Coming into the ‘New Year’, 2017, we collectively bring all our baggage of previous years with us, and thus, from day one, the New Year is an extension of everything that was happening yesterday. And ‘Yesterday’, 2016, was an extraordinarily eventful year. That makes it a bit easier to predict, that this year will be anything but uneventful.
First, and right off the bat, there is the irrepressible Donald J. Trump, the ‘Tweet-master’, or is it the ‘Tweet-monster’?
Either way, Trump’s tweeting proclivity has become legend, and will make for an eventful year. He has already shaken the long sacred traditions of entrenched political norms in American politics, and, upended all that was considered acceptable in international diplomacy with his tweeting. China, Taiwan, and North Korea, are now all victims of Trump’s straight from the hip tweets that in effect served notice that in that part of the World, 2017 was going to be anything but business as usual.
Trump’s open gauntlet fling at China’s face with the acknowledgement of Taiwan as an independent entity, if not a future country apart from China’s ‘One China’ insistence, is rather brave, to the point of being a bit fool hardy, because, while China is in no position to fully challenge the might of the United States, in economic terms or militarily, making them lose face by challenging their most sacred cow, the hard non-negotiable political stance of ‘One China’, leaves them no option but to declare full fledged war on the United States, even if surreptitiously, a death by a thousand cuts sort of thing. And the ‘Donald’ has set the stage for this momentous face-off with China, on Taiwan, and possibly on trade, geo-political ambitions in South China Seas, and the support of North Korea, which if all moved on, will change the political and economic landscape of the World. He has done this while still waiting to take office.
More recently, Twitter-Trump has served notice that North Korea’s plan to develop and test an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), capable of reaching the United States, ‘is not happening’. Like everything else, he is a little short on details, like most other things he tweets about on International or National Policy; but the unspecified threat to stop North Korea, somehow, is implicit and clear enough in those few tweeted words.
It’s just the sort of reaction that North Korea’s infantile leadership will thrive on, as it allows them to pound home the message that America is an eminent threat (a favorite theme preached consistently to the enslaved and starving population) and allows North Korea’s cherubic leader to up the stakes based on this ‘provocation’, as it was their intention all along. After all, there is no relevance to North Korea in the modern World than the constant escalating threats coming from it, to gain some attention.
Some of the newly re-fanged United States ‘crazies’ now heading the incoming Trump Administration, could squash North Korea like a small bug, IF, they went in as in Iraq, with their ‘Shock & Awe’ tactics, at the time of supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction (which Iraq didn’t but North Korea actually possesses). But the flies in the ointment in this case would be threefold: one, North Korea actually has weapons of mass destruction, and are constantly threatening to use them; two, North Korea has no oil or anything else of real value to Americans to make it worth the effort and the risk; and three, North Korea is backed and is still under the implicit protection of China. So a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, to neutralize its weapons of mass destruction, will be of questionable gain with too little reward, and will be fraught with unacceptable risk to the United States, and its allies South Korea and Japan.
So if the Donald is sure he is going to stop North Korea in its tracks from developing and testing a fully functional ICBM, as his tweet implies, the action required to make that happen may be akin to sticking ones hand into the proverbial hornet’s nest, with potential nuclear stings. So, the question is: how is Trump so certain to stop North Korea? China will use an armed and dangerous North Korea as a negotiating lever with the ‘great negotiator’ Trump. China is unlikely to stop North Korea from continuing on its current path, in spite of great pressure from the U.S., of proceeding further on their nuclear program, especially in light of Trump’s threat to acknowledge Taiwan, and to curtail trade.
The last time America tangled with North Korea, with China and Russia backing it, it resulted in the Korean War, which ended in a stalemate that still divides the two Koreas and keeps them both at constant war readiness, some 60 plus years later. Everything considered, it would be wise to approach ‘crazy’ North Korea a bit more thoughtfully and diplomatically. But then that is not Donald J. Trump, and hence the definitive possibilities in 2017 of some strong political if not military fireworks in that part of the World are certain, thanks to the ‘crazy’ year of the Trump advent.
And then there is Syria. Bombed literally into the Stone-age, fractured, divided, and sections of it under the control of various warring parties: the Government of President Assad (with the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah); the Rebels (backed by the United States, the West and Saudi Arabia), and the remainder under ISIS. Half of Syria’s population is displaced and streaming out to other countries as refugees of war. While currently a Russian/Turkey negotiated cease fire of sorts is in effect, it is difficult to see it holding for too long as there is no consensus as to the shape of future Syria yet.
Putin’s victory in Syria gives him additional credibility and leverage in the World, which he has wasted no time in exploiting and expanding on. Now Russia is taking leadership roles in most other diplomatic and military conflicts. Putin has over these past years methodically rebuilt Russia’s International political stature, in spite of having his fragile economy devastated by historically low international oil prices, and increasingly punitive economic and political sanctions of the West, for his annexation of the Crimea and support of his proxy ‘Russian rebels’ in the Ukraine.
Now with Obama’s term as U.S. President being over, and a far friendlier American Administration coming to the Oval office under his admiration-filled ‘friend’ Donald J. Trump as President, Putin is going to further impose his presence on to the World, and expand Russia’s overall geo-political influence.
In the Middle East, where a few years ago Russia had a just toehold in Syria alone, while the United States rampaged and dominated all of it, Putin has, through bold military action in Syria, developed strong armed presence in Syria, possibly in Iraq, and in oil rich Libya, where he has teamed up with the strongest military commander Khalifa Haftar, who controls more territory than any other warring faction and opposes the Western backed Libyan Government, and, Putin has built strong diplomatic relations with Iran and Turkey.
In Asia, the other potential conflict zone in the World, Putin and Russia, along with China, is now the preferred choice of Duterte, President of the Philippines, over the United States, and is influential in most other countries in the region. This spreading influence opens opportunities for Russia in arms sales, trade and geo-political influence. In just a few years, Putin has parlayed his very precarious position in Syria to now cementing it, and spread from there to a number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
With Trump as President of the United States and a friend, Russia’s influence in World Affairs, in 2017 will only grow. While in the United States potential battles brew between friend Trump, and still a largely hostile United States Senate. Putin, the master strategist, should be able to exploit the rift over him - between Trump, his inner circle, and the anti-Putin/Russia US Senate - to his own and Russia’s advantage.
That situation assures a politically volatile United States and a conflicted and unstable West, trying to deal with old and new conflicts from a position of relative weakness while Russia strengthens.
This instability in the United States and the West, and the growing strength of Putin engineered new Russian Block, amid the messes already created in the Middle East, North Africa and growing tensions in Asia, assures perpetual conflicts, resulting in assured Billions in arms sales to all major arms producing countries, the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Canada, India and the rest.
So welcome to 2017, it promises to be a very eventful year.
P.S. There is also the small matter of Trump inspired protectionism, trade & currency wars, and the over inflated financial, real estate markets which have yet to deflate. But then that’s another story for our coming economic paper.