Looking to the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, 16 July 2018
Trump, the Provocateur
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Back in April 2017, when the United States sent cruise missiles against the Sheyrat air base in Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad’s armed forces on his civilian population and also dropped the “mother of all bombs” on ISIS caves in Afghanistan a week later to no apparent purpose, I believed that Donald Trump was being guided by Henry Kissinger, then still in the President’s inner circle, to use the tactic of appearing unhinged as a way of establishing his power presence on the world stage and also to fend off domestic enemies who were plotting his impeachment. In a word, it seemed that Trump was taking a page out of the Richard Nixon playbook from the Christmas Eve bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor in 1972.
In the fourteen months since then straight up to Trump’s scandalous behavior at the G7 summit in Canada in June when he refused to sign the collective declaration of participants and through to his back of the hand treatment of allies at the NATO summit in Brussels last week, I have come to appreciate that Trump had nothing to learn from Kissinger. Being unpredictable, being personally aggressive and impolite, being mendacious and contradictory to those he does not respect are clearly his long held business principles.
I salute him for this, because those he does not respect are precisely the liberal Atlantic community establishments in Washington, D.C., in Brussels who, since the USA achieved its unipolar moment with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, have waged war incessantly on piddling countries in Southern Europe, in the Middle East, spreading havoc and destruction, killing innumerable civilians while proclaiming the spread of human rights and democracy as their guiding principle.
In case the gentle reader sees this condemnation as unduly severe, even radical, I direct him or her to the article by Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School Graham Allison: “The Myth of the Liberal Order” in the July-August issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. In 10 pages, Allison says very much the same thing as I have summarized in the preceding paragraph.
The leading personalities in the establishment are conformists for whom strength comes only from unity and a forced consensus that stifles all free thinking. By their political correctness, they crush dissent and make a mockery of freedom of expression.
Donald Trump has instinctively understood they are his ideological enemies and has dropped all pretense at courtesy, which leaves them collectively huffing and puffing, as we saw on the margins of the NATO gathering last week.
Ever since he moved into the White House, mainstream media in the US have resisted the temptation to call Trump a madman, but they continually insinuate that he is volatile, whimsical and generally speaking, in his changeability, frequent policy reversals, and seemingly quixotic for tilting at the windmills of establishment thinking on foreign policy, in particular.
This sort of commentary personalizes and so depreciates the political war that Trump is waging on the establishment. Trump campaigned against NATO in 2016, and despite his nodding as President to its continued existence, it is perfectly clear that he intends to pull the US out of NATO. He has taken up the grievances of the two past US administrations over the unwillingness of our European allies to properly fund the common defense. And he has used this as a bludgeon, doubling the target contributions to 4% of GDP, a target utterly unachievable for lack of political will on the Old Continent.
The confrontation with NATO allies over funding is really about the illogic of NATO’s existence, which is justified only by its creating the conditions for war. Trump in effect has been saying: if you, Europe, are beating the drum over a Russian threat to the Baltics, to European-American control of the Middle East, then pay the bill, don’t expect the US to continue to pay 75% of the tab. And this blunt threat shakes out the reality: that the Russian threat is invented to serve the interests of NATO’s continuity as an institution, nothing more.
Of course, Trump does not say this. Firstly, .he does not have a way with words. Secondly, this is unspeakable heresy.
Trump campaigned in 2016 for normalization of relations with Russia. From the time of the forced resignation of his then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in February 2017. Trump has had to retreat from that campaign pledge, and indeed, he has gone along with every proposal for ratcheting up sanctions on Russia that Congress has pitched to him and with every measure to show contempt for Moscow that the malicious functionaries at the State Department could serve up, such as confiscation of Russian consular properties.
However, when he gained traction against the Mueller investigation earlier this spring, when he fully absorbed the meaning of Vladimir Putin’s claims to full nuclear parity with the United States through roll-out of new and awesome weapons systems in his annual address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March 2018, Trump knew that a meeting to start to repair relations with the Kremlin could be postponed no longer. That was clear from his telephone call to Putin on 20 March to congratulate him on his electoral victory during which he said a meeting would have to be arranged “in the near future.” The summit with North Korean leader Kim in Singapore was not a self-standing event: it was an essential first step towards the meeting with Vladimir Putin taking place in Helsinki today.
In conclusion, in the person of Donald Trump we see remarkable continuity of thought and strategic vision notwithstanding all of the noise and contradictions used to disarm and confuse his opponents.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018
* * * *
Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review http://theduran.com/does-the-united-states-have-a-future-a-new-book-by-gilbert-doctorow-review/ For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciW4yod8upg