General Mattis, Trump’s pick for Defence Secretary, tells a story about an American and a Chinese Admiral, chatting.
The American asked, “What would you most like, to enhance your security?” He expected to hear a list of submarines, warships, maybe carriers.
“Ten million jobs a year,” replied the Chinese Admiral.
China is in a rare, decades-long period of stability and growth. It is being aggressive, nationalistic, threatening smaller nations from Taiwan to Japan, but it doesn’t usually project force, unlike Russia. China needs economic stability and continuing growth, or the regime will find itself in serious trouble.
So the levers Trump has been pressing have been economic. This has had other purposes too, of course, but this post is about foreign policy.
The Forrest Gump or Chauncey Gardener view of Trump seems to be the most prevalent. He’s a complete buffoon, who somehow, without any guile or wit, won the primaries and the the Presidency. What’s charming about this view is the fact it’s impossible to put it forward without being, temporarily, a complete buffoon.
If you do a little research, you uncover a planned run that began five or six years ago, with meetings and readings on all policy areas with people Trump found persuasive and important. One of those sources was, plainly, General Mattis.
I don’t know when they first met, but I do know that Mattis has been explaining his outlook for years, to Congress, in lectures, visiting professorships, interviews and question and answer sessions. He is extremely cogent, clear and consistent in his arguments. Obama sacked him for it.
Trump hired him for it. Mattis has a strategic view of the world that, if you understand it, provides a framework into which every Trump action neatly falls. Like economic levers for China. Like friendliness towards Russia and Pakistan.
People aren’t drifting from long-established news and comment sources because they’re mad, alt-right conspiracy theorists bent on re-tweeting Putin’s propaganda and False News. They’re drifting away because these media are crap. This information is all completely accessible. You can watch Congressional Hearings, lectures (I’ll link to an important one at the foot of this piece), interviews, and see what’s happening. But they don’t.
Take Russia. Mattis thinks the rise of aggressive nationalism there is a threat. He believes that where China feels their security interests would be best served by stability, Russia believes they’d be safest with a region of instability all round its borders. The EU created the invasion of Ukraine, he thinks, by starting a process of slow outreach to the country without any provision at all for the inevitable Russian response. Start the outreach by all means, if you’re ready to handle the response. But what does the flaccid, impotent cry of “Putin is nasty” achieve when you’re not willing to confront him.
But in the longer – not very much longer – term, Russia is catastrophically weak, and it will be with Putin or without him. Its economy is contracting. It has a demographic collapse caused mainly by internal social dysfunction. It has the longest land borders of any country in the world to defend, and the greatest number of Jihadis within them of any country outside the Middle East. The nationalism Putin is cultivating is weak on the fringes of the Federation where Russian identity is weakest, and so could form part not of external belligerence now but of internal collapse.
They have a lot of nuclear weapons and a culture of threatening to use them (one broadcaster who spoke about reducing America to radioactive ash was hired immediately by the state information agency). The world does not need a collapsed Russia with nukes in the hands of various nationalist and, possibly, religious factions.
So while it’s a form of great self-satisfaction for many people to turn denouncement of Putin into performance art at the moment, it is in the interests of the West to get into a position where we can help to support Russia. The starting point there is to be friendly, ally in common causes – maybe against ISIS because Russia does have a serious Jihadi threat – and try to turn them into a less belligerent country, and maybe an ally kept afloat by western economic support.
You’ll note the overtures this policy would demand have already been made by Trump, to a chorus of criticism. He has praised Putin, and suggested the anti-ISIS alliance, which would also possibly have the effect of turning Russia’s aim away from Syrians opposed to Assad. Again, if you realise that, you see why they have been so determined to finish Aleppo before Obama leaves office.
These are very unusual policy approaches – long-term, carefully thought-out, avoiding entanglements with unclear objectives and non-existent endpoints.
Some entanglements are unavoidable, though. This is where Mattis is uncompromising. No military conflict should be contemplated without extremely clearly-stated objectives, and endpoints. He says ‘endpoints’ a lot – how do we know we’re done? In the absence of these, you get the meanderings of Vietnam, Iraq pre-surge, Afghanistan post-2008.
This is where he asks a question that has permeated Trump’s remarks: is political Islam in our best interests? Trump doesn’t put it like this, he has a different job, selling, persuading, laying the ground, speaking to different parts of the electorate. But it’s been there.
What is political Islam? In this sense it has two strands. The first comes from Iran and encompasses Hezbollah and supports Assad. The second derives from the Muslim Brotherhood and includes all the Al Qaeda manifestations and franchises, the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS and the brief MB government of Egypt. The list should also include the government of Sudan.
To attack political Islam, if such an attack were held to be in the national interest of the US or the West, the US needs to bring Russia across. It is vital to have Pakistan as an ally just as it was in 2001. That puts Trump’s friendly words to the Pakistani PM, which he was so pleased with he released the transcript, into some better perspective than the asinine squealing that greeted it from most commentators. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, all vital alliances.
It is hard to overstate how radical a policy change this would be. The Muslim Brotherhood and all their derivative organisations, would need to be expelled from the USA. Their mosques would need to be closed, as they have been in Egypt and Tunisia. We are in the odd situation where half a dozen Muslim countries suppress political Islam more effectively than any Western country.
Which brings me to Europe. We, in Europe, are as much a threat to world stability as Russia. The EU cannot make effective decisions but is can misjudge situations so badly the result is land war – which is what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be called. The Euro was certain to create regional political and economic instability. It did, and five or six years after this reached crisis point the EU has no solution, other than to – read this carefully – replace the odd democratically elected government.
Migration policies have brought genuinely far right parties to the fore in some countries, while other parties are denounced as fascist so compulsively it’s impossible to know which is which and the hysterical cretins of the EU-centric left and centre have ended up actually promoting fascism through their terminological incontinence, as their American counterparts did for the minuscule Alt Right.
Hardly any NATO countries meet their NATO spending obligations. Some European countries seem to be trying to end any pretence at national defence entirely. No NATO member is a reliable ally for America, yet all expect the US to protect them. Even Britain and France left the US in the lurch in Afghanistan and who stepped in? The UAE and Jordan, two of America’s actually reliable allies.
Worst of all, Mattis is clear about why he fights. He is defending Enlightenment values, the ones the US Constitution and Bill of Rights were based on.
European countries are abolishing Enlightenment values, privileging the more insane manifestations of religion (all religions) and bringing back de-fact or explicit blasphemy laws.
What would we be fighting for in Europe? We’re destroying ourselves, out of sanctimoniousness, narcissism and stupidity.
The following is time well spent, if you want to understand the politics of the next four years. Start 18 minutes in.