Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon lives in Brazil, which has no external enemies, and on so rainy Saturdays he is wont to take a break from criticizing Brazil’s internal enemies, looking askew, askance and awry at the cold northern world he left four decades ago. Having done so this week, he wishes to explain why Trump is so diligently courting Putin.
But first, a warning: what follows is neither truth or post-truth, nor, we fervently hope, “pre-truth”. As an aside, the Russian language has two words for truth, one meaning inherent, the other apparent. Query whether Trump’s English language has any word for it. But we digress.
The Curmudgeon submits that Donald Trump believes, really and truly, all of the following: (a) America should remain the sole superpower in the world; (b) China is the only serious threat to American hegemony; (c) Russia is a paper tiger, no real threat to anyone except China; (d) there are vast mineral resources, largely unexplored, in the South China Sea; and (e) Exxon Mobil & Co should have the unimpeded right to explore those resources.
Trump’s advisors have reminded him of the halcyon days when the USSR and China, both Communist in name but very different in outlook, were contestants in their drives to influence, if not control: (a) Korea, Japan and Mongolia in the Far East; (b) Indochina in Southeast Asia; and (c) Afghanistan and the Otheristans west of Tibet.
China regards the entire South China Sea as its private backyard pond, just as the U.S. regards the Caribbean, and Russia the Black Sea. Trump knows the Chinese are making moves to implant hegemony there. Trump also knows that Russia and China have unresolved border issues. If Russia, supported by the US, reappears on China’s northern and western borders as a potential territorial threat, that will draw China’s attention away from the South China Sea.
With China no longer in the way, Trump believes that Big Oil will, sooner or later, obtain exclusive drilling rights in the waters off the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, all of whom have territorial claims to the Sea, and all of whom have long preferred American influence to Chinese.
The Curmudgeon’s inner Goldwater voter whispers in his ear that Trump may just be right. China will surely overtake the US in global hegemony, unless it enlists Russia in a last-ditch crusade to avoid that happening. Japan is non-nuclear, Korea is all business, Taiwan is a drop in the ocean: only an expansionist Russia under Putin is a credible threat.
Hence Trump and his Secretary of State, former Chairman of Exxon, will continue to poke sticks at China, such as treating Taiwan as if it were a separate country, and will continue to curry favor with the latest successor to Perón, Chávez, Saddam, Qaddafi, etc. There’s just one essential difference between Putin and those unworthy autocrats, a difference well known to both China and Trump — Putin really does have weapons of mass destruction.
The Curmudgeon admits this all sounds a bit like a script for a movie, but he doesn’t expect Hollywood to come knocking on his door.