Alexei Bayer: Donald Trump and the new lawless world
A picture published by the media office of the Iraqi military’s joint operations forces on their official Facebook page shows a destroyed vehicle on fire following a US strike on January 3, 2020 on Baghdad international airport road in which top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed along with eight others, including the deputy head of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force. – Early Friday, a volley of US missiles hit Baghdad’s international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran. Soleimani was killed in the US strike on the Iraqi capital’s airport, according to Hashed, in a dramatic escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran. (Photo by – / IRAQI MILITARY / AFP) /Photo by AFP
The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani has been called a watershed in US-Iranian relations and in the political situation in the Middle East. It was certainly an act of war and the hashtag #WWIII promptly began trending on the Internet. While it may not turn into a major geopolitical earthquake, the killing of this admittedly evil man cast into bold relief the new role of the United States in the global political system and provided a depressing glimpse into the real New World Order—one where rules and standards no longer exist.
First, some history. Having emerged from World War II as a dominant power, the US strove to build an orderly, law-based international political system. It didn’t always work, but it was a good enough structure to maintain world peace and to grow the world economy. Even powers hostile to the US, notably the Soviet Union and China, generally — and grudgingly — abided by the rules laid down by Washington and in time joined this American imperial space.
The global system that America created underpinned its global leadership and accounted for its great wealth. American companies came to dominate the world economy. However, while other rich industrial nations spread their wealth fairly equally, over the past forty years the US saw a massive split between economic winners and losers and a disastrous disintegration of the social safety net. While America’s leadership instilled the pride of being American and created a sense of entitlement, entire social groups of Americans were left hopelessly behind.
At the same time, the management of the Empire became more costly and complex. Other players emerged to challenge American leadership. Even more to the point, the world grew too complex, diverse and unruly to be managed by Washington on its own.
The resentment of this world — rich, cosmopolitan and seemingly not grateful for what America has done for them all — is the origin of the America First rhetoric which Trump has been peddling. Why should America abide by the niceties of international rules if it is big, strong and economically powerful? It should do whatever is in its national interests — even if those interests are defined by a president who lost the popular vote, has been impeached and generally tends to act on a whim, without preparation of any kind.
This attitude didn’t start with Trump, of course. Trump is merely a culmination of a trend going back to the invasion of Iraq, which the Bush administration carried out under false pretenses, shredding the post 9/11 international coalition.
The Obama administration also laid the foundations for Trump by, among other things, foregoing to capture suspected terrorists and killing them instead with drones. The Guantanamo prison didn’t get any more controversial inmates, but international standards and laws were severely undermined.
And now we get Trump who openly declares that Might Is Right. We do whatever we want because we can.
Trump is an old man. Not old enough to remember the world as it existed in the 19th century, but plenty old to feel uncomfortable in the modern world. Uncomfortable with its technology, of which he seems to have mastered only Tweeter, its diversity, and its openness. We all laugh at his description of the workings of wind turbines and high-efficiency toilets. His vision of women as housewives loading and unloading dishwashers all day or as skirts to be chased and grabbed is pathetically out of date.
Trump is longing for the days when the Great Powers were not constrained by any international rules or laws, when they intimidated smaller nations and carved out the world, competing or cooperating depending on the circumstances.
It is a world that suits regional powers that like to bully their neighbors. It certainly suits Vladimir Putin with his dream of resuscitating the late unlamented Soviet Union. It suits China and a bunch of smaller autocracies. It even suits Iran — although not when it becomes a victim of bullying in its turn.
This is why Trump finds his best friends and admirers among political leaders close to his age and vision of the world: Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mohammad bin Salman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Viktor Orban, Boris Johnson, and others.
Furthermore, the killing of Soleimani is an unprecedented action that stands apart from other US strikes against Muslim terrorists. Soleimani was a high-ranking military officer of a sovereign state with which the US was not at war.
It is a crucial point. There is an unspoken conversation by which even hostile nations don’t kill each other’s political leaders.
Iran may not have the capability to get to members of the US government or top military brass. Besides, the ayatollahs in Tehran may not want to provoke Trump who’s battling impeachment and may be happy to start a shooting war to save his skin.
But by breaking this rule Trump has created a free-for-all, lawless environment. Putin for one will be pleased. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry criticized the killing, stating: “The world came face to face with a new reality: a government official was killed by another state.” But for all the outrage, Russia will be alert to the possibilities this new reality creates. Especially since Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have garnished the assassination of Soleimani with shameless lies, untruths and dubious assertions. This is the territory Putin knows well. Belarus leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for one, had better start worrying.
But there is food for thought here for the so-called Great Powers as well. The technology of war is becoming more sophisticated and widely diffused. Asymmetrical and cyberspace warfare is now far more effective and lethal than just a few years ago.
This is not the 19th century after all, with its massive disparity between European colonizers and the people they found in Africa and Asia. Today even a small and poor nation can bite back — and in a world without laws, there’s nothing to stop it.
(C)KIYV POST 2020