This coming year will be eventful and the prospects are a looking a little scary.
Donal Trump’s presidency, just one year old, is the gift that keeps on giving to his opponents. Quite apart from the hair-raising (and I use that word advisedly) revelations now being published about the grotesque chaos in the White House, he has demonstrated extraordinary childishness in the sphere of international politics and diplomacy.
He has broken ranks to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When his son in law, Jared Kushner, attempts to carry on as usual with the Palestinians as if nothing has happened and when they break off contact with his so-called peace initiative in response, Trump, in his poutish-loutish mode, threatens to cut off US aid to the Palestinians. His threat to cut US aid to UN General Assembly member states which voted for a resolution condemning his Jerusalem gambit was a dismal failure.
He appears to have no understanding at all of the minds of ordinary people of the Islamic countries of the Middle East. When those people learn that the White House inner circle have been contemplating the dismemberment of the Palestinian territory - awarding Gaza to Egypt and the remains of the West Bank to Jordan - the widespread hatred of America will simply intensify.
He has identified Iran as his enemy and has encouraged the emergence of an anti-Iranian coalition including the Saudis, the Gulf states, Egypt and Israel. The attempted Saudi ouster of Lebanon’s premier, Saad Hariri, was done in collusion with Israel which tried to win diplomatic support for the failed Saudi coup. The US was doubtless aware of the planning and purpose of that embarrassing failure.
Equally maladroit was his infantile tweeting in support of the sputtering demonstrations against the Iranian government. His support actually ensured the failure of that movement and has consolidated the position of both the clerical theocrats and the present government in Tehran.
Turkey, Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Qatar are being pushed into a de facto coalition for survival by the Trump-Kushner line.
And when you think about it, exactly what are the democratic or professional credentials of Kushner as Middle East envoy? That he married Ivanka Trump? That he knew little or nothing about international affairs? That he had credibility with the Islamic world?
Now we hear that Trump is threatening to cut aid to Pakistan. Does he not understand that Pakistan will not be going away? Does he not understand that any perception that the Pakistani government is financially beholden to the policy demands of Washington is completely counter-productive in terms of America’s long-term interests?
Likewise, Mike Pence has committed the US to a long-term presence in Afghanistan. That policy simply cannot succeed without some positive support from Iran, Pakistan, and the ex-Soviet “Stans” in the Russian sphere of influence.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Trump on the international front is the nuclear missile threat from North Korea. Kim Jong Un has managed to prise the Seoul administration away a little from its close adherence to the American line.
Trump cannot be seen to lose out on his demand that North Korea should abandon its missile programme. The oil sanctions on North Korea might succeed if China and Russia wholeheartedly support them by rigorous implementation of an oil blockade. Otherwise, they will fail.
But is it likely that China would collapse the North Korean regime? Is it not much more likely that their seeming willingness to support the sanctions is carefully calibrated to prolong the crisis so as to leave Kim and his missiles in being while reducing Washington’s appetite to remove the threat by force?
If 2019 dawns with Kim Jong Un still in a position to launch nuclear ICBMs at the American mainland, Trump will have been exposed as weak and incompetent. In terms of his own rhetoric, he will have nothing more to show for his tenure than a noisier version of the Obama policies which he so volubly derided.
Unless the oil sanctions bring a quick resolution to Kim’s nuclear ambitions, Trump is quite likely to use force. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Pentagon is feverishly planning surgical military options as this year starts. Sometime in the next twelve or fifteen months, Trump must have a result –one way or the other. While Kim may be playing footsie with Seoul just now in relation to North Korean participation in the forthcoming Winter Olympics, he is playing for time with Trump.
Sanctions will not topple Kim unless they cripple the North’s command economy to the extent that there is mass starvation. Anything short of that will simply be used by Kim to show how important it is to maintain and develop his atomic missiles against US aggression. Pity the people of the people’s republic.
I consider it more probable than not that by late 2018 or early 2019 we will see conflict, either involving Iran (perhaps by proxies including Israel and the Saudis) or direct acts of pre-emptive war by the US against North Korea. Perhaps we will have both. Trump has an appetite for war. He has motive, means and opportunity. It is the only way that he can prove in his own mind to the world that America is being made great again.
His other boast of prodigious economic “deal-making” plans for the US seem to have fallen flat. With whom will the US make these deals? His infrastructural programme is still a vague aspiration. Having got his tax cuts through Congress, Trump now has to produce his own sustainable economic growth. In truth, the existing US growth rate is almost all the legacy of Obama-nomics.
Will the Trump administration make the rich wealthier by making the less well-off sicker and more alienated? Can the Democrats make gains in the 2018 mid-term elections? Is an alternative Democrat President emerging? Or will Mitt Romney now emerge as the new cool voice of political reason among Republicans as US senator for Utah?
It is an irony that someone like Romney, who fervently believes that America was once inhabited by lost tribes of Israel and that the angel Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon on gold plates for transcription into perfect King James Bible English by Joseph Smith of western New York in the 1820s, would look far more reasonable than the President of the United States.
Lastly, it must never be forgotten that Donald Trump’s presidency is the collective shame of the American people. Yes, he lost the popular vote. But he won the election. His great hero, Rupert Murdoch, described him as an idiot; his Secretary of State described him as a moron. Cometh the man, cometh the hour.