Poutine, Trump et la création d’une nouvelle architecture de sécurité pour l’Europe avec une participation russe

Discours le 20 septembre 2018.  Fondation pour la Préservation du Patrimoine russe dans l’Union Européenne. Bruxelles.

 

Bonsoir Mesdames et messieurs.  Merci de votre présence.

Mon discours ce soir représente la deuxième partie de notre conférence du 23 avril concernant l’annonce d’une nouvelle guerre froide. Le texte est mis à jour en considération des changements très significatifs sur la scène internationale les dernières mois.

Dans la première partie de mon discours en avril,  j’ai parlé de mon expérience en qualité d’observateur international des élections présidentielles russes le 18 mars. Je faisais partie d’un groupe de 23 personnes envoyées en Crimée.

Le 23 avril j’ai consideré la ré-élection de Vladimir Poutine comme une donnée importante dans l’évolution de la nouvelle guerre froide.  Le rival ou l’enemi des Etats-Unis et de l’Ouest restera en place pour les 6 ans à venir.  Et lors de sa campagne électorale, M. Poutine a donné un avertissement aux Etats-Unis dans son allocation au deux chambres du parlement russe le 1 mars, Je vais parler de tout cela dans quelques minutes.

Le 23 avril j’ai présenté la Russie comme l’acteur dynamique dans le bilan des relations internationales. L’allocation de Poutine le 1 mars, les réussites de Moscou dans le théâtre de guerre syrienne des premiers jours d’avril ont provoqué des réponses militaires des américains et ses alliés au niveau des pires confontations de la guerre froide.

A cette époque, comme tout le monde, j’ai consideré la politique étrangère américaine comme une unité formulée par les centristes du monde politique avec Donald, l’homme inscrutable, bien à bord. Avec ou sans enthousiasme, le cas échéant, Trump a réalisé les sanctions proposés par Congrès envers la Russie.  Si le Président a gardé des sympathies pour la Russie, comme les démocrates ont insisté, ça était une question à part.

Mais après, dans les mois de juin, juillet et août, le Président américain a montré ses cartes et par des actions et des paroles il exposait une fissure très importante entre sa stratégie globale à lui et la politique étrangère officielle du Congrès, des ministères des affaires étrangères et de la défense. Pour moi, c’est clair: il y a deux politiques étrangères américaines à ce moment. Une, la politique officelle –  la continuation avec plus intense agressivité de la hégémonie globale américaine comme seule super-puissance. L’autre, du président, qui signifie la déstruction du système des alliances, des bases et forces à l’étranger.

J’admets que cette division n’est pas tout à fait évident à mes confrères – analystes professionels et journalistes qui estiment, pour la plupart, que Donald est un idiot sans objectifs stratégiques fixes.  Effectivement il y a beaucoup de contradictions entre les promesses de Trump et ses actions dans les relations avec la Russie. Mais il faut souvenir que le Président est sous pression constante de l’ investigation du procureur spécial Mueller pour collusion avec la Russie lors des élections de 2016 et sous pression des initiatives de la législature pour le contraindre à poursuivre des sanctions sévères contre la Russie et des provocations anti-russes.  Il faut entendre que la Russie n’est pas la seul préoccupation du president même si elle est la seule preoccupation de ses opposants.

La question principale de ce soir:  de faire prognostic des dénouements possibles de la confrontation actuelle entre l’Amérique avec ces alliés européens et la Fédération de la Russie.

Je trouve l’élément plus important pour prédire l’avenir sera le résultat du scrutin américain le 6 novembre 2018, les élections du mi-mandat dans lesquelles ou Trump est vainqueur ou son présidence est en péril.

Les possibilitiés que je discerne sont les suivantes:

  1. Trump gagne, continue avec son majorité dans les deux chambres du Congrès, continue sa politique de démantelement des alliances militaires, OTAN en particulier dans les 2 ans restants de son premier mandat and dans un mandat supplémentaire éventuel. Pour sa part l’Europe continue son récherche pour établir une nouvelle politique de défense, assurant seule sa sécurité. Dans cet hypothèse il y aura certainement des pourparlers avec la Russie pour fonder une nouvelle architecture de sécurité avec la participation de la Russie
  2. Trump perd sa majorité dans la Chambre des Représentants, on commence une procédure de destitution contre lui.  Finalement ou il est forcé d’abandonner la Maison Blanche ou il reste  en pouvoir jusqu’à la fin de son mandat mais il est obligé de réaliser la politique de ses enemis et continuer l’agressivité montante contre la Russie.

Toutefois j’admets que notre avenir sera déterminé par des autres facteurs aussi, y compris un cas fortuit, Dans les deux hypothèses nous avons toujours la possibilité d’une guerre chaude entre l’Ouest et la Russie par accident donné la présence des forces des deux camps dans proximité, comme en Syrie ou dans l’Ukraine. et l’absence des bons liens de communication entre eux, plus encore la manque de grande confiance ni dans la bonne volonté ni dans le bon sens de l’autre côté. Je vois un dédain marqué chez les uns comme chez les autres.

Tout ce que je vais raconter maintenant est selectionné pour informer notre discussion après mon discours sur le dénouement plus probable.

Alors commençons avec le fil rouge depuis le mois de mars qui déterminait l’analyse de mon texte du 23 avril:.

Les dates remarquables, les noeuds sur le fil, sont

Le 1 mars, quand le Président Poutine a livré son discours – Manifeste Electorale

Le 4 mars, date d’empoisonnement des Skripals à Salisbury, Royaume Unis.

Le 14 mars – l’expulsion de 23 diplomates russe d’Angleterre pour raison de l’attaque supposé avec Novichok sur les Skripals

Le 18 mars – le scrutin présidential en Russie – très important parce que le taux de participation était élevé et le pourcentage de bulletins pour Poutine – quelque 77% – montre que la population russe est solidement en support de la politique de défense de souveraineté nationale défini par Vladimir Vladimirovitch.

Le 27 mars – annonce de l’expulsion de plus de 100 diplomates russes par les Etats-Unis, les Etats-Membres de l’Union Européen et des autres pays tiers faisant référence à l’empoisonnement des Skripals

Le 7 avril, l’attaque chimique prétendu par chlore ou sarin à Douma, Goutha orientale, au moment quand les forces syriens étaient en train d’achever une grande victoire contre les terroristes qui contrôle le territoire depuis 4 ans. Le “régime” de Bashar Assad est accusé d’une frappe mortelle contre la population civile, et la Russie est impliquée.

Le 14 avril, la frappe contre Syrie par les Etats-Unis, la France et Grande Bretagne en utilisant des missiles de croisières lancées des avions et des navires de l’alliance.

J’insiste que tous ces événements sont étroitement liés. 

Je fais l’accent sur le discours de Vladimir Poutine le 1 mars, comme point de départ.

L’allocution de Vladimir Poutine devant les deux chambres du parlement bicaméral de Russie le 1er mars a attiré l’attention du monde entier par la dernière partie, dans laquelle le Président russe a évoqué les principaux vecteurs d’armes nucléaires qui se distinguaient par des technologies sans précédent susceptibles de modifier l’équilibre du pouvoir mondial.

Poutine a affirmé que la pleine parité de la Russie avec les États-Unis en matière d’armement stratégique a été restaurée. Le message brutal qu’il a adressé aux États-Unis, à savoir qu’ils doivent abandonner leur tentative d’atteindre une capacité de première frappe pendant 16 ans et s’asseoir pour discuter de la maîtrise des armements.

À tous les égards, le discours a été une réponse directe à toutes les critiques que Poutine a reçues lors de sa présidence de ses sept adversaires dans la course présidentielle venant de tous les partis politiques, des nationalistes et des libéraux de droite et communistes de divers labels de gauche.

La position commune de cinq des sept opposants était qu’une bonne politique étrangère n’est possible que pour un État puissant, et qu’un État puissant est le produit d’une économie forte et de personnes prospères. L’un des candidats, Grigory Yavlinsky du parti libéral Yabloko, a résumé le plus efficacement le problème : un pays comme la Russie qui ne représente que 2% du PIB mondial, un pays qui a un PIB et un budget militaire qui ne représente que 10% de ceux des Etats-Unis, ne peut pas être compétitif sur la scène mondiale.

Dans son allocution à l’Assemblée fédérale, Vladimir Poutine a consacré les deux premiers tiers de son temps sur scène à la politique intérieure, exposant en détail les objectifs spécifiques à atteindre d’ici 2024 dans de nombreux domaines clés de l’activité et du financement du gouvernement fédéral en vue de créer une société prospère, juste et attrayante pour ses membres, qui jouit d’une croissance économique robuste et valorise avant tout le potentiel humain de ses citoyens.

Toutefois, dans le dernier tiers de son discours consacré aux questions militaires, il a fait remarquer que, malgré son PIB encore modeste et en dépit des problèmes démographiques et autres auxquels elle est confrontée, la Russie a réussi à contrer les efforts des États-Unis pour rendre inutile la force nucléaire russe. Depuis que les États-Unis ont abrogé le Traité ABM en 2002, ils s’efforcent d’encercler la Fédération de Russie avec des bases de défense antimissile à double objectif qui, à un moment donné, confréreront aux États-Unis une capacité de première frappe.

Parité restaurée

Dans son discours, M. Poutine a déclaré que la parité nucléaire avec les États-Unis a été rétablie et qu’elle sera indéfiniment viable, compte tenu de l’avance technologique de dix ans que son pays détient maintenant dans le domaine des systèmes d’armes stratégiques tout à fait nouveaux et redoutables qui peuvent vaincre n’importe quel réseau des américains .  La Russie est et sera un État puissant parce qu’elle dispose d’une capacité de défense inégalée qui assure la sécurité physique de ses citoyens, c’est certainement la première responsabilité de tout gouvernement. Une fois que la sécurité physique est assurée, le gouvernement peut créer les infrastructures nécessaires à la réussite de l’économie et de la société civile.  Dans tout cela, Poutine renverse la logique de ses opposants politiques.

La puissance dure de la Russie justifie ses aspirations à une politique étrangère forte. Le parapluie nucléaire russe, qui couvre non seulement la Fédération de Russie mais aussi ses “alliés”, sera l’élément d’attraction le plus fort.

En outre, la puissance dure peut être utilisée pour alimenter l’économie russe comme une source d’innovation qui est la clé de son programme d’accélération du taux de croissance.

Il ne fait aucun doute que des considérations électorales ont motivé la décision de présenter juste avant le scrutin le nouveau matériel de la Russie.

Mais l’allocution était beaucoup plus importante que ça. À sa manière, ce discours était aussi important, peut-être plus important que le discours de Poutine à la conférence de Munich sur la sécurité en février 2007, dans lequel il exposait longuement les griefs de la Russie à l’encontre de l’hégémonie mondiale des Etats-Unis établie dans les années1990 aux dépens des intérêts nationaux russes. Ce discours (de 2007) avait marqué un tournant dans les relations américano-russes, nous conduisant à la confrontation extrème d’aujourd’hui. Le discours du 1 mars ne suggère pas le début d’une nouvelle course aux armements, mais sa conclusion avec la victoire russe et la défaite américaine.

Les implications de l’intervention de Vladimir Poutine  nous disent que les agences renseignement américains ont paisiblement sommeillé durant les 14 dernières années sinon plus. C’est un scandale national pour le pays de perdre une course aux armements dont il n’était même pas conscient. Des têtes devraient rouler, et le processus devrait commencer par des audiences appropriées au Congrès..

.De plus, l’annonce dans le discours du 1 mars du déploiement en marche et sur le point de l’être de nouveaux armements russes qui modifient l’équilibre des forces mondiales n’est qu’un cas parmi une série d’autres réalisations remarquables de la Russie au cours des quatre dernières années qui ont toutes surpris les dirigeants américains…

La prise en main de la Crimée par la Russie en février-mars 2014 effectuée sans coup férir a été une “surprise” pour les USA et pour l’OTAN…

Puis le Pentagone a été complètement pris par surprise en septembre 2015, lorsque Poutine déclara à l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies l’envoi d’avions russes en Syrie dès le lendemain pour mettre en place et débuter aussitôt une campagne contre Daesh et en soutien d’Assad.   Je pouvais continuer avec ma liste des actions russes surprenantes, mais mon argument est établi et nous devrons passer aux autres questions.

Alors quel était l’effet de l’allocution de Poutine le 1 mars sur les médias en Amérique?  La première rèaction était de nier complètement la vérité des propos russes, l’existence des armes techologiquement si avancés. C’est un bluff.

Mais des autres personnes de la classe politique mieux informées sur les manquements des services de renseignements américaines ont réagi plus sagement, dans le sens voulu par Poutine. Le 9 mars 4 Senateurs ont publie sur ses websites du Sénat, une lettre ouverte à Rex Tillerson, à ce moment encore le Sécrétaire d’Etat dans lequel ils lui demandent de rouvrir les pourparlers avec les russes sur limitations des armements le plutot possible.

Vous probablement n’avez pas entendu quelque chose de cette lettre, parce que dans la presse européenne comme dans la presse américaine pas de mention de ce sujet. C’est comme si la nouvelle est tombé dans un trou noir.

Même le Président des Etats-Unis a finalement entendu ce que disait Poutine sur la parité nucléaire et dans son appel téléphonique au Kremlin juste après les élections pour féliciter Vladimir Vladimirovitch de sa victoire il disait: “j’espère que nous nous rencontrons dans l’avenir court pour parler des armements. La situation est devenu hors de contrôle.”

Lors de cette évolution de pensée envers la Russie pars le Président américain et des autres personnes politiques de haute visibilité que je juge positive, un Plan B très négatif était mis en oeuvre par les services qui vraiement dirige les affaires aux Etats-Unis et en Angleterre.  Ici l’attaque sur les Skripals à Salisbury, prétexte pour l’expulsion coordinée des diplomates russes juste avant les élections présidentielles et les préparations pour l’attaque chimique fictive à Douma, en Syrie, prétexte pour les missiles de croisière lancées par les alliés le 14 avril.

Les deux événements ont exactement le même objectif:  de persuader tout le monde que la Russie est un pays paria, avec un programme illicite des armes chimiques pour effectuer des assassinats et que la Russie supporte un régime syrien qui tue ces citoyens en utilisant des armes chimiques bannis.  Discréditer, délegitimation de la Russie par tous moyens possibles pour lui punir et créer des conflits entre le régime Poutine et le peuple russe, voilà les cibles.

Avec le lancement américain, français et brittanique des missiles de croisière contre Syrie la nuit de 13 – 14 avril nous avons franchi un nouvel étape de risque dans la confrontation Est-Ouest. On peut très legerement passer d’une guerre froide en guerre chaude, voir tres vite nucléaire par malentendu des partis qui ont limité strictement les liens de communications entre eux et qui n’ont pas grande confiance ni dans la bonne volonté ni dans le bon sens de l’autre côté. Je vois un dédain marqué chez les uns comme chez les autres.

Voilà l’histoire de notre situation présente du coté actions et paroles russes, et réactions militaires, diplomatiques et économique (sanctions) du coté USA et l’Europe.  Les lignes que j’ai exposé déjà le 23 avril continue tout droit jusqu’aujourd’hui:

  1. l’évolution de la scandale Skripal avec des révélations juste avant l’ouverture du Mondial en Russie et dernièrement avant la réunion du Far East Forum à Vladivostok le 11-12 septembre – c.à.d. les accusations contre deux russes spoupçonnés d’avoir executé l’empoisonnement des Skripals
  2. Les préparations de flotte et aviation américaine, française, britannique, canadienne, etc. pour nouvelle attaque sur Syrie – pûnition du régime de Bashar Assad, accusé d’usage des armaments chimiques dans le province d’Idlib – un événement futur duquel les casques blanches seront les auteurs avec l’assistance des services de renseignement américain, selon le porte-parole du ministère de défense russe
  3. La promulgation des nouvelles sanctions économiques contre la Russie par les Etats-Unis

Mais en parallele depuis le mois d’avril je vois des developpements qui nous présentent finalement la pensée de Donald Trump, ce qu’il est en train de faire pour exploser les alliances et libérer les Etats-Unis du fardeau de défense de ses alliés, de la rôle du gendarme mondial. La conséquence directe serait de dégager la voie d’une nouvel arrangement de sécurité sur le Vieux Continent en contradiction directe avec les actions et les voeux de l’establishment américain.

Nos médias pour la plupart ridiculisent Trump. On parle de son narcissisme, niveau bas culturel, ignorance. Il est un rustre. Il semble très changeable dans ses opinions et directives. On dit qu’il est enfant terrible entourés des vrais “adultes” à Washington qui s’occupent de lui contraindre.  Dernièrement avec publication du livre de Bob Woodward “Fear” – “Peur” nous voyons que même des gens  dans l’administration Trump contrecarrent les initiatives du Président pour protéger le people, le monde de ses stupidités.

Mais il existe aussi des obserateurs américains qui ont trouvé un logique dans le comportement du Président Trump.

Un article de David Leonhardt publié le 10 juin dans le New York Times porte le titre: “Trump essaie de détruire le Ouest.”  Je cite le raisonnement:

“C’est impossible de pénétrer sa tête pour comprendre ses objectifs à long-terme. Mais on peut dire, que si un président des Etats-Unis esquissait un plan secret et détaillé pour briser l’alliance Atlantique, ce plan serait très similaire au comportement de Trump. Le plan impliquerait hostilité externe envers les dirigeants de Canada, Grande Bretagne, la France, l’Allemagne et Japon.  Spécifiquement il impliquerait querelles, prompts à la bagarre autour de differences artificielles – pas pour gagner des grandes concessions en faveur des Etats-Unis, mais pour créer des conflits pour une fin en soi.”

Cette pointe de vue était mieux développé dans un recueil des nouvelles envoyé aux abonnés par le Washington Post, “Today’s WorldView”, l’édition du 18 juillet.  L’auteur, Ishaan Tharoor, pose la question:  “Is Trump at war with the West?” – “Est-ce que Trump fait la guerre avec le Ouest?” Il rappelle le sommet de Trump avec Poutine à Helsinki, et encore les propos scandaleux et injurieux à l’adresse d’Angela Merkel et Justin Trudeau à Bruxelles lors de la réunion de l’OTAN,

Le reportage de la visite de Trump à l’OTAN par le Washington Post dans l’édition du 11 juillet était intitulé: “Amérique d’abord” veut dire “Amérique seul.” On parle de la demande de Trump que les partenaires européens paient pleinement  2% de PIB pour la défense maintenant, pas dans l’avenir lointain, et qu’ils doublent la contribution a 4% très vite, une chose politiquement impossible.  Une telle abrasivité intentionnelle fait rupture avec l’ordre post Deuxième Guerre Mondiale.

En parallèle nous remarquons la promotion ce printemps des sanctions et l’imposition des tariffs contre les amis, les européens, Canada, la Corée du Sud dans le même esprit comme Trump applique sanctions contre les rivaux de l’Amérique la Chine et la Russie.

 

Je suis totalement d’accord avec les analystes dans le mainstream qui accusent Trump de hostilité envers les partenaires.  Mais l’élément qui manque dans tous les écrits de ce genre c’est une réponse à la question: pourquoi?

Donald Trump n’est pas un intéllectuel. Il n’est pas grand communicateur, comme Reagan était.  Il nous ne donne pas une “doctrine Trump”.  Donald maitrise seulement les messages Twitter. Et regardons, ils montrent des erreurs de grammaire, de vocabulaire.

Néanmoins, dans ses Tweets, dans ses rémarques spontannées on trouve la réponse:   Pour Trump les nations n’ont pas des amis, seulement des intérêts.  Nous sommes tous des compétiteurs. Le plus grand compliment qu’il paie à Poutine, c’est que les russes sont des compétiteurs forts.  On note aussi que Trump parle de souveraineté des nations comme une valeur absolu.  Et il question la valeur des alliances.

Ici nous avons les composants plus importants de l’école Réaliste des relations internationales. Il faut ajouter le principe de “l’équilibre de pouvoir” dans lequel les nations sont en flux permanent pour se grouper contre l’une entre eux qui veut établir hégémonie.  Ou enore les “sphères d’influence” des grandes puissances.

Trump le Réaliste continue une tradition des présidents américains Theodore Roosevelt, d’avant la Première Guerre Mondiale, et Richard Nixon. Son réalisme est pur et dur.  Il n’accepte pas le mantra des Libéraux à Washington et à Bruxelles qui parlent de l’impérative  d’une politique étrangère basée sur valeurs.

S’il impose des sanctions, des tariffs sur les allies, c’est parce que ils sont les moyens uniques et adéquats dont il dispose pour exploser les alliances. Il a les compétences seul les imposer, indépendemment du Congrès. Au même temps, ils sont des outils bien respectés par les classes politiques américaines,  “as American as apple pie” – aussi américain comme la tarte aux pommes.

La question de relations avec la Russie n’est pas la chose clé dans la politique de Trump.  On parle beaucoup de tout ça parce que le Parti démocrat a instrumentalisé la question dans sa campagne éléctorale et faisait la question de collusion de Trump avec le Kremlin le dada de nos jours. Mais effectivement la pensée stratégique de Trump va beaucoup plus loin dans la restructuration des relations globales autour des principes de Réalisme.  Bien sûr un bénéficiaire de la réalisation de cette politique sera relations avec la deuxième super-puissance militaire du monde, la Russie.

 

Maintenant je vous donne la parole pour poser des questions.  J’espère entendre vos avis sur le dénouement de la confrontation actuelle entre la Russie et les Etats-Unis –  l’Ouest.

Je dis ce soir qu’il ne faut pas essayer d’attribuer responsabilité pour la confrontation même, parce que si l’échange nucléaire commence par accidente ou par intention nous sommes tous morts, les innocents avec les culpables.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Eastern Economic Forum, Vladivostok: focus on Japan

14 September 2018

The 4th Eastern Economic Forum which held its plenary session on Wednesday, 12 September and heard important addresses from its host, Vladimir Putin, and from a constellation of Northeast Asian leaders, has received a smattering of attention in the world press, highlighting only a few elements in what has been a cornucopia of material for analysis in the economic, geopolitical and defense spheres.

Some picked up Vladimir Putin’s well planted remarks in questioning following his address, when he commented on the Skripal case, saying that the Russian suspects named a week ago by British Prime Minister Theresa May as military intelligence (GRU) operatives had presented themselves and were just ordinary citizens, not criminals. Some turned their attention to the Vostok-18 military exercises going on nearby in the Russian Far East on a scale not seen since the days of the Soviet Union and with participation of both Chinese and Mongolian units, a first of its kind.  There were discussions among analysts over whether the numbers of forces named by the Russians (300,000 fighting men, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers) were not inflated and whether the exercise truly demonstrated Russia’s force projection capabilities across the 7,000 km of the Federation in tight timelines. Some very few, like The Financial Times, looked at the economic significance of the Forum taken on its own merits. The FT published an article on the risk calculations behind ongoing Chinese investments in the Russian Far East and in the Russian Federation more generally.

No mainstream commentators to my knowledge have examined the dynamics of the Northeast Asian leaders among themselves.

In the day preceding the formal opening of the Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin held bilateral meetings with the lead guest, Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In both cases, the talks were followed by lengthy statements to the press that were substantial and worthy of our time.

Still more interesting were the appearances of the five national leaders present on the dais at the plenary session.  It was a rare occasion to witness the presidents of Russia, China and Mongolia, the prime ministers of Japan and South Korea sitting together, hearing one another’s addresses and responding to questions.

The questioning was all the more relevant because, breaking with the recent tradition in Russian economic and political forums, the moderator came not from NBC or Bloomberg, who brought coy or hectoring questions to amuse Western audiences by standing up to the authoritarian in the Kremlin,  but from one of Russia’s most capable and most watched television journalists, Sergei Brillyov (Rossiya-1).  His questions had likely been coordinated with the Kremlin in advance and were more probing and revealing than anything we have seen hitherto in such formats.

In what follows, I will direct attention to one highly important and obvious feature of the proceedings which seems to have escaped the attention of my peers:  what the speeches and public meetings of the leaders tell us about Shinzo Abe and Japan’s political positioning in its region.

I do this taking advantage of the fly-on-the-wall privileged observation post that Russian state television granted to its global audience by presenting full live coverage, without commentary, of the plenary session addresses, of the statements to the press made by Vladimir Putin and his honored guests following their bilateral meetings ahead of the Forum’s opening, and of other significant moments in and around the Forum.  While my peers in North America may have been fast asleep, given the time differences, here in Europe the Russian broadcasts from the Far East arrived at breakfast time or later, making it possible to apply a fresh mind to tantalizing incoming images and speeches.

 

First, it has to be said that Prime Minister Abe was odd man out..  He used his address to the plenary session primarily as a plea for conclusion of a peace treaty with Russia during this generation, during his own and Vladimir Putin’s mandates in office..  By contrast, all of the other foreign leaders spoke glowingly of their ongoing and planned large-scale investment activities in Russia and the Far Eastern region. Abe had little to match their cooperation with Russia and sought to compensate by presenting a video that would put a human face on Japan’s miniscule efforts in Russia. The film was a brief overview of the various health related and technology related projects (traffic management, refuse reprocessing) that Japan is implementing in Russia from among the 150 projects that Abe had presented and Russia accepted two years ago, all to guide their bilateral relations to a new plateau.

The Japanese projects are all on the cheap. All are quite modest in scope and are meant to be indicative of the great assistance Japan can bestow on Russia in improving people’s lives if only Russia signs a peace treaty as dictated by Tokyo, meaning its agreement to the return of the Southern Kurile islands to Japanese sovereignty.

The effect of the video and recitation of Japanese cooperation projects in Russia is quite the opposite of what Abe may have intended. But it is perfectly in line with his wholly outdated understanding of the relative negotiating positions of Russia and Japan today. The film’s editorial slant is all one-way:  a wealthy and technologically superior Japan is lending a hand to a grateful Russia. This contradicts the overall theme of the other foreign leaders speaking to the Forum, which is how all the participating countries will help one another by closer coordination of their development plans, by mutual trade and investment.

We saw this balanced and win-win approach in the presentation of the South Korean prime minister, who mentioned his country’s participation in the construction of Russia’s largest shipbuilding complex (Zvezda) close to Vladivostok, while remaining a major supplier of advanced vessels to Russia for transporting liquefied natural gas. Or in South Korea’s eagerness to implement through rail transit to the Trans-Siberian and onward to Europe as soon as relations with North Korea can be normalized. And in the Korean participation in the North Sea route infrastructure for maritime shipping that Russia is keen to develop as an alternative to the routes via the Suez Canal or around the horn of Africa.

We saw this in the address of the Mongolian president describing joint energy projects with Russia and plans/hopes for expanded shipment of coal via Russia’s rail and port infrastructure, both what exists and what is under planning.

Shinzo Abe’s approach to Russia harks back to the 1970s and 1980s, when Japan was enjoying worldwide respect and envy as a dynamic Asian tiger that was buying up properties in the United States right and left and when the Soviet Union was in serious economic stagnation if not decline, looking for new buyers of its energy resources and new investors.

Today China occupies the position of strategic partner to which Japan pretended forty years ago. China is Russia’s major financier, investor and customer. China may not rank as highly as supplier of advanced technology as Japan did back then and continues to be today, but China is an equal partner with Russia in joint development of high-tech, as in the domain of civil aviation.

The present-day importance of Chinese trade and investment was one of the outstanding messages of the Forum.  In the meeting with the press after their bilateral talks, Vladimir Putin affirmed that two-way trade with China this year will grow by more than 20% to top 100 billion dollars.  Meanwhile, in the addresses to the plenary session the figure 100 billion came up again: this time quantifying the value of the joint Chinese-Russian investment projects directed at the Far Eastern and Baikal regions.

Against this background, the scale of Japanese investment and the whole of Abe’s 150 cooperation projects come in two orders of magnitude less.  The notion that these “carrots” could motivate Russia to agree to Japanese conditions for concluding a peace treaty is wholly unrealistic.

Abe’s proffered sweetener of joint administration of the Southern Kuriles intentionally misses the point of Russian resistance to abandoning sovereignty.  What is really at issue was brought up directly by Sergei Brillyov in a question to Vladimir Putin during the plenary session: whether the two leaders have not discussed Russian concerns that the Kuriles, if held by Japan, would become yet another stationing point for American military bases and in particular for the installation of anti-ballistic missile units.  Putin said they had, but this is something that Abe chooses to ignore as the stumbling block to conclusion of a peace treaty.

In what he described as a “spontaneous” suggestion to achieve the sought-after peace treaty, Putin proposed on stage that the two countries proceed to sign a peace treaty “without preconditions” before the end of this year. Then, having become friends, they might tackle the thorny issues like the Kuriles with more mutual confidence.  This proposal, which Abe later acknowledged he was hearing for the first time, was later dismissed as unworkable by the Japanese diplomats present.

Put in other words, Russia does not agree to concessions so long as it sees Japan as a stalking horse for the United States and its Pentagon.  And by his performance in the Forum, Abe demonstrated yet again that obedience to his masters in Washington for the sake of the nuclear umbrella is more important to him than striking any deal with the Russians. He alone among the five leaders put the name of Donald Trump in play from the dais:  he extended his fulsome praise to Trump for an innovative and brave outreach to North Korea, for holding a summit with Kim Jong-Un. No mention on his part of the initiative shown first and shown again most recently by the South Korean leader Moon Jae-In to bring the talks to a constructive finale between the Koreas and between the USA and North Korea.

Japan is nowhere on the map of strategic and large-scale economic integration of the region that includes but goes well beyond what was on show in the Forum.  The other binding forces are China’s Belt and Road initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union.  Shinzo Abe’s Japan remains a US outpost largely cut off from its geographical and business environment in Northeast Asia. It is missing out on the dynamic processes energizing the whole area.  At the Forum.  China was the single largest player with its delegation exceeding 2,000 businessmen and government representatives. Under leadership as stale and timid as Shinzo Abe proved to be at the Forum, his country is fated to become the Land of the Setting Sun.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

RT Interview with the “suspects” in the Skripal poisoning case

13 September 2018

Earlier today, RT released an interview which their editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan had with the two “suspects” whom Prime Minister Theresa May identified to Parliament last week.

The upshot of this interview is that the Russian position has changed substantially from what it has been over the past four months: “give us the proofs” of the crime and our involvement.

The testimony of the two suspects, Russian citizens Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Bashirov, amounts to a direct refutation of the entire “facts” or “evidence” presented by London last week to support their story on the poisoning.

Now there are only two conclusions possible:

A) that London has concocted the Skripal case from start to finish; British intelligence staged the poisoning and after much effort combing the CCTV footage for Russians who arrived in the UK and who traveled to Salisbury just before the poisoning, they produced the falsified photos of the suspects released last week. Falsified in the sense that the novichok supposedly found in their hotel room was planted after the fact by MI6, and that the CCTV records have been tampered with to suit the timelines over two days in a scenario devised by MI6.   In this case, the whole case should be properly investigated by neutral third parties.

OR

B) that the Russians are lying from start to finish and these two suspects should be properly interrogated by neutral third parties,

I personally believe in the “A” case.

Other commentators have looked for flaws in each aspect of the British story from the first moment of the poisoning straight through the identical time records on the CCTV snapshot of the two suspects coming through passport and customs upon arrival in the UK on a direct flight from Moscow. These issues are all debatable.  I look instead to the important circumstantial evidence in the way each episode in the Skripal case has been publicized by British authorities at chosen intervals so as to hit the newsrooms at moments that have great political sensitivity for Russia.

The poisoning itself came just two weeks before the March presidential elections. Further revelations came just before the opening of the World Cup and now the release of the months old CCTV pictures comes just prior to the Russian backed Syrian offensive to crush jihadists in Idlib province that will mark the total victory of Russian foreign and military policy over US and Western policy in Syria and the immediate region.

.All of the Skripal revelations have been stage managed to do maximum damage to Russia’s image in the international community and/or to influence political processes within Russia.

The objective of the Skripal case, was to present the “Putin regime” as a wanton user of chemical weapons abroad and place it on a par with Bashar Assad’s Syria as a pariah state.

Whatever one’s persuasions may be, it is clear that the Btitish and Russian accounts are now in direct contradiction, We are headed for a continued and still more dramatic political confrontation between the two countries and their allies.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Putin’s weekend diplomacy with Austria and Germany: reading the tea leaves

During this past Saturday, 18 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a brief visit to Austria to attend the wedding of the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl.  Per the Kremlin, this stop of several hours in the Styrian wine country not far from the border with Slovenia was a “purely private” side excursion “on the road to Germany” for the state visit with Chancellor Angela Merkel starting later in the day at the Meseberg Palace, the federal guest house 60 km north of Berlin.

Journalists were admitted to film the wedding party, including Putin’s dance with the 53 year old bride. No questions were taken and no statements were issued by the President’s Press Secretary, who also was present. We know only that on the return journey to Graz airport, Putin was accompanied by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Presumably they had some issues to discuss that may be characterized as official talks.

Prior to their meeting both Putin and Angela Merkel made statements to the press listing the topics they intended to discuss.  We may assume that these lists were not exhaustive. Comparing their lists, we find that the respective priorities of the parties were in inverted order, with economic cooperation at the head of Putin’s list while regulating the Donbass crisis in Ukraine was the top concern of Merkel. Moreover, the content of issues bearing the same heading was very different.  Both sides spoke of Syria, but whereas for Putin the issue for discussion is the humanitarian crisis of refugees, ensuring their return to their homes from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by raising funds to repair and replace fundamental infrastructure destroyed in the war. For Merkel, the number one issue in Syria is to prevent the Russian-backed Syrian armed forces from creating a new humanitarian disaster by their ongoing campaign to retake Idlib province from the militants opposed to Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, what is surely the single most urgent issue for both sides was not mentioned at all in their opening statements: namely how to respond to US President Donald Trump’s new sanctions on Russia and on participants in the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project that both countries support.

As was explained at the outset, there was to be no press conference or joint statement issued at the conclusion of the talks.  The only information we have is that Merkel and Putin conferred for more than three hours, which is in itself quite extraordinary and suggests that some understandings may have been achieved.

In a word, the potentially very important diplomatic developments of Saturday remain, for once, a state secret of the parties, with no leaks for the press to parse.  And yet there is material here worthy of our consideration. I have in mind the interpretations of what might transpire before, during and after the events of Saturday in the news and commentary reportage of various countries having greater or lesser interest in Russian affairs. Indeed, my perusal of French, Belgian, German, British, American and Russian news media shows great diversity of opinion and some penetrating and highly pertinent remarks based on different information bases. This material is all essential if we are to make sense of the behavior of the parties on the international stage in the coming weeks.

In this essay, I will set out what I have found per country , starting with the least attentive to detail – the United States – and ending with those who offered the best informed and most interested reportage, Germany and Russia.  I will conclude with my own reading of the tea leaves.

* * * *

 

Let us take The Washington Post and The New York Times as our markers for how US mainstream media reported on Putin’s meetings this past Saturday.

On the 18th, The Washington Post carried in its online edition two articles dealing with the Putin diplomatic doings. “At Austrian foreign minister’s wedding, Putin brings the music, the flowers and the controversy” was written by the newspaper’s bureau chief in Berlin, Griff Witte. It is accompanied by video clips of Vladimir Putin dancing with the bride and speaking, in German, to the wedding party seated at their banquet table.  The journalist touches very briefly on the main political dimensions of Putin’s visit to Austria, including the party relations between United Russia and the far right Freedom Party in Austria’s ruling coalition which nominated Kneissl for her post, the criticism of Putin’s participation in the wedding coming from the Opposition parties in Austria who see it as a violation of the government’s own ambition to be a neutral bridge between East and West, and the issue of Putin’s sowing division on the continent. The only criticism one might offer is that the article is superficial, that each of the issues raised deserves in-depth analysis separately.

The newspaper’s second article online, which spread its net more broadly and covered the meeting with Merkel in Germany as well as the visit in Austria, came from an Associated Press reporter, not its own staff. Here again, the problem is that issues surrounding the meetings are not more than bullet points, and the reader is given no basis for reaching an independent finding on what has happened..

The New York Times’ feature article “Merkel and Putin Sound Pragmatic Notes After Years of Tension,” also published on the 18th and datelined Berlin was cited by Russian television news for a seemingly positive valuation of the talks in Meseberg Palace. However, the content of the article by reporter Melissa Eddy is more cautious, highlighting the pattern of “conflicts and reconciliations” that have marked German-Russian relations over the centuries and seeing the present stage not as a warming of relations but instead as reaching for compromises “on Syria, energy and other key issues while maintaining their differences over Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine.”  She sees the Syrian issue as one where German and Russian interests may be closest given that refugees from the Middle East are now a German preoccupation with political weight.  The reporter cites several experts attached to well-known institutes in Germany that are generally skeptical about Russia’s intentions. But the end result is better informed than most NYT reporting on Russia even if it leaves us wondering what will result from the Saturday diplomacy.

In both mainstream papers there is no attempt to find a link between Putin’s two visits on Saturday.

I close out this little survey of English-speaking media by pointing to an article in The Guardian from the 18th entitled “Putin urges Europe to help rebuild Syria so refugees can return.” This piece comes from the Agence France-Presse in Berlin. It is not much more than a recitation of the lists of topics for discussion that Putin and Merkel issued before their talks. But the reporter has made his choice for the most important of them, Syria and refugees.

The French-language press does not seem to have been very interested in Putin’s “private” trip to the wedding of the Austrian foreign minister, but was definitely keen to discuss Putin’s trip to Berlin. On the day preceding the Putin-Merkel meeting, the French press offered a clear concept of where things were headed.  We read in Figaro, “Merkel receives Putin Saturday to renew a difficult dialogue.” A caption in bold just below is more eye-catching:  “While the German Chancellor has become the main opponent to the Russian President within the EU, the policy of sanctions conducted by Washington has led to a rapprochement between Berlin and Moscow with regard to numerous issues.”

The reporter notes that following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, relations between the two heads of state had become quite bad and in four years they met only when obliged to do so during international summits.

“But starting three months ago, their diplomatic exchanges have intensified: in May Angela Merkel met the chief of the Kremlin in Sochi, Russia. In July, she met the head of the Russian diplomatic corps, Sergei Lavrov, in Berlin. By inviting Vladimir Putin this time, the German Chancellor has promised ‘in-depth discussions.’ “She is pursuing a pragmatic attempt at normalization of German-Russian relations, because the international realities have changed,’ explains Stefan Meister, director of the Robert Bosch Center for Russia.”

And how has the calculus of international relations changed?  Both Merkel and Putin are now facing the same challenge:  US foreign policy has become unpredictable, both for its allies and for rivals like Moscow. Notwithstanding the warm discussions Donald Trump had with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the American administration has just announced a new wave of sanctions on Russia relating to the Skripal affair.

“The American policy represents a danger for the Russian economy and a threat to German interests.”

A spokesperson from Merkel’s CDU party responsible for foreign policy is quoted on the possible dangers of secondary sanctions being directed at Germany through the application of US extraterritoriality against those failing to respect the new sanctions on Russia.

The article explains the issues surrounding the Nord Steam 2 pipeline, and in particular Trump’s hostility to the project for its locking in German dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.

And the author points to the common interests of Germany and Russia over maintenance of the Iranian nuclear deal as a factor powering the rapprochement of the two countries. Here again the common threat is Donald Trump and American sanctions against those companies which continue to trade with Iran.

The article concludes that divergent views of Russia and Germany over Ukraine and Syria exclude any breakthrough at the meeting on Saturday. But nonetheless the dialogue that was lacking these several past years is being recreated.

In its weekend edition issued on 18 August, the Belgian mainstream daily La Libre Belgique was even more insistent on interpreting the Merkel-Putin meeting as a consequence of the policies of Donald Trump. Their editorial captures the sense very nicely in its tongue-in-cheek headline: “Trump is the best ‘ally’ of Putin.”

La Libre sees Vladimir Putin’s latest diplomatic initiatives as directly resulting from the way his host at the White House has annoyed everyone.  Moreover, his outreach is welcomed:

“Germany is not the only ‘Western’ nation to return to the Kremlin. Putin is taking full advantage of the boomerang effect caused by the policies of Donald Trump, who, by hammering away at his customary allies is pushing them to other interlocutors. By looking for confrontations, imposing taxes and sanctions while thinking that this rampant isolationism will make the United States ‘great again,’ Trump is helping to build a wall that he no doubt did not imagine, that of the anti-Trump people.”

The editors point to Turkish President Erdogan’s clear signal that he is now looking for other allies. He has done his calculations and has said he has more to gain with Moscow than with Washington.’

The editorial concludes that a summit on reconstruction of Syria might even take place at the start of September between Moscow, Ankara, Paris and Berlin.  The conclusion? “Putin has taken center stage on the chessboard. Thank you, Mr. Trump.”

The article filed by La Libre’s correspondent in Berlin, Sebastien Millard, bears a heading that matches the editorial view of the newspaper:  “Merkel and Putin – allies of convenience facing Trump.”  The author credits Donald Trump with being the catalyst for the resumption of dialogue between Germany and Russia; they are telling Washington that they do not accept its blackmail. He notes that we should not expect any reversal of alliances. There are too many differences of view between Berlin and Moscow on a variety of issues.

 

 

* * * *

 

The German press paid a good deal of attention to Vladimir Putin’s visit to Austria for the wedding of Foreign Minister Karin Kreissl.

In an article posted on the 16th entitled “Suspicion that Austria is a Trojan horse,” Die Welt highlighted the negatives of Putin’s presence. Quoting an “expert from the University of Innsbruck” this does not cast a good light on the country. They anticipate political fall-out.  This will impair Austria’s ability as chair of the European Council to play a role of intermediary in the Ukraine conflict.  The only beneficiary of the visit will be the the Russia-friendly

be the Russia-friendly Freedom Party.  For Putin, being a guest provides him with the opportunity to demonstrate that he is not isolated but is instead highly welcome in society of an EU country.

As for the coming meeting with Merkel on Saturday evening, Die Welt in a related article of the same day lists the issues for discussion. Without taking a position, it cites experts for and against the Nord Stream II pipeline and other issues on the list.

Welt’s report from the wedding party on the 18th was gossipy and unfriendly, comparing it to a wedding of some European royal family because of the extraordinary guest list that included the country’s chancellor, vice chancellor, and defense minister as well as the head of OPEC and…Vladimir Putin.   With typical German petty financial accounting, they reckon that the 500 police and other security measures needed for the safety of the highly placed guests cost the Austrian tax payers 250,000 euros.

A separate article in Die Welt deals with Putin’s meeting with Merkel at the Meseberg Palace. The emphasis here is on Merkel’s remarks during the Statement prior to the talks that cooperation with Russia is “vital” to deal with many conflicts globally and that both sides bear responsibility to find solutions.

The article quotes from the opening statements of the leaders on all the issues in their list for discussion – Syria, Ukraine, Nord Stream II.  We are given bare facts without any analysis to speak of.

The other major mainstream daily Frankfurter Allgemeine in its Saturday, 18 August edition offered separate articles on Putin’s visits to Austria and Germany.

The article on Karin Kneissl’s wedding heads off in a very different direction from the reporting in other media that I have summarized above.  FAZ notes that Kneissl is rarely in the headlines and it asks:  who is she?  They answer the question with some curious details.  We learn that Kneissl was once active in competitive sports and even now swims a kilometer every day. For many years she has lived on a small farmstead with a couple of boxers, two ponies, hens and cats. Each morning her chauffeur takes her and the dogs to her office in Vienna, to return in the evening.  Regrettably, FAZ does not take this curious biographical sketch further. No connection is drawn between her personality and the Russian President’s acceptance of her invitation to her wedding.

FAZ similarly has chosen to amuse rather than inform in its coverage of the meeting in Berlin entitled “Sparkling wine in Austria, sparkling water in Meseberg.”  They comment on how Putin arrived half an hour late, on how it is hard to see how the meeting could be characterized as a success. They stress that we know nothing about the content of the consultations. Then they tick off the opening positions of the sides as set out in their statements before the talks.

Spiegel online risks more by giving more interpretation and less bare facts. Its article entitled “Something of a new start” suggests that a rapprochement is underway and that both Merkel and Putin have a lot in play. Unlike the other German press we have mentioned, Spiegel sees a direct link between Putin’s attending the wedding in Styria and his visit to Merkel.

Putin is under economic pressure to find closer ties with Europe. In Austria, which now chairs the European Council, he has allies in the government, namely the extreme right populists of the Freedom Party which installed Kneissl.  But the way to Europe passes by way of Merkel and Putin knows that.

Meanwhile, says Spiegel, Germany also is interested in improving relations with Russia despite all the controversy, namely due to the growing conflicts with US President Donald Trump. We don’t know the exact content of the talks which were confidential, but there is some movement now between Germany and Russia.

Spiegel remains cautious. Cordiality does not enter into the relationship. The parties keep their distance. There is no laughter to lighten the atmosphere. Yet, it concludes: “The talks have prospects and we can see the wish to make progress through common positions, and without being silent about contradictions. Diplomatic normality, as it were. A  step forward.”

 

* * * *

 

If the great bulk of commentary in the West about Putin’s diplomatic weekend was reserved and stayed by the bare facts without speculation, Russian television more than made up for dryness.  I point in particular to two political talk shows which invited a mixture of experts from different backgrounds.

Let us begin with  the show Vremya Pokazhet (Time will tell) on state television’s Pervy Kanal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FR0AL9pJSM   Their Friday, 17 August program focused on Putin’s forthcoming visit to the wedding ‘on the road to Berlin,’ which several panelists saw as a strong signal to Germany that Russia had other channels to the EU if Germany refuses to be its intercessor.

The visit was said to be breaking new ground in diplomatic practice.  According to panelist Andrei Baklanov, deputy chair of the association of Russian diplomats, this kind of positive, human diplomacy is Russia’s answer to the negative behavior in international affairs that has occupied center stage in the recent past – sanctions, fake news, etc.   As another panelist interjected, this is the first time that a Russian head of state attended a wedding abroad since Tsar Nicholas did so in Germany in 1913.

Baklanov proceeded to provide details about the bride, however, bringing out aspects of her career that are far more relevant to her attracting the attention of Putin than the Frankfurter Allgemeine produced. We learn that she grew up in Amman, Jordan, that she speaks 8 languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Magyar, French, Spanish, Italian, English as well as her native German.  She studied Near Eastern languages in Vienna University, in the Jewish University of Jerusalem, in the University of Jordan and also graduated from the National School of Administration in France. She holds a doctorate in law.  She is a non-party minister, which also attests to her generally recognized professionalism. For all of these reasons, she is a good fit with Putin’s determination to find supporters in Europe for investments to restore Syrian infrastructure and enable the return of refugees.

The country’s most prestigious talk show, “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” had a couple of Duma members and a well-known politician from Liberal circles comment on the diplomacy of the day before.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1mZa6rB5ns)

Sergey Mironov, leader of the socialist party Fair Russia said that despite Merkel’s warning in advance not to expect breakthroughs it is likely progress was made in agreeing how to deal with US sanctions. This would be tested in the coming days.

As for the link between the visits to Austria and Germany, the representative of a pro-business party Sergey Stankevich reminded viewers that Germany and Austria are the market makers in Europe for Russian gas. Nord Stream II gas may land in Germany but a large part of it will be pumped further to Austria’s hub for distribution elsewhere in Europe.  Whatever may have been said publicly, Stankevich believes that Merkel and Putin did agree on many if not all the subjects named before the start:  Iran, Syria, Ukraine, Nord Stream.

Russian media coverage of the Saturday travels of their President continued on Russian news programs into Monday, with video clips of Putin dancing at the wedding and speaking alongside Merkel before entering into their talks at Meseberg Palace.

 

 

* * * *

Looking back at the media coverage of Putin’s visits to Austria and Germany on 18 August, and with all due respect to those who opinions are different from mine, I find that the most helpful for our understanding of the present day international situation were the report and editorial in Belgium’s Libre Belgique and the unruly, risky but at times brilliant insights on Russian television.

What comes out of this is the understanding that the visits to a wedding in Austria and to the federal Chancellor outside Berlin were directly linked in Russian diplomatic strategy, that Russia is playing

the Austrian card during the country’s six months at the helm of the European Council in Brussels, that Russia is pushing for a multi-party relief effort for Syria to facilitate the return of refugees to their home and pacification of the war-torn country.  The web of common interests that Russia is pursuing has at its core the fragility of the current world order and generalized anxiety of leading countries due to America’s aggressive pursuit of narrow national interest under Donald Trump as seen in his tariff wars and sanctions directed at friends and foes alike.

Where I differ from the interpretations set out in the foregoing press reports is in my understanding of what Trump is doing and why.

The nearly universal assumption of commentators is that Trump’s policies known as “Make America Great” are ignorant and doomed to fail.  They are assumed to be isolationist, withdrawing America from the world community.

However, Trump did not invent bullying of US allies. That was going strong under George W. Bush, with his challenge “you are either with us or against us” when he sought to align the West behind his invasion of Iraq in 2003 without authorization of the UN Security Council.  His more urbane successor Barack Obama was no kinder to U.S. allies, who were slapped with crushing fines for violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran, just to mention one way in which they were kept in line.  And the U.S. Congress today is no more reasonable and diplomatic than the President in the brutal unilateral sanctions it has on its own initiative advocated against not just Russia but also against Turkey and other states which are not snapping to attention with respect to purchases of military materiel from Russia.

What made U.S. bullying tolerable before Trump was the ideological smokescreen of “shared values,” namely democracy promotion, human rights and rule of law, that all members of the alliances could swear to and which set them apart from the still unenlightened parts of the globe where autocrats hold sway.

In my view, Trump’s use of sanctions and tariffs here, there, everywhere has a totally different logic from what is adduced in the writings of my peers in the analyst community.  He invokes them because 1. they are within his sole power as Chief Executive and 2. they are in principle as American as apple pie and do not require grand explanations in Congress or before the public.  As to why he invokes them, there you have to look at Trump’s foreign policy from a 360 degree perspective and not merely as it relates to Putin or to Erdogan or to any of the small slices we see discussed in the news.

When viewed in the round, it is obvious that Trump is reshuffling the deck. He is doing what he can to break up NATO and the other military alliances around the world which are consuming more than half of the U.S. defense budget and do not arguably provide greater security to the American homeland than the country can do for itself without fixed alliances and overseas bases.

The first two presidencies of this millennium undid the country’s greatest geopolitical achievement of the second half of the 20th century: the informal alliance with China against Russia that put Washington at the center of all global politics.  Bush and Obama did that by inattention and incomprehension of what was at stake. That inattention was an expression of American hubris in the unipolar world which, it was assumed, was the new normal, not a blip.

By contrast, what Trump is now doing is not a blunder or a bit of bluster.  Even if he is not conversant with the whole of the Realist School of international relations, as surely he is not, he does grasp the fundamentals, namely the centrality of the sovereign nation-state and of the balance of power mechanism by which these states are constantly changing alignments of these nation-states to ensure no one enjoys hegemony.  We see this understanding when he speaks about looking out for American interests while the heads of state whom he meets are looking out for the interests of theirs. In his tweets we find that our allies are ripping us off, that they are unfair competitors.  His most admiring remark about Russia is that it is a strong competitor.  The consistent element in Trump’s thinking is ignored or willfully misunderstood in the press.

Accordingly, I insist that the possible rapprochement of Russia and Germany will be in line with Trump’s reshuffling of the deck not in spite of it.

Angela Merkel, Austerity and the Pathetic State of German Roads

The Genoa bridge collapse on Saturday, 11 August with the loss of 39 lives and still counting has precipitated extensive discussion in European media about infrastructure weaknesses elsewhere on the Continent. Typical of this genre, an article in yesterday’s Figaro served up its content in the headline: “In France, 30% of the bridges managed by the State are in need of reconstruction.” To understand the scale of the assignment, there are 200,000 bridges on the roads of France.

In Germany, the online edition of the mainstream newspaper Die Welt published an article two days ago with a similar message: “Two-thirds of the German highway bridges are in an alarming state.” (https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article181181806/Nach-Genua-So-werden-die-deutschen-Bruecken-geprueft.html) We are told that only one-quarter of the bridges are in good condition.  A number of major bridges are and will remain closed to truck traffic because they are too fragile.

The article describes the system of inspections of the bridges. It goes on to say that the problematic bridges are only the tip of the iceberg: “Since the year 2,000 the condition of bridge surfaces considered to be in ‘very good’ or ‘good’ condition has more than halved.”  In  cases of unsatisfactory condition, the speed limits on such bridges will be drastically reduced and they may be closed to commercial vehicles of certain weight categories.

Die Welt notes that the problem extends beyond major highways to local roads, where 10,000 bridges must be replaced by 2030, affecting 15% of all communal roads in Germany. The investment cost of the replacement will be 11 billion euros. Indeed, one out of two of the local bridges is in poor condition and requires repairs. Implementing this would raise the overall investment needs to 16 billion.

Meanwhile, also on 15 August Bloomberg online news published a feature article looking at the problem more broadly:  “Germany’s Infrastructure Skids Into Crisis on Merkel’s Autobahn,” by Leonard Kahnscherper. Here we find at the outset a key generalization about the problem:

“[Germany’s] once envied network of roads, bridges and railways are decaying due to decades of underspending. The country has fallen to 15th in road quality behind Oman and Portugal, according to the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings…”

True to its economic and business focus, Bloomberg remarks that traffic jams resulting from the inadequate road system cost the German economy more than 60 billion euros a year from wasted working time and delivery delays.

Put in the broader perspective of overall infrastructure, Bloomberg finds that the investment gap for German municipalities amounted to 159 billion euros in 2017, of which roughly a quarter was for traffic infrastructure. To this one must add the national and regional projects.  Their research shows that “Germany’s net investment has been negative throughout most of Merkel’s reign.” Simply put, money spent by the government fails to keep up with wear and tear.

Bloomberg likens the road decay with the failure to keep up with technological change in digital networks, where Germany is a laggard country now: “In mobile phone penetration, the country ranks 76th behind Algeria, Mali and Sri Lanka, according to the World Economic Forum.”

 

These cited articles were all prepared by remote, using statistical research by third parties not from personal time behind the wheel by the journalists.  Having just completed a 500 kilometer vacation drive through the length of Germany from Aachen by the Belgian border into northeastern Bavaria, I have fresh observations of the situation in an extensive and representative part of the country. My observations have been backed up by those of friends who travel frequently in Germany by car in this and other parts of the country.

Moreover, for a comparative sense I draw upon my more than 3 years of experience in the early 1990s as a weekly commuter from Brussels to Frankfurt or Cologne. That was when autobahns were still the pride and joy of automobile infatuated Germans. To be sure, even then one could speak nostalgically of still earlier times when no speed limits were set to spoil the fun. Speed limits were already applied to some stretches of the federal highways in the 90s, including a large portion of my commuting route, but the hidden friskiness of otherwise dour Germans still had plenty of road segments to put the pedal to the floor and enjoy domination of the road.

And for a second reality check, my observations in what follows were tested against the findings of my return trip from Bavaria to Brussels, when I chose to leave behind the wretched autobahns and experience the autoroutes of France from Strasbourg north and through Luxembourg to Belgium. Both in time and space, the comparisons with what I found In Germany a week ago lead ineluctably to Germany’s shame.

 

The first and overriding fact of driving on the autobahns today is that major road construction work is going on everywhere.  On each arterial road, you cannot go more than 10 or 15 km without getting caught up in the road works constrictions that make travel time planning impossible and put your life at risk, something which Bloomberg & Co. has not yet considered measuring.

Summer time is by definition the season when road authorities in many European countries do the lion’s share of their annual road maintenance and improvements.  However, what I saw was not comparable to  the summer work in Germany of the past. Aside from separate and isolated cases of widening autobahns here and there, the big activity causing the infamous Stau or bottleneck on the German highways going back five years or more was installation of sound insulation barriers to protect residential areas adjacent to highways or similar minor improvements.

What is going on today is largely addition of a lane in each direction on what are four lane highways.

Reading the signs put up at the start of many of these work sites showing the planned termination dates of the ongoing work which extend out three and four years, and considering that the work is going on simultaneously everywhere, I conclude that the problem has been created by certain political and  budgetary priorities of the German federal government which contradict  best practices and expose the public works to unaccountability, frequent cost revision, quite apart from damage to the productive economy and safety risks.

In a nutshell, this type of approach to public works is process oriented rather than outcome oriented.  If the latter were the case, you would see rapid scheduling of one highway project after another in sequence.  Simultaneous construction all over the place means the pain is being spread and budgeting is stretched out It is a clever political tactic to calm voters and taxpayers.  But the pain is being drawn out for everyone unnecessarily. The savings are illusory, since men and materiel are locked into very long-range projects.

The road widening exercise entails diversion of existing lanes into “temporary” lanes that are perhaps 20% narrower than normal and are delineated on either side by concrete or metal dividers.  This creates high tension for drivers to stay within the narrow bounds. The frequent redirection this way and that makes it difficult to follow the car in front, compounding the strain on driver vision. Any momentary lack of attention and you have the real possibility of bouncing off the divider and crashing.

Then there is the problem of truck traffic.  Back in the 1990s truck traffic was a nuisance because the trucks in the right lane might be traveling at 90 km/hr while the autos in the left lane could be doing 150 km/hr or more. When any of the trucks moved into the left lane to pass a peer, a hazard was created for the speed demons in their autos.

Today, the right lane of the two lane temporary highways are wholly given over to trucks, which form long caravans of twenty or more semi-trailers, often either not moving or proceeding at a snail’s pace.  Effectively only one lane is open to cars, also moving under Stau warning conditions, meaning start-stop, sharp acceleration and deceleration.  Here we have another contributing factor to driver weariness and heightened risk of collision.

The end result is that today the German highways are very unsafe, about which no one is talking.  This issue has nothing whatever to do with preventive maintenance or the general erosion of infrastructure. It has to do with human lives and quality of life.

That it does not have to be this way was shown up by my return trip through France and Luxembourg on roads that roughly run parallel to the German autobahns on the east side of the Rhine.  Yes, there were road works going on here and there, but they were strictly maintenance work – on the bridges, by the way. If one of the two lanes in each direction was shut immediately before and at the point of the works, there was no diversion from the remaining normal lane, hence no increased hazards, only the possible loss of time.

In effect, the loss of time from road works on the French side was negligible because traffic density was low. In particular, truck  density on the autoroutes was very low, reminiscent of the 1990s.  Thus, the question must be asked why Germany has attracted the vast numbers of trucks, many, perhaps more than half, registered in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Turkey.  Does this preference for the German roads have something to do with the pricing policy on tolls for commercial traffic?  Given that trucks create vastly more wear and tear on transport infrastructure than automobiles, one has to ask if the German authorities have not trapped themselves into a vicious cycle of road expansion to accommodate vast truck traffic which is destroying the infrastructure and making travel a misery for private users.

The degradation of the German road system goes well beyond transport for business and pleasure. It shows the consequences of the austerity policy which Angela Merkel and her stiff-necked and equally mulish finance minister for much of her reign, Wolfgang Schauble, imposed on the whole EU following the financial crisis of 2008.

We usually think of the EU’s austerity policy with respect to Southern Europe, where it was made a precondition for bailouts in Greece, in Portugal and elsewhere when the failing sovereign bond markets and bank collapses put the continued membership of these countries in the Euro zone in danger and urgent help was required for them to stay afloat.

Now  it is obvious that in Germany, the author and enforcer of Austerity, the chickens have come home to roost.

Germany and anti-Semitism

The hate-crime murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in her Paris apartment in March shocked the Jewish community of France and touched off a broad discussion in European media about a rising tide of anti-Semitic acts in recent years and how it relates to the influx of Muslim refugees on the Old Continent. Attention was particularly drawn to Germany, which for historic reasons remains the barometer of religious and racial tolerance within the EU, and where the refugee tide from the Middle East and North Africa reached highest volume.

An opinion article published on 30 March by the English-language edition of Deutsche Welle said it all in the headline: “Jews face rampant anti-Semitism in Germany, Europe.” The article noted that in Germany “Jewish schools, kindergartens and community centers have needed protection against original and neo-Nazis for decades.” The author, Michel Friedman, pointed to blatantly anti-Semitic slogans propagated by the extreme Right party Alternativ fuer Deutschland (AfD), now the leading Opposition group in the German federal parliament.

The issue was raised to nationwide discussion in Germany at the end of April when two young men wearing Jewish skullcaps were attacked on the streets of Berlin. The assault against one, a 21-year old Arab Israeli, was captured on video and was disseminated widely on social networks.  The attacker whipped the man with a belt and shouted at him “Yehudi,” the Arabic for “Jew!”

Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly condemned the incident and expressed her regrets that Jewish schools, kindergartens and synagogues needed police protection.  Notwithstanding her longstanding defense of immigration on humanitarian grounds, she also acknowledged that the refugees of Arab origin had brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs that now added to Germany’s own traditional anti-Semitism.

However, there is another side to the story which I will set out in this essay: namely that despite all the head winds from the arriving refugees and from native German defenders of Palestinian rights whose condemnations of Israeli policies, condemnations of Zionism easily conflate with raw anti-Semitism, Germany’s official policy of zero tolerance for intolerance carries the day and produces remarkable and ubiquitous signs that lessons from history are not forgotten. Indeed, the lessons are being re-taught in every corner of the land more than 65 years after the Shoah in the country most responsible for the destruction of European Jewry.

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I have just returned from a first-time visit to the Bayreuth opera festival, where I had seats for the new production of Lohengrin and for the re-staging of last year’s highly successful Meistersinger von Nuremberg.

Depending on your turn of mind, this part of Bavaria is either the temple of German high culture or the black heart of Germany, linked forever with the racist ideology of the Third Reich and personally favored by Adolf Hitler, who came repeatedly to the festival and was lodged in Wahnfried, the home built for Richard Wagner, where he was treated like family by Wagner’s daughter in law Winifred and was called “Uncle Wolf” by Wagner’s grandchildren.

The first surprise of the visit was seeing the installation commemorating the victims of the Holocaust situated on the “Green Hill,” as the site of the opera house is called, just below the entrance area, where the audience gathers before each performance for the fanfare by trumpeters on a balcony above calling them to take their seats inside.

The installation is very dignified, restrained and impactful. It consists of metal stele bearing the name, portrait and a brief biographical sketch of opera singers, instrumentalists, conductors and other creative staff of the Wagner festival who were chased out after the Nazis came to power and died in one or another of the concentration camps.  Unlike Berlin’s “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” which has been criticized for vagueness about the victims and the perpetrators, the installation in front of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus deals frankly with the anti-Semitism within the Wagner family and in particular as practiced by his widow Cosima, daughter of pianist Franz Liszt, who personally intervened to purge the house of any Jewish presence.

It must be remembered that the audience in Bayreuth, which is perhaps 80% German, with an admixture of Americans, British, Japanese and other globe-trotting melomanes, comprises the crème-de-la-crème of German society. While other German music and arts festivals like the Ruhrtriennale, which I know well, may be frequented by local intelligentsia, university professors and government bureaucrats, the audience at Bayreuth is perfectly on a par with the Salzburg Festival, which attracts top businessmen, bankers, senior politicians and aristocracy. The ubiquitous tuxedos on men and long gowns on ladies were conclusive evidence of their social standing.  And a good many strolled through the installation on the Holocaust.  Clearly the monument has reached its intended audience of arbiters of culture and taste in Germany.  Given the history of the place, one must imagine the fight that went on with its custodians to hold up to the audience this mirror of horrors.

The opera productions themselves demonstrated the profound degree of repentance and awareness of social responsibility by the organizers of the festival.  The Meistersinger from last year was produced by the first Jewish stage director in Bayreuth’s 141 year history, Barrie Kosky.  Kosky did not appear from nowhere: he is the artistic director of Berlin’s Komische Oper.

For a detailed review of the production, I refer the reader to a very fine article by Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times of `1 August 2017. Like Woolfe, I will call attention here not to the quality of the singing and conducting, which were in fact magnificent and fully worthy of Bayreuth’s reputation, but to the stage concept. The staging had its own unmistakable message which is entirely justified on the facts.  The first act opens in the library of Wagner’s home, Wahnfried, and the alter egos of Wagner and Hans Sachs, of Cosima and Eva, of Liszt and Veit Pogner are highlighted.  That is to say, the autobiographical elements in Wagner’s composition are brought to our attention.  Meanwhile, in the later acts the stage decoration reproduces the courtroom of the war crimes trials in Nuremberg at the conclusion of WWII. In between there is a scene properly identifying the one villain in the piece, Beckmesser, as the repugnant Jew who is a suitor to the hand of the heroine and who is beaten by a crowd of townsfolk in a street riot or pogrom.

By these various devices, the stage director reminds us that Nuremberg, which is close enough to Bayreuth (95 km away) is not merely a medieval German city famous for its music guild and song competitions, but is the second largest city in Bavaria; that it was the venue for the torchlight processions of the Nazi party; that it was where the Allies held their tribunal following victory.

In general, I believe that art is an end in itself and should not be used to convey political messages. However, in the given case I am particularly accepting of this Meistersinger. From my experience of thirty years of opera going, German, and more particularly East German stage directors have dominated European opera theater presentations of Russian classics, and especially of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. During this entire time of German representation of Russian history on stage we have seen a succession of Gulag concentration camps with Kalashnikov armed guards in the early 17th century. It is high time for Germans to get a taste of the same anachronistic and eclectic treatment of their own tragic history.

The production of Lohengrin was notable only for non-artistic reasons:  Yuval Sharon, a young Israeli, was chosen as stage director.  Regrettably, in this case political considerations outweighed common sense, since Sharon had no prior experience staging operas and the production was no better than one might find in many second-tier European opera houses. I saw better three months ago in Brussels’ La Monnaie theater.

The surprises I encountered in Bayreuth went beyond the opera house to the Richard Wagner Museum in the aforementioned Wahnfried house. The audio guide, the narratives posted on the walls, and the video clips in the adjacent house where Wagner’s son and daughter in law lived later, speak directly about all the negative associations of the place.

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Back home in Brussels this past weekend, while perusing the latest issue of Germany’s leading Sunday paper, the Welt am Sonntag, from the politically Center Right Axel Springer Publishing House, I found in passing yet further demonstrations of how official Germany is dealing proactively with open or concealed anti-Semitism in its midst.

One article explains at length the ongoing scandal at the Ruhrtriennale, the music, theater and dance festival in Germany’s rust belt city of Bochum. The Triennale was created in 2002, when its first Intendant, Belgian impresario Gerard Mortier, till then head of the Salzburg Festival, set the highest artistic standards. After his departure, the festival has been on a slippery downward course.  The latest scandal with its new Intendant suggests it is hitting bottom.

As Welt informs us, the incoming Intendant Stephanie Carp has made a couple of grave missteps in programming the season that will open soon.  The first and most unforgivable came within her attempt to step down from high to more popular culture. The season has no operas, for the first time, but features a Scottish Hip-Hop Band called “Young Fathers” which is linked politically to the Boycott-Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement directed against Israel.  As local politicians have remarked, this crosses Germany’s red lines by putting in question Israel’s right to exist.  Consequently, the head of the North-Rhineland-Westphalia State, which hosts and financially supports the festival, has made it known he will not speak at the opening ceremony, will not come to any of the performances and will not be photographed with the new Intendant.  By all logic, she will be obliged to step down.

The same  issue of Welt am Sonntag carries a two page article describing a Jewish-Muslim interfaith project that is sending young adults from both faiths on five day long visits to concentration camps in Germany and Poland (Auschwitz) where the Holocaust was perpetrated to raise awareness of the country’s past evils.

 

 

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The issue of anti-Semitism lies outside my professional focus, and I speak here as a layman. But I have been involuntarily drawn into the topic by my experience with online publishing.  Those who follow me will be aware of my coming to the defense of one of my publishing platforms, Russia Insider when its owner decided several months ago to deal directly with the facts and myths of (American) Jewish  promotion of anti-Putin, anti-Russian policies from the highest levels of government and in the media.  The issue is real but its discussion invites outpourings of anti-Semitic rants.

The fact is that anti-Semitic messages are pervasive in the Comments section of many alternative media platforms when they are not being actively censored by the editors but are left to third party administrators like Disqus.  In these columns, Zionist conspiracy theories run wild.  To a lesser extent the same is true of even mainstream publications, though they are more likely to actively weed out offenders or simply to close down their Comments feature when editing proves too costly or distracting.

In all these cases, I am persuaded that the contributors of the filth are not merely anti-Establishment readers but more likely anti-social personalities for whom the “Jew” tirades are a vent for their frustrations and hatreds that is accepted or tolerated. But there is nothing new in this: the very same could be said about the venomous writings and spoken remarks of Cosima Wagner.

The German experience today is very relevant.  Indeed, there must be no tolerance of intolerance in civilized society. The Germans know better than anyone else where this leads.

Trump and Erdogan

In my last essay on how Donald Trump is remaking U.S. foreign policy, I mentioned that the overriding interest of both his many foes and his few supporters has been with regard to the Russian dimension, while other elements such as spoiled relations with the EU, with NATO are either misconstrued as random, the products of his personality defects, changeability and perverseness in particular, or are properly understood as a 360 degree attack on the U.S.-run alliance system but without any rational justification adduced.

Trump is at war with the West, we are told, as if that were sufficient interpretation in and of itself. Trump is picking fights with everyone just for the sport of it, other commentators say.

I insist that there is a consistent logic to everything Trump is doing in the international arena, however contradictory it may seem at times because of his policy reversals to confound and disarm his domestic enemies.  The logic is to dynamite the whole international order of military alliances which constrain the United States, embroil it in regional conflicts where it has no national interest and drain away more than half of its defense budget for housekeeping expenses at its military bases abroad.  In its place, he wants to the return of ‘balance of power’ politics, with the Great Powers regulating conflicts of interest among themselves by ‘spheres of influence’ understandings and the lesser powers making their own peace with one another at the regional level without the meddling of Great Powers putting their thumbs on the scales.

In the past week, another important foreign policy initiative of Donald Trump captured the world’s headlines, but not one of the mainstream or alternative news purveyors has seen the sense of it.  I have in mind the escalation of the dispute with Turkey to a critical point that puts at risk the long-term relationship with Ankara.

The core issue or catalyst for the present conflict is Turkey’s detention and prosecution of the American clergyman Andrew Brunson, who is accused of espionage and other crimes.  In ratcheting up the American pressure on Turkey by sanctions including most recently a doubling of US tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel exports to force the release of the pastor, Trump is wholly aligned with the thinking of Congress, where the case is magnified by non-Trump considerations of bringing an authoritarian ruler to heel and of forcing reversal of Turkey’s purchase of Russian S400 air defense system.  Trump is also playing to his core constituency of evangelical Christians who take to heart the persecution of one of their own.

This is to say that Donald Trump is using the predisposition of foes and friends alike to work his own policy of dismantling NATO.

The direct consequence of U.S. sanctions on Turkey was a 25% devaluation of the Turkish lira last week. The damage to the Turkish economy forced President Erdogan to raise the anti-U.S. rhetoric and speak of reviewing Turkey’s alliances, saying that the country always had alternatives.  This is a thinly veiled threat to withdraw from the NATO alliance, where Turkey’s armed forces are the second most numerous after the United States.

Turkish relations with NATO have been deteriorating ever since the Obama administration lost its way on Syria policy and began supporting any and all forces on the ground there which might participate in the destruction of the Bashar al-Assad government’s control over its territory.  One line of attack was U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds, even as this support crossed the red lines of Ankara.  There is no more sensitive issue in Turkey than assistance to the Kurds, any Kurds, as they try to establish nationhood on territory belonging to the three states where their populations are concentrated: first and foremost Turkey itself and Iraq, secondarily, Syria.

Withdrawal of Turkey from NATO and its likely compensatory action of closer ties with Russia, China and Iran would re-draw the geopolitical map of the Middle East, very much to the disadvantage of Europe and the USA.  At the same time, it would be a knife to the heart of NATO, removing a very significant part of its military muscle. It would force a rethinking of the burden sharing within the Alliance at the very time when Donald Trump has made that very issue fundamental to his questioning its continued existence.

Looking further afield to Trump’s other very important moves in the Middle East, I draw attention to what he is doing relative to Iran.

Removing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (nuclear deal with Iran) was one of Donald Trump’s featured promises during the 2016 electoral campaign.  It stood alone then, just as it has stood alone today in the interpretation of the vast majority of commentators.  The minority of commentators who see sense in it are wrong-headed: they see this as proof that Trump is in the pocket of the Israel Lobby which helped to finance him and is a stooge of Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is, I believe, a wholly different logic at work here that is identical to what I discerned in the present dispute with Erdogan: the master plan to destroy the cozy relationship with Europe that has underpinned NATO and so much else of U.S. foreign policy.  Along with his withdrawing the United States from the Paris convention on global warming, and along with his largely artificial dispute with the European Union over tariffs, Trump’s Iran policy was meant to go against European security interests and to place the Atlanticists in an untenable position.

One may ask why Trump has such animus against the European Union.  The answer is quite simple if you look beyond trade and defense relations, which are indeed of dubious value to the American nation apart from certain American elites who have been feasting on the world’s lunch, which always was and remains the hallmark of imperialism.  The answer lies in the domain of domestic politics:  Brussels is run by promoters of the same “values” that are the ideological foes of Trump within the United States.  Brussels is run by Neoconservatives who deny sovereignty of other states as they campaign for the spread of democracy, human rights and rule of law everywhere. Brussels is run by the promoters of LGBT rights, abortion, and a host of other questionable Liberal concerns. Brussels is run by politicians who very actively meddled in the US presidential election of 2016 on behalf of their fellow Liberal Hillary Clinton, none more so than the U.K. and its MI6 with Mr. Steele’s dossier.

Trump is inarticulate and does not come across as brainy.  But you can be sure he knows who are his friends and who are his natural enemies.  As for us more or less brainy observers, it is comforting to know that this car has a driver with a mission that, in the end, spells peace.