Former Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon is poised to play a significant role in foreign policy and national security in the Trump administration.
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLocal GOP credits Trump for 0K haul at Mar-A-Lago fundraiser Don’t blame Trump for healthcare defeat — blame Louie Gohmert Trump handed £300B NATO 'invoice' to German chancellor: report MORE named the controversial Bannon his chief strategist on Sunday, simultaneously announcing that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus would serve as chief of staff.
Less discussed is Bannon’s fascination with the military and global affairs. Sources who know Bannon say he’s likely be an influential adviser to Trump in the international arena.
Sources close to Bannon say the best way to understand his approach to foreign affairs is to observe the structure and content of Breitbart News. The website supports nationalist movements wherever they arise and advocates a merciless approach against radical Islamic terrorists.
Bannon admires right-wing nationalists and hard-line illegal immigration opponents in Europe and elsewhere. He wants to work more closely with them and sees them as part of a worldwide movement to overthrow the “globalists,” according to multiple sources familiar with his thinking.
Republican leaders may find it awkward dealing with Bannon. Bannon often described Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan aides: President 'clear' his tweet had nothing to do with Ryan Lawmakers signal fight for healthcare reform is not over Cotton: House 'moved a bit too fast' on healthcare MORE (R-Wis.) as “the enemy” and instructed Breitbart staff to destroy him through their reporting. Bannon viewed Ryan as part of a globalist elite that he believes is conspiring to undermine American sovereignty by supporting open immigration and free trade.
Bannon is a longtime skeptic of international alliances like the United Nations and the European Union. He cheered on Brexit — the decision made by British voters in a June referendum to leave the EU — and he admires French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
“He definitely recognizes populist nationalists around the world,” said a source close to Bannon. “He noticed that before most people did.”
“Mostly he’ll be focusing on an America-first foreign policy, taking care of America’s interests in whatever negotiation the country is engaged in,” the source added.
Bannon views himself as far-sighted when it came to predicting the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom.
Bannon saw the Trump campaign as the American expression of what happened in the U.K. with Brexit: a popular revolt against a complacent and condescending elite. It’s why he always insisted, even privately, that Trump would win despite polls indicating otherwise.
Like Trump, Bannon is also open to working more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, according to a source familiar with his thinking.
Breitbart News has bureaus in London, Jerusalem and Rome and has plans to open new ones in Paris and Berlin.
The new Breitbart Paris website will campaign aggressively to help Le Pen get elected as the next president of France, according to a source familiar with the website’s internal dynamics.
Bannon strongly opposes German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A source familiar with Breitbart’s internal dynamics said the new Breitbart Berlin website will focus “on the Islamic refugee crisis that Merkel created.”
The former Breitbart chairman has little patience for the idea of U.S. “nation-building” overseas. He loathes the foreign-policy legacy of President George W. Bush and took pleasure in defeating the traditional wing of the party this cycle. But he’s no isolationist. He favors aggressive military action when required.
Bannon is close to retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and John Bolton, Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. He bonded with Flynn over their mutual anger with what they saw as the Obama administration’s inadequate response to radical Islamic terrorism, one source said.
Bannon is facing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his associations with the “alt-right.” Many have cited claims by Bannon’s ex-wife in divorce papers that he didn’t want his children going to school with Jews. Through a spokeswoman, Bannon denied the charges.
Critics have called out Breitbart’s intense focus on crimes committed by blacks and people in the country illegally. Particular headlines have also caused a furor, as when an attack on Bill Kristol described the neoconservative commentator as a “renegade Jew.” The internal Breitbart defense is that the author of the article, David Horowitz, is himself Jewish.
After commending Trump’s appointment of Priebus as chief of staff, the Anti-Defamation League condemned the Bannon appointment.
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’ ” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL.
Former Breitbart employees interviewed by The Hill — including three who strongly dislike Bannon — level all manner of charges about Bannon.
They say he’s extreme, dictatorial and verbally abusive. They say he’s got a short attention span and urges his reporters to go “buck wild,” meaning to take their attacks on ideological enemies to extremes not accepted in conventional journalism. They say he uses Breitbart as a tool to gain power.
None of them recalls hearing Bannon make an anti-Semitic remark. One source recalls feeling uncomfortable, listening to Bannon ranting about black rioters in Ferguson, Mo. These sources criticize Bannon for binding himself to a movement that they say has virulent anti-Semitism and racism within it.
“While he might be playing footsie with the alt-right, and he doesn’t have a problem engaging anti-Semites … he is not himself an anti-Semite,” said a former Breitbart employee who fell out with Bannon.
“He’s a staunch supporter of Israel,” the source added. “I think it’s the media’s overblown reaction thinking that he’s going to tell Trump to institute anti-Jewish policies. It’s quite ridiculous.”
Asked how they expected Bannon to operate within Trump’s White House, these former Breitbart employees said they expected him to be loose and unstructured. He’s a prolific generator of ideas and does not view himself as belonging to one party or the other. He’s likely to pursue some unusual alliances, those who know him say.
Bannon admires what Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs Sanders says he will introduce 'Medicare for all' bill Sunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDems question potential Kushner real estate deal with Chinese firm Inspector general reviewing HHS decision to halt ObamaCare ads Warren: 'Today is a great day... but I'm not doing a touchdown dance' MORE (D-Mass.) have done on the left in generating populist energy and stoking opposition to trade deals. And he’s a big fan of Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardMcCain made secret trip to Syria A guide to the committees: House House Dems: Force Flynn to testify before Foreign Affairs panel MORE, the Hawaii Democrat who frustrates progressives due to her more right-leaning stances on guns, refugees and Islamic extremism.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of interesting stuff,” said a source familiar with Bannon’s thinking. “And you’re going to see them forge alliances on the world stage with some interesting characters.”