Itching for a War: Gorka, Bannon, and the Global Conflict

Recently, an unfamiliar figure has been making the rounds in defense of the administration. Though he was hired in January, Dr. Sebastian Gorka has only recently emerged into the public eye. While a deputy assistant to the President may not, under normal circumstances, warrant much attention, Gorka is notable for his views on Islam and terrorism, which are outside the mainstream, but well at home within this White House.

Gorka has made his living as an expert on terrorism. In 2016, he published Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War. Like chief strategist Steve Bannon and special assistant to the President Julia Hahn, Gorka worked for Breitbart, where he wrote mainly about terrorism, and struck an alarmist tone. In one of his last articles for the site, published in June of last year, Gorka wrote “America is losing the war against global jihadi ideology” and that “ISIS is here in America.” He excoriated the Obama administration for downplaying the seriousness of the threat we face, for systematically subverting “our national security establishment under the banner of inclusivity, cultural awareness, and political correctness.” At the end of his article, he asked, “Will the new Commander-in-Chief perpetuate the lies and distortions of the last eight years and finally talk truthfully about the incarnate Evil we face and what it will take to destroy it. [sic]” In another article, penned in January of 2015, Gorka opened with a bleak pronouncement:

Since 2008, the world has become a significantly more dangerous place. In every region, new threats have emerged or old ones have reasserted them. The scorecard is clear: the bad guys are winning and America’s interests are being undermined daily.

The purpose of this article isn’t to defend the Obama administration, but to highlight the a particular strain of thinking that goes on in the Trump administration’s brain. Gorka is only a part of it, but he lines up neatly with others on the administration. The thinking is that global terrorism (or “radical Islamic terrorism” to use the administration’s favored term) presents a grave and imminent threat to civilization itself, that our current methods of pushing back against it are doomed to fail, and that new radical and desperate measures are required to defeat win the war.

This thinking coincides with statements Bannon has made, and with statements made by policy adviser Stephen Miller, the two architects of the executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and halting all refugees from coming to the United States. In a 2014 interview, Bannon spoke at length about what he called “a war of immense proportions.” When asked about whether Islam or secularism posed a greater threat to the Judeo-Christian West, Bannon responded:

I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals, right?

If you go back to your home countries and your proponent of the defense of the Judeo-Christian West and its tenets, oftentimes, particularly when you deal with the elites, you’re looked at as someone who is quite odd. So it has kind of sapped the strength.

But I strongly believe that whatever the causes of the current drive to the caliphate was — and we can debate them, and people can try to deconstruct them — we have to face a very unpleasant fact: And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.

In remarks he made to a conference held at the Vatican that same year, Bannon struck the same note, saying, “I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.”

Stephen Miller, too, seems to believe that “the civilization of the West” is at war with “Islamofascism.” In 2007, while he was at Duke, Miller launched a “Terrorism Awareness Project” whose mission was to “educate our youth about the holy war being waged against us and what needs to be done to defeat the Jihadists that are waging this war.” He wrote, “Instead of opening our eyes, we are fastening blindfolds.”

(These views, not coincidentally, also aligned with recently departed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s, who, among other things, once tweeted out “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”)

Gorka, Bannon, Miller, and others within the administration believe that the policies our country  has pursued over the past 15 years have been deplorably unsuited to the gravity of the task. It is unclear what prescriptions they have, but the implication is that we need to treat our struggle against ISIS and other entities around the world as an all-out war, lest liberal society itself fall into decay.

This worldview sits firmly outside of mainstream thought on terrorism, and it is outside the views of Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, all seasoned soldiers who have fought actual wars. It’s unclear to which side the balance of power will ultimately shift, but the administration is currently staffed with a significant and apparently powerful contingent of people who believe war with Islam itself is both inevitable and necessary. Given his rhetoric on the campaign trail, this seems to be the view Trump himself favors. Time will tell.

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