I began writing this blog post about global hotspots three weeks ago assuming Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States. The Global Hotspots remain the same but how they will be handled and who the major foreign policy players will be have required a rewrite.
I had prefaced the earlier version with a list of Clinton’s foreign policy neocon supporters who had abandoned Trump for his less confrontational approach to Russia in particular and Trump’s foreign policy advisers are only now being revealed. The neocon big names like Kagan and CNAS (Centre for New American Security) went over to Clinton but there are plenty of neocon supporters within the Republican Senate and House, people such as McCain and Lindsay Graham, all of whom favour an aggressive US foreign policy. How will he deal with them?
We have learned that Ret. Lt. Gen Michael Flynn will be National Security Adviser so that bodes well for improving relations with Russia but his support for torture and anti-Muslim extremism is a setback. And the rest of the team is decidedly threatening. There is the appointment of Pompeo, a hardliner, as CIA chief who has been critical of the Iran accord and presumably very pro-Israel; Defense Secretary ’Mad Dog’ Mattis, truly a mad dog and rumoured Secretary of State, Mitt Romney both ultra-hawks, each with their favourite prey. They all have Iran in their sights. Although Flynn is more dovish about Russia, the others are definitely in favour of a more aggressive and confrontational approach toward Russia and everyone else. Romney has stated that Russia is the greatest geopolitical threat to the US. So, as that team looks now it would seem to portend a certain amount of conflict and infighting about whom to attack first. With this lot, it appears we are on our way to more wars, not, as Trump promised, fewer.
What is missing is Realpolitik and a clone of James Baker, former Secretary of State during the first Bush administration. Brilliant and clever Baker is the archetype diplomat we have not seen on the world stage in 30 years. Obama stated he hoped that Trump did not move toward Realpolitik whereas that is exactly what has been missing from US foreign policy and why the US have been enmeshed in pointless and endless wars.
Some say we need to separate what Trump said off the cuff during the primary and general election campaign and what he believes. As one friend said, Trump’s statements are not policies they are attitudes, at least not yet policies. But looking at the CVs of his national security team, we are in for a rough ride.
That in mind let us consider the numerous existing and potential hotspots some of which could escalate into a major conflict.
Looking to the East from Washington DC: Brexit, German and French Elections, East Europe and EU Migrant crisis, a resurgent Russia, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan-India conflict, China-Taiwan, China-Japan, China-Russia axis, China-US multiple issues.
A full plate!
Brexit Impact. By March 2017 the Brits must move to negotiations with the EU and a hard exit could have significant impact on US and UK financial dealings with Europe. If, as threatened, several UK based financial institutions, British, US and other European ones, abandon the City the US will lose its camel’s nose in the EU tent door. No longer will the UK serve as the US voice in EU affairs. Then, what will happen to the Special Relationship, which essentially served only as benefit to the US? Will others follow? Scotland, North Ireland?
Britain’s foreign policy views now, unusually, such as with China and AIIB, are divergent from the US, but still very tied to the US policies with respect to Russia and Syria. Trump wants dialogue with Russia, the UK (Tories) want to isolate it but Labour under Corbyn want less confrontational approach. Trump considers ISIS the priority in Syria, the UK government, Assad.
EU Elections Impact: In 2017 both Germany and France will go to the polls for parliamentary and presidential elections. Trump’s Win could give impetus to the right in Europe. There is a belief that they if a major power like the US can move to the Right so can others.
France: Hollande and his policies no longer have credibility in France. His poll ratings are at a record low and the Right is on the rise. In the most recent parliamentary elections, the Front National, headed by Marine Le Pen, was denied several regional seats because les Republicains (centre right) led by Sarkozy and la Parti Socialiste (left) Hollande’s party, colluded to throw votes to each other in order to defeat the Front National. That will not happen in the presidential elections because Hollande is out of the picture. Will it now be a fight to the finish between Fillons and Le Pen?If Le Pen prevails, she promises withdrawal from NATO and a referendum on the EU, a possible Frexit, close relations with Russia, plus harsher immigration policies.
How would Trump react to a right-wing Le Pen? We know already that Le Pen welcomed Trump’s election. This could cause a political tsunami not only in Europe but throughout, right across Eurasia.
Germany: Another so-called moderate leader under fire is Merkel who also has lost substantial support as a result of her liberal immigration policy. The Germans seem to have had enough of Mütti Merkel. Her own constituency lost to the right wing AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in recent regional elections in her own constituency and the AfD are expected to garner between 16 and 20% of the vote in 2017. This could cause a political earthquake with Merkel’s CSU partners dropping out of the coalition with Merkel’s CDU. How the SPD would form a coalition is a question, My guess would be another Grand Coalition or an SPD/Green coalition because neither German major party would partner with the AfD.
And, there is much more afoot in Europe with Austria where Hofer (FPO right wing part) could win the Presidential runoff (elections 1 December), and Poland and Hungary (under Orban) are moving to the Right and both Moldavia and Bulgaria have recently elected pro Russian Presidents.
Russia and China are both major issues players and each one is significantly involved in several games: the Middle East game, the new Central Asian game and the Asian game.
Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran: Russia has reinserted itself into the Middle East with its overt support of Assad and air campaign in Syria. At the same time Russia and Turkey have made nice and notwithstanding their opposing views of Assad. But they have a shared interest in putting down ISIS. The two countries also recently signed the agreement for construction of South Stream gas line making Istanbul a major energy hub for Russian gas supply to Europe. Now dependence on the pipelines through the Ukraine to European be reduced it not completely eliminated.
Turkey is opposed to cooperation with the Syrian Kurds who are allies with the US against Assad and ISIL. Turkey could prove to be key not only to the Middle East but beyond. As a major player in NATO, Erdogan’s anger with the EU, and the US, rapprochement with Russia and expressed interest in joining the SCO with China and Russia will upset both the EU and the US. The Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and northwest Iran want to form a Greater Kurdistan that transcends and separates them in the present day Middle East. A powder keg on a short fuse.
The same conundrum applies to Iraq, where the Kurds have an autonomous state within Iraq, and there Turkey is fighting with those Kurds against ISIL. Apparently, Turkey is at ease with the Kurds so long as they are not anywhere in or near Turkey.
Trump’s stated pro-Israel policy is no surprise and common to all neocons. The question is how far will he go to accommodate Netanyahu, especially regarding Iran. Trump’s ill-advised threat to bomb Iran and tear up that nuclear agreement could precipitate another regional war but he has a lot of backing from his cabinet to be.
Saudi Arabia is in trouble not only with Yemen but with its economy. Trump’s statement about less dependence on oil supplies from the Gulf States is certain to rile sensitivities. But the Saudis could be a willing ally in any action against their archenemy Iran.
The possibilities for serious armed conflict are numerous, like looking at a kaleidoscope that changes daily. And none of Trump’s options are good, at least nothing short of withdrawal. Some talk about an Arab alliance to combat ISIS. Really? The Arabs have been trying to do that since the death of Mohamed in 632 AD with absolutely no success. How do you bring together the Sunni, Kurds and Shia to forge a cohesive force for anything? Lawrence of Arabia tried this in World War I and failed miserably. In fact there has been no Middle East unity of purpose since the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Afghanistan, the forever war: This war that has dragged on for 15 years shows no sign of abating or achieving resolution. Surely the only answer is ‘cut and run’ and return it to the Taliban. The Soviets had the good sense to do that but not the Americans. If not, for the Americans, it will be death by a thousand cuts, another endless war of attrition.
The Many Variations with China
In the meantime, China, staying clear of any military involvement in the Middle East focuses on OBOR, the One Belt One Road concept, the new Silk Road linking Asia, Middle East and Europe covered in my previous post.
China, Russia, Pakistan/India: A mix of conflicting alliances. China and Russia have solid mutual interests, commercially and politically but different partners between Pakistan and India.
India, wary of China, has allied itself with the US and receives Russian military equipment while Pakistan has developed a commercial and military supply working relationship with China. The Chinese, always looking to the future, have financed the construction of a deep-water port on Pakistan’s southern coast at Gwadar to facilitate oil shipments from the Middle East and avoid dependence on the Malacca Straits that could be shut down by the US naval forces. Trump’s big business connections with and stated love for India could complicate matters both with Pakistan and China. Rumour has it that Trump will support an Indian proposal to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. If he does that would be grounds for declaring Trump insane. Pakistan and India, both full-fledged nuclear powers could ignite a regional Armageddon.
Russia US: Taking Trump at his word, the wish to work with Putin, and mend fences, could be a good move but again how will he deal with the anti-Russia sentiment that has been stirred up by the Obama administration, the US Pentagon and the US/UK media? Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser is a step in the right direction but he will have to contend with an anti-Russia congress, both Republican and Democrat and anti-Russian views of other members of Trump’s team.
China Russia: Madame Fu Ying, a very smart lady, is the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China and she has written an excellent paper on China-Russia relations, past, present and future. The relations in the past have sometimes been rocky but US antagonism toward both countries has drawn them closer together than ever before. Russia has signed a 30-year gas supply agreement with China that comes on stream in 2018. And the two are conducting joint military drills with Russia supplying technically advanced anti-missile systems and aircraft to China. This is a de facto alliance no matter what they call it publicly.
China Japan US: Beware Japan. Abe, the prime minister, a pro military pro rearmament, anti China hawk bears watching. The US and Japan have a symbiotic relationship. Japan looks to the US as an ally and nuclear umbrella and the US looks to Japan as a military base to hem in China.
China US: One of the critically different worldviews between the two countries is that of “spheres of influence”, a policy that enabled the US and USSR to avoid conflict during the cold War. Now, after 1990, and the collapse of the USSR, the US has abandoned a policy of spheres of influence and adopted the view that its sphere of influence is global not regional. China is not interested in global hegemony, but it does want a similar sphere of influence to that of the US. The US considers the waters off shore California and the Caribe to be essential to its security. We saw what happened when the USSR overstepped that boundary in 1962 in Cuba. However, the US does not recognise that China has the same concerns in its nearby territorial waters and the US continues to provoke and challenge China. If early signalling toward India and Japan are an indication of Trump’s Asian policy, tensions will rise with China. Trump’s threat to designate China a currency manipulator and impose punishing duties on China imports could lead to a global trade war. How China, as the US creditor, would react is an unknown but I am sure the Chinese have a Plan even if the US does not.
Realignments: China’s power is growing and Russia is resurgent so if the US continues to insist on a policy of global hegemony eventually there could be a conflict, perhaps a world war. One should not forget that all three countries are nuclear armed, something that is not being aired by the US press.
If the anti-EU, anti-NATO forces prevail, and Trump follows through on reducing support for NATO, we could witness the dissolution of both those power pillars of the West followed by a dramatic global geopolitical realignment. The EU and US may well pursue different paths which could be a good thing for all concerned.
Answers Needed: If Trump seriously wants to reduce the US profile aboard, and avoid foreign military conflicts, he and his national security team will have to back off from several of their threats and employ Realpolitik. If not, the prognosis for the next four years is not good.
Stay tuned! This blog post will require updating by the day!