Steve Bannon’s War On Susan Thornton Is Back On

    Curt Mills

    Politics, North America

    Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon delivers remarks during the Value Voters Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel

    Another Bannon-neocon alliance of convenience could spell doom for the State Department’s top Asia official.

    “Rubio and Bannon unite,” the former White House chief strategist e-mailed me Thursday night. “Susan Thornton can never be confirmed.”

    In late December, when I profiled Stephen K. Bannon and his war on Thornton—a policy veteran widely distrusted by China hawks—former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had tapped Thornton as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs as a show of force against Bannon and the would-be saboteurs of his tenure.

    Of course, everyone knows what happened. Rex Tillerson is out, and Mike Pompeo is in.

    “I am the biggest China hawk alive,” Bannon has told me. “I’m a China uber-hawk.” Bannon has railed against moderate Republicans: “I’m a radical.”

    Bannon fiercely approves of Pompeo—as the National Interest has reported, and has a stronger relationship with him than he ever had with Tillerson.

    The ascension of Pompeo, who commands the loyalty of Bannonites and neoconservatives, provides a useful template for how Thornton might get taken out.

    And doubtless: Pompeo has little incentive to provide cover for Tillerson’s pick. Secretary Pompeo didn’t even thank Tillerson in his introductory remarks to State employees earlier this month, instead taking veiled shots at him throughout.

    Indeed, the opposition to Thornton’s nomination by Sen. Marco Rubio is big trouble for the diplomat. Rubio’s office pointed me to his remarks this week.

    “This is why I will do all I can to prevent Susan Thornton from ever being confirmed as Asst Secre­tary of State for E. Asian & Pa­cific Af­fairs. She is in Tokyo undermining @POTUS by advocating for partial surrender of nukes by #NorthKorea as acceptable” Rubio tweeted this week. “This is something he’s been watching for some time now,” a top Rubio aide told me.

    Rubio’s rationale, of course, is where the tacit alliance with Bannon breaks down, and emblematic of the broader divide on the China hawk.

    Bannon is a restrainer on North Korea.

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