Monday, December 18, 2017

Trump's contradictory speech about international relations

Today Donald Trump spoke about how the U.S. would continue to engage in international leadership,  while criticizing 'revisionist' powers Russia and China.

Two questions this brings up.  First, what is a 'revisionist' power?  If Russia lost the Cold War, does that mean they will always be no threat to the U.S.?  No more than Germany stopped being a threat to France after it lost World War I.  History continues forward and it is foolish to assume that because of an event in the past (be it a military victory or whatever) that the future is thereby settled.  At best the immediate future is settled, but never history going forward.  By claiming that Russia is a 'revisionist' power (presumably meaning they want to reverse the outcome of the Cold War) it seems that Trump lacks a serious understanding of who they are.  OF COURSE Russia would like to reverse the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union 'the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century'  has simply taken off the uniform and replaced it with a suit.  Out with the Hammers and Sickles and in with Tsarist trappings.  Out with one candidate elections and replace them with multicandidate elections in which the media are completely controlled by Putin and his allies, allowing only one candidate to be heard.

Like the Chinese, the Russians have undertaken limited economic reform,  'privatizing' state enterprises and instead allowing them to fall under the leadership of corrupt oligarchs and of Putin himself.  His raw territorial ambition and his quest to return to the world stage as great power have been shown by his invasions of parts of Georgia and the Ukraine (including all of Crimea) and more recently by his active intervention to tilt the Syrian civil war in favor of old Moscow ally Bashir al-Assad.

But the Chinese have even gone beyond this.  Doing much of the same in the way of 'reforms' as Russia (though China is still officially a communist country)  and bullying its neighbors to the southeast and east, China has also become a military power.  But beyond that,  the Chinese situation brings up the second question.

That question is this:  With the United States withdrawing from everything from the Paris climate accords to trade deals around the world, China has eagerly jumped in to replace the U.S. as a leader.  Showing leadership means to engage.  Now, it is certainly true that there have been some bad trade deals and I supported Trump's withdrawl from the proposed Trans-Pacific partnership;  Not, mind you, because it was a bad deal.  I don't know whether it was or it was not.  The reason I don't know is because the whole deal was negotiated in secret and even people who saw drafts of the deal were sworn to secrecy to where they could say nothing about what was in it.  The secrecy behind the TPP is what doomed it in the end, as many people felt (as I did) that the practice of negotiating that kind of a deal behind an opaque wall and saying nothing at all about it was itself  unacceptable, so we chose not to support it.

However, it is also true that where there is a vacuum, somebody will fill it.  TPP aside, the Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. from MANY international treaties and deals,  leaving the game wide open for China to step into the leadership role and they have already been working out trade deals and inserting themselves anywhere the U.S. has stepped back from.  Heavy Chinese investment in Australia (formerly a reliable U.S. trading partner but less so anymore)  and even in Afghanistan (where American soldiers have died while Chinese companies have stepped in behind them and opened mines that develop the local economy and feed raw materials back to China) are cases where the failure of the U.S. to engage economically has created an opportunity for China.

Before making these grand (and contradictory) pronouncements about the U.S. engaging with the rest of the world AND opposing 'revisionist powers' (whatever that is supposed to mean)  perhaps the President should consider what it takes to do both of those things-- and balance them against each other as so far he has not done.

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