• Monday 19th August 2019

Upheaval in U.S., a Chinese enigma, and more revelations

  • Published on: January 16, 2019



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    By MR Josse

    TAMPA, FL: President Donald Trump faces a prolonged battle for political survival, even as the partial shutdown surpasses the 1995 record of 21 days affecting an estimated 800,000 federal employees.
    With Trump still digging in on his demand for funding for a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border and House Democrats adamantly refusing to accede, a quick resolution is nowhere in sight.
    THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
    Meanwhile, the political climate is becoming increasingly toxic with wild charges bandied about, including that Trump acted as a Russian agent! And, while there is no let-up in the daily twitter storm he creates – the latest directed against NATO ally, Turkey – he has backed away from declaring a national emergency.
    The theatre-of-the-absurd ambience, truth be told, also manifests itself abroad – viz, during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent 8-day, 9-country Middle East excursion, in part to assuage fears stoked by Trump’s controversial, abrupt decision to withdraw American troops from Syria on the ground that the threat from ISIS is over.
    The stark contradiction between facts on the ground and the Trump administration’s position was ably etched in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial, ‘Pompeo’s words, Trump’s withdrawal’.
    It opens, thus: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech in Cairo on Thursday trying to reassure allies that the U.S. is determined to remain a player in the Middle East and contain Iran in particular. The problem is that this ambition clashes with the reality of his boss’s contradictory message about American intentions.”
    Indeed, much of the conflicting, ad hoc, decision-making process in the Trump White House has been exposed in harrowing detail in Bob Woodward’s “FEAR”, as indicated in previous columns. There is, in fact, so much of such material that it’s impossible to provide here more than just an infinitesimal selection, as attempted below.
    With reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 2017 visit to Washington, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told chief of staff Reince Priebus that Modi wished “to go to Camp David and have dinner, bond with Trump.”
    As Woodward tells it, Priebus told McMaster that a Camp David dinner was not on the cards. “We’re just going to do dinner here. It’s what the President wants.” In the event, there was a “no-frills” cocktail reception and a “working dinner” at the White House, for Modi.
    (For the uninitiated, here is an excerpt from Condoleezza Rice’s memoir, ‘No Higher Honor’ where she explains the politico-diplomatic significance of a Camp David invitation: “Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time in office, Camp David, nestled in Maryland’s Catocin Mountains, has been the presidents’ weekend retreat…Over the years it has also become a place to take foreign leaders who merit the signal of importance and camaraderie that everyone reads into such an invite.”)
    The reader’s attention is now directed to an interesting aspect of Trump’s “two-day summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago Florida retreat, to discuss trade and North Korea, in April 2017.
    Here comes the newsy part: “As desert was being served Trump said to Xi, ‘We’re in the process of bombing Syria because of its gas attack.’ ‘Say it again’, Xi said through an interpreter. Trump repeated it. ‘How many missiles?’ Xi asked. Trump said 59. ’59?’ Xi asked. Trump confirmed ’59’. ‘Okay,’ Xi said, ‘I understand. Good, he deserved it.’ ”
    Finally, there is this revealing, reported outburst by Steve Bannon, ‘chief strategist’ of Trump until he was fired early in 2018, for being the main source for Michael Wolff’s unflattering book, ‘Fire and Fury’.
    “From his point of view, Bannon believed Trump had largely failed as a change agent. The old order in national security certainly won in Trump’s first year, Bannon believed. Perhaps the only exception was a toughening stance on China and an awareness that China was a true rival in international affairs…
    ” ‘Balance of power’ in Bannon’s view meant the U.S. was comfortable with the status quo and Iran’s ‘short-of-war’ strategy that took confrontation to the brink but left Iran owning the gray zone.
    “Bannon believed that Trump wanted to roll Iran back – and get Iran out of Iraq, out of Syria, out of Lebanon and out of the peninsula in Yemen. The alliance to do that was the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel.
    “China was the main enemy. Russia was not the problem. The Russian economy was about the size of New York state’s economy – about $ 1.5 trillion – and the Chinese economy would soon be bigger than that of the United States, perhaps within a decade.”
    ENIGMA
    Two other current assessments of China merit attention. The first is contained in a WSJ write-up by Andy Puzder who argues that Xi’s “forceful posturing” during a recent speech marking the 40th anniversary of China’s “shift from doctrinaire communism to quasi-capitalist totalitarianism” couldn’t “hide his concern” that China, “America’s main economic rival is under real pressure to give up many of the mercantile policies it has relied upon for decades to prop up growth.”
    Puzder’s conclusion is that Xi “intended to reinforce the myth of an invincible Chinese dragon capable of bullying America into submission with its economic clout. President’s Trump’s trade strategy has exposed China’s vulnerability, demonstrating the risks of going toe-to-toe with a determined opponent that happens to be your largest customer.”
    Katsuji Nakazawa, in the Nikkei Asian Review, argues that Xi’s recent call on people to unite for an extended battle might, as first blush, seem as if he were ordering his troops to prepare for combat with the U.S.
    That, however, Nakazawa says does not seem to be the case as there have been other indications suggesting that Xi’s message is actually redolent of Mao’s thinking on “protracted war” – requiring internal stability and strong leadership.
    One should closely monitor the ebb and flow of Sino-American relations, the impact of which should be manifest even in Nepal.

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