06.09.2018 Author: James ONeill

Changed Rhetoric is Not a Guide to Changed Policy


There is currently much anguish in western capitals about the actions of US president Donald Trump. He is seen as erratic, unpredictable, and with an obvious taste in women of dubious morals. Such an emphasis is, in my view, misplaced.

Trump is certainly erratic. He is also astonishingly egocentric with a profound inability to distinguish facts for his own boastful interpretations of his role in influencing political events. The less said about his appalling misogynism and cavalier disregard for notions of marital faithfulness the better.

The focus on Trump the man tends however to detract from the policies of the country of which he is the titular leader. In this regard what we are actually observing is very much U.S. business as usual. That business may be simply stated: the preservation and extension of U.S. power, regardless of the destruction and chaos that such single-mindedness may bring to other nations.

There is much rhetoric, and not only from the Trump administration, but also “joined at the hip” acolytes such as Australia, about the importance of “allies,” and “friends” who share “values” and a common commitment to (a particular Australian favourite) the “rules based international order.”

The reality is rather different. That old geopolitical warhorse Henry Kissinger, echoing Lord Palmerston’s dictum from the mid 19th century, said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

That dictum was and remains the guiding force of US foreign policy. It is a brutal reality that Australia’s politicians have singularly failed to grasp. Although I did not see a report of it in the Australian media, the recent testimony of US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Wess Mitchell, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a candid declaration of where the US saw its interests.

It was also a frank declaration of how all the United States intended to maintain its position, and of perhaps even greater importance, how they intend to prevent any challenge to that position arising.

Mitchell made it very clear that US world supremacy was impossible unless it was able to establish control over Eurasia. The importance of Eurasia in this context was spelled out in the famous lecture of Halford Mackinder to the UK Royal Society in 1904.

There are two main obstacles to that assertion of hegemony, and they are Russia and China. Both countries are named in the recent United States National Defence Review as “strategic foes.” Mitchell’s testimony did not represent any departure from that stance.

As is abundantly clear since President Putin’s 1st of March 2018 address to the Russian Parliament, any military confrontation with Russia is literally suicidal. The Russian strategic weapons advantage over the United States is at least a decade ahead.

Therefore, the “war” has to be fought by other means. Again, Mitchell’s testimony is revealing. The war is to be fought on a number of fronts. This includes support for dissident groups within the Russian Federation, with the ultimate objective of the dismemberment of Russia into smaller and more manipulable puppet states.

Secondly, military and other support is to be given to nations on Russia’s borders, such as Ukraine and Georgia, to apply pressure on Russia and hopefully provoke a retaliation that can then be used as “confirmation” of “Russian aggression.” Since Mitchell’s testimony there has been overt confirmation of this with the announcement that Ukraine is to be given more powerful weapons to fight its Russian supported citizens in the Donbass and surrounding region.

There was of course no acknowledgement in Mitchell’s testimony of the Minsk Accords, or the evidence from the European monitoring group of Ukraine’s blatant and continuing violations of the Minsk Accord.

The third area of pressure is in the use of sanctions. These have been imposed for a variety of publicly announced reasons, including the “annexation” of Crimea; the shooting down of MH17; the poisoning of the Skripal father and daughter in Salisbury England; Russian “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election; and what Mitchell called “Russian aggression in Syria.”

The complete absence of evidence to support these allegations, and indeed in most cases compelling evidence of actions by other actors than the Russian government or its agents, is completely ignored. It also takes a unique mind set detached from reality to call Russia’s role in Syria “aggression.”

The relative success of these evidence free allegations is hardly surprising. The object of was never to prove the allegations. They were and remain a propagandistic exercise, aided and abetted by a compliant western mainstream media that has long since abdicated any role it may have had in being the “fourth estate”, that is, holding power to account.

Further evidence of the unilateral nature of the exercise of American power is found in the passage (Senate 98:2; House 419:3) of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in July 2017. The near unanimity in the vote unequivocally shows that this was not another of Trump’s idiosyncratic gestures.

Although nominally aimed at sanctioning United States “enemies”, Iran, Russia and North Korea, the terminology of the Act is sufficiently wide to allow the United States to sanction any country, company or individual that does anything to assist the three targeted countries.

This necessarily includes countries that are presumed allies of the United States, such as Germany, that has come under enormous pressure because it receives natural gas from Russia through existing pipelines and through a further series of pipelines currently under construction (Nord Stream 2). These pipelines are manifestly in the national interest of Germany and other European countries that will certainly benefit.

American contempt for the “rules based international order” is seen in their unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA (the so called Iran nuclear deal) in May of this year, despite repeated reports from the IAEA certifying Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement. It doesn’t matter what the IAEA says. Iran has been in the American (and Israeli) cross hairs since at least the 1979 revolution. Trump’s statements and behaviour are again no more than a continuation of long standing US policy.

Several European companies have already capitulated to the US economic blackmail, despite urgings to the contrary by the European Commission. It was a difficult position for those companies. On the one hand they lost business with potentially valuable customers such as Iran. On the other hand they could be subjected to crushing sanctions arising out of American control of the financial system.

This abuse of dollar imperialism is a major reason why prominent persons such as the German Foreign Minister have called for an alternative system for financial arrangements between countries. The nations that have signed up to the Chinese based Belt and Road Initiative are also exploring alternative systems to the US dollar. Ironically it may be that the wielding of a militarized dollar will be one of the keys to its rapid demise as the centerpiece of the world trading system.

For these and other reasons China is also clearly defined in the Mitchell testability as a “serious competitor” that is “building up the material and ideological wherewithal to contest US primacy and leadership in the 21st-century.” The United States goal in respect of China is the same as the goal with Russia: “preventing the domination” of China in Eurasia.

Xi Jinping’s goal in the China 2025 program is to have China as the global leader in the high tech economy that will be one of the most important sectors of the world economy (after food production) in the 21st-century.

The current tariff war against China being waged by the United States is not because of the alleged ‘unfair trading practices’, ‘theft of intellectual property’, ‘manipulation of the WTO rules’ or any of the other spurious justifications advanced. Rather, it is part of a sustained campaign to prevent China from achieving its 2025 goals. In other words, the tariff war is only another component of the “contain China” policy that has essentially driven United States policy towards China ever since the Chiang Kai Shek regime was kicked out in 1949.

Trump, for all his bizarre pronouncements, hot and cold rhetoric toward China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Iran and others is in reality doing no more than continuing the hegemonic ambitions of post-World War II America. Should he fall under the proverbial bus tomorrow, there may be some changes in the rhetoric, but the policies will remain the same: no real competition allowed.

America is the “exceptional nation” only in the sense that it does not regard itself as bound by the ordinary rules, much less the professed ones. Rules are followed only when it is convenient to do so, and under no circumstances are permitted to hinder the goal of imperial dominance.

The Mandarins of Canberra need to grasp that essential reality. Australia’s economic security and the future lie in Asia as even the most casual analysis of the trade, education, tourism and investment figures over the past four decades attest. Clinging to the delusion of a faithful friend in Washington, who clearly does not have friends, but rather, as Kissinger said, only interests, is a major policy misjudgment.

When the interests of the United States and Australia clash, as is inevitable in the changing geopolitical landscape of the greater Eurasian region, the denouement for Australia will be all the more traumatic because of its inability to learn from the same dictum: have neither friends nor enemies, only interests.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.