Monday, February 06, 2017

Has Donald Trump Already Managed to Break the United States? Is War Next?

Two important essays in Foreign Policy.

Harvard professor, Stephen Walt, writes that Trump has already ruined America's foreign policy at home and abroad, with allies and adversaries alike. He has also united a curious alliance of unlikely partners in opposition.

For starters, foreign leaders who like the United States are learning that being nice to Trump can hurt them at home (and earns them no favors in Washington anyway). Our adversaries — from the Islamic State to Beijing to Iran — have been handed powerful new arguments with which to embarrass, delegitimize, and undermine America’s image and reputation. And perhaps most remarkable of all, a president elected by the smallest percentage of the popular vote in history has seen his approval ratings continue to fall, even as an unlikely opposing coalition of opponents begins to form against him. If you’re still among his supporters, this cannot be an encouraging sign.

For the past 15 years or more, people like me have been consistently and at times powerfully critical of American neoconservatives. ...But as of today we’re on the same side, because the threat that Trump, Bannon, and their incompetent cronies pose to our constitutional order and core political values overrides our continuing differences on other foreign-policy questions. The neocons may change their tune if Trump does decide to attack Iran — we’ll see — but for now their concerns are justified and their warnings should be heeded.

It takes a danger of considerable magnitude to get realists and neoconservatives to agree on anything, but we agree on Trump. And you can add to that unlikely coalition the traditional left, the largely apolitical civil service, the heads of a growing number of major corporations, and many dedicated foreign-policy professionals Trump might have won over but didn’t even bother to try.

Professor Walt puts it all down to the lunacy that is Trump/Bannon.

Some pundits believe it is mostly a product of his own defective personality: a toxic combination of brashness, narcissism, sensitivity to the smallest slight, and utter disregard for truth or consequences. Another possibility — and they’re not mutually exclusive — is that Trump and his inner circle really do have a grand strategy; it’s just at odds with reality, internally contradictory, and destined to fail bigly. And a third possibility — also not mutually exclusive — is that the Bannon-Trump approach to politics is in fact driven by a paranoid view of the modern world that sees the global economy in strictly zero-sum terms (thereby ignoring a couple of centuries of economic knowledge) and thinks the white, Judeo-Christian West is now under siege from an implacable and powerful tide of dark-skinned people, and especially Muslims. Instead of recognizing America’s remarkable strengths and security and many unique virtues, the Breitbart worldview that has infested the White House believes it has to destroy our current democracy in order to save it.

God Save America - from Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.

From the Neo-Con side, Walt's fellow historian and FP columnist, Robert Kagan, sees Trump backing America into World War III.

Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China. The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries. The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering.

In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war. Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15? That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends. The further accommodation of Russia can only embolden Vladimir Putin, and the tough talk with China will likely lead Beijing to test the new administration’s resolve militarily. Whether the president is ready for such a confrontation is entirely unclear. For the moment, he seems not to have thought much about the future ramifications of his rhetoric and his actions.

China and Russia are classic revisionist powers. Although both have never enjoyed greater security from foreign powers than they do today — Russia from its traditional enemies to the west, China from its traditional enemy in the east — they are dissatisfied with the current global configuration of power. Both seek to restore the hegemonic dominance they once enjoyed in their respective regions. For China, that means dominance of East Asia, with countries like Japan, South Korea, and the nations of Southeast Asia both acquiescing to Beijing’s will and acting in conformity with China’s strategic, economic, and political preferences. That includes American influence withdrawn to the eastern Pacific, behind the Hawaiian Islands. For Russia, it means hegemonic influence in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which Moscow has traditionally regarded as either part of its empire or part of its sphere of influence. Both Beijing and Moscow seek to redress what they regard as an unfair distribution of power, influence, and honor in the U.S.-led postwar global order. As autocracies, both feel threatened by the dominant democratic powers in the international system and by the democracies on their borders. Both regard the United States as the principal obstacle to their ambitions, and therefore both seek to weaken the American-led international security order that stands in the way of their achieving what they regard as their rightful destinies.

Trump is batshit crazy, in a very lazy, narcissistic sort of way. Bannon is a far right ideologue, barking mad and borderline rabid.  Trump's national security advisor, former general Michael Flynn, is a conspiracy theorist, a real fringe type with a less than firm grasp on reality and a penchant for drifting into fantasy. In effect, when it comes to America's military muscle, the White House is a modern day lunatic asylum.


Anonymous said...

Go to war or proxy war?
It would seem to me that the USA has a dwindling supply of friends.
Even the US evangelistas have little appetite for all out war and a Obamadrone ,as we have seen,conflict is unlikely to be effective.
That said; the optics of an all out drone war against the non,Christian, believers would make good press in the USA as did the Gulf soon we forget!
The Anglo Spheres appetite for conflict knows no bounds


The Mound of Sound said...

TB, what Bannon has in his dark, twisted mind isn't a proxy war. Anything but.

Northern PoV said...

1) No argument that tRump & co are out to end democracy and perhaps even provoke war. Calling them 'mad' is part of the coping strategy but I fear it masks and excuses the coldly-rational behavior.

2) I see most of the 'principled' neo-CONs acquiescing to tRump as he consolidates power. Do not look to them to go against tRump in a pinch, they saw their own party massively vote for him and they are coming into line now. (Frum - an irrelevant Canadian aside - watch Paul Ryan for ex.)

3) "China and Russia are classic revisionist powers"
Classic western BS.

I googled this phrase - and found (perhaps?) the source in that 'left-wing scourge' Financial Times... back in 2014. (When tRump was just a failed celebrity.)

Cept in their case they lumped in Iran with these other two...quelle surprise!

After Napoleon and Hitler, Eastern Europe as Russia's buffer zone was a survival policy. (As was the reclaimed the Crimea - it was only part of the Ukraine because of Khrushchev's vanity and hosted Russia's main warm water naval base.)

China has had centuries to learn not to trust the west. All their 'aggression' is looking to secure the trade-routes (in their immediate neighborhood) for the New Silk Roads.

Iran: invaded by neighbors, undermined by the CIA and literally surrounded by nuclear powers including their existential enemy in the region.

So - when the background arguments we rely on in the west are based on this kind of BS, I think tRump will have little opposition in his jihad.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

750+ US military bases and counting world wide. The invasion, interference and occupation of sovereign nations since WW11 is more then 50+. The military and political provocation of Russia and China is instigated by propaganda and outright lies.

The complete destruction of sovereign nations, many through proxy wars. The American Empire along with NATO are the ones in their goal of neoliberal world domination that bestows this violence on countries of the world whose wealth they seek to plunder or who they seek for geopolitical reasons.

Russia and China alledgedly seeking hegemonic dominance is completely without evidence. Empty assertions, propogated by the west to justify their own militarism. No one but the American people believe them. These same people who never question their government and their militaries ongoing wars against sovereign countries.

Millions have had to run from their homes and countries because of the US's destruction of their countries. Millions have died, because of the military violence imposed on their countries by the US and NATO.

Their most recent target, Iran, they have accused of being the greatest cause and supporter of terrorism in the world! This from the greatest purveyor of violence and terrorism the world has ever seen, The United States of America.

I'm sure that Trumps recent threats against Iran are strongly encouraged by the necon powers of the Deep State and strongly encouraged by Israel and Saudi Arabia, 2 of the US's most violent and Imperial allies.

Is it a coincidence that out of the 7 countries that Trump has chosen to block from entering the US, that 3 of these countries, Iraq, Libya and Syria are Iranian allies? I doubt it..

Now that the anti-intellectualism that has dominated American culture has been realized through the election of Donald Trump, all that is left, is to watch the consequences of that anti-intellectualism in the form of Presidential decisions.

The American cultural wasteland ends at the Oval Office.The resident in chief that Farley Mowat would have called a psychopath, the American people call their president.

Purple library guy said...

I notice that even as he makes more or less valid criticisms of Trump, Kagan himself remains a dangerous nutcase.
(More or less valid. Although I find it odd that in the very same breath he denounces both rapprochement and tough talk with rival countries--both apparently leading to the exact same bad result.)