President Trump has mooted just such an event – even suggesting an invite to Washington - for Mr Putin. Ostensibly, this seems a good idea: détente between Russia and the US would allow the head of steam building in geo-politics to vent from its straining, rivet-popping ‘retort’.
A summit might have seemed the right answer – once. But Trump’s foreign policy is not what it once was. It is evolving in a somewhat unexpected way.
At the formal level, the Administration’s series of US foreign and defence policy documents have travelled a distinct path, beginning with an initial uneasy marriage of Trump’s campaign highlights (about arresting America’s decaying rust belt, and the need for the US ‘to win again’); hitched to a NSC ‘bride’, attired in the Paul Wolfowitz ‘gown’ of American global primacy. And from thence, to a later transformation in which Russia and China transmute from ‘rivals and competitors’, into the seditionists (‘revisionist powers’) set on wrecking the global ‘home’ – and ultimately, (in the final emittance), as an America arising, as the re-born, dominant, nuclear phoenix.
This progression towards dominance did not gel well with the earlier campaign image of a President who would bring back lost jobs, but forsake military adventures. For the campaign image – may it RIP.
But ‘bringing back jobs’ too, turned out to be less about ‘smarter deals’ – and to lie more in the vein of the Mafia business model: i.e., ‘give up Nord Stream Two (gas pipeline) immediately; or, I break your German legs’ (i.e. eviscerate your automobile exports to the US).
We have ‘travelled’, in short, from Trump inducing the return of manufacturing jobs, via a bit of carrot and stick - to his ‘laying about’ all America’s trading partners, with a heavy tariff and sanctions ‘club’ – i.e. an ‘or else’ type of negotiating ‘art’, in place of the Art of the Deal, which at least, implied a modicum of negotiation, rather than seeking the absolute surrender of the counterparty, (as with Iran).
The nature of Trump’s new ‘club’, now being wielded, also represents a ‘step beyond’ (especially in respect to Iran, where little pretence is offered that it is anything other than a raw regime change hustle).
In effect, we are dealing here with Trump’s ‘retrospective’: his recuperation and refurbishment of America’s (the Anglo-world’s) historic levers of US power: dominance of the global financial system, dominance in technology, and dominance in energy (with military power held in readiness). Dominance in these three fields was, in the inter, and post-WW2 years, the source to political primacy.
What is essential in all this, is that each progression in Trump’s foreign policy ‘journey’ speaks to an enhancement and enlargement of American power, rather than to some stoic acquiescence towards America’s genteel decline. In short, it is all about prolonging and empowering the unipolar world – and deferring the multi-polar world.
Recall - that in the early days of Steve Bannon influence on Trump, things were different. Then, Bannon, drawing on the likes of Evola and Guénon, was distinctly multipolar: America wanted to be culturally American in its own way – and therefore, why shouldn’t Russia just be Russian in its own cultural way?
So why would President Trump be inviting President Putin to Washington – given that the Bannon era has been replaced by the desire to revive culturally – the old Anglo, White Man, spheres of primacy?
Well, one answer might be that Trump seeks to split Russia from China (viewing President Putin as a putative member of the cultural ‘Club’) – following the Kissinger-esque doctrine that the US should always triangulate between these two powers – and that, plainly, China is not a part of what Team Trump calls the Judeo-Christian heritage.
But why should President Putin want to be placed in such a situation? Just to be clear: to side with Trump’s unipolarism precisely would spell the end to multipolarism — which constitute Presidents Xi and Putin’s principal policy platform, and the basis of their leadership appeal in the rest of the world.) Trump would be trying to seduce Putin out of multipolarism — a road Mr Putin could not go down.
It is true that President Putin – despite considerable internal pressures – still keeps the door ajar to some entente with Washington, (at least for now). One sign of this is that he has retained an entente orientated government, rather than a Stavka orientated government (again, at least for now).
Would – on the other hand - being invited by President Trump to share with America energy production domination (as, as it were, some ‘new OPEC’), be a sufficient carrot to tempt President Putin? Again, this would be problematic. The US may have dominance over the ‘speculative’ paper-oil market, but it does not have dominance over the physical oil market (where the US might be a swing producer, on the margin). America is however not at this point dominant, unless the US were to control Iranian and Iraqi production, in addition to American and Gulf oil (which it effectively control).
To represent any real inducement therefore, President Putin would have to conclude that Iran cannot sustain Mr Trump’s sanctions siege – and will capitulate. Is Iranian submission in the Russian interest? Certainly not: Again it crosses the red line of China and Russia’s espousal of the multi-polar world. It is clearly in the strategic interest of both China and Russia, that a key element to any multi-polar world (Iran), does not fall to Trump’s unipolarism.
Is Iran likely to implode? No, in fact, viewed from Moscow (and perhaps Beijing, too), matters may be viewed from a quite different perspective: that Iran represents not so much a US ‘Slam Dunk’ ‘win’ for the unipolar powers, but rather the converse: that Iran represents Trump’s entry into a ‘cauldron’ trap (as Tom Luongo has coined it).
The ‘cauldron’ is a Russian military ploy by which an apparent frailty in a military defensive line – as perceived by an enemy – entices the latter, unreflectively, to charge directly at the perceived weakness - only to find that he has inadvertently plunged into a steadily closing encirclement, behind and around him – and to subsequent annihilation.
What does this imply in geo-politics? Luongo is suggesting that Trump is overreaching in his desire to topple both the Iranian Government and the Iranian ‘Revolution', in order for the US to become energy dominant. It constitutes a ‘step too far’ – Trump is riling everyone.
To make his sanctions devastating for Iranians, Trump is threatening everyone, sanctioning all and sundry, humiliating all and sundry, damaging commercial interests – and riding rough-shod across the Middle East terrain: Sanctioning Iran, reifying a Saudi autocracy, disparaging the Palestinians – and treating the ‘holy city’ (Jerusalem) as if it were some prime property on the Monopoly Board, to be traded at the roll of a dice.
No wonder, Moscow thinks it can wait this one out: the paradigm is inverting. The world now is knocking on Moscow’s door. European leaders who – until recently – competed in their ruderies towards President Putin, are now singing the song of ‘Europe needs you’. Of course, this is just rhetoric from a slighted, and bruised, European Union, and its substance, if any, remains to be seen.
With almost all the world dollar-sanctioned, or secondary sanctioned, states are very angry. And with global trade sanctioned, and retreating, dollar liquidity is sure to evaporate across the globe – and not just in emerging markets – as funds seek safety, in tangible, easily marketable assets. This is when US dollar denominated liabilities get re-denominated into ‘something other’ - and de-dollarization takes off, in earnest.
No, there seems little point to Mr Putin going to the White House – not, at least, until the November US mid-term elections are concluded, and Trump’s roiling of the world, with the August unrolling of the main body of sanctions, is done – and the consequences clear. Not unless, Mr Putin simply wants to put down a marker now, that when all is done and dusted, a (then) chastened Mr Trump, of course, would be welcome in Moscow.