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.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

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.


  1. My fear is that Trump continues Obama’s policy of playing geopolitical “Checkers” while not realizing that Putin is playing “Chess” (thank you podcaster Dan Carlin for the analogy). The Russians were quite right to feel aggrieved that the US and the West tried to annex Ukraine into NATO. This doesn’t change the my opinion that Putin is a bad actor from the West’s point of view. However, I do think we don’t put ourselves in the Russian’s shoes enough in the US when we set our foreign policy. As the Curmudgeon points out, Russia is a nuclear power, and the (deserved) Russia-bashing over doping that took place during the Olympics is symbolic of what many Russians view as getting blamed for all the problems in the world and being viewed as a backward country with backward people. This is an inferiority complex that has been in place centuries, and was the ultimate motivation for Peter the Great to westernize the country in the 17th Century.

    The old adage of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” seems to be as true as ever.

  2. In the words of a very smart German I met many years ago: “neighbors means enemies”.
    This is the case unless the neighbor is very much smaller, weaker and not worth taking over/bothering with (e.g., Uruguay to Brazil).
    Thus, Russia and China can never be true friends, and China hungers for the resources, especially the fresh water of Siberia/Russian Far East. Whether Trump will use this to the advantage of the US (or at least the US oil industry), I don’t know, but it sounds plausible.
    On a mainly unrelated note, Russia and Brazil have a lot in common (besides the BRIC nonsense):
    vast spaces and resources, corrupt government, and beautiful women.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

5 × one =