by Dan Mueller
Frankfurt–It appears that there is no end in sight to America’s post-election brouhaha. It has covered a whole range of issues with varying degree of sadness, entertainment, and shock. From stories about fake news to allegations of Russian meddling in the election, to voting by illegal immigrants, Saudis pouring cash to Hillary’s coffers to alter regional geopolitics to their benefit, and claims that Bernie Sanders would have defeated Trump had he not been thrown under the bus by his own party, the stories keep coming.
Moving beyond the post-election theatrics, it’s time to take a serious look at the soon-to-start Trump presidency with a geopolitical lens. What does the current global geopolitical environment portend for the United States under what promises to be a paradigm-shifting administration? And how to read and interpret the constant barrage of attacks against Trump and his team? What do these attacks signify?
President-elect may have had a retrogressive stance on a number of key foreign policy issues such as the Iran Nuclear Deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the rise of Chinese economy. But he is surrounded by a team of advisers that, despite being demonized, is known to possess a diverse and complicated understanding of what challenges await the United States on world stage both economically and geopolitically.
A New Team
Take Steven Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor. Bannon comes from both Wall Street and the media scene with a solid belief in and understanding of the damage that the neoconservative establishment has inflicted on the United States and its standing in the world since the presidency of George W. Bush. Bannon’s criticism of the warmongering elite in Washington is the key reason for being royally demonized. Even after the fact that it became clear that he was never an anti-Semite or against Israel, his demonization continued apace. Bannon will almost certainly vouch for policies aimed at reducing the bubble finance on Wall Street, the widening gap between the poor and the rich, and call for a more realist foreign policy based on geopolitical realities rather than deeply ideological predilections.
Retired General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, has been a fat target of major news organizations for his incendiary remarks about Islam. OK we get it, he has made highly politically incorrect remarks about Islam and Muslims, but we all know that as one of the world’s great religions, Islam is being hijacked, or per some scholars of Islam, already hijacked by violent Jihadis who are responsible for the death and destruction of untold numbers of lives, most of which happen to be their fellow Muslims.
What about Flynn’s stance on the ongoing war in Syria and its impact on the region? Well, he has been brave enough to call for the destruction of ISIS (Daesh), the so-called Nusra front–which not so long ago went through a rebranding of its own–as well as other Wahhabi Jihadi groups. Flynn does not believe in Russia fear mongering and demonization of Moscow. He has been bold enough to call for collaboration between the United States and Russia to root out violent and bloodthirsty Jihadi groups in Syria and prepare the country for transition to a new governing structure without Assad. Flynn essentially seeks the goal of preventing the emergence of a 2.0 Libya in the Levant region. He has also called for pulling Turkey, a key NATO ally, from falling into a Russian-Chinese lap by assuring President Erdogan’s administration that Fetullah Gulen, the self-exiled Turkish cleric in Pennsylvania, does not make a triumphant return to Ankara to establish his version of an Islamic State. Flynn maybe passionate about expressing his opinion, but he is not uninformed about world affairs.
Before we move on to other key international developments and geopolitical challenges, let’s take a look at President-elect’s nominee for the top diplomat post, Rex Tillerson. The Exxon veteran brings nearly five decades of deal making and negotiating with governments around the world. The fact that he has successfully managed a global energy giant speaks volumes about his understanding of international geopolitics and foreign affairs, and subsequently his skills to represent the US and its interests on the world stage. Moreover, Tillerson’s disapproving views of sanctions as a policy tool indicates his willingness to pursue a robust diplomatic course with US adversaries and competitors. Exxon’s strong presence in Russia, Tillerson’s personal relationship with Putin, and his in-depth understanding of the Middle East and the role of Iran as a regional super influencer mean that he can engage America’s friends and adversaries alike to the benefit of long-term US interests and those of American workers.
There are other irreversible mega trends that deserve close attention of the Trump administration. Here is a snapshot of these trends.
Geopolitics: A Snapshot
China’s global rise chiefly under its OneBelt OneRoad (OBOR) initiative; Beijing’s strengthening and complicated alliance with Russia in the Eurasian landmass; Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and beyond; Pakistan’s geostrategic tilt toward China under the $51 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) mega development project; the disintegration of Saudi foreign policy with resulting self-inflicting wounds on its economy; Turkey’s geopolitical and foreign policy disarray; the growing dismay in Eastern European states at their alliance with the West, and the threat posed to European stability by Wahhabi Jihadi groups.
How is the US doing in Asia? First and foremost, it is time to consider the much ballyhooed Pivot to Asia regional strategy a dead end with no discernible outcome for the United States. Since its announcement in 2012, the Pivot has yet to materialize while China has been expanding its regional influence by building multi-lateral security and economic institutions. More broadly, China has been busy building its own parallel global order with the following as its key components:
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to counter NATO; New Development Bank (NDB) & Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) to counter World Bank and IMF; Universal Credit Rating Group, to counter Moody’s and S&P; China Union Pay to counter Mastercard & Visa; Cross-Border Inter-Bank Payment System (CIPS) to counter SWIFT, and BRICS to counter G7.
With China’s OBOR, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in full steam, Trump and his team should find a way to engage China. This can be achieved by joining the AIIB and even encouraging participation of American companies in BRI’s various mega infrastructure projects, as opposed to seeing BRI as a path toward unavoidable conflicts.
Central and Southwest Asia
In Central Asia, a growing security concern is the spread of Al-Qaida and other Wahhabi groups that are bent on destabilizing the region. This concern has led to security arrangements among former Soviet republics of Central Asian states, Afghanistan, and China. The Chinese security establishment believes that elements within Saudi royal family and wealthy Saudi individuals are fueling the rise of ISIS-like groups in the region. The situation has become serious enough that Beijing has built military outposts on the Tajik-Afghan border to repel Wahhabi Jihadi groups and protect the infrastructure projects under construction. It is important to note that US presence in Central Asia has consistently declined to the point that today it is nearly impossible to point to any major American diplomacy and/or economic initiatives in the region.
Further to the south in the Middle East, an inconvenient and shaky alliance made of Qatar, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey against Iran and its regional allies has yet to produce results. The situation is bad enough that the Israeli leaders decided to forge an alliance with the Saudis. One needs to remind the Israeli leadership that the Saudi royals continue to derive their governing legitimacy from the Wahhabi religious elite who continue shamelessly to consider Jews to be sub-humans.
Elsewhere in the region, Turkey continues its descent into uncertain territory with Erdogan’s government baffled by a myriad of security crises. Bombings continue to take their toll on ordinary Turks while the economy is in downward spiral thanks to capital outflows. Will the Turkish leadership admit that its post-Arab Spring foreign policy has been one of a trainwreck? Not anytime soon.
The Middle East needs American leadership to engage key regional players toward the goal of economic rehabilitation and trade initiatives and rebuilding lives. Taking sides in the region’s intense geopolitical rivalries will make a grave situation even worse and potentially cost American treasure and lives.
What do the attacks signify?
The relentless attacks on and tarnishing of Trump’s proposed cabinet members and advisers is a pressure tactic by the neocon establishment in Washington, including hardline proponents of a militarist foreign policy, to make the President-elect modify his foreign policy direction and adopt a more hawkish, militant tone based on principles of regime change and at the cost of American treasure, lives and regional chaos.
The above global geopolitical environment calls for formulation of a multi-lateral policy. Military action will not bring resolution to the above complex picture. The incoming Trump administration need not allocate expensive resources for a pivot to Asia or any specific part of the world without considering their impact on long-term US interests. America needs to navigate in an emerging world order and play a critical role in it by identifying common grounds with other players, both regional and international.