Embattled White House chief strategist Steve Bannon declared in an interview published Wednesday that the US is at “economic war with China,” promised aggressive trade actions against Beijing and said he is “fighting” other top White House aides “every day.”
Bannon also dismisses the ratcheting up of tensions stemming from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity as “just a sideshow” and argues there is “no military solution” to the growing crisis, despite President Donald Trump’s promises of “fire and fury” if North Korea continues to threaten or tries to target the US and its allies.
The startlingly candid comments, which were published Wednesday in an interview with The American Prospect, a progressive publication, come as Bannon’s future inside the West Wing appears uncertain.
Bannon’s rivals inside the White House and some of the President’s outside advisers, including the conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, The New York Times reported, have urged the President to fire Bannon — and the President on Tuesday declined to publicly offer Bannon any assurances on his fate.
A source close to Bannon told CNN he did not believe he was being interviewed when he spoke with the co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect earlier this week.
“It was no interview,” the source said.
Bannon and the White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
A self-described economic nationalist, Bannon also offered criticism of white nationalists in the interview, rebuking them as “losers” and a “fringe element.”
“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he said.
Robert Kuttner, the author who interviewed Bannon and the magazine’s co-founder, said Bannon never asked for his remarks to be off the record.
“The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America,” Kuttner writes.
“We’re at economic war with China,” Bannon told the Prospect. “One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years, and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”
Bannon added that “the economic war with China is everything,” arguing the US needs 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,” Bannon said.
The President’s chief strategist, who has taken on an expansive portfolio from trade issues to the US’s foreign wars and US manufacturing, also laid out his plans for the Trump administration to take a harder line against China on trade, explaining that the President’s memorandum Monday that lays the groundwork for an investigation of Chinese trade practices is just a first step.
“We’re going to run the tables on these guys,” Bannon promised in the interview, explaining that the administration also plans to lodge trade complaints against China over steel and aluminum dumping.
But Bannon also described his work to push this hardline trade agenda as a daily struggle that pits him against other top advisers to the President, including the National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” Bannon said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”
Bannon also accused his rivals inside the administration who have urged restraint on trade of “wetting themselves” over the issue.
He went on to articulate how he is reshuffling the US’s foreign policy apparatus, explaining that he is seeking the ouster of the Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department and “getting hawks in.”
The comments about his colleagues could place Bannon in a more precarious position inside the White House, whose staff is now being led by retired Gen. John Kelly.
By Jeremy Diamond, CNN