Thursday, November 21, 2019

USA: Becoming the Cheshire Cat Superpower?

A bit of advice I like to give to anyone who will listen is to read. Read widely. Read those who you do not agree with. Read some who you almost never agree with. Read those in your “camp,” read those in the “other camp.”

In almost all areas there are hacks, lickspittles, and grifters. Some are easier to tell, some hide it well. Filter most – but not all – of those out of your reading, and instead look for well meaning people who just happen to see the world slightly differently than you do. If you can find a 50/50 person, then you’ve found a good spot to challenge your closely held beliefs - strengthen when needed, or change when found wanting.

For me, Claire Berlinski is one of those people. Just when I think she’s “one of us” she comes up with something well outside “my” lifelines of good opinion. That’s OK, she’s smart and puts it out there.

When she included some quotes on another person I find “interesting” – Peter Zeihan, I knew I needed to give her latest a good read.

While I may disagree with a few of her points and interpretations, her latest “The World Beyond Washington” post is well worth your time. It ties together some themes that we have discussed for well over a decade here, so let’s dive in to some of her points she makes … and a few Zeihan and French President Macron quotes she includes.
The postwar economic and security order, Zeihan argues, worked exactly as designed: We suppressed great power competition and secured the world’s trade routes. This peaceful environment allowed the rest of the world to become wealthy. The Soviet Union collapsed.

But unlike the allies whose security we guaranteed, we never fully participated in the world we built, and we aren’t dependent upon it. Unlike Germany and China, our economy is not built upon exports. The United States has its own, massive, domestic market. As a percentage of GDP, the US benefits less from trade than any other developed country: Trade amounts to about 15 percent of our GDP, and even less if we exclude Canada and Mexico. We’re blessed with the rich and fertile soil that makes us an agricultural powerhouse and the source of half the world’s grain. We have almost all the minerals we need.

And now we have energy.

The shale revolution, Zeihan claims, has severed American ties with the wider world. Thus, precisely as the world tips into chaos, Zeihan observes—and just as the world most needs the United States to be engaged—the United States is disappearing.

He believes this will work out well for America. We have the waterways. We have ocean moats on either side. The United States has and will always have the competitive advantage of its geography; it is alone among developed countries in having a relatively youthful population.
Let’s stop there. We are not an empire – where decisions are made by an emperor for their own glory and power – but we are as designed, a nation who makes its decisions through the representatives of the people.

There is something I have been saying to anyone who will listen since the end of the last century – something BTW that the Norwegian writers of Occupied felt over a decade ago as well – the USA is one election away from shrugging the “international responsibilities” that other nations feel they are entitled to demand of us.

We are not an empire. We are a representative republic that was designed to be of concern to ourselves and not to wander the planet solving other people’s problems they won’t solve themselves with our blood and treasure.

With the weight of WWII and expansive global Communism gone, we will regress to the mean. That “mean” does not include garrisoning the world, beggaring ourselves while offering up our young men and women as sacrifices to the theories of people unaccountable to our taxpayers.

Does that have consequences? Yes it does … but if that is what the American people want, then over time that is where we will go.

The American people may not know exactly where they want to wind up, but they are with each passing year tiring of bleeding for people who rarely appreciate it and then have themselves judged by people who by sat on the sidelines and did nothing.

Berlinski uses this Zeihan quote from his 2016, The Absent Superpower.
… the isolationist trickle I detected in American politics has deepened and expanded into a raging river. Of the two dozen men and women who entered the 2016 presidential race, only one—Ohio Governor John Kasich—advocated for a continuation of America’s role in maintaining the global security and trade order that the Americans installed and have maintained since 1945. The most anti-trade candidate on the right won his party’s nomination, while the most anti-trade candidate on the left finished a close second in the Democratic primaries to the Clinton political machine. Last night (now President) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met in New York to debate economic policy. … their core disagreement on trade issues wasn’t whether trade was good or bad for the United States, but how much to pare it back and which reasons for paring cut it the most with the electorate ...

The world has had seven decades to become inured to a world in which the Americans do the heavy lifting to maintain a system that economically benefits all. … As the Americans back away, very few players have any inkling of how to operate in a world where markets are not open, transport is not safe, and energy cannot be secured easily.

The stage is set for a global tailspin of epic proportions. Just as the global economy tips into deflation, just as global energy is becoming dangerous, just as global demographics catastrophically reduce global consumption, just as the world really needs the Americans to be engaged, the United States will be … absent. We stand on the very edge of the Disorder.
While some will rail at the USA for backing away, it might be helpful for those same people to ask what their nations did or did not do to keep America engaged.

The French President Macron – who is problematic in a variety of ways – made a lot of news this month by his neo-Gaulesque throwing of shade at NATO.

He’s not 100% wrong;
France knows how to protect itself. After Brexit, it will become the last remaining nuclear power in the European Union. And so it’s also essential to think about this in relation to others.

It’s an aggiornamento for this subject. NATO was designed in response to an enemy: the Warsaw Pact. In 1990 we didn’t reassess this geopolitical project in the slightest when our initial enemy vanished. The unarticulated assumption is that the enemy is still Russia. It’s also true that when we intervene in Syria against terrorism, it’s not actually NATO that intervenes. We use NATO's interoperability mechanisms, but it’s an ad hoc coalition. So, the question about the present purpose of NATO is a real question that needs to be asked. Particularly by the United States. In the eyes of President Trump, and I completely respect that, NATO is seen as a commercial project. He sees it as a project in which the United States acts as a sort of geopolitical umbrella, but the trade-off is that there has to be commercial exclusivity, it’s an arrangement for buying American products. France didn’t sign up for that …

In my discussions with President Trump when he says, “It’s your neighbourhood, not mine”; when he states publicly, “The terrorists, the jihadists that are over there, they’re European, they’re not American”; when he says, “It’s their problem, not mine”—we must hear what he’s saying. He’s stating a fact. It simply means what was only implicit under NATO until now: I am no longer prepared to pay for and guarantee a security system for them, and so just “wake up”. The NATO we’ve known since the beginning is changing its underlying philosophy. When you have a United States president who says that, we cannot, even if we don’t want to hear it, we cannot in all responsibility fail to draw the conclusions, or at least begin to think about them. Will he be prepared to activate solidarity? If something happens at our borders? It’s a real question. ….
This is the fault of those NATO nations who decided to mortgage trans-Atlantic security to support bloated welfare states.

Macron has watched Occupied it seems.

What can European NATO do against pressure from the East? Not sure, but economics and demographics in Russia might take care of that by itself. Without the Anglo-Saxon calming agent in Europe, thousands of years of natural tensions will rise up. He is, rightfully, worried about German-French tensions, but in addition to Russia, you can’t forget about to other historic sources of tension; the Baltic, and a growing Central European sense of place that seems to be congealing from the remains of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth  the and non-German bits of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

History is not done there, but the question returns; what if the American people don’t want to have anything to do with what history has planned?
From Algeria to Zimbabwe, the US is losing influence. Trade between the US and Africa has dropped precipitously. American exports to Africa are down nearly a third since 2014. Other powers are signing trade agreements that leave out the United States: 41 African countries have signed trade agreements with the European Union. (We are meanwhile engaged in a trade war with the European Union.)

Africa has the world’s fastest-growing middle class; its markets are the biggest commercial opportunities in the developing world. Half of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa. By 2050, half the world’s population will live there. Africa will soon be home to the better part of the world’s working-age population.

Since 2014, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with 19 African countries. China is now Africa’s leading trade partner. India and Russia are increasing their involvement. The European Union is holding steady.

The Prosper Africa initiative was an excellent idea. But it isn’t even clear that President Trump is aware of the initiative.

This too confirms Zeihan’s view.
Given the economics and demographics in Africa - shouldn't the Europeans be the supported vice supporting entity in Africa anyway?

Read it all.

It would be helpful at this point to remind pro & never-Trump people that they need to stop having their emotions about Trump stoping them from seeing the full landscape. Trump will be gone somewhere from 15-months to five years from now – but trends decades in the making will continue. Whatever Trump is doing, he is simply riding pre-existing conditions that finally rose above the ambient noise at the end of the last decade.

From all political parties, other people who follow Trump's time will ride the same wave in their own way. Why? Easiest questions of all; because the voting public will bring them there.

We cannot confuse “influence” with power or position. You also cannot confuse “influence” with national strength or sustainability.

In 1989, the Soviet Union had huge influence throughout the world because she thought it was always 1956 and so did much of the world swayed by her influence.

She is gone.

In 1989 Switzerland had huge influence for her size throughout the world because she did what she has always done – focused on what was best for the security and prosperity of the citizens of Switzerland. 

In 2019, Switzerland has huge influence for her size throughout the world because she does what she has always done – focuses on what is best for the security and prosperity of the citizens of Switzerland.

We are on the cusp of the third decade of the 21st Century. If you are still trying to play internationally like it is the second half of the 20th Century, you are going to constantly be confused, blindsided - and if you control the levers of power in our government - you will put your nation at strategic risk

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