Tue, May 29, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The world struggles to deal with Trump’s erratic and capricious ways

The US president’s waywardness is allowing Russia and China to steal the US’ thunder

By Will Hutton  /  The Observer

Illustration: Yusha

What does the world do about US President Donald Trump, the most erratic, egocentric and compromised US president ever to hold office? Trade war or no trade war? Summit or no summit with North Korea? Is NATO obsolete or relevant? Military or no military involvement in the Middle East?

The US remains the overwhelmingly predominant economic, military and financial force on the planet. For 70 years, it has sustained a world order that, whatever its downsides, was at least an order with predictable patterns of international behavior, along with a bias to openness, trade and peace. Suddenly it is all up in the air.

For the West’s enemies and critics, the new chaos is welcome.

Russia President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) are united in their view that the postwar order was a victor’s order, organized to suit US interests and from which it has benefited hugely.

China chafes under the supremacy of the US dollar, the US’ network of military bases, its dominance of the great international institutions and the way global trade and financial flows center on the US.

Russia still smarts from how the ring of satellite countries that constituted the Soviet Union have since detached themselves from Russian influence.

Putin wants to level the score — witness his invasion of Crimea, his siege of Ukraine (involving, we now learn, the Russian shooting down of flight MH17, killing all 298 passengers) and his armies massing on the frontiers of the Baltic republics.

Both see yet more opportunities spinning out of Trump’s incredible stupidity in deliberately destabilizing the very system from which the US benefits so much. His waywardness is offering the chance to create new Russian and Chinese spheres of influence.

China is being given the chance to dominate Asia, Russia the chance to recreate the Soviet Union’s influence in its old borderlands, and both can do it while talking the language of peace and respect for obvious global menaces such as climate change.

Has a bigger fool ever occupied the White House?

In Trumpland, however, both he and his “ base” see themselves as advancing America first. It is a universe that has created its own hermetically sealed reality.

Trump’s long, rambling folksy speeches at his rallies — he uses “folks” a lot, diving into eccentric diversions at enormous length — are bound together by a combination of paranoia, vanity, prejudice and jokiness that is as curiously compelling as it is bonkers.

However, the unifying theme is that life is a zero-sum game: There are never gains from collaboration, no virtue in sharing and no value in anything but asserting your own will — with a gun, with a checkbook or with a missile.

Give no quarter, look for the other side’s weakness and brutally cut the deal to walk away taller and prouder yourself.

Trump’s fights and deals may reward the rich, but many of the disenfranchised rally to the philosophy of uncompromising self-assertion. It is potent and it is dangerous.

Thus the twists and turns in US foreign policy. Iran has to be seen to kowtow to US will. Palestinians must accept the new Middle Eastern reality: There will be a US embassy in Jerusalem. Thus China is threatened with swingeing tariffs to be suspended only after it blinks first.

NATO is tolerated because members are increasing defense spending as demanded. The US will only re-enter the Paris climate change accords if the world reshapes it wholly to accommodate US interests. North Korea must overtly bend to US will if there is to be a summit.

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