2016: WHAT A YEAR!
Not only did the UK vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump win the US Presidency- both against the run of polls and in a huge shock to the main stream media (whose practitioners are overwhelmingly to the left of their populations, but should nevertheless have been better able to distinguish wishful thinking from reality). But then Russia, with an economy just 8% of the US's (and shrinking) joined Iran to support Assad against the world's only super power and it's Sunni allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) decisively tilting the Syrian civil war- and in little more than a year from beginning direct military action there.
And China, probably still two decades away from credibly challenging America militarily (and therefore well advised to keep its head down for a few more years, one would have thought), provocatively made and militarised islands in the South China Sea to which it has little credible historic or legal claim, then directly challenged the US by snatching a towed data-logger as it was being hauled aboard a US Navy Ship in international waters near the Philippines (outside the "9 dash line" area that China is currently occupying against competing claims by every other bordering state).
And the US's response?
A diplomatic note asking China to please give it back.
Which has clearly given these neighbouring countries (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, - and Indonesia by association) reason to doubt the value of their US alliances.
Interesting times indeed.
- I work harder and am better at stuff, so should be paid more- but everyone should be equal.
- We must take care of the all those poor refugees- but at someone else's expense- and not here.
- Homes should be affordable for first time buyers- but I want my house value to increase endlessly.
- We all deserve high paying jobs, but, we shouldn't have to work so hard and long.
- Our streets and homes should be safe and crime-free, but the police need to back-off.
- Communities should be inclusive and diverse- but don't threaten our values.
- Our privacy is sacrosanct - but governments fail us when they don't catch all the terrorists.
- Immediate and free health care is a human right, but my taxes are already too high.
- The environment is non-negotiable- but I want a house, and a beach house, not just an apartment.
- We need to make foreign governments respect human rights but going to war is immoral.
- Freedom of expression is a fundamental right- except when I disagree with their opinions.
But changes in the international balance of power will not be so easily dealt with.
There is no doubt that, internationally, America is weaker and Russia stronger than their relative economic strengths support. http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/12/21/a-sad-metaphor/
Except for the 'Cold War', admittedly the biggest one of all, America has lost, (or at the least hasn't decisively won) just about every war it's been in since WW2. This can only be incompetence, and the Obama administration's most of all- though it's fair to say that there hasn't been any hint of foreign policy competence in the USA since Reagan.
Since then, the US has been too predictable- which is the worst thing to be in any negotiating situation.
I subscribe to the madman theory of bargaining- not least because it works pretty well on the kite field.
The essence is that if you can convince the other side you are not completely rational about something then they will find it difficult to predict your responses. In folklore this is echoed by "never fight a madman" and with the grudging admiration of "crazy like a fox".
I'm not wanting to give too much away here, but say the anchors two adjacent kitefliers tie-off to are close together, resulting in repeated tangling and crashes, a strategy is to just calmly relaunch again and again and again, even (especially) when this results immediately in another tangle-up. Eventually the other kiteflier decides this is craziness- and go somewhere else. And when they then find themselves anchored alongside at a later event, they will likely go off immediately, saving all the foreplay. This is a reputation worth investing in.
Unlike other US Presidents since at least Nixon, Donald Trump is a staunch believer in this madman theory of negotiation. He's been quoted on this- but not, to my knowledge for the last 30 years, the fox.
So, during the next few years, the USA may well recover to a position in the world commensurate with its economic strength, and although this correction carries some risk, it's probably less than the danger of continuing to appease Russia and China, with the strong possibility that the US will eventually get pushed too far. Although not a perfect analogy, the rise of Hitler in the 1930s was like this; what would have happened if world powers had said STOP at his first foreign adventure (Rhineland, 1936), rather than responding to annexations with appeasement and soothing words until, finally, Poland was a step too far; WW2 and 50million deaths being the direct consequences.
Which brings us to Russia: Leftist excuse makers are themselves crazy if they think that Putin deliberately tilted the electoral playing field for Trump- though he possibly poked his nose in- as the US also does in elections, almost everywhere. Trump will be Russia's worst nightmare. Unlike Obama (and Bush, and Clinton), Trump (and Tillerson his nominated Secretary of State) knows exactly how to pull Putin's chain- and will be rather inclined to do so at some point, just to see his face get flushed. Which is a good theory, except that someone I may not name (for political reasons) has just suggested to me that Putin and Trump could have made some half-formed deal for an alliance against China- and the more I think about this, the more it seems to be not only sensible policy, but also possible given their personal relationship, maybe.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON, NEW ZEALAND, JANUARY 1, 2017.