Will Trump start WW 3?

December 4, 2016

Q: In the past you have mentioned while China is a rising star. The US is a waning superpower. In the light of these unfolding realities. Do you see an impending clash between America and China?

A: It is one thing to assume that the US is in economic decline – that I believe is clear for all to make out. As it is a fact. The growing wealth, military power, and socio-political influence of China is also a fact.

However, acknowledging all this is completely different than assuming that China will be able to replace the United States. Neither is it clear to me whether China really wants to replace the US.

While its given, China will overtake the US in terms of quantifiable metrics, namely GDP, it will still be a second rate country in terms of being able to translate intellectual capital into competitive advantage – as in terms of patents per capita metrics – the US is perhaps the richest country in the world.

While China although rich in terms of paper wealth – will I feel be held down by many inherent strategic limitations that will effectively prevent it from ever taking over the role of the US.

Don’t get me wrong. China is a certainly a great power, and it has the potential to become even more powerful – but to say it is going to step into the shoes of the US is in my opinion very unrealistic – for one China doesn’t have nearly the geo political blessings of the US. The US by virtue of it’s geography is able to defend it’s borders with relative ease when compared to China. To the West and East there is the natural defense of the oceans. To the North and South. They have very weak countries that don’t present a military threat. The same cannot be said about China. China is located in a neighborhood that is bristling with vested interest. Unlike the US who can militarize without incurring penalties – in the case of China as soon as she shows the slightest signs of upping the ante – this is likely to spark off an arms race amongst her nervous neighbors. To exacerbate matters there are many internal challenges that will continue to draw both men and material to militate against Chinese expansion, like the need to neutralize the autonomous regions of Xinjiang, Tibet and most recently Hong Kong clamoring for more autonomy. All this of course is quite muted. As information is very tightly controlled in China. But nonetheless these are realities that will continue to militate against China translating its economic prowess into military dominance over the Pacific theater.

The US doesn’t have all that baggage to deal with, to top it off the US has over 150 years of primacy to sharpen their skill of arms in world domination. They have not only the military hardware to do so, but most importantly they possess vast intellectual reserves of social political thoughtware to enable them to play Realpolitik very competently to set the global agenda. I am not saying China cannot replicate these attributes – she can, but it will take time to develop these core competencies.

As it is China despite it’s economic largesse is still quite a backward nation when it comes to the business of projecting intellectual ambition – from our assessment there are simply too many contradictions within China that prevents her from stepping into the shoes of the US to play a superpower role. As I mentioned the constraint of China’s political and military difficulties especially power projection thru carrier doctrine, along with its need to devote monstrous amounts of men and material to controlling and policing its own country is certainly a check on ambition. Coupled to that while China certainly has the intellectual métier to blast taikonauts into orbit and to even develop home grown bullet trains that can barrel over two hundred miles per hour without disintegrating – it cannot be denied in terms of intellectual largesse she is very much a bonsai.

That is why if you look closely at China’s foreign policy it’s premised on I hear, see and think no evil – of course she couches all these under the sweet appellation of non interference in the affairs of other countries – but my point is if you are going to play the role of a global or even regional policeman – then you don’t nearly have the luxury to keep quiet about thorny issues such as human rights, good governance and freedom.

As that is the job scope of the global policeman.

Q: Am I right to say you don’t see China as usurping the role of the US militarily in the Pacific?

A: I don’t think China really wants the burden of playing the role of a global policeman – that is a role that requires not only very high military skill of arms, but it is also one that demands consummate diplomacy that can only come with the precondition of moral authority. China has a very patchy record when it comes to human rights and abuses – that I suspect is why she is content to limit the scope of her sphere of influence to cho cho train diplomacy. Besides from what I am able to make out from China’s designs – her aspirations has so far been consistently confined to trade and commerce and solely focused on establishing herself as an economic superpower. Beyond that I don’t see anything else to suggest she is even building any core competencies in so far as stepping in and replacing the US militarily.

That is why all this talk of Chinese imperialist aspirations in the SCS is to me nothing more than scare mongering. As it’s a big fat red herring.

The facts are quite starling. The US has nearly a dozen aircraft carriers and a military force capable of projecting power globally. Even if one discounts the inability of the US to deal effectively with emerging insurgencies such as ISIS and its patchy military forays in the Middle East, its unparalleled aerial and maritime skill of arms is precisely what allows it to prosecute all these in the first place. China, on the other hand, can’t even launch an antiquated sea and land circa 1944 D-Day invasion to even take back its own territory in Taiwan.

In the stark background of that reality – to me it’s quite stupid to suggest that China can even take on the US and even win.

Q: You just mentioned specifically a global policeman needs to have the requisite moral authority – recently Trump phoned up Duterte and congratulated him on doing the ‘right thing’ on his controversial war against drugs – do you see Trump’s position as signaling a change in American foreign policy towards human rights?

A: I want to be clear. I understand the challenges Duterte faces when it comes to the law and order imperative in the Philippines. I really do, especially how chronic the drug menace is in at the level of Barangay’s. But at the same time – I don’t believe it’s possible to condone his unmitigated shoot and kill directives under any criteria. This is just absolutely crazy. Not even the Nazi’s did that – Hitler may have been directly responsible for snuffing out 6 millions Jews. But even he knew – he couldn’t just circumvent the rule of law hence the Wansee conference.

I think this episode will not go very well with the Republican elites – I have absolutely no doubt, if Mr Trump keeps doing what he does – a motion to impeach the president will be filed very soon.

Q: What can you read about Trump’s recent phone call with the Taiwanese President?

A: It’s hard to say whether it was a deliberate act of provocation designed to unsettle China. Personally I don’t see anything to be gained from this. As far fetched as it may sound, it could very well be attributed to just an error of judgement or worst still being unaware of the One China policy. It’s very hard to say with Trump – but one thing is certain. This has certainly wound up the Chinese in Beijing. I really don’t have enough data to comment on this right now.

Q: Do you see the US Department of Justice changing it’s position to pursue the 1MDB case under Trump?

A: That is a very interesting question. At one level of conventional wisdom you can certainly saw the US is a country that subscribes to the doctrine of separation of powers – now what this basically means in lay man’s terms is if Obama or Trump picks up the phone and says, hey cut my golfing buddy some slack! In theory, the AG can say, to even the President – Please go and die lah. This is not your business! It’s mine! In theory this can be done. I am not kidding you. That is the dummies definition of separation of powers.

But in practical reality the office of AG of the DoJ in the US is a political appointment.

So what you have is the incompatibility between theory and reality.

To layer what I just mentioned with yet another aspect of complexity. There is also a security dimension at play this time with the NSA and the CIA – as it’s not to the interest of the US to have a Malaysia that is politically unstable.

If Najib is forced to step down because he is criminalized by the DoJ – Malaysia will realign itself with China and possibly even Russia. It will be rogue state.

Say what you want about Najib Abdullah. But he is an Anglophile and someone who is quite competent to run Malaysia without running it into the ground. This is my honest assessment of Najib. Of course it discounts 1MDB.

The problem with Malaysia is who will take over Najib if he is forced to step down?

There is currently no one. The others in the selection list are all Kampung heroes – you talk to these people about world affairs they think you are talking about someone’s cow dying the kampung – bear in mind. I genuinely want to be polite, but I also feel there is a need to be accurate here. So please forgive me if I should feel the necessity to call a spade a spade.

Now bear in mind the director of the NSA will also be thinking along the same lines – who will step into Najib’s shoes if he bows out. In my assessment. The best guy for the job currently in UMNO is Khairy, but he too young and mistrusted by the old guard who see him as a Badawi’s parvenu son-in-law – the other top drawer fellow is Hishamuddin. But again, he’s too close to Najib to run without falling foul of nepotism. Zahid is not even in the race – so who else is there?

This will be interesting to watch. But if I have to make a calculated guess – I don’t think the both NSA or CIA fellow would agree with the AG when it comes to prosecuting Najib. I think both Jho Low and Razif may well be toast. But I don’t see Najib’s name along side them. I think the case may just drag on and on till it eventually runs out of petrol.

Q: How serious are you when you moot the case of the impeachment of President Trump?

A: I believe it is a very real possibility that cannot be discounted. Especially when it comes to the curious case of Mr Trump occupying the highest office in the world – you got to understand the Republic party is after all a political hegemony and like all any hierarchy it has it’s own set of core beliefs along with conventional wisdom that supplies it’s raison d’être – so if Trump thinks he can do and say whatever he likes – I think he will be signing in for a very rough ride.

Bear in mind, Trump is a bit like Caesar just before the Ides of March – he’s pissed off many would be supporters within the Republican Party. Of course on the surface he may be surrounded by people who are all trading smiles and happy to shake his hand – but even within the ranks of the Republic party many see him as unknown quantity. He’s hardly their preferred choice as leader.

I am very serious when I raise the issue of impeaching the president – I think many Republicans are watching whether Mr Trump has the wisdom to jettison his temperamental ways and mellow down to tow the party line or least try to make an effort to pretend too. Many I am sure are prepared to cut him slack due to his lack of experience in politics and power on Capitol Hill. But I have no doubt if they perceive him to be a threat to their hegemony – the knifes will be out in the flash lah!

There is nothing personal about this – it’s just the mathematics of reality when it comes to power and politics.

Q: Few weeks ago you mentioned Trumps foreign policy will only get clearer when he begins shortlisting his security advisors – what can you conclude so far from his selection of security advisors? Can you make out anything resembling a rough outline of a design?

A: Finally your first intelligent question! I was beginning to doubt whether the Guild were really serious in setting up this interview.

Let’s start with what we know – Trump’s thumb drive when it comes to foreign policy stands at a perfect zero. Now that doesn’t necessarily by itself mean the world is headed towards doom and gloom. Believe or not, the world has been here before – if FDR was the gold standard of the president who best excelled in Foreign policy. Harry Truman was the worst. He was exactly like Trump. Nonetheless, because he had good foreign policy advisors today Truman enjoys enormous credit for stabilizing a post war ravaged Western Europe with the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. So this is just an illustration of how jugular presidential advisors really are to mitigated dumb foreign policies from ever becoming reality.

With Trump we are likely to see a reenactment of Truman I reckon – only my feel is with Trump as in the case of Truman, the emphasize will be on ensuring foreign policy is conducted not at the expense of prioritizing the domestic economy.

Trump being Trump would I am sure much prefer to dabble in what he knows, America Inc. As for foreign policy I can’t ever see him playing a pivotal role – much can be said about the wisdom of focussing on home and deprioritising the faraway.

For one this idea is not proprietary to even Trump – it already exist in the shape and form known as offshore balancing. Curiously this splinter logic of how best foreign policy should be conducted has been around for yonks!

To define off shore balancing succinctly – to my understanding at least – it’s a bit like outsourcing. The primary motive is risk management or mitigation. Since you don’t ever commit fully, but only in a limited capacity, risk is hedged and since proxies are nominated to get the job done – it doesn’t require the expensive juggernaut military industrial complex to make the whole thing work. To summarize. It’s cost sensitive and I would imagine it’s a proposition that will appeal to the mind of Trump.

The down side of off shore balancing it’s not always possible to adhere to the doctrine of limited engagement. Not all the time at least. Since the strategy relies implicitly on leveraging on the strengths of reliable US allies – on the plus side, if the reliable US ally component presents itself under all the optimal conditions, it can very well be sustainable arrangement like Japan or Saudi Arabia.

Q: You mentioned offshore balancing is not new – can you give us a case study of how this might actually work?

Yes, that’s a good idea. Let me give you an illustration of how off shore balancing was once deployed to good effect – during the 60’s right up to the early 80’s – the Middle East was relatively stable.

Part of that happy equilibrium came about because the US strategically groomed Imperial Iran under the Shah to undertake the geo political balancing role to check Soviet expansionism into Afghanistan and to blunt Iraqi aggression.

For many years that arrangement kept the entire region stable – even today many historians continue to insist had Carter not dabbled with geo political liberalism by attempting to do away with the off shore balancing formulae – none of the present day problems in the Middle East would present itself.

The downside of off shore balancing – is it implicitly requires the US to jettison it’s infantile preoccupation with freedom and human rights. That incidentally was what eventually undermined the authority of the Shah of Iran exert command and control over his country – Carter didn’t like what Savak was doing in Tehran by regularly chucking intellectuals in jail and torturing them just because the Shah of Iran took exception to their reading material. Carter made a big fuss about human rights abuses under the Shah and even secretly funded the Bazaari’s under the aegis of liberalism and social cultural diversity – to cut a long story short, his grand social experiment fucked up lah! Of course these days Carter prefers not to talk about all this – but undeniable he was singularly responsible for promoting the misguided liberal hegemony doctrine that both Republicans and Democrats eventually adopted as their mainstay foreign policy outlook which proved disastrous in so many ways. From a sustainable standpoint – it was a failure from the word go. As it was so expensive to upkeep – as this new interventionist foreign policy required a super duper military industrial complex along the burden of fixed cost by stationing US permanent troops in Saudi Arabia to Western Europe just to preserve the balance of power.

The problem as I see it with offshore balancing – a large part of the success factor is predicated on two incidental requirements. The first is location. In the case of Iran under the Shah – the US were just lucky, as it was a natural buffer zone to blunt soviet expansion to the North – coupled to that Iran was strategically positioned with a accessible sea corridor via the Persian Gulf while the rest of the gulf states were all landlocked – so this enabled the US to control every aspect of the war making attributes of the region to their advantage.

If we juxtapose the logic of off shore balancing today – it’s unlikely to have the same results, simply because new reliable US allies are hard to come by and even if they can be found – like the Kurds, they are unlikely to be a located optimally to shape events meaningfully on the ground.

To some extent all these constraints can be ameoriated with US carrier doctrine since they are mobile platforms – but the issue still stands. Who makes up the infantry at the end of the day? What nationalities would be the ones wearing boots to fight? – how can the US continue to recruit reliable allies to serve as it’s proxies? And even if this can be done as in the case of Turkey to overthrow the Assad regime and with Pakistan to blunt Taliban insurgencies – how can the US ensure that these proxies don’t turn against them like how Al Qeada metastasized into ISIS? Or before them how the mujahiden’s who once fought the soviets splintered into Al Fadheyeen and Al Qeada.

It is the details of these problems at ground zero level that suggest to me the US even under Trump will have a very hard time trying to put into action offshore balancing as a coherent strategy.

As some hot spots in the world will be easier to offshore than others – it’s certainly possible to do this in Western Europe with NATO. But I don’t think it’s possible to recruit China to somehow control affairs in let’s say North Korea – either way you still need the South Koreans and Japanese to do that.

My point is off shore balancing is not implementable across the global chessboard – some theaters it can work. Others on the other hand will continue to suck up men, material and resources only because the US will have to work under ‘it is what it is’ conditions.

For example Singapore is certainly a reliable US partner but because it’s geographically constraint and so faraway from the SCS – what meaningful aspect of the military function can be out sourced. Nothing. Except maybe resupply and providing a second rate staging post.

My concern is many of the problems we see afflicting the world have really become so big and serious that it is no longer a case of how the US can play to win any longer. Not under her preferred terms at least. My feel is that aperture of opportunity may have lapsed as far back as 2011.

As it remains the very sobering case of how the game will continue to the play a US whose disinterested to play the game any longer…but is forced too…only because if they don’t play it – others will and if those dark forces might win the prize may well be the sum of all our fears.

I don’t mean to scare people. But if it’s any consolation perhaps those who are afraid should take comfort in the knowledge I am after all just a lowly farmer.

Maybe. Just maybe, they would feel more optimistic about the future if they just remember that detail.

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