Trump faces foes that make the Washington crowd look like child’s play.
President Trump has announced he will speak with Robert Mueller under oath. He’s waving the victory flag. By allowing Mueller’s probe to proceed despite substantial irregularities and bias that would have justified a “You’re Fired!”, Trump has decisively faced down the opposition. The tables are turned and they’ll be on the run for years. If he does talk to Mueller (and he says that’s subject to his lawyers) it will be an exclamation point on Trump’s repeated contentions that there’s nothing to the Russiagate investigation.
Having vanquished the foes he could vanquish, Trump faces an enemy he has little hope of defeating: the economics of empire. It’s felled countless regimes. Empires always take more energy and resources to maintain than what they can steal from their subjugated provinces. They incur debts they can’t repay and levy crushing taxes. Then they collapse.
At its zenith after World War II, the US provided Europe’s defense against the threat of Soviet invasion. In exchange, behind the veneer of sovereign states, elections, and other trappings of democracy, the US ran Europe.
Seven decades later, the Soviet Union is no more, but the US is still providing most of Europe’s defense. Russia, the Soviet successor, has a GDP about one-fourteenth the size of either the US or Europe’s. It spends about one-tenth of what the US does on its military.
Even President Vladimir Putin most rabid opponents don’t suggest he would launch an attack against Europe. Its deadliest military assets is its nuclear arsenal (it has reportedly developed a torpedo that can take out the US’s west or east coast). However, going nuclear would provoke a US response that would wipe out Russia. and probably most of the rest of the planet.
The US “defends” Europe when there’s nothing in the way of external military threats to defend against (they’re in more danger from the Muslims). President Trump has carped about picking up the tab. Europe could easily afford to pay 100 percent of the cost of defending itself against the minimal threats it faces. The US presence has nothing to do with defending Europe. The US maintains an imperial garrison and will happily continue to bear most of the cost.
Trump, seemingly enamored of empire, has gone quiet about the NATO bill. Yet he faces empire economics: the US gets out less than what it puts in. Military spending in a land not under threat generates no economic returns, it’s a deadweight loss.
You’d be hard pressed to find a square inch on this planet that somebody in the US government doesn’t claim represents a vital US interest. The reasoning is so warped that the US not sticking its nose somewhere is now regarded as a threat to its interests.
Russia, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah subdued ISIS, the US’s ostensible enemy, in Syria and Iraq. Syria is on the threshold of peace for the first time in seven years. After millions have been killed, wounded, or displaced—in large part because of the US’s botched intervention—the US could claim more credit than it deserves for vanquishing ISIS, declare victory, and go home.
Instead, against the stated desire of the Syrian government and in clear contravention of international law, the US continues doing what it’s done: staying put, funding rebel and jihadist groups of every stripe, and hoping that somehow Bashar al-Assad will be driven from power. There simply can’t be a country in the Middle East left free from US meddling.
After a long freeze, relations between North and South Korea are beginning to thaw. President Trump’s bellicose rhetoric may be responsible. Perhaps North Korean dictator Kin Jong-Un recognizes that talk is better than war. If so, that puts him a step ahead of numerous US commentators, mostly of the neoconservative persuasion, who lament the thaw may “drive a wedge” between the US and its best friend forever, South Korea. The chances of war recede and they’re disappointed.
The US has driven a wedge between the two Koreas. If there is a rapprochement, the US could tone down and eventually stop its annual war exercises with South Korea. Thousands of troops it has stationed there could be redeployed. The wedge removed, Koreans would decide the fate of the Korean Peninsula. Given South Korea’s economic prowess and North Korea’s economic backwardness, the resolution would probably tilt towards South Korea. But that’s not going to happen. It would leave the peninsula intolerably free of the US government.
Military and intelligence spending has made its contribution to the US’s $20 trillion plus deficit. There’s the direct effect, and in the way Washington works, the legislative “price” of military spending is often increased non-military spending as well, an indirect effect. The US economy was having a tough time bearing its debt load under Obama, and more debt is coming. But for Federal Reserve sleight of hand the load would weigh even heavier. Rising interest rates are ringing a bell. Empire and debt always go hand-in-hand, and so, eventually, does bankruptcy and collapse.
Encouraged by his generals, Trump has increased military budgets, redefined the US’s “mission” as global competition with Russia and China, doubled down on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and continued to expand the size and reach of US special operations forces. The argument can be made that he is feinting one direction and will go another, more advanced strategic thinking comparable to his maneuvers on Russiagate. In this analysis it’s a head fake, a prelude to reducing the US’s outsize footprint and spending. Get bigger before you get smaller.
Even if that implausible argument proves correct, the economics of empire and debt are impervious to head fakes. They’re not the deluded, corrupt Washington crowd Trump has outsmarted; they’re relentless and inexorable. Trump’s predecessors left him in a deep hole. That he digs deeper but plans to stop one day is irrelevant.
President Trump is a master of persuasion and sales. He’s demonstrated a Machiavellian flair for hardball political tactics, making fools of those who had dismissed him as a fool.
Unfortunately, empire drains the US and its debt compounds. Trump spends more on the empire and won’t address that other driver of debt, domestic entitlements. What Robert Mueller can’t do—drive Trump from office—empire and debt might. Theirs is a particularly ruthless conspiracy. Like countless rulers before him, Trump may recognize the danger too late to do anything about it.