Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sunday Long Read: Trump v Putin

As Molly McKew points out, Vlad the Dudesplainer has won 2016 hands down and is on the verge of having Russia-friendly governments in France and Germany along with the UK taking the Brexit exit from the EU. The only person at this point who can stand up to him is Donald Trump, and the odds of that actually happening appear to be next to zero.

From Moscow, Vladimir Putin has seized the momentum of this unraveling, exacting critical damage to the underpinnings of the liberal world order in a shockingly short time. As he builds a new system to replace the one we know, attempts by America and its allies to repair the damage have been limited and slow. Even this week, as Barack Obama tries to confront Russia’s open and unprecedented interference in our political process, the outgoing White House is so far responding to 21st century hybrid information warfare with last century’s diplomatic toolkit: the expulsion of spies, targeted sanctions, potential asset seizure. The incoming administration, while promising a new approach, has betrayed a similar lack of vision. Their promised attempt at another “reset” with Russia is a rehash of a policy that has utterly failed the past two American administrations.

What both administrations fail to realize is that the West is already at war, whether it wants to be or not. It may not be a war we recognize, but it is a war. This war seeks, at home and abroad, to erode our values, our democracy, and our institutional strength; to dilute our ability to sort fact from fiction, or moral right from wrong; and to convince us to make decisions against our own best interests.

Those on the Russian frontier, like my friends from Ukraine and Estonia, have already seen the Kremlin’s new toolkit at work. The most visible example may be “green men,” the unlabeled Russian-backed forces that suddenly popped up to seize the Crimean peninsula and occupy eastern Ukraine. But the wider battle is more subtle, a war of subversion rather than domination. The recent interference in the American elections means that these shadow tactics have now been deployed – with surprising effectiveness – not just against American allies, but against America itself. And the only way forward for America and the West is to embrace the spirit of the age that Putin has created, plow through the chaos, and focus on building what comes next.

President-elect Trump has characteristics that can aid him in defining what comes next. He is, first and foremost, a rule-breaker, not quantifiable by metrics we know. In a time of inconceivable change, that can be an incredible asset. He comes across as a straight talker, and he can be blunt with the American people about the threats we face. He is a man of many narratives, and can find a way to sell these decisions to the American people. He believes in strength, and knows hard power is necessary.

So far, Trump seems far more likely than any of his predecessors to accelerate, rather than resist, the unwinding of the postwar order. And that could be a very bad — or an unexpectedly good — thing. So far, he has chosen to act as if the West no longer matters, seemingly blind to the danger that Putin’s Russia presents to American security and American society. The question ahead of us is whether Trump will aid the Kremlin’s goals with his anti-globalist, anti-NATO rhetoric– or whether he’ll clearly see the end of the old order, grasp the nature of the war we are in, and have the vision and the confrontational spirit to win it.

Sure.  It could happen.  Far more likely however is that Trump is so utterly compromised by Putin at this point that we're looking at an active war between America's intelligence community and America's next president, and the fallout will so cripple both that Putin will have no problems consolidating his power in Europe and his growing power in the Middle East.

Between Snowden's intel treasure hoard and Trump's puppet strings, the next four years are going to be a disaster for the United States that will most likely include another 2008-style financial collapse that will finish us off as a global power. That collapse my very well be political as well, and what will emerge from it is anyone's guess, but history tells us that we're looking at a new, highly authoritarian regime when that happens.

Trump is promising "revelations" this week that will clear Russia's name in the allegations of interference in our elections made by the intel community and President Obama. If that's the case, the active war between Trump and the CIA/FBI will be fully on, and I would expect things to get very ugly, very quickly.

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