Commentary / World

Trump will have to overcome the U.S. foreign policy 'Blob'

by Gregory Clark

U.S. President Barack Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes once described the U.S. media, think tanks and other establishment critics trying to dominate the crafting of foreign policy as the “Blob.” They still exist. So while the anti-Donald Trump variety are still wiping the post-election egg off their faces, let’s take a closer look at some of the Trump policies they condemned so vehemently.

Take the Trump dislike of free trade blocs as one example. In the years before the Blob people embraced free trade as an academic fashion, it was taken for granted that developing nations should protect industries crucial to their industrial base and that developed nations should protect industries unfairly hit by the devalued currencies of many developing nations.

The concept of omnibus trade blocs including both developing and developed nations was seen as ridiculous. Such blocs existed for political, not trade promoting, reasons — like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and its Trans-Pacific Partnership successor intended to isolate China. If realized as planned they would have stunted the industrial growth of weaker members. The North American Free Trade Agreement, another Trump dislike, has had its pluses and minuses, but it has not been kind to either Mexican farmers or U.S. carmakers.

On the economy, Trump is also right. Deregulation and infrastructure spending are what the U.S. economy needs, not more monetary easing. But why did it need someone with construction industry experience to make that obvious point? Like many other Western nations, the United States suffers from having too many out-of-touch lawyers and politicos at the top.

In foreign policy, Trump’s criticisms of NATO are also on the mark. NATO was created to counter an alleged threat from the Soviet Union, but today it sees its role as trying to exploit the problems facing pro-Russian minorities stranded in former Soviet republics. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is often quoted as lamenting the breakup of the former Soviet Union. What he and others like him are lamenting is not the loss of those non-Russian republics; I suspect many Russians were glad to be rid of them and in any case they all, including Ukraine, seem very happy to maintain Russian as their lingua franca.

Rather it is the problem of discrimination against those stranded minorities that worries them. When the minorities try to gain or maintain some form of autonomy, as in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia and the Baltic states, NATO is only too happy to use that as an excuse to move even further east. Even when the minorities try to live with the harsh employment and language discrimination imposed on them, as in Estonia, the NATO hawks rush in troops to prevent potential Russian “aggression.”

In Ukraine we have the absurd situation where Moscow is accused of aggression even though it is Kiev, not Moscow, that wants to use force to sabotage the formal Minsk agreements with France, Germany and Moscow that would allow some autonomy for Russian-speakers in the eastern Ukraine Donbass area. So do we also accuse France and Germany of aggression for signing those agreements?

It gets even more absurd when the West, including France and Germany, impose economic sanctions as punishment for the alleged aggression. True, their sanctions are also aimed at Moscow “aggression” over Crimea. I suggest they spend a few days in Crimea, as I have both in the past and recently, and tell us if they hear even a single word of Ukrainian. As with the Donbass area it was a purely Russian-speaking area included within Ukrainian borders in Soviet times for arbitrary reasons that no longer apply. Moscow would have been entitled to claim both as its own, but refrained.

The critics also wax indignant over Moscow’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. Needless to say they forget how we once welcomed Russia intervention to reverse what was supposed to be one of the greater disasters of that war — the fall of Palmyra to Islamic State militants. Let’s also join them in ignoring the extraordinary Pentagon move to wreck the recent painfully negotiated cease-fire agreement in Syria by bombing, accidentally of course, the Syrian Army base at Deir al-Zour, killing at least 60 government soldiers.

Instead, let’s focus on Russian participation in the cruel bombing of eastern Aleppo where Moscow is accused of war crimes. But in that case will Washington apologize for its war crimes — Agent Orange, indiscriminate napalm and white phosphorous attacks on Vietnamese villagers, B-52 carpet bombing in Cambodia and Laos — during the Vietnamese civil war some 40 or so years ago? Of course not, and to some extent understandably. Fighting entrenched guerrillas, whether in dense jungle or crowded cities, is not easy. But the holdouts in Aleppo have at least been given the chance to move away. That was not a credible offer in Indochina.

A measure of the Western hysteria over Russia is the way Trump is attacked for meeting Putin and coming away impressed. I have not met Putin. But I have met, recently, with some of the bureau chiefs in the Russian Foreign Ministry and with one exception I can say that these are intelligent, sophisticated, Western-oriented people genuinely puzzled and upset over Western determination to demonize them.

Would-be U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is attacked for having had his wedding vacation in the USSR. So it is a sin even to visit the nation that the critics are determined to see as the source of all evil? We really are back to Cold War days, when I discovered it was suspicious even to want to learn the language of the designated enemies. Compared with that kind of hysteria even Trump at his worst is better.

During the Vietnam War the “best and brightest” label was the equivalent of today’s Blob. I knew some of these people. Over Vietnam they really thought the superiority of their intellects allowed them to ignore realities on the ground. Today, with their all-out predictions of a Trump defeat we discover they did not even know the thinking of their own people.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat with Russian and Chinese experience who lives in Japan. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on www.gregoryclark.net .