Brian E. Frydenborg
AMMAN — After the major invasions from “barbarians” from the east that tore apart and eventually destroyed a weakened Western Roman Empire that only ever became weak enough for this to happen because of colossal mismanagement and internal division, it took about 1600 years for an new international system to take hold over Europe that would approach anything like the levels of peace and stability of the Pax Romana.
That system is the U.S.-led post-WWII international order, the “Long Peace,” and the NATO alliance is one of the core foundations of that relatively very successful (if still imperfect) international order, along with the system of U.S.-led alliances in East Asia.
I noted in March of 2016, even before I thought Trump had more than a remote chance of winning the presidency (though I thought he could win the GOP nomination way back in the summer of 2015, but more into 2016 I became more and more worried that he could be president), that Western democracy and the international system were on trial more so than any time since WWII. After Trump’s win, in December 2016, I warned that Putin’s successful cyber war campaign in what I called the (First) Russo-American Cyberwar was a devastating blow to the West and the international system and was also part of a larger war against the West and democracy itself, and early in Trump’s presidency, in February 2017, I elaborated on Putin’s global machinations and the global rise of what I called democratic fascism.
Two faces of the same coin (AFP/Getty Images/Natalia Kolesnikova)
If Putin has his way and if Trump keeps aiding and abetting him, it seems this nearly unheard of level of peace and stability in Europe could come unraveling in our lifetimes, and perhaps sooner than we think. That’s right: We might be witnessing the pinnacle of 1,600+ years of human civilizational buildup coming apart because of machinations of a Russian president who wants nothing more than to destroy this system (especially NATO) and an American president who seems somewhere on a spectrum that ranges from hostility to this system to indifference to it.
Reducing NATO to Unpaid Bills
This shouldn’t be surprising. For all the KBG mystique surrounding Putin, his aims are remarkably banal and predictable, and his more creative methods are more easily understood through this quite accurate prism. And Trump, well, his contempt for Europe, NATO, alliances, diplomacy, treaties, and the like was well broadcast during the 2016 election cycle for all to see. Along with these, his authoritarian tendencies, his adoration of kings and strongmen and dictators (hardly just Putin), his disregard of the rule of law, his total ignorance of the Constitution and of laws in general, and his terrifying imitations of the very earliest stages of fascism (minus the organized violence, at least thus far) were also broadcast for all the world to see throughout the 2016 election cycle.
Trump, Merkel and Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg (AFP)
So, while perhaps unprecedented, it should not be surprising that as a recent NATO meeting, Trump literally reduced NATO to a series of unpaid bills to America and called Germany “captive” to Russia, that at the following state visit to the United Kingdom, Trump tried to destabilize the government of embattled British Prime Theresa May by endorsing her just-resigned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to more or less replace her, all this just days before Trump’s historic—and historically awful—“summit” with Putin.
In the end we are witnessing an era in which treason (in spirit, if not in a strict U.S. constitutional sense) has been made banal, lying and obstruction fail to deliver bipartisan mass outrage even when obvious, and one of America’s two major political parties—in existence since the 1850s—has not become little more than a cult devoted to one madman and justifying or excusing his unjustifiables and inexcusables. There is no shame, nothing is sacred, no norm safe from sudden flouting, and there are so many outrages that there is little time to appreciate or consider one weighty violation of protocol when the next violation is thrust upon our conscience against our will, our emotionally crumbling collective perspective suffering so much trauma that the only human response is to go numb to all the horror, exactly the reaction the Trump apparatchiks want and planned.
Great leap forward
Some might say that “Oh, nothing really had has happened. Everything is basically fine.” But those who know history know that history doesn’t move in Great Leaps Forward, and even the Great Leap Forward was really many small leaps added together. And as is obvious to those with a sense of history, Trump’s and his minions’ steps, combined with Putin’s and his agents’ steps, together are putting us miles into recently-unchartered territory; their many small actions combining to ensure a near-certainty that when, eventually, a serious crisis or crises does erupt, something disastrous will happen, bar any miracle flukes that will largely delude us into thinking things really are ok, lifting us up even higher just before the fall.
As the unthinkable keeps occurring, one of the most important lessons any of us can learn is to stop taking things for granted: that things will get better, that he wouldn’t ever do X, that the American people, Republicans, Congress, and/or media will hold him accountable, that the Bernie-wing of the Democratic Party has learned its lesson and will not vote in meaningful numbers for third-parties in a way that is a net benefit to Trump and Republicans that whatever comes after American hegemony can’t be worse.
In the end, perhaps as much as and maybe more than anything else, the Trump-Putin “summit” in Helsinki was an announcement, loud and plain for all to see, to the entire world is that the U.S. has no foreign policy and that America’s chief executive has no clue and no shame, that all bets are off, that while that Trump’s imperial court might be able to reign him in some of the time on some of the issues, over time nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible, that the U.S. is no longer a reliable partner and that its center of gravity revolves around a would-be deranged emperor.
To those here in Jordan and others in America’s complicated imperial entanglements (that is not to use the term “imperial” pejoratively, as any entity in history of the relative power of the U.S. has found itself with similar entanglements, this is merely to point out the fact), I say buckle-up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride and I honestly don’t know how to tell you to manage your relationship with the U.S. You can manipulate Trump easily to an extent with cheap flattery of him, yet even after winning on one issue with Trump, he might the very next day butcher a sacred cow of some importance to you.
Sure, it’s possible that Trump might be checked in the midterms this November and stopped altogether in 2020, but it’s also possible (perhaps more likely?) neither of these will happen. As the much derided U.S. led international system either devolves or unwinds, as U.S. influence either wanes or America acts more in the spirit of naked, raw self-interests in the manner it is so often accused of acting but that more fittingly describes actions of powers like Russia and China, as talk of human rights all but disappears from the agenda of the sitting U.S. president, as those formerly partially restrained by U.S. expectations and standards begin to feel unleashed, as the rules of engagement intended to limit civilian casualties are significantly relaxed in U.S. military operations around the world, we can have a conversation as the measurable damage over time is considered about how bad the U.S.-led international system in place since the end of WWII, perhaps failing now, really was. We can measure the increase of the power, influence, and reach of Russia and China and see if they are doing more (they are not) or less (much, much less) on human rights and see if they take more or less care with how they throw their weight around. But from civilian casualties in Syria’s Russia-assisted assault on Aleppo (vs the relative restraint in the U.S.-assisted operation in Iraq’s Mosul) to the way Chinese “aid” is doled out in Africa vs. that of USAID, the answer to those questions is already obvious.
Russian jets stationed at the Hmeimim air base in Lattakia, in western Syria (AFP)
Ask the people?
Ask the people of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, just to name a few, the difference between their current relationship with America and their former domination by the Russians. Ask the people of Hong the difference between Chinese and Western rule. Why is former U.S. adversary and communist state Vietnam reaching out to the U.S. to help check the regional influence of fellow communist nation China?
This is not to claim any perfection in the U.S.-led international system, far from it, as there are many problems with it and wrongs committed in the name of preserving it. But in virtually every major measurable way, this so-called “neoliberal” system has been one of the most remarkable for peace (unquestionably, the proportion of people and the absolute number of people dying from armed conflict in the world are way down over the decades of U.S. hegemony), stability, and raising people out of poverty in the history of the world.
Vladimir Putin made a vow to himself, as the Soviet Union was crumbling, to reverse what he saw happening. He is succeeding today, probably beyond what he thought possible, and this recent press conference between him and Donald Trump (whose incriminating ties to Russia I have done more than most to point out) provides no better example of Russia’s gains in the international arena at the expense of America, with a U.S. president basically playing second fiddle to an adversarial Putin who could hardly contain his excitement.
As I said, buckle up, because there’s no telling how bad this will get, or if it will even get better before many more unthinkable events—worse than that what has transpired so far—unfold, and how those two men decide to react—perhaps in tandem—may define a generation or more of global international relations.
Brian E. Frydenborg in an American consultant based in Amman, Jordan. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News, only those of the author.
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