“Of Carrots, Sticks, And How The Empire Fails”
by Tom Luongo
"It’s important for bullies to always win, because once their weakness is exposed they can no longer be bullies. Empires don’t start out as bullies. They start out as the reaction to the last Empire which became a bully after embracing hubris over humility. Empires have to resort to bullying near the end because they are fundamentally weak. They all over-extend themselves through currency debasement which, in turn, degrades the cultural advantage the society had over the previous Empire.
Donald Trump knows how to bully with the best of them. I go back and forth about his status as a bully, however. He is a mercurial figure whose unpredictability is predictable. I see him more as Loki than the typical bully. In other words, it’s probably fair to say that to Trump bullying is just another tactic.
So, as the head of the U.S., an Empire in the early stages of collapse, fundamentally weakened by two generations of empire building after the failure of Bretton Woods, Trump will bully his opposition because he knows that an Empire that is not feared is one that will soon be laughed at. And when that happens, it’s game over.
Trump understands that the U.S. can no longer afford to pay for the post-WWII institutional order. Europe’s been rebuilt but the EU is in the process of tearing it down for the sake of globalism. And Germany is the one benefiting on our dime. So, if you are opposed to the Empire, regardless of your politics, seeing Trump take it to the G-7 and, in particular, Germany should be welcomed.
Where you should be worried however, is how that same bullying is being turned on Russia and Iran. In my latest article for Strategic Culture Foundation I remind everyone that none other than Mr. Realpolitik, Henry Kissinger, was advising Trump on Ukraine and Crimea in early 2017. And after looking at the way Trump is prosecuting our relationship with Russia it’s clear to me now Kissinger had a stronger influence on Trump than anyone thought.
As the Kremlin Turns: The Left still screaming about Russia collusion are themselves delusional. Trump hasn’t been secretly doing nice things for Putin behind everyone’s back. There’s no coordination of policy between them.
I spent most of 2017 arguing with MAGA folks convinced that Trump and Putin were waging a secret war on the Deep State and the Neocons. 4-D chess arguments abounded, when the reality was that while Trump and Putin keep in touch to ensure little direct conflict between the U.S. and Russian forces in Syria takes place, that is not evidence that Trump is soft on Russia in any way. Not provoking a nuclear-armed country is not evidence of collusion, just functional brain cells. A statement I can’t make about most of Trump’s critics this week.
This is an operating principle which governed this week’s summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as well. Trump was smart to meet with Kim, who did outmaneuver the U.S. over the past five years, by achieving nuclear-armed status. It forced the U.S. to the table and Trump, smartly, took the opportunity to save face and choose peace.
The same thing is not on the horizon with Russia today. The Kremlin has moved on. It would like a better relationship with Washington but it has no illusions about it happening. To Putin’s credit he has not ruled out speaking with Trump, but as Alistair Crooke points out today, there’s little good reason for him doing so.
Trump has crossed so many lines with his Kissinger-inspired policy to force Russia to abandon its relationship with China through economic and political aggression that there’s little to be gained by chatting about anything other than the weather.
Beware the Cauldron: To beat a bully you have to let him over-extend himself. He has to feel confident of your passivity in the face of his aggression. That means if you slap him in the face, he turns the other cheek. If you attack his friends, he doesn’t attack you. For more than a year we’ve seen these things play out around the world vis a vis Russia in Syria and in Europe. The attacks are both military, Syria and Ukraine, and financial, the Nordstream 2 pipeline.
I’ve detailed all of this at length over the past year. Putin has taken so many shots to the chin that U.S. / Russian relations bear a great resemblance to the “Rumble in the Jungle” where Mohammed Ali let George Foreman punish him for round after round, expending himself in a futile attempt to knock Ali out. And once Foreman’s arms felt like lead and his legs like Jello, Ali struck so hard and so fast that he stunned the world.
Russian military strategy is dominated by this type of thinking. Lure your opponent in. Create a weak spot and allow him to attack it over and over. Invite the chaos. Allow him to think he is winning. So here’s where we are today: If Trump is successful in getting Germany to cower before his sanctions regime that will, in turn, put Iran under heavy pressure financially and socially. That may yet lead to a formal withdrawal of IRGC Quds forces from Syria. Yet another win. But, it will only happen if the U.S. leaves the border crossing at Al-Tanf. Small price to pay.
Germany’s government is on increasingly shaky grounds as AfD are making her life miserable in the Bundestag and her partner Horst Seehofer of the CSU, as Interior Minister is openly defying her over migrant policy.
The U.S. negotiates a deal with Turkey to control Manbij, possibly to undermine Russia’s relationship with Erdogan, keeping the Turks in Syria to complicate peace talks.
Military conflict in Ukraine likely in the next few weeks with the UAF attacking the Donbass and an incident in the Sea of Azov. This supports a failing Poroshenko government in trouble before the election and sucker Putin into direct support which can justify more sanctions and keeping the EU on board because of “Russian Aggression” and “Not supporting the Minsk process.”
Trump is openly tying sanctions and trade normalization with the Nordstream 2 pipeline in brazen mafia-style negotiating tactics further complicating Merkel’s life. Five more Russian companies were sanctioned this week over ‘cyber attacks.’ He’s openly threatening major multinationals who do business in the U.S. for being a part of Nordstream 2. I think you get the point. I could go on for another page or two.
Closing the Trap: The point is that this is classic bullying behavior. Trump is pot-committed, as poker-players say, to this policy. Once you start with sanctions and threats, you can’t stop. It’s go all the way or have your bluff called. With Europe Trump holds aces. They are dependent on the U.S. and their weakness will be the U.S.’s gain over the next year or two. Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will explode and the U.S. will see massive foreign in-flows.
It’ll be a massive win but it won’t be the win. And in winning over Europe it sets him up for the big loss; the fight for the Middle East and Eurasian integration. His gambit with Russia and Iran becoming an all-or-nothing proposition. Trump has just about pushed all-in. Russia/Iran/China’s passivity has emboldened him. The fecklessness of the Obama administration creating dumpster fires in Ukraine and Syria, however, handed him bad cards and a dwindling stack.
He hasn’t won a hand in the Middle East yet. Sure he’s made headlines but Putin, Rouhani, Nasrallah and Assad have won all the skirmishes that matter. Any wins Trump has gotten were easy ones to pick up. The framework for a deal has always been the same. And no amount of Kissinger-style complications were going to change them.
Iran no more wants to stay in Syria than Putin wants to intervene in The Donbass. So, getting Iran out of Syria is easy. All Trump has to do is leave. Israel won’t like it, but it won’t be their decision. Putin made that clear to Netanyahu when he visited Moscow. The Kurds are the ones to make that decision for Trump, now that they are openly negotiating with Damascus after Trump backstabbed them over Manbij. Without the support of the Kurds, the U.S. cannot stay in Syria at all.
So, when we reach the showdown hand Trump won’t have aces. And the classic Russian cauldron will collapse in around him. And losing there will be the end of the U.S. empire abroad. And the world will rejoice.”