On August 24 President Trump was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate to chants of “four more years, four more years!” which made a lot of people wonder just what another Trump term might be like. And although opinion polls at the moment put Biden ahead of Trump by about ten points we should remember that around this time in 2016 the pollsters put Hillary Clinton ahead of him by fourteen points. And pollsters weren’t the only people to get things wrong.
In July 2016, just before Trump defeated Clinton and confounded the pollsters, I wrote a Strategic Culture article titled Might the Donald be Good for Peace? And it is embarrassing to admit that the commentary contained the totally incorrect assessment that “it isn’t likely that The Donald will support confrontation by the nuclear-armed armadas that at the moment plough so aggressively around China’s shores. And he isn’t likely to endorse the Pentagon’s happy fandangos concerning Russia, either” — because he has increased the number of provocative forays into the South China Sea as well as having Nato, the Pentagon’s billion dollar sub-station in Brussels, indulge in yet another anti-Russia exhibition of confrontational “solidarity” by deploying six nuclear bombers to fly over all Nato countries on August 28.
In the words of General Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, the fly-over fandango (called the “bomber task force mission”) was intended to “send a clear message to potential adversaries about our readiness to meet any global challenge.”
And now the State Department has given notice that it is considering creation of a Nato-type military machine in the India-Pacific area. It is intended that the U.S., India, Australia and Japan form this alliance, and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said on August 31 that they would work together to prepare for “a potential challenge from China” and “to create a critical mass around the shared values and interests of those parties in a manner that attracts more countries in the Indo-Pacific and even from around the world . . . ultimately to align in a more structured manner.”
This has been tried before, when Washington put together a grouping called the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, Seato, which collapsed in 1977 after achieving nothing during 23 years of expensive existence. It had eight members of which the most prominent were the U.S., Britain, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and France. The only Southeast Asian countries that took part were the Philippines and Thailand, from which it may be gathered that the whole thing was a farce. And it is likely that a new Seato-type body will never get anywhere — but the overall message is that Washington’s campaigns against China and Russia will not be relaxed.
On August 28 the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Robert O’Brien, told the Atlantic Council that Trump supported the stance of Pentagon America. He declared that “Whether [Trump] has a successor in a few months or in a few years, we’re leading the way so that America can stand up to China and maintain our way of life and defend against these pernicious attacks.” (China’s “pernicious attacks” are its political and commercial disagreements with the U.S. If you disagree with Washington you are attacking it.)
O’Brien opined that “as we look at a rising China, as we look at a more assertive Russia, especially in Eastern Europe, a lot — China and Russia have allies that they rent or that they buy. They have very few true allies. We have likeminded countries that share our values, that share our way of life all around the world, and we have a very strong system of alliances.”
Mr O’Brien is being overly optimistic, because he cannot truly believe that the U.S. has allies to that extent. The arrogance of the Trump stance was epitomised by Pompeo’s declaration that because Germany, Britain and France disagree with Washington’s policy on Iran, they thereby “sided with the Ayatollahs” and were “standing in the company of terrorists.” This is not the way to maintain “a strong system of alliances” and was another indication that Washington chooses allies on a one-way basis. As the Washington Post noted on September 4, “Mr Trump has aimed demeaning language at the leaders of friendly foreign nations, such as the prime minister of Canada — Canada! — whom he labelled “very dishonest and weak.”
Washington’s policy regarding German cooperation with Russia over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is another example of anti-ally smugness that combines arrogance with economic sanctions, and Chancellor Merkel spoke for her country when saying that “We do not consider these extraterritorial sanctions, that is those that go beyond the territory of the United States, to be legal.” She speaks from both a moral and legal standpoint — but neither morality nor legality guide Trump’s foreign policy, which is increasingly confrontational.
The supposed China threat is large on Washington’s horizon, and the Pentagon produces an annual Report titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China” which this year announced on September 1 that “over the next decade, China will expand and diversify its nuclear forces”
The Pentagon states that the number of Chinese nuclear warheads is “in the low 200s” which is at variance with the estimate of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which in its Yearbook published in June gives the figure of 320. But the laugh is in the Pentagon’s shock and horror at its forecast that China will be “likely at least doubling its nuclear warhead stockpile.” Has nobody told the Pentagon’s propaganda people that the United States has more than four thousand nuclear weapons?
According to the war-drumming Pentagon pundits, presumably with grins of condescending smugness on their lips, China wants to build military bases overseas so that Beijing can “project and sustain military power at greater distances.” How dreadful. Or it could possibly be dreadful if the Pentagon didn’t operate from at least 800 bases in over 70 countries, thereby projecting unwanted and provocative military power where it has no business to be.
And in the latest projection development, the Pentagon’s European Command announced on September 4 that three B-52 nuclear bombers had been deployed to conduct “vital integration training with Ukrainian fighters inside Ukraine’s airspace.”
If Trump continues in the White House, we can expect the Pentagon to carry on its antics around the world, and things won’t alter much if Joe Biden becomes president, as he has announced that “to counter Russian aggression, we must keep the alliance’s military capabilities sharp while also expanding its capacity to take on nontraditional threats” while regarding China, he intends to “rally our allies to set the rules of the road and push back on Beijing’s aggressive and predatory behaviour.”
But as with most international affairs, for the Pentagon it’s probably better to stick with the devil you know rather than get used to a new (if old) one. Four more years would be welcomed by the Pentagon.