TRUMP CUTS THE GORDIAN KNOT OF FOREIGN ENTANGLEMENTS

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/01/02/trump-cuts-gordian-knot-foreign-entanglements.html

Picked up by

https://www.sott.net/article/372828-Trump-knows-what-hes-doing-Cutting-the-Gordian-Knot-of-foreign-entanglements

https://www.therussophile.org/trump-knows-what-hes-doing-cutting-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements.html/

http://mikenormaneconomics.blogspot.ca/2018/01/patrick-armstrong-trump-cuts-gordian.html

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-01-05/trump-cuts-gordian-knot-foreign-entanglements

http://world.news.aboutcivil.org/news/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements

http://financialliteracyy.com/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements/

https://madhousenews.com/2018/01/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements/

http://abundanthope.net/pages/Political_Information_43/Trump-Cuts-the-Gordian-Knot-of-Foreign-Entanglements_printer.shtml

http://dailyreadlist.com/article/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglemen-5

http://lesakerfrancophone.fr/trump-tranche-le-noeud-gordien-des-intrications-a-letranger

Referred to at http://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/01/trump-offloads-foreign-policy-problems-lets-eu-grow-a-spine.html

President Trump is a new phenomenon on the American political scene. Not a professional politician begging for funds but a rich man who spent his own money and raised money on his own name: he arrived in office unencumbered with obligations. Free from a history in politics, he owes nothing to anyone. Add in his personality, grandiosity and late-night tweets and the punditocracy is in a state of angry incomprehension. Even more offensive to their notions of propriety is that this “dangerously incompetent“, unqualified, mentally ill man beat the “most qualified presidential candidate in history“. No wonder so many of them believe that only cunning Putin could have made it happen – even if they don’t know how. But the punditocracy is as befuddled about him today as it was last year and the year before. (Scott Adams, who got it right, reminds us just how clueless they were.) The very fact that Trump won despite the opposition of practically every established constituency in the United States shows that there is more to him than readers of the NYT and WaPo or watchers of CNN and MSNBC (can) understand.

What follows is an attempt to divine Trump’s foreign policy. It proceeds from the assumption that he does know what he’s doing (as he did when he decided to run in the first place) and that he does have a destination in mind. It proceeds with the understanding that his foreign policy intentions have been greatly retarded by the (completely false) allegations of Russia connections and Russian interference. There was no Russian state interference in the election (the likelihood is that Moscow would have preferred known Clinton) and, as I have written here, the story doesn’t even make sense. I expect when the Department of Justice Inspector General completes his report that the Russiagate farrago will be revealed as a conspiracy inside the US security organs. We do not have a date yet, but mid-January is suggested. Readers who want to follow the story are recommended to these websites: Dystopiausa, CTH and Zerohedge.

We start with four remarks Trump often made while campaigning. Everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq. The “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA. NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share. It would better to get along with Russia than not.

To the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd, who have been driving US foreign policy for most of the century, these four points, when properly understood (as, at some level, they do understand them), are a fatal challenge. Trump is saying that

  • the post 911 military interventions did nothing for the country’s security
  • foreign interventions impoverish the country;
  • the alliance system is neither useful nor a good deal for the country;
  • Russia is not the once and future enemy.

A Chinese leader might call these the Three Noes (no regime change wars, no overseas adventures, no entangling alliances) and the One Yes (cooperation with Russia and other powers).

Which brings us to his slogan of Make America Great Again. We notice his campaign themes of job loss, opiates, lawlessness, infrastructure, illegal immigration, the stranglehold of regulations, the “swamp”, the indifference of the mighty, the death of the “American Dream”. None of these can be made better by overseas interventions, carrier battle groups or foreign bases. But they can be made worse by them. There is every reason to expect that by MAGA he means internal prosperity and not external might. Trump has little interest in the obsessions of the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd. “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military – can take care of our vets… The fact is, the American Dream is dead.” No foreign adventures there. So, in summary, Trump’s foreign policy of Three Noes and One Yes is a necessary part of making America “great” again. If I am correct in this and this is indeed his aim, how can he do it?

There is a powerful opposition in the United States to the Three Noes and One Yes. And it’s not just from the neocon/humanitarian interventionists: most Americans have been conditioned to believe that the USA must be the world’s policeman, arbiter, referee, example. Perhaps it’s rooted in the City on a Hill exceptionalism of the early dissenter settlers, perhaps it’s a legacy of the reality of 1945, perhaps it’s just the effect of unremitting propaganda, but most Americans believe that the USA has an obligation to lead. Gallup informs us that, in this century, well over half of the population has agreed that the USA should play the leading or a major role in the world. The percentage in the punditocracy believing the USA must lead would be even higher.

Interventionists are becoming aware that they do not have a soulmate in the White House and they’re wagging their rhetorical fingers. “The fact is, though, that there is no alternative great power willing and able to step in“. “If nations in the South China Sea lose confidence in the United States to serve as the principal regional security guarantor, they could embark on costly and potentially destabilizing arms buildups to compensate or, alternatively, become more accommodating to the demands of a powerful China” warns the intervention-friendly Council on Foreign Relations. The US has an obligation to lead in North Korea. It must lead for “Middle East progress“. A former NATO GenSek proclaims the US must lead. “US should be the great force for peace and justice globally“. “The absence of American leadership has certainly not caused all the instability, but it has encouraged and exacerbated it.” The ur-neocon tells us that America must lead. Chaos is the alternative. Must resume (resume??!!) its imperial role (which apparently means even more military expenditure lest its military lead be lost). Innumerable more examples calling on the US to lead something/somewhere everything/everywhere can easily be found: it would be much more difficult to find one pundit advising the US to keep out of a problem somewhere than find twenty urging it to lead.

If I have understood him aright, what would Trump see if he read this stuff? Lead, lead, lead… everything everywhere. The South China Sea, the Middle East and North Korea specifically but everywhere else too. More infrastructure repairs foregone so as to ensure what?… That ships carrying goods to and from China safely transit the South China Sea? “Friendly” governments installed in “Kyrzbekistan“? Soldiers killed in countries not even lawmakers knew they were in? 40,000 troops out there somewhere? Trying to double the Soviet record for being stuck in Afghanistan? How many bridges, factories or lives is that worth? Trump sees more entanglements but he sees no benefit. He’s a businessman: he can see the expense but where’s the profit?

How to get out of these entanglements? It’s too late to hope to persuade the legions bleating that “America must lead” and, even if they could be persuaded, there isn’t enough time to do so: they salivate when the bell rings. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements?

By getting others to untie it.

He walks out of the Paris Agreement (“a watershed moment when it comes to debating America’s role in the world“). And the TPP (“opened the door toward greater Chinese influence, and won’t benefit the U.S. economy in the slightest“). His blustering on Iran caused the German Foreign Minister to express doubts about American leadership. He brusquely tells NATO allies to pay their own way (“America’s NATO allies may be on their own after November if Russia attacks them“). By announcing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel he unites practically everybody against Washington and then uses that excuse to cut money to the UN. His trash talk on North Korea has actually started the first debate about the utility of military force we’ve seen for fifteen years. He pulls out of Syria (quietly and too slowly but watch what he doesn’t talk about). One last try in Afghanistan and then out. Re-negotiate all the trade deals to US benefit or walk away. Be disrespectful of all sorts of conventions and do your best to alienate allies so they start to cut the ties themselves (his tweet on the UK was especially effective). Attack the media which is part of the machinery of entanglement. Confiscate assets. It’s a species of tough love – rudely and brusquely delivered. He (presumably) glories in opinion polls that show respect for the USA as a world leader slipping. He doesn’t care whether they like him or not – America first and leave the others to it.

The Three Noes and One Yes policy will be achieved by others: others who realise that the USA is no longer going to lead and they will have to lead themselves. Or not. Perhaps, as the neocons love to say, US leadership was necessary in the immediate postwar situation, perhaps NATO served a stabilising purpose then but there has been nothing stabilising about US leadership in this century. Endless wars and destruction and chaos and loss. Thus abroad and – the part that Trump cares about – so at home. It’s not incompetence, as the people who fail Adams’ test tell themselves; it’s a strategy.

(All real theories must be falsifiable; let’s see in a year’s time whether the US is more entangled or less entangled. It should be pretty apparent by then and, by the end of Trump’s first term, obvious to all.)
(Afterword: I have been thinking about this for some time as I ponder the Trump phenomenon. But I was inspired to write by Israel Shamir’s piece about how the Jerusalem decision has united everybody against it. I was also pleased to see that Andrew Korybko has just published a piece that argues along the same lines as I. The principal difference between his take and mine is that he sees the plan as using the chaos to strengthen the US’ world position whereas I see Trump as essentially an isolationist. But we both see the same mechanism at work.)

 

 

THE RIDDLE OF THE POTOMAC

(Inspired by questions from Sputnik asking my thoughts about US involvement in Syria: what it wants, what it’s doing and what will happen. My answer grew so large that it turned into this essay. Sputnik version https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201710311058699400-us-syria-strategy-failure/)

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/02/riddle-of-potomac.html

These questions are rather like asking someone to Unveil the Mysteries of the Universe and answer the Riddle of the Sphinx all in one go. I cannot: Washington is a mystery today and it has been since the early Obama days. At the heart of the mystery are two questions:

Who is in charge?

What do they want?

The United States of America is de-laminating: when even so solemn an outlet as Foreign Policy magazine wonders “Is America a Failing State?” it starts to become a commonplace.

What were the motives or aims of US involvement in trying to overthrow Assad in Syria? I can think of the following:

  1. Build a gas pipeline from Qatar into Europe.

  2. Weaken Russia by striking at an ally and cutting its gas sales.

  3. Obey orders from Jerusalem and Riyadh to weaken Syria/Iran.

  4. Arrogance, ignorance, overconfidence, “exceptionalism” and other delusions.

  5. Create chaos so the USA will still be king of the hill even if the hill is smaller.

  6. Something I haven’t thought of.

  7. Some or all of the above.

But trying to work out Washington’s policy is, to quote an alleged Churchillism about the USSR, like watching bulldogs fighting under a rug. You see that something is happening, you hear growls, but you don’t know who is doing what to whom or why. For example, last year then US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spent days negotiating a truce in Syria; within a few days the US military attacked the Syrian Army at Deir ez Zor. Who was in charge then? And what was the purpose of either of these actions? No wonder the Russians have concluded that Washington is недоговороспособны: no agreement is possible either because it can’t make one or it won’t keep it.

But what we can say is: whatever Washington, in whole or parts thereof, its sponsors or controllers, was or were trying to do in Syria, they have failed. The momentum, which seemed to be swinging against Assad two years ago, has reversed since Russia’s intervention and been replaced with the mockery of the “Assad must go curse“. Assad remains in power and supported by the population; Iran has gained power and influence; Jerusalem and Riyadh are nervous and unhappy; Russia is more influential and – most consequentially – shown to be reliable and effective; no gas pipeline will be built without the agreement of the Syrian government. Chaos has been reduced, order increased. Syria is the Thermopylae of the new New World Order. Every day the USA loses its position in the neighbourhood in proportion as Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey increase theirs. Failure. Defeat.

Washington isn’t good at admitting defeat and it always comes up with another gimcrack scheme to postpone the day. But the Kurdish surrogates aren’t doing well and the latest bright idea in Afghanistan is a loser too. So we have to contemplate the shape of The End.

US wars end in one of three ways:

  1. A surrender ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

  2. Destruction, overthrow, walk away, amnesia; the proclaimed success is never connected to the consequent chaos. (This is today’s prevailing pattern – see Kosovo, Somalia or Libya).

  3. Helicopters lifting off the Embassy roof in Saigon.

It won’t be number one, it’s probably too late for number two so I guess we must look forward to helicopters on American Embassy roofs.

Unless President Trump can break the habit. Which brings us to another unanswerable question. When campaigning, his rhetoric suggested that he had the beginnings of understanding. His slogan, “Make America Great” had the important addition “Again”. Which suggested that it wasn’t “Great” any more. It seemed to me that he understood that the endless (and unsuccessful) wars were a cause of that loss of “greatness”. This was encouraging to those of us who hoped for an end to the wars. His Inauguration Address continued the theme that Washington should mind its own business.

But, since his election he has been hobbled by the accusation that he is Putin’s poodle. The US media, the US intelligence agencies (or, more correctly, “hand-picked, seasoned” members of same) have banged this drum since the DNC, caught fixing the nomination, blamed Russia. This hysteria has crippled his attempts to have better relations with Russia and move away from the neocon and humanitarian bomber catastrophes of the past. No one could have foreseen this month-in-month-out shrieking. Nor predict how loudly stupid it would become: “Catalonia held a referendum. Russia won”, Pokemon and cute puppies. Trump has been under constraints he could never have expected. Maybe the lunacy will turn on its creators with the new revelations about Uranium One and the Steele dossier, maybe it won’t: I’ve given up trying to predict the craziness.

So we must add the Trump Mystery to the other Mysteries. Although there may be a clue. He has had four foreign affairs issues to deal with so far: Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria. He is very constrained on the first, loud and boorish on the second and third but interestingly quiet on the fourth. There was the cruise missile strike but I was and still am convinced that that was a theatrical production. What we do have is his decree ending CIA support for anti-Assad rebels. That is an action, the rest is talk. Maybe we should watch what he does, not what he says.

But still: we don’t know. We don’t know what Washington was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know whether all Washington was agreed on what it was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know if any agency in Washington had a plan in Syria. We don’t know who was making decisions in Washington then. We don’t know who’s making decisions in Washington now. We don’t know whether there is any unified position in Washington on Syria. Or anything else. We don’t know what Trump wants. We don’t know what Trump can do. We don’t know who’s running the place. Or whether anyone is.

We don’t know.

An unknown number of bulldogs fighting under a rug of unknown size.

Is Trump Finished?

Written for Edward Lozansky’s expert group 25 July 2017 (http://us-russia.org/5064-any-advice-to-trump.html)

Conventional opinion has been wrong about Donald Trump every chance it has had. He wasn’t seriously running; he’d never get the nomination; couldn’t possibly win the election; would be impeached, declared insane, would quit, was failing, was a Putin stooge and on and so on. Therefore absolutely nothing in the MSM or conventional thinking about him is worth a millisecond’s consideration: whatever conventional thought thinks is wrong. I know of only one person who has successfully read the Trumpian tea leaves and he is today saying that Trump is on the point of complete victory. Read Scott Adams; don’t waste your time with those who have been wrong every time before.

That having been said, I have been reading Adams on Trump for more than a year now and have seen him get it right time after time. If he says Trump is on the verge of victory, I believe him. I waste no time on the opinion of pundits who will be wrong again.

I was encouraged by Trump’s oft-stated intention of having better relations with Russia and his statement in his Inauguration Address that “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone…“. For too long Washington’s real message has been the threat, however fragrantly wrapped, “Do what we want or we’ll destroy you”. Twenty years of this has destroyed many countries: it has also (not that the destroyed are sorry about it) weakened the United States itself: Iran’s power and influence has spread, Russia and China are allied, other long-time allies are looking away, the US itself is debt-ridden, quarrelsome and stripped of the manufacturing power that made it so mighty. I believe that Trump understands this on some level.

But I am dismayed by his adulation of the winners of the “U.S. military’s marathon, 30-year, single-elimination, suck-up tournament“. I am disturbed by his evident belief that jihadist terrorism – that product of takfiris like ibn Taymiyya and al Wahhab – finds its headquarters among Twelver Shiites. Many of his personnel choices are very disturbing: people who in no way can be seen as making the change that he promised. The resistance of the Deep State to his attempts is frightening (although it may be significant that one of his latest tweets is that it is not merely a “swamp” to be drained but a “sewer”. Many people pull against him. But I haven’t given up hope yet (and, indeed, developments in Syria give hope.)

Putin had similar problems when he, an outsider, was dropped into the Moscow swamp and here the Saker advises Trump to emulate Putin.

Putin was underestimated too. Here are two opinions that look pretty silly today:

Psychiatry recognizes a condition known as ‘moral idiocy’. Every time he opens his mouth in public, Putin confirms this diagnosis for himself.

                                                                                                       (Andrey Piontkovsky, 2000.)

And

Putin, of course, is no Peter. The KGB lieutenant colonel who was abruptly bumped into the presidential throne of a nation in total disarray comes nowhere near ‘the Great’ in ambition, potential, drive or physical height.

                                                                                                          (Serge Schmemann, 2000.)

Trump-Putin phone call

Question from Sputnik asking for thoughts on the phone call and what the two can do in Syria.

The White House “readout” of the call says it was a “significant start to improving the relationship” and both are hopeful that “the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.” The Kremlin account is more detailed and speaks of hopes to improve “cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis”. The discussion touched on the Middle East, strategic stability, Iran, Korean Peninsula and Ukraine. But the big topic was “joining efforts in fighting the main threat” of “international terrorism”.

The call – one of several Trump made that day – took about an hour; therefore, allowing for interpreters, each president had about 15 minutes. Thus there was only enough time to communicate intentions and list problems. Therefore, only a beginning.

As to cooperation in Syria we have two stories going the rounds. One, from the Russian Armed Forces, that the US forces passed target data to them and – after checking: there’s still a distance to go before trust is assumed – Russian aircraft struck the targets. I would expect that the US military will be pleased enough to cooperate – there are already reports that US trainers know perfectly well that they are just training “the next generation of jihadis“. The other story, at the level of plausible rumour, is that Representative Gabbard took a message from Trump to Assad that US policy had changed and that “Assad must go!” was no more. Certainly Trump has in the past shown that he knows what’s really going on in Syria. And one should not forget what Flynn would have told him about the origins of ISIS/Daesh. So there is real hope that the US will stop arming and assisting ISIS/DAESH: a necessary step indeed.

Thus, there is much possibility for US-Russia cooperation in Syria.

But it’s only a start and there more to be done. But it is a good start.

Trump Day One

My interest, as a non-American, is, first and foremost, in Washington’s future foreign policy (which really means, these days, war – there hasn’t been much of anything else this century). As I wrote four months ago “To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.” I believed then and believe more strongly today that US President Trump carries the hope that this will be so.

His inaugural address reinforces my belief. It was overwhelming directed towards rebuilding and repairing. His diagnosis: “a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”; his theme: “a nation exists to serve its citizens”; his promise: “the oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans”. Whether he can deliver will be a matter for great speculation (most of it, amusingly, by the same people who so completely failed to understand the campaign) and wonderment. While we have learned that contemporary US Presidents can start wars ad libitum, it is less certain that they can build “roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways” or end the “American carnage”. But that is of more concern to Americans than to the rest of us.

The world knows America today almost entirely though destruction: to thousands and thousands today America is a drone strike, the bringer of random death, Abaddon.

But President Trump can avoid starting more wars and can end present wars. As he has implied he will, many times. The theme of his approach to foreign relations is this:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

The understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first“; when did we last hear an American President promise that? Indeed the theme of the Twenty-First Century has been that only “Exceptional America” has important interests. From a former Vice-President: “the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind“; from a former President: “I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness… to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.” What other nation’s puny, erroneous and mundane interest can possibly stand against such glory, righteousness and sanctity?

President Trump echoes President Adams two centuries later:

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….

In becoming the dictatress of the world, the United States has indeed lost the rule of her own spirit and her liberty has changed to force. Trump’s “benignant sympathy of her example” is

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Much to hope for after the catastrophes, cataclysms and carnage the Exceptionalists have wreaked on us during the last decade and a half.

Shining instead of bombing.

Rotating on Your Tanks

(A question from Sputnik: what do I make of the US Army forces moved to Europe and what do I think US President-elect Trump will do about it.)

The first thing to do is calm down: I’ve seen headlines with “thousands”, “hundreds” or “scores” of tanks. What we are actually talking about, according to the US Army in Europe, is the “3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division” of “3,500 personnel, 87 tanks, 18 Paladins; 419 multi-purpose Humvees and 144 Bradley tanks”. (And why are they in desert tan and not European green, by the way?) In other words 87 actual tanks (120mm gun), 18 self propelled guns (155mm gun), 419 of the most expensive Jeeps ever made and 144 infantry fighting vehicles (not “tanks”) (25mm gun, two anti-tank missiles). These troops are the first of “back-to-back rotations of armored brigades in Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve” – “rotations” gets NATO out of its 1997 pledge against “additional permanent stationing“. NATO is also planning to place a (rotating) battalion group in each of the three Baltic countries and Poland. In short, rounding everything way up: a maximum total of 10K soldiers, 100 tanks, 40 serious artillery pieces and 250 IFVs. That’s the high end. The actual reality will be smaller, under-equipped, very multi-national, always re-learning the ropes and therefore not very effective. In return Russia has reactivated the First Guards Tank Army. This Russian formation will have much more modern and more powerful kit than NATO’s and would brush aside the US brigade without pausing and ignore the battalion groups.

The purpose one assumes (if we ignore standard NATO-issue boiler plate about “security” “stability” “aggressor” and so on) is to emplace a “trip wire” – if you attack Estonia, you will be attacking us all. But that’s the point of the NATO alliance already: “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” In theory that is. But there are plenty of polls showing that “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5“. So I guess it’s supposed to be a reassurance to the little ones that NATO really really means it. So in that sense, it’s thought to be a deterrence.

But the assumption is quite idiotic. Moscow knows full well what the NATO Treaty means. The only circumstances under which it would attack any NATO country would be if it feared an attack on itself by all NATO countries. And then there would be no holding back: Moscow would know who it was fighting and why it was fighting and would go full out from the beginning.

This move – in the waning days of the Obama Administration – violates two Trumpian principles. First it is calculated to irritate Moscow and hobble US President-elect Trump in his stated intention to repair relations. Second it contradicts his ideas that NATO members should pay more for their own defence. (And a third: better relations with Russia obtained through diplomacy would eliminate the “threat” this deployment is supposed to be countering). Thus it is very probable that the whole thing will be reversed on the 21st. It should be remembered that Trump not only has a number of senior generals on his team but that there is plenty of evidence – “After 15 years of war, America’s military has about had it with ‘nation building’– that the US military are tired of endless wars. He’s not flying blind. And he’s not flying alone.

Trump, Tillerson, Russia

(Question from Sputnik on What can we expect from Rex Tillerson as secretary of state?)

I’m sure that we can all agree that the first step towards a good foreign policy is the acknowledgement of reality. The second step would be the acknowledgement of failure and Trump seems to be there already: “we will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past“.

Well, one of the “mistakes of the past” is Washington’s Russia policy.

Rex Tillerson seems to be open to the idea of Washington treating Moscow like a fellow inhabitant of the planet whose opinion deserves to be considered. Considered seriously. Which would be a good thing, because 1) Moscow actually is all that (plus nukes) and 2) because that would make a pleasant change in Washington’s behaviour (and not just to Moscow) from previous instaurations.

But seriously, (very seriously), if Trump can get the Russia-USA relationship right – and that requires a serious consideration of, respect for and listening to Moscow’s point of view – then a lot of the United States’ other international entanglements would sort themselves out pretty quickly.

Then, with a quieter world out there, Trump could concentrate on his real purpose of getting the USA working again.

In fact, he and Putin have a common aim which is getting their countries sorted out. The two have common problems (although Putin is a couple of decades ahead on the realisation curve): unemployment, loss of manufacturing capacity, desperation and loss, failing wars, general disaffection, and (very recently for the US) dropping life expectancy.

They’re both in the same business as it happens: making America/Russia great (for their citizens) again.

(PS none of this “greatness” involves blowing up people around the globe for random reasons. Which the USA has been doing quite a lot of this century.)

After the Trumpquake — Что делать?

http://us-russia.org/4507-coming-together-to-generate-ideas-for-a-new-foreign-policy-agenda.html

Question: (Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agenda). In the end, the 2016 US presidential campaign did what democracies are supposed to do: it gave the electorate a clear choice between two different visions of the country’s future and the policies each party proposed to take us there.  When faced with the prospect of “more of the same,” meaning more impoverishment of the middle and lower classes, more risks of new wars:  it ‘threw the bums out.”

Unfortunately, on the way to this happy outcome the level of political culture on display by the presidential candidates and their campaign staffs sank to unprecedented lows and vicious personal attacks on each other often obscured the policy differences between the candidates.

Nevertheless now that the outgoing President Obama and the incoming President Trump have shaken hands at their first transition meeting in the White House, it is time for the rest of us to make our peace with one another.  This, however, should not mean ending our differences of opinion on policies.  On the contrary, what the country needs now is a good dose of debate and in particular partisan, as opposed to nonpartisan discussion of our foreign policy issues, since we have for the past 4 years at least been stumbling into a very dangerous confrontation with both Russia and China without the benefit of free public discussion of our options.

What concretely can we all do to force the media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now rather than sulk and spit venom at the victorious Trump team?

The encouraging truth is that reality eventually triumphs; the discouraging truth is that it only does so over a long and painful time. Trump’s victory is, in its way, a victory for reality but a mighty effort remains.

What can we do in forums like this one? Keep talking about reality I suppose: the reality that the neocon domination of Washington has failed in every way possible; the reality that Washington’s endless wars have been failures; the reality that every failed war has planted the seeds of the next; the reality that a extraordinary opportunity was squandered in the 1990s; the reality that making Russia into an enemy is stupid, unnecessary and extremely dangerous; the reality that “exceptionalism” is exceptionally dangerous, destructive and stupid; the reality that the MSM is lying about Syria, about Russia, about Ukraine and about almost everything else; the reality that Putin is not a “thug” determined to re-create the USSR; the reality that Russia is not “isolated”, in “economic freefall” or on the edge of “regime change”; the reality that “The West” has been on the wrong course for two decades. The reality that the neocon/liberal interventionist route leads to destruction.

We may eventually hope that our little drops of water wear away the stone. Perhaps some of us have had an effect on Trump’s thinking, or Flynn’s thinking, or Bannon’s thinking. But we will probably never know and, in truth, it’s almost impossible to work out the influence.

But if Trump can get the Russia relationship right, then a great number of Washington’s international entanglements will be easier to remedy. And he does seem to be interested in getting that right.

But I think, in the last analysis, we have to agree with the great physicist Max Planck:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

In short, a new foreign policy for the USA will have to advance, to paraphrase Planck again, “one political funeral at a time”.

But it’s encouraging that Trump’s election has produced so many political funerals.

Trump and Clinton, Clinton and Trump

(Written for US-Russia.org expert panel)

To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.

President Clinton means more wars. Deeply implicated in the wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria, she is contaminated by the noxious gospel of American Exceptionalism; the arrogant (and profoundly ignorant) assumption that the US is morally justified in doing anything anywhere to anyone at any time because its intentions are pure. “American Exceptionalism” is manifested today chiefly by armed force: military bases around the world, US special forces active in half the countries and war after war since the close of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. It should be clear – even if it isn’t to the Exceptionalists – that the US is losing these wars, that each sets up the conditions for the next and that their consequences, far from the “stability” fantasised by the Exceptionalists, are uniformly disastrous. Clinton will end none of them and will start new ones. Added to which, given her extreme rhetoric, there is the non-zero possibility of bringing us to World War Last against Russia and China.

Trump, on the other hand, boasts of his skills at negotiating The Deal. This deserves more attention than it has received. “American Exceptionalism” never negotiates because there is nothing to negotiate about: there’s the Exceptionalist way, the correct way, and there are all the other ways and they’re all wrong; other countries’ national interests count for nothing against the Exceptional. For the Exceptionalists a “negotiation” is a command to do it our way – the right way – or we bomb you. This is not what Trump is talking about: in a real deal both parties feel that they have achieved a good result; a real negotiator respects the other side’s interests and takes them into account; a real deal doesn’t need to be bombed into place. As US power drains away – and even Zbigniew Brzezinski understands that it is “no longer the globally imperial power” he said it was only twenty years ago – managing the decline will be enormously important for the safety of the world. Far better that we have The Dealmaker for four or eight years than The Exceptionalist.

Can President Trump deliver on his promise to step away from confrontation and wars? There’s a very good reason to expect he can. The years of the so-called “imperial presidency” have shown us that while American presidents have to struggle to achieve anything domestically they can start wars ad libitum – especially now that the secret of disguising neocon aims behind a froth of humanitarian rhetoric has been discovered. So all President Trump has to do is not start them.

Therefore Trump is the obvious candidate to hope for and there are good reasons to think Trump can deliver: his starting approach is to negotiate and all he has to do to prevent a new war is to not start it. The other differences between the two candidates fade into froth and bubbles: no more Exceptionalist wars trumps – if my feeble pun may be accepted – everything else.

 

Trump and Foreign Policy

Asked by Sputnik what I thought of Trump’s foreign policy statements, I said:
“The reality is that, while US Presidents are rather constrained in what they can do domestically, they can start wars wherever and whenever they want ad libitum. So, if Trump is less willing to start wars — as he sounds is if he is — he should be able to refrain from doing so. A little inaction would be better — as he memorably said, if former Presidents had taken a day at the beach instead of starting wars in the Middle East, everybody would be better off.”