PHOTOS: U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugural parade makes its way through Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2017, just before the stuff hit the fan and everything went to hell in a handbasket. (Photo: United States Navy.) Below: President Trump, former president Barack Obama, the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and former Australian PM and foreign minister Kevin Rudd. (All portrait photos from the Wikimedia Commons.)
Does anyone even remember the idea behind the Project for a New American Century?
Well, my fellow Canadians, we shouldn’t have put all our eggs in that basket, just as we were warned by Prime Minister Trudeau – Pierre Trudeau, that is.
Our American cousins spent the half century after World War II brilliantly crafting a intricate new world order to work in their interest. As their resource-rich next–door neighbour, this was mostly to our benefit too, at least if you weren’t too sensitive about national sovereignty.
If you can be bothered to remember amid all the excitement now emanating from the Imperial Capital on the Potomac, the PNAC was not just the think tank of the same name but the entire scheme whereby a bunch of neoliberal intellectuals proposed to renew American hegemony for another 100 years, transformed along harsh laissez-faire lines reminiscent of the 18th and 19th centuries. Informed of it, Karl Marx would probably have muttered, “Just as I thought!”
I’m going to climb out on a limb here and predict that, whatever happens next, that particular project is almost as dead as the proverbial mackerel. To mix metaphors, this time we’re really not in Kansas any more! And if you think that’s a good thing from Canada’s perspective, you may eventually want to revise that opinion.
The people who created the postwar American Century may not have been particularly nice guys, and the homeland they served may have been no shining democratic city on a hill, but you have to give them credit for having the genius to use the power they were handed by history in 1945 to create a complex interconnected clockwork empire that, managed properly, truly could have thrived for another century.
Things may have been coming unravelled here and there, but up until 2016 there was lots of life left in the old new order. And while it may not have been a kinder and gentler one, as American conservatives used to promise, the highly competent U.S. foreign policy professionals of most of the past 70 years had a strategy for keeping this mighty global ship of states afloat and mostly on course as it plowed through the post-historical era.
Then came Trump.
This isn’t the mid-19th Century, when the continental American Empire could afford to have four incompetent chief executives within a 12-year span and still survive. As noted in this space Friday, had it not been for Abraham Lincoln, that probably would have proved fatal to the Republic even then.
However, despite their many flaws, with the possible exceptions of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, the United States had mostly competent presidents at the helm from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama. What’s more, in every case, including the Ford and Reagan administrations, the leadership cadre and foreign policy establishments were competently managed and the American ship of state plowed on through wars and economic upheavals alike.
With the first anniversary of the swearing in of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States still almost two weeks away, however, things seem to have come badly unsprung.
For reasons not fully understood, Mr. Trump seems determined to shake up or break up much of the intricate machinery that made the postwar American Empire run like a Swiss watch – NATO, the permanent subjugation of Japan and the Koreas, the delicate creative adversarialism of the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, and the vast and growing network of “trade agreements,” working universally in the United States’ favour, from Bretton Woods through the North American Free Trade Agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
There are lots of theories about why the chaotic Trump Administration, in less than a year, has been able to throw so many spanners into the works without the grownups in the U.S. Government restoring order. Paul Krugman, the New York Times’s economics columnist, on Friday blamed the Republican Party’s cynical strategy “to exploit racism to advance the right-wing economic agenda.”
It’s an interesting argument, worth reading. “With Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side,” Dr. Krugman writes. Now, he argues, “they’re stuck. They knowingly made a deal with the devil, and can’t back out.”
Maybe. And maybe the Democratic Party’s cynical strategy to use Mr. Trump’s unpopularity to recover majorities in the House and Senate is part of the problem too. As Zhou Enlai supposedly told Henry Kissinger, who was visiting China with President Richard Nixon at the time, it’s too soon to tell.
What we can tell, already, is that as things come unstuck, they come unstuck fast.
Mr. Trump’s first act as president was to pull the plug on the TPP, to the quiet relief of Canadian progressives. NAFTA may or may not have gone for the high jump. The jury’s still out. Whatever, it’s been pretty chaotic every day since. On New Year’s Day, Boss Tweet took to Twitter to assail the government of Pakistan for giving America “nothing but lies & deceit.”
On Friday, the Trump Administration announced it was cutting off $1.3 billion of what in foreign relations is euphemistically called aid to Pakistan – that is, one could argue, bribes to keep a reluctant ally at least manageably in line.
Almost immediately, the South China Morning Post, quoting sources close to the People’s Liberation Army, reported that China would build its second overseas naval base soon in … Pakistan.
China’s huge investment in the Pakistani port of Gwadar is hardly a secret. And Pakistani officials have denied the naval-base story. Still, the timing of the Morning Post report is evocative, to say the least. As the English-language Hong Kong newspaper observed in a commentary on the developments: “In South Asia, there is one clear winner from Donald Trump’s Tweet tantrums this week: China, which suddenly finds its leverage over Pakistan multiplying as a result of the U.S. president’s mood swings.”
President Obama had a strategy to contain China’s military and economic ambitions, the so-called pivot to Asia. “Without such a move, there was a danger that China, with its hardline, realist view of international relations, would conclude that an economically exhausted United States was losing its staying power in the Pacific,” wrote Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister and foreign minister, in Foreign Affairs Magazine in 2013.
President Trump appears to have no plan beyond getting up grumpy and signing on to his Twitter account.
So, from the Chinese perspective, sometimes you may have to strike while the iron is hot!
At the risk of sounding like Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s sinister alt-right former key advisor, now that it’s out, it may be pretty hard to put that genie back in the bottle.
So let’s just imagine you were the leader of a weaker power, but an important power nonetheless, entertaining thoughts of America in 2019 and wishing you could put the old world order on its back foot while you establish, or perhaps reestablish, your position. Wouldn’t it just be the ticket to have an old, mad, despised, and Twitter-obsessed president in the Oval Office?
I’m not saying the Russians did it, or for that matter the Chinese. On the contrary, despite the continuing Russiagate hysteria, all the evidence suggests that our American neighbours did this all by themselves – through the self-inflicted curse of imperial hubris that led them to believe their immaculately tended diplomatic garden didn’t need to be nurtured or maintained any more.
But if you were a Russian or Chinese leader, you could hardly be completely displeased by the development.
Nor am I saying the American State, deep or otherwise, won’t find a way to put Humpty back together again. But that gets harder by the day.
Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later, although we all assumed it would be much, much later. Now that it has … hang onto your hats!