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Leveraging Trump for a New Deal with Russia

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The foreign policy world of today is strongly anti-Donald Trump and for many valid reasons. The current President of the United States is credited with directly damaging America’s relations with key allies like Germany and the United Kingdom, and alienating North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members. Some have even argued that if a successful Trump re-election were to occur in November 2020, it would be the final straw that completely breaks the United States’ alliances and the U.S.-led global world order. Despite this wave of emotional anti-Trump sentiment, it is essential to look at things pragmatically and objectively and refrain from polarizing generalizations. There is an unprecedented opportunity for the U.S. diplomatic community to leverage Trump’s close relationship with Russia and build a more intimate relationship between the two nations.

As soon as the Soviet Union was founded in 1917, the United States’ attitude towards Russia has been increasingly hostile and suspicious. During the First Red Scare (1917-1920), Americans were gripped with worry that a Bolshevik revolution would seize the United States, changing society forever. There was no such revolution, but the fear did not stop there. During the Second Red Scare (1947-1957), America was swept up in a wave of anti-Russian and anti-communist fear, now known as McCarthyism. It spread over the nation and resulted in some of the most hysterical high-profile arbitrary mass trials in modern American history. Originally intended to root out alleged communist sympathizers amongst government employees, the movement quickly spread out of control. It resulted in academics, labor-union activists, and Hollywood stars being accused of communist sympathy. Many arbitrary convictions were made as a result of McCarthyism, mainly without evidence, and names as big as Charlie Chaplin even got caught up: he was expelled from the U.S. for alleged communist sympathies.

The fall of the Soviet Union seventy-four years later in 1991 did not end American suspicion of Russia. In many ways, the Red Scare of the past is regrettably alive and well today. Even though Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation formally clearing Trump of his Russia-related affairs, nearly half of all Americans are convinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Six in ten Americans believe that Trump is “too close” to Russia, and a majority of Americans believe Russia is a “critical threat” to the United States, despite there being little to no evidence to support such claims. Likewise, anti-American sentiment is also high among Russian elites and the Russian people, with two-thirds of Russians saying that America does not take other nations like itself into account when formulating foreign policy. It does not have to be this way. 

Despite the public’s negative view of Trump’s closer ties with Russia, in 2017, his approval rating in Russia was higher than it was in the United States. Trump’s close relationship to Russia provides a rare opportunity for pragmatic diplomats in Washington and Moscow to co-operate on a level not seen before, and for many good reasons. One of these is the chance for both nations to bridge the cultural misunderstandings and mistrust, a problem likely rooted in language and underexposure to each-others cultures. Today, an estimated 90,000 Americans speak Russian in the U.S., compared to 41 million Spanish speakers, the difference here is astounding. A preliminary bridge built on U.S.-Russian cultural and educational exchange can help the U.S. reduce the critically low numbers of Russian-speaking Americans and help patch up cultural gaps and misunderstandings. A robust Russian-speaking American community with first-hand experience in Russia gained through education or work can act as invaluable citizen diplomats and future employees of the U.S. Department of State. Likewise, Russia is also deficient in English-speaking Russians despite their numbers doubling over the years, and the demand for native English-speaking teachers remains high. Similarly, a robust English-speaking community in Russia can help serve Moscow with first-hand experience of America and English.

By pursuing friendlier relationships with Russia using the foundation that Trump has built, the U.S. can extend the olive branch of cultural diplomacy. This branch will show Russians that America is willing to co-operate in peaceful, mutually beneficial ways, and can result in the U.S gaining a new and valuable friend in Europe and Asia.

Aside from critical shortages in the cultural sector, the U.S. also has a severe problem with over-reliance on Middle Eastern oil. America spends a staggering $81 billion a year – more than the profits of the ten biggest healthcare companies in 2018 combined – on protecting global trade routes for oil. One of the contributing factors is distance and shipping costs. The chief exporter of crude oil to the United States is Saudi Arabia. The shortest distance between Saudi Arabia and the United States is roughly 7,500 miles. Compare that to the gap between the U.S. and Russia. At their closest point, they are just three miles apart. Russia is the largest country on earth by landmass and rich in natural resources, chief among them oil and gas. These crucial resources for the Russian economy are equally as important to the U.S.

 In the words of retired Air Force general Duncan J. McNabb: “If we can reduce our dependence on oil, we could reduce our presence in the Gulf and use the funds for other critical military priorities…” America’s obsession with procuring and trading oil is of such a high concern that it is one of the significant factors influencing the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. This trend started as early as 1850 and has not stopped. In a world that is transitioning away from oil to renewable energy sources, a country heavily reliant on fossil fuels is at a potentially tremendous long-term disadvantage in terms of energy modernization. Even former president George W. Bush emphasized just how problematic the American over-reliance on oil had become, calling it a “serious problem” in his state of the union address. There is no reason to divert the newfound funds from oil divergence to only the military, however. A good portion of the money saved can go directly to benefitting the American taxpayer in the form of reduced gas prices, crucial infrastructure investments, and other national necessities.

Clearly, the United States and Russia are critically deficient in mutual cultural understanding, and the U.S. is problematically over-reliant on Middle Eastern oil. The solution is, however, a promising one. Americans will benefit from a more profound knowledge of a uniquely Russian cultural heritage that has endured a thousand years of history. Russians, too, will be able to express their side of the story civilly, a tale too often buried and ignored by a paranoid form of modern Russophobia prevalent in America today. As Russia is geographically closer to the United States than the Middle East, a friendlier American relationship with Russia will mean cheaper oil and gas for the American market and the consumer. This would enable a welcome shift from American reliance on Middle Eastern oil, profits for both sides, and a much easier funded and defended trade route. As the world fights one of the deadliest pandemics in recent memory and is increasingly realizing their common humanity, this is a historical time for closer U.S.-Russia relations and an excellent way for the twin eagles of East and West to lay the foundations of peaceful reconciliation.

Symington W. Smith is a life fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a Board Member and Political Advisor at Eastern Commerce Group. He is a recipient of Tatler Asia's Leader of Tomorrow Award and is ranked as a key leader shaping the future of Asia.

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Kerry’s China Visit: ‘A Weasel Paying a New Year Call to a Chicken’

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A section in the international press claims the US climate envoy John Kerry’s mid-week Shanghai visit was aimed at the White House “wooing Beijing” before the upcoming Earth Summit on April 22. But some foreign commentators while not disagreeing see Kerry’s task as arduous. Then there are those who no doubt believe the visit to be an essential part of Biden’s “climate diplomacy” and as a “bright spot” in tension-ridden China-US relations. Not unexpectedly, Beijing has mandated Xie Zhenhua, China’s “environment man” and Kerry’s old buddy, to go by the script and stick to protocols while hosting his US visitor.

***

On April 13, the US State Department website claimed, the President’s special climate envoy John Kerry will be visiting Shanghai and Seoul from April 14 -17. The agenda for the visit was mentioned as to conduct consultations on global climate crisis. Seasoned diplomatic affairs commentators in Beijing sensed something odd in the sudden state department announcement. Li Guangman, a veteran IR analyst and widely respected “influencer” in the arena of foreign policy opined: “The fact that the news was released only after Kerry departed for Shanghai is an indication it was perhaps only a last-minute decision in Beijing to host Kerry. This also shows Beijing could have declined the visit too.”

As regards on the purpose of Kerry visit, a section of the international press has been fed, i.e. the visit is “seen as a chance to set aside existing political tensions and focus on areas of potential climate collaboration.” Highlighting Kerry as the first high-level Biden administration official to fly into China – though not into the capital city Beijing, the US as well as Western media took particular notice of the visit’s timing, that is, just days ahead of Joe Biden’s virtual summit with world leaders on climate change on April 22. It was on expected lines that the foreign media did not fail to mention the failure of the first top officials-level dialogue in Alaska exactly a month ago in “yielding a breakthrough,” when speculating whether Kerry’s travel to China would be any different.     

In sharp contrast, Beijing’s foreign ministry mandarins did not seem particularly enthused by the visit. Without either referring to the upcoming virtual Earth Summit or attaching extraordinary attention to the first trip to China from the highest official in the Biden government since January 20, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment disclosed on Wednesday: “The U.S. president’s special climate envoy John Kerry will visit China from Wednesday to Saturday.” In a rather curt and short press release, the foreign ministry in Beijing said: “China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, will meet with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry in Shanghai this week and exchange views on a key United Nations climate conference or COP26 at Glasgow later this year.” 

Beijing Downplays Kerry’s Visit

Besides downplaying the high-profile maiden trip to China by Kerry as the US climate envoy, a lot is being read into Beijing keeping the US visitor strictly within “visiting one city, meeting one official” limits. China’s English language Caixin Daily has confirmed “after talks in China, Kerry will travel on to Seoul, South Korea. The US Embassy in Beijing said no media events are planned before Kerry heads to Seoul.” Remember, John Kerry has been flying around the world with twin purposes, namely: one, to urge various countries to commit themselves to fight against climate change in time for the Washington initiated Earth Summit beginning on Thursday; second, starting from the Earth Summit and before the UN conference on climate in November this year, reclaim America as a leader on climate action.

One of the key stated agendas of Kerry’s visit was to seek China’s endorsement to Biden’s ambitious plan to prod countries to step up their respective carbon emissions reduction goal in order to limit planetary warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Biden has invited nearly 40 world leaders to assemble for the Earth Summit, including China’s President Xi Jinping and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. To help Biden achieve climate change mission, Kerry has already visited several countries including UK, India, Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates. However, not only China, there are many other countries and individuals/institutions who do not trust the US to fulfill its own climate change commitments. A Bloomberg report last Friday has observed: “Before the U.S. can lead, however, it will first have to overcome the world’s mistrust. After all, the country has reneged on its climate promises before.”

A former Obama administration official, Pete Ogden currently serving as vice president for energy, climate and environment at the United Nations Foundation, was cited in the Bloomberg report mentioned above as saying: “They’ve [the White House] clearly been looking to try to encourage other countries to also increase their ambition, but I don’t think this is the date. I do not expect that everything will be on a glide path to 1.5 degrees after the [Earth] summit.” While Kerry and Biden most likely are going to fail in cajoling major emitter countries barring a few close US allies such as Canada, Japan and maybe South Africa as it [Washington] must first “overcome the world’s mistrust.” India and Brazil, notably, have already indicated the two countries strongly differ with the US-led developed countries’ offered solution at the coming Earth Summit.

China or Xi Jinping might skip the earth Summit

Kerry’s “mission Shanghai” may not have been as “fiery” as the Alaska talks, yet one is certain it must have been equally, if not less, testy visit. According to a Chinese article, both the timing and agenda of Kerry’s “mission Shanghai” are seen as problematic in Beijing for following few reasons. First, as pointed out above, Beijing no doubt views both Biden’s promised commitment to Paris Climate Accord and inviting world leaders to the Earth Summit as mere attempts to salvage the damaged US image on one hand, and to establish the United States as the leader in the global fight against global warming on the other. In other words, it is Biden’s political and not climate change agenda.

Second, just like on the eve of the Alaska talks the secretary of state Blinken made provocative statements in Tokyo and Seoul making Beijing unhappy. This time round too Washington initiated not one but two highly provocative moves to gauge the mood in Beijing: one, just as climate envoy Kerry was packing bags for Beijing, the Biden administration dispatched three former US officials with high credentials to Taiwan in an unmarked private jet last Wednesday; two, the US intelligence chief Avril Haines in a report released on last Wednesday has repeated the China threat to the US saying: “There is no other country that represents a more severe threat to our [the US] economic security, innovation and ideas than China, a threat which is deep, wide and persistent.” It is ridiculous to expect Beijing to promise “tangibles” to Kerry in this backdrop, observed a scholar in Beijing.

Third, while officially the PRC government strongly objected to and challenged the Biden-Suga joint statement at the end of the two leaders’ first in-person meeting at the White House last Friday. Typically, reactions from China’s strategic and security affairs community have been far more bellicose and scathing on the mention of Taiwan in the US-Japan joint statement. The last such mention in their joint statement was made in 1969 during Nixon-Sato talks. Disdainfully rejecting any claims that the timing of Kerry’s visit overlapping with Biden-Suga jointly plotting against China as “mere coincidence,” a Chinese commentator seriously wondered if this was “how the US wants to improve relations” with China?

Finally, no doubt President Biden has been consistent during the presidential campaign last year and since he took office in January this year, that “effectively tackling climate change requires cooperation with China.” But in response to Blinken and Kerry persistently seeking China’s support and cooperation on global warming, a recent statement by the foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, should leave no one under any illusion why Beijing is not going to oblige Washington. “The cooperation between China and the US in certain areas such as climate change is not a flower in a greenhouse, and is bound to be closely related to all pervasive bilateral relationship,” (emphasis added) Zhao Lijian had stated.   

No wonder, Beijing has been questioning the Biden administration’s credentials, or in other words, the US “eligibility” in seeking China’s cooperation on the so-called “areas of convergence.” It seems Beijing has seen through Biden’s “climate diplomacy” trickery. Why else ancient Chinese idiom “a weasel paying a New Year call to a chicken” – someone with evil intentions – is being invoked by scholars to describe Kerry’s “mission Shanghai?”                 

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How COVID- 19 weakened American leadership

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Unlike Hollywood movies where Americans have the lead in saving the world, the crisis of the corona virus pandemic has shown the opposite. The first major test showed that the American health care system was inferior to the Russian one, created during the Cold War. And while the Kremlin has managed to provide real assistance to a number of European countries, certainly using it for propaganda purposes, Washington’s actions can be characterized as a sign of weakness.

In the race for a quality vaccine, Moscow has shown that it is ahead of its competitors, and despite the rigorous blockade, more and more European countries want the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, which proved to be better than Pfizer and Modern. The United States and Britain have experienced a major slap in the field of science, but from their perspective even more on propaganda. Attempts by Western countries to maintain a monopoly on vaccines in Europe, despite the fact that citizens are dying in large numbers because of that policy, showed how far American diplomacy is ready in sacrificing people in the Western Hemisphere due to the conflict with Russia.

Unlike Western vaccines, which cause numerous complications, Sputnik vaccine was rated as far better, which resulted in large agreements between Russia and foreign countries regarding sales and joint production.At the same time, there are simply no reports about similar complications caused by the Russian vaccine, even though the European Commission and Brussels have been keeping a close eye on the effects of its use in European countries, including Serbia and Hungary, which have already taken the first deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine. What is the reason for the US demonstrating its weakness? How come that in the midst of the epidemic Washington was unable to find the resources to demonstrate its readiness to lend a helping hand to its European allies? Unfortunately, one of the reasons was that the Americans simply freaked out.

The truth is, the US healthcare system is rather decentralized and unorganized. People with good health insurance have little to worry about. However, in a situation of a pandemic, the US medical facilities are pretty hard to manage, so one has to do it manually. Compounded by the general atmosphere of panic and the fact that the poorest strata of society, who have no health insurance and constitute the main risk zone (obesity due to malnutrition, advanced chronic diseases and other COVID-inducing conditions), the system simply collapsed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Trump administration tried to keep maximum resources at home.

Moreover, the businessman-turned-president, who had openly spoken about “exporting security,” never missed a chance to make it clear to his allies that US assistance is never free. As a result, he was replaced by Biden, a Democrat who advocates maximum support for all democratic forces. However, Democrats usually provide moral or military support, but they have proved equally unprepared to line up any serious assistance to the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic.Moreover, it was actually at the suggestion of the United States and the UK that the COVAX system, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable (but not free) access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries in need, stalled. It turned out (who might have guessed?) that both the US-developed Moderna and the British AstraZeneca vaccines are primarily needed by their own electorates, and only then by countries that need them, but are unable to produce their own vaccine.

Meanwhile, India with a population of over 1 billion,managed to fulfill its obligations, and Russia is ready to launch the production of vaccines in Europe. However, bending under Washington’s pressure, the European Union has banned the import of Russian, Indian and Chinese vaccines, without bothering to explain the reasons for this ban.A country, claiming world domination cannot lead in everything, of course.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the healthcare systems of many European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, are way better that what they now have in the United States. That being said, the world leader still bears full responsibility for its allies and cannot leave them to their own devices, not only in the event of a military conflict, but also in the midst of a pandemic. However, this is exactly what it did…

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U.S. Gov’t. Walks Back Lie Against Russia But Says that Russia Must Be Apologizing

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

On April 15th, the Biden Administration, which has been saying that Russia probably placed a “bounty” on corpses of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, said that, actually, “U.S. intelligence only had ‘low to moderate’ confidence in the story,” but “This information puts a burden on the Russian government to explain its actions and take steps to address this disturbing pattern of behavior.” For good measure, the U.S. Government has now added yet more sanctions against Russia.

Adam Rawnsley and Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast headlined on the 15th, “U.S. Intel Walks Back Claim Russians Put Bounties on American Troops”, and reported that “Translated from the jargon of spyworld, that [statement from the Biden Administration] means the intelligence agencies have found the story is, at best, unproven — and possibly untrue.”

This lie had first been broadcasted on the front page of the New York Times on 26 June 2020, under the headline “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says”, and they reported that:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter. The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

The following day, the Washington Post bannered “Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds”, and reported that:

A Russian military spy unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan, including U.S. and British troops, in a striking escalation of the Kremlin’s hostility toward the United States, American intelligence has found. The Russian operation, first reported by the New York Times, has generated an intense debate within the Trump administration about how best to respond to a troubling new tactic by a nation that most U.S. officials regard as a potential foe but that President Trump has frequently embraced as a friend, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive intelligence matter.

Repeating their performances regarding numerous other such lies — including against Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” and threat of “a mushroom cloud that was allegedly only 6 months away on 7 September 2002 — America’s trashpapers of record (the nation’s two ‘top’ ‘news’-papers) have done yeoman’s work for Lockheed Martin and other ‘defense’ industry corporations, by deceiving the American public to support a military-industrial government of perpetual war and of fake dangers, when the real dangers against the American people continue to grow domestically and to rot away America’s economy. 

The beneficiaries of this scam are called America’s “Deep State,” and they rule here no matter whether serving Republican Party billionaires or Democratic Party billionaires.

This scam on behalf of America’s billionaires is called “neoconservatism,” but it really is only American imperialism, and it has already destroyed Vietnam, Iran, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine, and many other countries. More gradually, however, it has been destroying America itself.

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