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The “Burn Our Own House Down” Grand Strategy

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By MSgt Christopher DeWitt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a piece in today’s Newsday on the swirling fog around Trump foreign policy. LGM regulars won’t see much new in it, but I do talk briefly about states that might be more optimistic about changes in U.S. foreign relation.

Only moderately less worrisome for U.S. allies is the proposition that Trump and his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, intend a geopolitical diplomatic revolution — one in which the United States leaves NATO to twist in the wind while it pursues a grand bargain with Moscow. Trump articulates a substantially different understanding of U.S. partnerships — as short-term transactions — than has dominated thinking among both mainstream Republicans and Democrats for decades. He seems to view long-standing democratic allies mostly as trade rivals, while flirting with less stable, less democratic regimes.

You can find similar themes in a recent article by Stan Sloan in the Diplomatic Courier.

Speaking of which, there’s a bill in Congress to withdraw from the United Nations. I doubt that it makes it out of the House, let alone the Senate, and I’m skeptical that even the Trump Administration would sign it. But the chances that something like will succeed are higher than they’ve been in decades.

Paul Musgrave has a good series of tweets running through the issue.

 


Anyway, you can go read the rest yourself. Definitely worth your time.

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  • CP

    1) Continuing on my general “these people are a bad caricature of what a socialist looks like;” a cynic would look at all those allies he sees as trade rivals and say that Trump essentially wants us to bring down any other successful economies, because he can’t bear to see anyone else successful.

    2) The UN becoming a rump organization is certainly a possibility, but another is simply that Russia and China would now call the shots, while still using all its mechanisms for its own benefit.

    • CP

      *their own benefit.

    • Hogan

      The mrs. suggested this morning that what Trump and his supporters want is the world as it was in 1945/6: all our potential rivals bombed out and depleted, all the manufacturing capacity in the U!S!A! Only without that wimpy Marshall Plan, NATO, UN, all that shit. Which is why China is the big problem.

      • Michael Cain

        As long as we’re doing fantasy things, some variation on The Bear and the Dragon — Russia and the US vs China. (I needed something thick and relatively mindless to take on the airplanes that week, okay?) Then fast track a trade deal with England and a little “Nice economy you’ve got there — be a shame if anything happened to it” blackmail for the EU.

        • I cringe to report that I also read The Bear and the Dragon many years ago, also for reasons involving commercial aviation. It was jaw-droppingly awful. I swear that it must have gone from Clancy’s Macintosh to an automated typesetting apparatus without having been so much as glanced at by a human editor. I left my copy on the plane next to the safety instructions beneath the tray table.

          • Aziraphale

            I cringe to report that I even re-read it. I have quite a high tolerance for Clancy – I focus on the military mechanics and ignore the clunky style.

            (of course he could be getting the military aspects quite wrong – I wouldn’t know).

            • CP

              I wouldn’t either, but I’ve heard stories that when he gets invited to tour military bases and the like, he frequently gets into arguments about military equipment and tactics and all that with people who actually, well, do it for a living. And is frequently wrong.

              • mds

                he frequently gets into arguments about military equipment and tactics and all that with people who actually, well, do it for a living. And is frequently wrong.

                Well, in his partial defense, he is dead.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  Finally, some good news to brighten my day!

    • McAllen

      2) The UN becoming a rump organization is certainly a possibility, but another is simply that Russia and China would now call the shots, while still using all its mechanisms for its own benefit.

      This seems like something other countries in Europe and Asia would not put up with.

  • catclub

    5) Other countries, including Russia and China, would likely protest any such move (they benefit a LOT from US self-binding)

    6) I suspect a UN without the US would likely collapse into a rump organization very quickly, imperiling millions

    It seems to me these two are self-contradictory. I think without the US the UN might get very serious with Chinese, Russian and German leadership.
    Also France and India.

    OTOH, Israel would probably not get a revised UN resolution in their favor.

    • Murc

      The Israeli lobby would move heaven and earth to keep us in the UN. We’re just about their only buddy there.

      • randy khan

        My take on this is that it’s highly likely that one call from Netanyahu kills this bill and that he’s highly likely to make that call if necessary.

      • randomvariable

        Yeah, I fell for the bill being new above, confusing it with the existing statute, PL 101-246, which has been interpreted to mean that UN bodies that accept the State of Palestine as a member state will lose US funding.

        That’s likely to be all UN orgs in the next few months given Netanyahu has said he will begin talks with Trump for “Palestine minus Jerusalem”, and has started the process of annexing East Jerusalem completely, and Palestine will apply for membership with EU+China support in retaliation.

        • JdLaverty

          One of these days the frustration in the west bank is going to boil over and start a war. Netanyahu has to know that (hell, maybe he thinks it’ll be good for his career; the entirety of it is built on fear).
          That man is such a moral coward.

          • Murc

            One of these days the frustration in the west bank is going to boil over and start a war.

            Hasn’t that already happened like twice?

            • sonamib

              Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted say. It’s not like Israel going to war with their neighbors is a rare occurrence or anything.

          • CP

            I’m pretty sure he has zero objection to that. Lots of opportunities to kill Arabs by the truckload, lots of opportunities to whip up hysteria and rally-around-the-war-leader syndrome in Israel.

  • Murc

    Only moderately less worrisome for U.S. allies is the proposition that Trump and his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, intend a geopolitical diplomatic revolution — one in which the United States leaves NATO to twist in the wind while it pursues a grand bargain with Moscow.

    Isn’t this totally nutty just from an entirely cold-blooded standpoint?

    Russia is a country with an economy roughly the size of Italy’s with a military that only looks impressive because they spend money they don’t have on toys they can’t afford to ever lose, and because they have a nuclear arsenal of dubious reliability and usefulness even if they were ever inclined to use it.

    And we want to side with them over Europe? I mean… really? From a realpolitik standpoint that’s insane. You could try making a moral case rather than practicality case, I suppose, but that’s equally nutty although probably not nutty to rightists.

    • so-in-so

      Assuming Trump or Flynn with a rational or moral basis for decisions – how cute!

      With Trump, look for the money. With Flynn, look for the crazy conspiracy theory.

      • efgoldman

        With Flynn, look for the crazy conspiracy theory.

        And Islamophobia. Although how that matters for this thesis, I don’t see.

    • muddy

      You know Republicans like to count by square miles over other more relevant things, like population or GDP.

    • President Putinfluffer

      Oh calm down!

      Vlad isn’t going to start any wars.

      …Oil is just too damn cheap, that’s all.

      • Chetsky

        Oh …. uh … gulp. Lemme restate:

        Gee, Putin might not mind so much if a nuke or two made oil extraction in the Middle East …. problematic.

        Gulp.

        I can’t claim to understand foreign affairs well enough to judge if this is true, but to a fool like me, it sure seems plausible. Gets the price of Siberian crude up.

    • Davis X. Machina

      From a realpolitik standpoint that’s insane. You could try making a moral case rather than practicality case, I suppose, but that’s equally nutty although probably not nutty to rightists.

      Manliness is all — so Russia it is! And have you seen how white they are?

      • brewmn

        Try not to head too far east. Things can get a little bit darker.

    • JonH

      Well, yes, it is nutty. That’s why the only logical explanation for Trump’s pro-Russian inclination is a pee video, or more realistically, Russian oligarch lenders having Trump’s balls in a vise.

      • efgoldman

        That’s why the only logical explanation for Trump’s pro-Russian inclination is a pee video

        Both of those, but also: HE IS BATSHIT INSANE!
        And his knowledge of anything real – realpolitik included – is not good enough to even be called “limited.”

      • Murc

        Well, I mean. Trump might not give a shit about realpolitick. He might just have decided he likes the Russians better than the Europeans. They don’t necessarily need his balls in a vice for that to be true, all that is required is for Trump to not give a shit about strategic alliances.

        • JdLaverty

          Idk I mean they’ve never intervened in a US election to this extent before and its not like it didn’t carry serious risks if Trump had lost. Add in that to the admittedly shady dossier, the campaign’s staff ties with Russia and trump being such a despicable human being and I think its possible he did something illegal or otherwise career ending in Russia and putin’s got it.

        • Ken

          Well, Putin did call Trump “brilliant”. Except, if I understand correctly, the Russian word means “glitzy” or “flashy”, not “intelligent”.

        • CP

          This has been my position from the start. The truly terrifying possibility here isn’t that the Russians are blackmailing U.S. government officials, it’s that they don’t even need to.

    • randy khan

      Well, yes, it is insane. About as insane as unnecessarily provoking China with suggestions that we might abandon the one-China policy. I mean, abandoning our principal economic and security allies (apparently except for the UK, whatever parts of it survive Brexit) and starting a tiff with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, when that part of the world is wondering which way to turn, in favor of a no-growth extractive economy (in a world that’s shifting away from fossil fuels) that has maybe a handful of allies, some of which are undergoing violent rebellions is pretty much the definition of an insane foreign policy.

      • Murc

        The hell of it is is that I would absolutely endorse us abandoning the one China policy and starting a tiff with China… if it were done be an administration that had, you know, GOOD reasons for doing it and were conducting themselves with planning, foresight, caution.

        Trump’s attitude to China seems basically to the be foreign policy equivalent of saying “come at me, bro” without anything deeper.

        • randy khan

          It would have to be a pretty darned good reason.

          I would like to have a deeply principled moral approach to foreign policy, and once upon a time I would have said we should absolutely favor Taiwan over mainland China, but I’ve learned the world is much too complicated to just do that.

          • Murc

            The world is indeed far to complicated to “just” do that, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It should just be done with care and planning.

            I have a lot of sympathy for “we should avoid destabilizing the international status quo for bad reasons.” I have almost none for “the international status quo is a positive good in and of itself and shouldn’t ever be destabilized no matter the reasons.”

            • randy khan

              I think we’re more or less in agreement on this.

  • catclub

    Can someone ask Trump about how America First combines with Israel first?
    Do we still support everything that Israel does?
    What if that conflicts with Russia?

    • Bootsie

      An America First movement being really buddy-buddy with Israel would be ironic as hell.

      • CP

        I mean, the original America First movement was actually a Germany First movement, so it would be following tradition.

      • brewmn

        Yet here we are.

    • efgoldman

      Can someone ask Trump about how America First combines with Israel first?

      Theoretically, yes.
      In our more or less real world, nobody would ask or would get the opportunity.

    • AMK

      One silver lining will be that when this is all over, all the usual suspects on the Likudnik side will have so much Trump stink on them that the Democrats won’t have to give them even token deference anymore.

      • CP

        Ha. I’ve given up hoping for this kind of thing.

  • Bootsie

    5) Other countries, including Russia and China, would likely protest any such move (they benefit a LOT from US self-binding)

    A single bead of sweat glides down Putin’s bald head at the thought of that bill passing.

    • LWA

      Which might be the one time when his stranglehold over Trump would be helpful.

  • Ramon A. Clef

    I remember at the end of Babylon 5, there was a scene where the President of Earth, or whatever the hell his title was, turned all of earth’s defenses to fire on the planet because if he couldn’t win, he’d burn the whole planet to a cinder. At the time, I thought it lacked credibility. I understand now that it really isn’t.

    • Matt_L

      See also, Hitler in April 1945.

    • CP

      The more I watch the real world, the more I appreciate movie, TV, and comic book villains. No, not the “complex,” “nuanced,” “well developed” and “interesting” ones. The cartoonishly ridiculous and over-the-top ones, the more pathetic the better. The real world is swimming in such people, and they’re the ones who’re breaking it.

  • shah8

    1) Apparently our Israeli embassy is to be moved to Jerusalem, to be announced tomorrow. I cannot help but wonder what this would do to US power in MENA, even if most arab autocrats don’t care.

    2) I’m not worried so much about the UN in general but what happens in the Security Council. I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be some pretty serious consequences to either the shuttering of the council (assuming UN is booted out of NYC, too), or dominance by other members. Are we really going to rely on UK, maybe France to rep US interests?

    • liberalrob

      Are we really going to rely on UK, maybe France to rep US interests?

      I think the feeling is that that is what is happening now, other UN countries are manipulating the UN in ways contrary to US interests and that is why we should leave. It makes as much sense as Brexit. I.e., none.

      But I don’t think that’s the plan. I think the plan is to threaten to leave the UN unless it does what we want; ditto with NATO and all other multinational entities we belong to. Actually leaving would be a failure of the “policy.” So the question is, will our bluff be called.

  • DrDick

    Trump seems to be applying his normal business model to foreign policy (screw everyone else).

    • rickstersherpa

      It is the business model that left 4 bankruptcies in its wake, plus the clusterfuck that is Trump University. But each one left him richer than before, and not paying taxes, and the goal here is to be the world’s richest man by the end of the 1st term. His fans will see it as further proof about what a great businessman he is!!!

      How will the Saudis, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan react to this. The last year has been kind of a disaster for the Sunnis in the Middle East as the Sunni cause has been destroyed in Syria and Western Iraq. Would full hilt backing of a Palestinian Infatada regain some of that prestige?

      • lunaticllama

        We have no idea if these failed businesses made him richer or not.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    “I suspect a UN without the US would likely collapse into a rump organization very quickly”

    Let’s rename it from “United Nations” to “League of Nations” first, just for historicity. And yucks.

    • Matt_L

      Where would they move the League of Nations 2.0?

      Geneva is too expensive and too retro. There is the UNO city in the suburbs of Vienna and that might suit the Russians and Germans, but not the French or the Chinese.

      My money would be on someplace in China (lots of vacant office space and empty apartments) or, better still, Mexico City just to fuck with the Trumpster.

      • kateislate

        Come up to Ottawa. We have some mostly empty office buildings as they are packing government workers more tightly. And being unable to drink the water in buildings at Tunney’s might focus diplomats’ attention more on reaching the SDGs. Also they can’t seem to stop building new luxury condos, someone has to live in them.

  • AdamPShort

    I wish someone would get Trump to explain how our “trade rivals” are “beating us.”

    The US sends dollars, which are notional, to other countries in exchange for their resources, which are real. So what about this arrangement is Trump trying to change?

    • efgoldman

      I wish someone would get Trump to explain how our “trade rivals” are “beating us.”

      Hahahaha. The explanation, even if he could dig one up, would be a bigger lie than the original. Yooge. Bigly.

    • McAllen

      China holds US debt, therefore *mumbles*

    • UserGoogol

      Generally speaking the best argument for capitalism is to emphasize how it’s involves positive-sum relationships. The buyer and seller both get something they want and everyone wins. (More complicated than that in practice because of market failures, but the basic idea is pretty key to how markets are supposed to work.) So it’s a sign of the fundamental brokenness of conservatism that the Republican Party has elected someone who seems fundamentally incapable of understanding such things can exist.

      • brewmn

        Good point. Republicans have always relied on the implication that their policies, severe as they might seem, would benefit the majority. I think everyone, from the head of General Motors to McConnell and Ryan, know that Trumpism means either he wins or he lets you win for now. and then he wins.

      • CP

        They’ve been running on zero-sum mentality for a while now.

  • twbb

    We’ve done the over under on how long Trump will last, I’m curious how long Kelly and Mattis will last if Trump tries doing this.

    • Peale

      I’m really going to laugh if Tillerson’s love affair with Russian Oil Fields ends up costing his company the ones that his company has everywhere else. Ending “political correctness” in diplomacy I hope costs his company bigly.

  • LosGatosCA

    End of Days, baby!

    Armageddon favors those who have the money to have a positive mine shaft gap.

    Under every Trump property is a fallout shelter big enough to hold the extended Trump family plus some ____ to grab.

    • catclub

      I used to joke that all the people who thought Obama was the anti-Christ will be surprised when it turns out to be Trump.

      • LosGatosCA

        Yeah, they’ll be even more surprised when they find out their reservation in Hell was confirmed well before they died.

  • alexceres

    it’s not just Russia and China that benefit from US self-binding. WE benefit from establishing self binding as the norm, and convincing folks they should play by western capitalist rules, which is our bailiwick.

    It’s like the assholes who thinks nukes are awesome without pausing to consider that the US would be vastly more powerful in a world without nukes. We spend more on defense than the entire world combined and our capabilities to project power are unrivaled by the entirety of the world. Conventional warfare is our bailiwick.

    When you are powerful, the status quo is in your favor. When you are leading the race, you should want to minimize chaos.

    These guys really want to burn the country down just to prove their penises are above average.

  • econoclast

    Trump’s foreign policy basically makes sense. It’s as stupid as fuck, but it is coherent. He seems to believe in two ideas:

    1. Trade is a zero-sum game, so if Germany (for example) does well that’s bad for the US.

    2. Islam is the real enemy.

    I don’t know if these are Trump’s own views, or convenient spin by Putin, or it comes from Bannon/Flynn, but they fit the foreign policy moves. (Maybe the first one comes from Bannon, and the second one from Flynn.)

  • sonamib

    But, but the UN is in New York and all! This would be just as ridiculous as Belgium leaving the EU.

    And wouldn’t the rest of the world just treat the current US government as functionally insane? And beg mainstream US politicians to intervene to stop the foreign policy disaster?

    • farin

      Mainstream US politicians don’t control the federal government.

  • arthur

    Trump doesn’t know much but he knows something that will keep us in the UN, over the wishes fo Flynn and Bannon. The US leaving the UN, followed by the UN either closing or shrinking New York City operations, would turn the New York City high end real estate and hotel markets to shit. Diplomats and international lobbyists and such live in Trump properties. Prime ministers stay at Trump hotels when they’re in town for the opening session, and they don’t ask for AAA discounts.

    • Cheerfull

      Interesting, for want of a better word, the extent to which the important issue in U.S. foreign policy from now on is what carries more weight in Trump’s head – his ego’s need for acclaim from his supporters, or his personal bottom line. Soon the idea that larger principles should be a basis for policy will fade from our minds, like memories of a beautiful summer day years ago.

      • N__B

        When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse
        Out of the corner of my eye
        I turned to vote, but it was gone
        I cannot put my finger on it now
        The child is grown; D. Trump has won
        I have become comfortably numb

  • JohnT

    I wonder if it would help if someone explains to Trump the current geopolitical order in ways he might understand – e.g. nesting shell companies, where you can keep control of large companies with relatively small shareholdings, nested correctly.

    Essentially Trumpist Americans are a pathetically small part of the world population, but they own a plurality of the US Republican party, and control it.
    The US Republican party is too small to control the world but it is able to control the United States via obscure old voting rules.
    The United States, while big is, too small to control the world. But it is big enough to dominate and control (mostly) the US Alliance system (NATO + Japan + Australia). The US alliance system is just about big enough to dominate the world.
    Therefore the current system allows Trump to dominate the world with a very limited base of support

    However blowing up one of these links (the GOP, the US or the US alliance system) obviously cedes control, in the same way as the bankruptcy of one of the companies in a minority control chain cedes control of the bigger corporation automatically. Even if your dream is world domination (especially if your dream is world domination) it is just a dumb thing to do.

    • farin

      “Better to rule in hell than to rule in heaven,” as the old saying goes.

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