17 July 2018 — Moon of Alabama
The reactions of the U.S. polite to yesterday’s press conference of President Trump and President Putin are highly amusing. The media are losing their mind. Apparently it was Pearl Harbor, Gulf of Tonkin and 9/11 all in one day. War will commence tomorrow. But against whom?
Behind the panic lie competing views of Grand Strategy.
Rereading the transcript of the 45 minutes long press conference (vid) I find it rather boring. Trump did not say anything that he had not said before. There was little mention of what the two presidents had really talked about and what they agreed upon. Later on Putin said that the meeting was more substantive than he expected. As the two spoke alone there will be few if any leaks. To understand what happened we will have to wait and see how the situations in the various conflict areas, in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere, will now develop.
The ‘liberal’ side of the U.S. did its best to prevent the summit. The recent Mueller indictment was timed to sabotage the talks. Before the meeting in Helsinki the New York Times retweeted its three weeks old homophobic comic flick that shows Trump and Putin as lovers. It is truly a disgrace for the Grey Lady to publish such trash, but it set the tone others would follow. After the press conference the usual anti-Trump operatives went ballistic:
John O. Brennan @JohnBrennan – 15:52 UTC – 16 Jul 2018
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
Senator John McCain released a scathing statement:
… “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. …
These imbeciles do not understand the realism behind Trump’s grand policy. Trump knows the heartland theory of Halford John Mackinder. He understands that Russia is the core of the Eurasian landmass. That landmass, when politically united, can rule the world. A naval power, the U.S. now as the UK before it, can never defeat it. Trump’s opponents do not get what Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor of President Carter, said in his book The Grant Chessboard (pdf) about a Chinese-Russian alliance. They do not understand why Henry Kissinger advised Trump to let go of Crimea.
Trump himself professed his view (vid) of the big picture and of relations with Russia in a 2015 press conference:
“… Putin has no respect for President Obama. Big Problem, big problem. And you know Russia has been driven – you know I always heard, for years I have heard – one of the worst things that can happen to our country, is when Russia ever gets driven to China. We have driven them together – with the big oil deals that are being made. We have driven them together. That’s a horrible thing for this country. We have made them friends because of incompetent leadership. I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin- okay? And I mean where we have the strength. I don’t think we need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well. I really believe that. I think we would get along with a lot of countries that we don’t get along with today. And that we would be a lot richer for it than we are today.
There are three great geographic power-centers in the world. The Anglo-American/transatlantic one which is often called ‘the west’. Mackinder’s heartland, which is essentially Russia as the core of the Eurasian landmass, and China, which historically rules over Asia. Any alliance of two of those power-centers can determine the fate of the world.
Kissinger’s and Nixon’s biggest political success was to separate China from the Soviet Union. That did not make China an ally of the United States, but it broke the Chinese-Soviet alliance. It put the U.S. into a premier position, a first among equals. But even then Kissinger already foresaw the need to balance back to Russia:
On Feb. 14, 1972, President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger met to discuss Nixon’s upcoming trip to China. Kissinger, who had already taken his secret trip to China to begin Nixon’s historic opening to Beijing, expressed the view that compared with the Russians, the Chinese were “just as dangerous. In fact, they’re more dangerous over a historical period.”
Kissinger then observed that “in 20 years your successor, if he’s as wise as you, will wind up leaning towards the Russians against the Chinese.” He argued that the United States, as it sought to profit from the enmity between Moscow and Beijing, needed “to play this balance-of-power game totally unemotionally. Right now, we need the Chinese to correct the Russians and to discipline the Russians.” But in the future, it would be the other way around.
It took 45 years, not 20 as Kissinger foresaw, to rebalance the U.S. position.
After the Cold War the U.S. thought it had won the big ideological competition of the twentieth century. In its exuberance of the ‘unilateral moment’ it did everything possible to antagonize Russia. Against its promises it extended NATO to Russia’s border. It wanted to be the peerless supreme power of the world. At the same time it invited China into the World Trade Organisation and thereby enabled its explosive economic growth. This unbalanced policy took its toll. The U.S. lost industrial capacity to China and at the same time drove Russia into China’s hands. Playing the global hegemon turned out to be very expensive. It led to the 2006 crash of the U.S. economy and its people have seen little to no gains from it. Trump wants to revert this situation by rebalancing towards Russia while opposing China’s growing might.
Not everyone shares that perspective. As security advisor to Jimmy Carter Brzezinski continued the Nixon/Kissinger policy towards China. The ‘one China policy’, disregarding Taiwan for better relations with Beijing, was his work. His view is still that the U.S. should ally with China against Russia:
“It is not in our interest to antagonize Beijing. It is much better for American interests to have the Chinese work closely with us, thereby forcing the Russians to follow suit if they don’t want to be left out in the cold. That constellation gives the U.S. the unique ability to reach out across the world with collective political influence.”
But why would China join such a scheme? How would Russia be ‘forced’? What costs would the U.S. have to endure by following such a course? (Brzezinski’s view of Russia was always clouded. His family of minor nobles has its roots in Galicia, now in west Ukraine. They were driven from Poland when the Soviets extended their realm into the middle of the European continent. To him Russia will always be the antagonist.)
Kissinger’s view is more realistic. He sees that the U.S. can not rule alone and must be more balanced in its relations:
[I]n the emerging multipolar order, Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States.
Kissinger is again working to divide Russia and China. But this time around it is Russia that needs to be elevated, that needs to become a friend.
Trump is following Kissinger’s view. He wants good relations with Russia to separate Russia from China. He (rightly) sees China as the bigger long term (economic) danger to the United States. That is the reason why he, immediately after his election, started to beef up the relations with Taiwan and continues to do so. (Listen to Peter Lee for the details). That is the reason why he tries to snatch North Korea from China’s hands. That is the reason why he makes nice with Putin.
It is not likely that Trump will manage to pull Russia out of its profitable alliance with China. It is true that China’s activities, especially in the Central Asian -stans, are a long term danger to Russia. China’s demographic and economic power is far greater than Russia’s. But the U.S. has never been faithful in its relations with Russia. It would take decades to regain its trust. China on the other hand stands to its commitments. China is not interested in conquering the ‘heartland’. It has bigger fish to fry in south-east Asia, Africa and elsewhere. It is not in its interest to antagonize a militarily superior Russia.
The maximum Trump can possibly achieve is to neutralize Russia while he attempts to tackle China’s growing economic might via tariffs, sanctions and by cuddling Taiwan, Japan and other countries with anti-Chinese agendas.
The U.S. blew its ‘unilateral moment’. Instead of making friends with Russia it drove it into China’s hands. Hegemonic globalization and unilateral wars proved to be too expensive. The U.S. people received no gains from them. That is why they elected Trump.
Trump is doing his best to correct the situation. For the foreseeable future the world will end up with three power centers. Anglo-America, Russia and China. (An aging and disunited Europe will flap in the winds.) These power centers will never wage direct war against each other, but will tussle at the peripheries. Korea, Iran and the Ukraine will be centers of these conflicts. Interests in Central Asia, South America and Africa will also play a role.
Trump understands the big picture. To ‘Make America Great Again’ he needs to tackle China and to prevent a deeper Chinese-Russian alliance. It’s the neo-conservatives and neo-liberals who do not get it. They are still stuck in Brzezinski’s Cold War view of Russia. They still believe that economic globalization, which helped China to regain its historic might, is the one and true path to follow. They do not perceive all the damage they have done to 90% of the American electorate.
For now Trump’s view is winning. But the lunatic reactions to the press conference show that the powers against him are still strong. They will sabotage him wherever possible. The big danger for now is that their view of the world might again raise to power.