US President Donald J. Trump spent the last week or so churning out initiatives that seemed deliberately calculated to set his critics’ hair on fire:
- He met as an equal with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un – who is a very bad man!
- He stated again his willingness to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin – an even worse man!
- He mocked and threatened our trading partners – and slapped tariffs on them!
- He suggested that an impenitent Russia (a very bad country!) should be let back into the genteel company of the Group of Seven!
- He topped everything off by suggesting that Russian-speaking Crimea should be part of – Russia!
As summed up by vulgar Republican, Never-Trump apparatchik Rick Wilson:
‘After the last week, Trump is clearly a man who puts the dick in dictator. He’s a fanboy of Putin, Kim, Duterte, and a dog’s breakfast of the worst examples of oppression, thuggery, and anti-Western values the globe has to offer. [ . . . ]
‘[T]his week, Trump's love of authoritarians, dictatorships and his actions and words came together. Donald Trump first went to the G-7 to wreck the proceedings with a combination of insult-comic schtick, diplomatic demolition derby, Putin cheerleading, and giant-toddler petulance.
‘He followed that with the Singapore Shitshow. It was a monstrous reality TV event, as was intended. But it left our putative allies wondering at the new Axis of Assholes Trump has joined—the CRANK: China, Russia, America and North Korea. By the end, it didn’t feel like he was after denuclearization but management tips from the portly little thug Kim.
‘For the American president to normalize, excuse, and ally himself with the worst of the world's bad actors while insulting, degrading, and destroying our allies and alliances would be appalling in any circumstance. The fact that Trump acts like a bumbling, eager fraternity pledge, desperate to join Phi Sigma Dictator makes it all the worse.’
For the moment, let’s put aside Trump’s alleged sympathy for authoritarianism and focus on the accusation that Trump is "insulting, degrading, and destroying our allies and alliances,” a view held across the Establishment spectrum, from neoconservatives like Max Boot to far-Left Democratic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters (famed for her concern about Russian aggression in nonexistent Limpopo). How dare Trump threaten such valuable relationships!
Except these so-called ‘allies and alliances’ aren’t valuable to the United States. They’re a positive danger and a detriment.
Let’s get one thing straight: the United States has no real allies. There are countries we dominate and control, more properly termed client states or even satellites. (True, given Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s lock-stock-and-barrel ownership of the American political class, it seems rather that we are their clients, not the other way around...) Conversely, on an almost one-to-one correspondence, countries that are not satellites are our enemies, either currently (Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria) or prospectively (China).
But do we have any actual allies – that is, countries that provide mutual security for the United States, and whose contributions actually make us Americans safer and more secure in our own country?
Try to name one.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of our alliances, NATO. How does having a mutual defense pact with, say, virulently anti-Russian Poland and the Baltic States make America more secure? How does, say, tiny corrupt Montenegro, contribute to US security? Are these countries going to defend America in any conceivable way? Even if they wanted to, how could they possibly?
For that matter, against what ‘threat’ would they defend us? Is Latvia going to help build Trump’s Wall on the Mexican border?
‘Our NATO allies help out in Afghanistan,’ we are told. NATO-Schmato – it’s Americans who do almost all the fighting and dying. It’s our treasure being wasted there. Maybe without the fig leaf of an alliance mission, we might long since have reevaluated what we still are doing there after 17 years.
But comes the answer, ‘Russia!’ Except that Russia isn’t a threat to the United States. Despite their hype even the most antagonistic Russophobic countries in NATO themselves don’t really believe they’re about to be invaded. And even if they were, that still doesn’t make Russia a threat to us – or wouldn’t except for the very existence of NATO and a forward American presence on Russia’s borders and in the Black and Baltic seas littorals. How does gratuitously risking conflict with the one country on the planet whose strategic arsenal can annihilate us make Americans safer?
As Professor Richard Sakwa has observed, ‘NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.’
Let’s look at other supposedly valuable alliances.
Why do we need South Korea and Japan? ‘China!’ But except for a nuclear stockpile much smaller than our intercontinental deterrent China doesn’t present a military threat to us. ‘Yes, but Beijing poses a danger to South Korea and Japan.’ Maybe, maybe not. But even if that is so why is it our problem?
Why do we need Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and bunch of other Middle Eastern countries? We aren’t dependent on energy from the region as we arguably were when Jimmy Carter proclaimed a vital national interest there four decades ago. ‘Well then, Iran!’ But the Iranians can’t do anything to us. ‘Yes, but they hate Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc., etc.’ Again, what’s that got to do with us?
In each case the argument of a US interest is a tautology. The US ‘needs’ allies for the sole purpose of defense against purported threats not to us but to those very same allies. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.
It would be bad enough if these faux alliance relationships were only detrimental in terms of getting embroiled in quarrels in which we have no interest, wasting money and manpower in areas of the world where our security is not at stake. But there’s also a direct economic cost right here at home.
Based on the claimed need for "allies” US trade policy since World War II could almost have been designed to undermine the economic interests of American workers and American producers. Starting with Germany and Japan, our defeated enemies, we offered them virtually tariff-free, nonreciprocal access to our huge domestic market to assist with their economies’ recovery from wartime destruction; in return, we would take their sovereignty: control of their foreign and security policies, as well as their military and intelligence establishments, plus permanent bases on their territory.
This arrangement became the standard with other countries in non-communist Europe, as well as some in the Far East, notably South Korea. As much or more than puffed-up claims of military threats (and companies that benefit from inflated military spending) lopsided trade is the glue that keeps the satellites in place. In effect, our "allies” cede geostrategic control of their own countries and are rewarded at the expense of domestic American economic interests. Already of questionable value in its heyday, this pattern not only survived the end of Cold War 1 but continued to grow, contributing to the rise of Cold War 2.
Put into that context, this is where Trump’s tariffs dovetail with his other blasphemies, like expecting the deadbeats to pony up for their own defense. He challenges them to reduce tariffs and barriers to zero on a reciprocal bilateral basis – knowing full well they won’t do so because it would spoil their cozy arrangement at the expense of American workers. He threatens the sanctity of the North Atlantic Treaty’s vaunted Article 5 obligation of mutual defense on whether countries meet a two percent of GDP level of military spending – knowing that few of them will since they don’t in fact face any external military threat and would rather keep the money.
In his own unvarnished, zigzaggy way, Trump is doing what he said he would: putting America and Americans first. As he has said, that does not mean hostility towards other countries, whose leaders have aduty to put their countries and peoples first as well. It means both stopping our allies’ sandbagging us, while restoring to them their unsought-for – and for many of them, undesirable – sovereignty and independence.
In the final analysis, what the likes of Rick Wilson are really afraid of is disruption of a decades-old, crooked racket that has been so lucrative for countless hangers-on and profiteers. As James P. Pinkerton, former aide to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, describes it: ‘[T]he basic geopolitical foundations of the last seven decades are being challenged and shifted – or, as critics would prefer to say, being subverted and betrayed. Yet in the meantime, even as his myriad foes prepare their next political, legal, and punditical attacks, Trump is the man astride the world stage, smiling, shaking hands, signing deals – and unmistakably remaking the old order.’
Let’s get on with it.