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Contradicting a boss already under pressure to fire him, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon says there’s no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Just last week, Trump pledged to answer North Korean aggression with “fire and fury.”
In an interview with The American Prospect posted online Wednesday, Bannon tells the liberal publication that the U.S. is losing the economic race against China and talks about purging his rivals from the Defense and State departments.
Asked about the white supremacist movement, whose march on Charlottesville, Va., last weekend led to deadly violence, Bannon dismisses them as “losers,” ”a fringe element” and “a collection of clowns.”
The White House and a representative for Bannon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what is viewed as an unusual interview by one of the most contentious members of Trump’s inner circle who is again facing an uncertain future in the White House.
According to the writer, Robert Kuttner, Bannon called the reporter after his assistant had requested a meeting, much to Kuttner’s surprise, in response to a column he had written on how China was profiting from the U.S.-North Korea escalation.
When asked about his internal adversaries in the North Korean standoff, Bannon said “they’re wetting themselves.”
Kuttner commented about how “puzzling” it was for Bannon to call an editor of a progressive publication and never bring up whether the conversation was on or off the record, since Bannon is “not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press” and is “probably the most media-savvy person in America.”
A source close to Bannon told CNN he did not believe he was being interviewed on record when they spoke.
Trump passed up an opportunity this week to offer a public vote of confidence in Bannon, who was a key campaign adviser during the general election and has become a forceful presence in a divided White House. But the former leader of the conservative Breitbart News has drawn fire from some of Trump’s closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The latest anti-Bannon campaign comes as Trump finds himself increasingly isolated, except among his core supporters, for insisting that white supremacist groups and those who opposed them were both at fault in Charlottesville.
Others believe Bannon is behind a campaign that conservative groups and the Breitbart website are waging against national security adviser H.R. McMaster, arguing he is insufficiently supportive of Israel and soft on Iran. President Trump recently issued a rare public statement of support for McMaster.
Bannon’s comments on North Korea, which contradict Trump’s tough approach, could add to pressure on the president to fire him. Bannon has survived earlier rounds of having fallen out of favor with Trump, who is irked by perceptions that Bannon was the mastermind of Trump’s winning campaign and that he guides policy in the White House.
“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” Bannon says. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Trump tweeted early Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “made a very wise and well-reasoned decision” by backing down after heightening fears of nuclear conflict in a series of combative threats, including against the U.S. territory of Guam.
Bannon also outlined his push for the U.S. to adopt a tougher stance on China trade — without waiting to see whether Beijing will help restrain Kim as Trump has pressed China’s leader to do. Trump also has lamented U.S. trade deficits with China.
“The economic war with China is everything,” Bannon says. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Thursday that both sides have benefited from trade.
Asked at a regular news briefing about Bannon’s comments, Hua said “there is no winner in a trade war. We hope the relevant people can refrain from dealing with a problem in the 21st century with a zero-sum mentality from the 19th or the 20th century.”
Hua appealed for dialogue to “preserve the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations.”
In the interview, Bannon muses about getting rid of administration officials who disagree with his stance on China and North Korea and replacing them with “hawks.”
“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy,” Bannon says. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”
Read the full interview here.
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