Although it is the world’s major power, the US has found it difficult to impose its will in the past decade or so. From President Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ speech about Iraq in 2003, to the continuing disasters in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, from US policy in Ukraine also being upset by Russian intervention in Crimea, to how the Saudis and other Gulf states have destabilised the Middle East, the US has not been getting its own way and has been unable to impose settlements that would otherwise be expected of a hegemonic power. This puts the incoming US administration under The Donald in an interesting position.
Early signs suggest that POTUS-elect Trump is taking a softer line on Russia, one different from the still Cold War-inspired position of the Obama regime. Trump has stated that he expects the Europeans to pay more for their own NATO-related defence, which might make them less willing to finance an increased build up of military operations close to Russia’s borders. Trump has also rejected Obama’s rhetoric on Putin’s supposed involvement in Russia’s alleged cyber attack on Clinton’s emails. Perhaps most striking of all, Trump plans to appoint Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State, that is to be the main person in charge of foreign policy. Tillerson is Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, and is well known to have friendly relationships with the Russian government.
ExxonMobil opposed sanctions on Russia from its own business perspective, but one would have to agree that the aggression shown to Russia by the current US administration makes little economic or political sense. Russia is far from being a threat to US interests. Instead, Russia may have prevented the unravelling of Syria that was the direction of previous US policy, and which would have had a deleterious impact on the stability of the Middle East, with knock on impacts into Europe. For this reason, Trump’s likely Russian rapprochement makes sense, even if it will embarrass the Europeans.
All this, and more, is still to be determined, since the billionaire has yet to establish himself in the White House. However, it seems that while there is very likely to be a US-Russia rapprochement, the US political antagonism to China will continue under the Trump administration.
Under Obama and previous US presidents, Taiwan had remained in the limbo of being diplomatically isolated (it has not been a member of the UN since 1971, under the ‘one China’ policy) although politically and militarily supported by the US. But Trump took a call from Taiwan’s president, much to China’s displeasure, which saw the incident as an implicit recognition of Taiwan. This also makes sense from a US perspective. China is both a political and an economic threat to US interests, one that has been recognised in numerous US Congressional reports. China’s economic power has seen it gain influence in Africa, Latin America and Asia, often giving governments in these regions an alternative to the US-dominated world financial and economic system.
More pointedly for the current political climate, it is China, rather than Russia or anywhere else, which is being singled out as the country that is being ‘unfair’ in trade and taking American jobs. An anti-Chinese political stance makes far more sense for the US on many more levels than the anti-EU stance does for the UK, since it not only appeals to the latest domestic populism but also coincides with longer-term US strategic interests.
Trump’s election is one more sign of a shift in the tectonic plates of the imperial world economy. It will impact not only US relationships with Russia and China, but also the position of Europe, and even the acceptability of Russia outside Europe. Interestingly, in the past day or so, Russian President Putin had a meeting in Japan with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe on the Northern Territories/Kurile Islands, an area of dispute between the two countries since the end of World War Two. No resolution was made, and no peace treaty agreed on this, but there were 80 documents signed, including 68 on planned commercial deals between the two countries.
Tony Norfield, 16 December 2016