Years from now we may look back at this past week and see the emergence of a new era. This may be regarded as hyperbole at this time & it may well be so. But there is no doubt this week crystallized what was set in motion in November 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.
1.Does it help to call a spade a spade?
President’s Trump brought a blunt realism to U.S. Policy and, to use a borrowed term, called a spade a spade. The answer to the above question is yes because it has forced & will continue to force both America & others to “give up old pretenses”. Whose phrase is that? Of Henry Kissinger in 2018,
- “Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”
From the very beginning of his campaign, Candidate Trump blasted the prevailing fantasy of labeling China as an economic partner & a responsible stakeholder in the global economy. In a period of total acceptance of China’s emergence as a global superpower, Candidate Trump ridiculed this bull & pointed out China’s rise was based on America’s arrogant stupidity.
And he actually went about changing it as President. This week’s so-called Phase I deal is merely the first step of a changing U.S. posture against China. It will take several more years for the U.S. to take the U.S.-China policy to where it needs to be. That process will be difficult, antagonistic at times & but it is of paramount importance if the U.S. is to keep its current global position.
Europe has been more difficult for President Trump. It has an aura of being a U.S. ally while being an economic competitor. The European Union has emerged as the bastion of an arrogant era that was put away in November 2016 in America. If you had to name a determined antagonist over the last several years of everything America stands for, you would choose Frau Merkel of Germany.
That may be changing as well. The thumping victory of Boris Johnson in England is a signal for the EU to change their cemented-in-concrete arrogance. The scale of his victory will force a recalcitrant EU to come to a deal with England given the size of the EU-UK trade. On the other hand, PM Johnson will have a difficult time dealing with Scotland & unionist Ireland.
In this process, President Trump could end up becoming an ally of PM Johnson & the prospect of a trade deal between America & England could force the EU into trying for a win-win deal with PM Johnson. At the same time, the Trump Administration has stepped its presence in EU’s backyard with focus on Poland & Central Europe & the Balkans. Who knows, we might look back & see a joint US-UK relationship with Poland, Hungary & others against a domineering EU.
2. Actual turn or just a hypothesis
Our’s is and has been a hypothesis or at best a conjecture. To call a turn for a giant country like America, we need to see acknowledgement from the other side of the political divide, the side of the global elite.
Think of the term “global elite” in foreign policy and one name jumps to mind – Council of Foreign Relations (“CFR”). Their leader, Richard Haass, has been active on MSNBC for the past two years criticizing President Trump’s foreign policy in harsh terms. And their magazine, Foreign Affairs, has been in the forefront of attacks on President Trump’s thinking & vision.
But guess what we saw last week from these elite, august thinkers. An article titled The Age of Great-Power Competition – How the Trump Administration Refashioned American Strategy. Holy Whatchamacallit, we thought & we didn’t mean the chocolate peanut candy bar from Hershey. Read the title again – it uses past tense to describe refashioning meaning what President Trump has already set in motion.
Our sense of wonderment grew as we began reading the article. It begins with,
- “In truth, the United States is gearing up for a new era—one marked not by unchallenged U.S. dominance but by a rising China and a vindictive Russia seeking to undermine U.S. leadership and refashion global politics in their favor. “
- “Elements of it emerged, mostly in a reactive form, under President Barack Obama. The Trump administration has gone one important step further, recognizing that great-power competition warrants rebuilding U.S. foreign policy from the ground up, and it has based its formal strategy documents on that recognition.
- When future historians look back at the actions of the United States in the early twenty-first century, by far the most consequential story will be the way Washington refocused its attention on great-power competition.”
What is needed?
- “But faced with a rising and enormously powerful China and an opportunistically vengeful Russia, the United States will realize this vision of a free and open world only if it ensures its own strength and economic vitality, maintains an edge in regional balances of power, and communicates its interests and redlines clearly.”
Remember the vitriolic condemnation of President Trump’s withdrawal from Northern Syria or his refusal to squander U.S. military resources on Iran? Guess what the Foreign Affairs authors wrote,
- “Engaging in a war with Iran, sustaining a large military presence in Afghanistan, or intervening in Venezuela, as some in the administration want to do, is antithetical to success in a world of great-power competition.”
3. Focus on China & Russia
So how is U.S. defense policy changing to focus on China & Russia?
- “In its National Defense Strategy, in its 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, and through its public statements, the U.S. military has made clear that its overriding concern today is how to effectively defend the likes of Taiwan and the Baltic states against a potential Chinese or Russian attack, especially one based on a fait accompli strategy, which involves seizing vulnerable territory, digging in, and making any counterattack too costly to envisage.”
- “Short-range fighter jets and bulky amphibious vessels, both vulnerable to enemy attacks, are making way for stealthier long-range bombers and submarines, unmanned ships and aircraft, long-range ground-based missiles and artillery, and large stocks of precise, penetrating munitions. The military is also experimenting with how to use this new hardware—what the new force should look like, how it should operate, and where.”
4. Generational Effort
The authors warn:
- “China shows no sign of giving up its pursuit of ascendancy in Asia. Moscow looks no more likely to mend ties with the West; if anything, it is deepening its partnership with Beijing. The United States, then, must prepare for a generational effort.”
What does that mean diplomatically, especially regarding China?
- “Another question is what exact form the United States’ coalitions should take, particularly in Asia. The United States need not replicate NATO in the region; the point is to form a coalition that checks China’s aspirations to regional hegemony. Such a coalition could be a mixture of formal alliances (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea come to mind), quasi alliances (Taiwan), and deepening partnerships that do not involve formal security guarantees (India and Vietnam). Washington’s ties to New Delhi and Tokyo will anchor the coalition, but sustaining it in the face of a powerful China will require the United States to play an active leading role. Meanwhile, the smaller and more vulnerable states of Southeast Asia will likely be the focus of the strategic competition with China.”
(courtesy- Foreign Affairs & Carlos Barria/Reuters)
We have felt & written that the biggest geo-strategic mistake of President Obama was to push Russia into the arms of China. In fact, his entire foreign policy team was focused on punishing Russia & making Ukraine the focal point of U.S. policy & prestige around the world.
The Foreign Affairs authors seem to concur:
- “It has long been a truism of American statecraft that it is unwise to allow the two primary Eurasian states to partner together, yet that may be precisely what is happening today, as Russia, deeply alienated from the West, appears to be tilting toward China even at the cost of its autonomy.”
In fact, they say “Washington should try to create some distance between Beijing and Moscow“. But as they themselves admit,
- “For now, attempts to lure Russia away from China are unlikely to succeed, so the United States will have to settle for deterrence and wait for a more propitious opening. … To the extent that a future interests-based détente with Russia is possible, it will be because Moscow concludes that resurrecting its Soviet-era influence by force is too costly to be worthwhile.”
We urge all readers to read this article in Foreign Affairs. It provides a blueprint which they say will govern U.S. diplomatic policy, economic policy & military policy for years to come. Don’t forget the U.S. is a huge supertanker & not a fast agile patrol boat. Making a turn will take time & effort. The important point is, as the article says, the change is being made & it is bi-partisan.
In fact, we think the intensity of the hate & the enormity of vitriol against President Trump is itself a sign that he is heralding a new era in U.S. posture in the world. And that posture thanks to his own huge global presence is already transforming England & creating a nightmare for China in Hong Kong.
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