapid development, there has been a normalisation in US public discourse of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

As is the case in parts of Europe, some US citizens – who only weeks ago, would have kept their sexist, racist and homophobic views to themselves – now feel emboldened to articulate, and perhaps act upon, those views.

This is a potentially catastrophic development for US society. The appointment of Steve Bannon to Trump’s cabinet does not reassure this writer in relation to these worrisome developments.

Aside from the domestic implications of Trump’s evolving administration, his appointments to key positions in his foreign, defence and security portfolio speak volumes about his intentions internationally.

Trump’s mostly male cabinet

South Korea US Ambassador UN Samantha Power answers a reporter's question during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, in October. Lee Jin-man Lee Jin-man

Samantha Power has been replaced as Ambassador to the United Nations by former Republican Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. Haley’s foreign policy positions are not clear as yet, but she is resolutely conservative on a range of issues from immigration to LGBT rights.

She is the first and only woman to be nominated by Trump to his emerging cabinet. So far, the rest are men – and most of them are retired generals and army officers.

National Security Advisor is quite possibly Islamophobic

Trump’s National Security Advisor is retired General Michael Flynn. Flynn is a retired general with a background in special operations, intelligence gathering and electronic surveillance. He is very well educated and in addition to being a qualified engineer, he holds an MBA and two separate MA degrees from the US Naval War college. Like Haley, Flynn is socially conservative and pro mass surveillance.

He is one of a number of Trump’s appointees who also believes that Islam is more than a religion and sees the Muslim population – not just radicalised Islamists – as potentially problematic.

Flynn’s counterpart as designated head of the CIA is another former army officer, Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is also highly educated and is a qualified engineer and lawyer. He is socially conservative, pro-life, and a prominent member of the National Rifle Association.

Pompeo, like Flynn, is an advocate of mass surveillance – both overt and covert – and stated in 2013 that US Muslims who did not vocally condemn Islamist atrocities, were ‘potentially complicit’ in terrorist crimes.

Pompeo has also stated that National Security Agency whistleblower Anthony Snowden should face the full rigour of US law and ‘due process’ which would likely result in a ‘death sentence’ for treason.

‘Mad Dog’ Mattis could be Trump’s most progressive choice

Congress Islamic State General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a retired US Marine Corps. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

As for Defence Secretary, Donald Trump is rumoured to favour General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a retired US Marine Corps four star general. Mattis is a colourful figure and is referred to as the ‘Warrior Monk’ whose military call-sign was ‘Chaos’.

Unlike Trump’s other appointees, however, Mattis – despite his colourful reputation and nicknames – is considered a more progressive choice for public office. Mattis is not particularly well educated for a member of the general staff, but he is believed to be opposed to an isolationist stance for the US.

Much to the relief perhaps of other NATO member states – who fear Putin’s interference in Central Europe and the Baltic states – Mattis is said to favour America’s proactive ‘engagement’ in world affairs, both politically and with boots on the ground.

Mattis is widely quoted and cited for his colourful remarks to his subordinates, including the avuncular advice to, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

He also allegedly gave the following advice to his Iraqi counterparts during the US occupation of Iraq, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

If Mattis is nominated to the post of Secretary of Defence, many will welcome his straight-talking, no nonsense style. Such an appointment might also signal a hardline hawkish and interventionist foreign policy posture, using hard power to neutralise emerging or perceived threats such as North Korea, China or an emerging nuclear Iran.

Petraeus – A more cerebral, sophisticated choice?

Another alternative to Mattis is retired four star general David Petraeus. Petraeus, who has a PhD in International Relations from Princeton, is considered more sophisticated and cerebral than General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis. Petraeus masterminded the US troop ‘Surges’ in Iraq and Afghanistan which had mixed outcomes.

Petraeus also re-wrote, with General Mattis the US military’s Field Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency – widely believed to be one of the most fundamental shifts in US military doctrine since Vietnam.

Encouragingly perhaps, Petraeus is a Hibernophile who has a strong interest in the history of the Troubles in Ireland and the subsequent peace agreement and peace process.

Whoever Trump appoints as his Defence Secretary, his emerging line up of nominees for public office suggest that the United States, Europe and the world should strap themselves in and get ready for a roller coaster ride of foreign, defence and security imperatives.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. You can follow him on Twitter here.  

Meet the men (and woman) who could be running America from January>

Donald Trump ‘disavows the alt-right’ and admits there’s ‘something’ to climate change>

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.