James George Jatras
Analyst, former U.S. diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership
In any analysis of contemporary international politics it pays to be cautiously pessimistic. As the default mode one can generally expect that any way in which things can go wrong to threaten the peace and security of the planet, they will. Anticipation of improvement is a chump’s bet.
That’s why the analyst’s gut instinct rebels at any indication that things overall may be moving in a positive direction, however haltingly or indirectly. But consider:
- Trump-Putin summit: President Donald Trump has again indicated his interest in finally holding a formal summit with President Vladimir Putin. Austria has offered Vienna as a venue.
- Trump-Kim summit: Despite what was almost surely a deliberate effort in Washington to torpedo the June 12 Singapore meeting, it’s back on. To the chagrin of many in the US nomenklatura dedicated to a permanent American presence on the East Asian mainland, there’s perhaps even a danger of peace breaking out on the Korean peninsula. Oh no! How do we then justify keeping American troops there? What happens to the happy prospect of US forces confronting China on the Yalu River in the event of regime change in North Korea? Might a Trans-Korean Railway connecting the South to Russia and China get built? The possibilities are too horrible to contemplate.
- Goodbye Russiagate, hello Spygate: Allegations of Trump’s and his team’s collusion with the Kremlin are increasingly exposed as what they are: a cover for an anti-constitutional conspiracy within the structures of the US Deep State (CIA, NSA, FBI, Department of Justice, etc.) in complicity with – the Russians? – no with their British sister agencies (MI6, GCHQ), first to deny Trump the presidency, then to neuter him and remove him from office, and above all to block any chance of a patch-up with Russia. While Robert Mueller and his merry band of Democratic donors certainly have not given up, their prospects are fading and the Russia obsession is beginning to turn into a political liability for the DNC in the November Congressional elections.
- European populism marches on: Viva l’Italia! The European Union’s (EU) favorite Sicilian, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, tied to whack the M5S/Lega coalition. The hit failed. Now Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone – too big to be smacked around like Greece – joins the populist bloc centered in the Visegrád Group, plus Austria. This has particular importance with respect to the EU’s (and Germany’s) disastrous open door migration policy.
- Trade: In his boldest "America First!” move to date, Trump has slapped higher steel and aluminum tariffs on – well, pretty much everybody. While the move itself may be a bit ham-fisted, it has signaled that the days of the US attachment to one-way free trade while our trade partners practice mercantilism are over.
- Europe’s anti-Russia sanctions: American pressure on Europe with respect to trade with Iran, added to Trump’s new tariffs, feeds resentment across Europe, especially in powerful Germany, which especially objects to Washington’s threatening sanctions on companies participating in Nord Stream 2. It may be too soon to guess how soon the EU will pull the plug on anti-Russian sanctions, but there’s something in the air when even the likes of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker can say that "Russia-bashing has to be brought to an end.” Italy’s voice will be key.
- G7 – or G6+1, or again G8?: Trump’s trade move has set a cat among the pigeons at this month’s Group of Seven (G7) summit in Canada, hosted by alleged groper Prime Minister Justice Trudeau. (To be fair, perhaps image-conscious Justin was just trying to stay in close, intimate touch with the media.) Trade differences add to disagreements over climate issues, leading to a Twitter spat between Trudeau and his francophone pal French President Emmanuel Macron against Trump, who plans to skip the climate portion of the summit which is likely to produce a statement from the other six countries but not the US, effectively creating a G6+1. Meanwhile Trump has exploded the heads of Russian collusion conspiracy-mongers with his suggestion that Russia should be readmitted to the club, bringing it back to a G8. Italy has seconded the suggestion. Russia has indicated its lack of interest.
At the epicenter of each one of these earthshaking developments is one man: Donald Trump.
It would be inaccurate to say that these are even moves of the US government, of which Trump is only in partial control. With the permanent government – not to mention some of his own appointees – seeking to undermine him at every step, Trump seems to be resorting to the one tool he has at his personal disposal: disruption.
Let’s remember that, especially in the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, those who voted for Trump wanted something radically different from business as usual. They voted for him because they wanted a bull in a china shop, a wrecking ball, a human hand grenade, a big "FU” to the system.
Maybe that’s what we got.
To be sure, none of the foregoing itemized developments is dispositive. But taken together they point to a remarkable confluence of good omens, at least from the point of view of those who wanted to shake up, even shatter, the cozy arrangements that have guided the so-called "liberal global order.”
But those whose careers and privileges, and in some cases their freedom and even lives, depend on perpetuating that order will not go gentle into that good night. They are getting nervous. This means in particular the elements of the US-UK special services, their Democratic and GOP Never-Trump fellow travelers, the Trump-hating fake news media, and the bureaucratic nonentities in Brussels (not only at the European Commission but at NATO headquarters).
If past is prologue, the Empire will strike back – hard and dirty.
One is reminded of the past seven years of war in Syria, where every time the US indicated a willingness to disengage, or when Syrian forces had made major military gains, then – BAM! – a chemical weapons attack immediately and without evidence is attributed to government forces, followed by renewed cries of "Assad is killing his own people! Assad must go!” (This is a ploy that goes back at least the Bosnian war of the 1990s. Every time a negotiated ceasefire seemed to be taking shape, another "Serb mortar attack” on civilians took place, leading to calls for NATO military action.)
The question is not "if” there will be a provocation, rather it’s one of when, where and how. While it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, it’s nonetheless possible to anticipate some possibilities:
- FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia (June 14 to July 15): Given the huge expense and effort Russia has put into the World Cup as a favorable showcase to the world, it will be a tempting target. Let’s remember that the unconstitutional ouster of Ukraine’s elected government took place as Putin’s attention was presumably distracted by his pride and joy, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The 2008 attack by Georgia’s then-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, on South Ossetia, was launched while the world’s eyes were focused on the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Both initiatives led to a strong counteraction by Moscow, leading in turn to worsened relations between Russia and the west – including Russia’s suspension from the G8 in 2014. (Though in the fevered imagination of western Russophobes, Putin was the one using the games as a cover, not the other way around.) A provocation could be directed against the FIFA events themselves – perhaps a terrorist attack by ISIS operatives reportedly being ferried out of the Middle East to Russia – or something elsewhere timed to coincide with matches being played all over Russia.
- Ukraine: Regarding President Petro Poroshenko’s actions, everything must be put into the context of upcoming presidential elections in 2019. Poroshenko has to find a way to get into a runoff, presumably against Yulia Tymoshenko. The most beneficial thing he could do would be somehow to pull a rabbit out of his hat and achieve a peace deal in the Donbas. But chances of that are slim to none, as it would require flexibility from Kiev that Poroshenko can’t afford to show lest he be accused of being a Russian puppet. Conversely, he can up the ante with the Russians and hope the West will line up behind him. Perhaps the recent fake news murder fiasco regarding the still very much alive Arkady Babchenko was to have been one such ploy but it misfired. But there are other options, such as a provocation along the line of control in the Donbas (the newly delivered US Javelin missiles are handy, as is the Dutch MH17 report), maybe a covert attack on the Kerch bridge, as well as other less obvious possibilities.
- Syria: It’s high time for another malevolent, militarily pointless, and counterproductive chemical attack "against his own people” by "monster”© Assad, who must be eliminated by any means necessary. Who’s responsible? Russia of course!
- Incident between NATO and Russian forces: NATO forces are stepping up provocative maneuvers on Russia’s doorstep in the Baltic and Black seas – purely to deter Moscow’s aggression, mind you. An incident could occur as any time, either by accident or on purpose. Either way, it would be the hostile Russians’ fault for putting their country so close to our bases and the venues of our military exercises.
- The Balkans: Never forget that those Serbs just can’t be trusted. Srbe na vrbe!
- Assassination: One of Putin’s well-known predilections is for killing, or at least attempting to kill, anyone who might displease him. Or like Assad with his chemical weapons, maybe Putin kills just for the sheer, malicious fun of it. The list of victims is long: Babchenko (except, not), the two Skripals (except, not them either), political opponents like Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Yushenkov, muckraking journalists like Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, former chekist Aleksandr Litvinenko, RT network founder Mikhail Lesin, crusading lawyers like Stanislav Markelov and Sergei Magnitsky, oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and so on. A well-timed rubout of a suitably visible figure would have a salubrious impact on any annoying moves towards east-west rapprochement. No evidence is needed – the mere identity of the victim would be irrefutable proof of Putin’s guilt.
Regarding the last item, assassination, it should always be kept in mind that in the end the man threatening to upset the applecart of the liberal global order isn’t Putin – it’s Trump. That suggests an ultimate solution that might become tempting if The Donald’s continued functioning at higher than room temperature becomes just too much to endure.
As Joseph Stalin is reputed to have remarked, "Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” Trump, who for many powerful people is quite a problem indeed, has been recklessly compared to Jean-Marie Le Pen, Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin – even to Hitler and Mussolini. In an American context, to Andrew Jackson, Huey Long, and George Wallace. Let’s note that each of those three Americans was the target of assassination. Jackson (someone Trump is known to admire) survived by a failure of his attacker’s pistols, hailed by some at the time as miraculous. "The Kingfish” was killed. Wallace was crippled for life.
There is reason to think that Trump is well aware of the fate of the last American president who so threatened the habitual order of things and the entrenched, ruthless establishment that profits so mightily from it. He has repeatedly indicated his interest in releasing the full file on Jack Kennedy’s assassination, then backed off from it for undisclosed reasons. The shooting death of the president’s brother Robert Kennedy, who had he been elected president in 1968 would have had the opportunity to reopen the investigation into his brother’s murder, is back in the news with Robert Kennedy, Jr., expressing doubt about the official conclusion that his father was killed by Sirhan Sirhan.
If anyone thinks there is any length to which Trump’s enemies will not go, think again.