WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday fired his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, a right-wing political activist credited with driving parts of the Trump policy agenda, with mixed results.
Bannon was a top Trump administration critic of the international Paris Climate Agreement, along with Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. They helped persuade Trump to announce in June that the United States would withdraw from the pact struck in 2015 by nearly 200 countries.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were not fans of Bannon, wanted Washington to stay in the pact.
Bannon also opposed government support of green energy, which he called “madness” and a carbon tax on fossil fuels.
Bannon was a driving force behind Trump’s travel ban. It barred U.S. entry by people from several Muslim-majority countries. The ban was announced by Trump, but poorly implemented. It immediately caused nationwide protests and confusion and was challenged in the courts, where it is still tied up, making it so far a partial win for Bannon.
Bannon opposed an April military strike ordered by Trump against a Syrian air base in response to what the Trump administration and U.S. allies say was a poison gas attack by Syria’s military in which scores of civilians, including many children, died.
Trump has since touted his decision to carry out the strike as a bold one in contrast to former President Barack Obama.
In line with Bannon’s position, Trump initially threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement. But then the president backtracked and said he was willing to renegotiate the trade pact with Canada and Mexico.
Bannon has long been sceptical of international alliances. Trump alarmed U.S. allies on the campaign trail by calling the NATO security alliance “obsolete” and berating Washington’s western allies for not paying enough for their defence. After massive pressure from the pragmatist wing of Trump’s National Security Council, Trump eventually underscored U.S. commitment to Article 5, a crucial part of the NATO treaty, the mutual defence doctrine.
The White House has been mired in a months-long debate over a strategy for South Asia, including Afghanistan. One of the divisions was between Bannon, who favoured a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Washington’s longest foreign conflict, versus national security adviser H.R. McMaster and most of the military brass who support a modest troop increase.
Trump met with his National Security Team on Friday to try to reach agreement on a strategy for Afghanistan, but made no decision on whether he would commit more troops.
Bannon has been a China hawk, urging a tougher line on trade towards Beijing and dismissive of efforts to get China’s help in reining in North Korea. In an interview with The American Prospect magazine published on Wednesday, Bannon said the United States was in an economic war with China and ridiculed suggestions of a military solution to the North Korea issue.
Bannon supported a “border adjustment tax,” part of a tax reform package drawn up by senior Republicans in the House of Representatives. The BAT was meant to encourage exports, discourage imports and raise tax revenue. But it divided the business community because it would have raised consumer prices.
House Republicans recently dropped the BAT from their proposal, a defeat for Bannon, although he was not a central player in tax policy. Bannon also pushed for tax cuts for the middle class, still not yet delivered.
A major 2016 Trump campaign promise was to build a wall on the Mexican border, a position supported by Bannon. Trump’s vow that Mexico would pay for the wall, which the Mexican government has insisted it will not do, has strained relations between the two neighbours. Work on the wall has not begun.
Reporting by Timothy Gardener, Yeganeh Torbati, Jonathan Landay and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish