New Delhi: The problem for the world order began, to be sure, long before Donald Trump. Its origins could be traced to the end of the Cold War which left post-Soviet Russia battered; China in the similar sort of embittered dismay when it felt Russia to be drifting from Marxism-Leninism after Joseph Stalin’s death; and the United States as the unchallenged world number one and hyper-power nonpareil. The United States had a sensible president in that duration, Bill Clinton, but even he couldn’t get his act together to reorganize the post-Soviet, post-socialist world.

Part of the reason for failure was that the United States did not have an active grand strategist counselling the government and making elaborate plans for it as was the case with American administrations and George F. Kennan after World War II. Kennan not only constructed the containment doctrine although he abhorred its excessive militarization and ultimate linkage with deterrence; he was also the principal designer of the Marshall Plan and its underlying dynamics. Clinton’s relations with Kennan were a bit like those of John F. Kennedy and America’s greatest grand strategist. Both presidents personally honoured Kennan but politely declined to heed his advice because he often challenged conventional Washington wisdom.

The world after the end of the Cold War needed US leadership such as was provided after the closure of World War II. This never happened. The United States continued to seek external enemies as if to justify its huge military-industrial complex ignoring the sage words of John Quincy Adams: “She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy....” In the absence of foreign monsters, there was no hesitation to create them, and NATO’s eastward expansion to roll up states on the periphery of Russia was the most arrogant expression of this geopolitical thrust. Quincy had also proclaimed America as a “well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all....” In practise this was not applied to relations and transactions with the number two and three world powers, namely Russia and China. In Russia, US capital allied with national asset-strippers linked to the regime and the mafia provoking a popular backlash. In respect of China, the United States persisted with its old blunder of empowering it politically and economically. If the previous aim was to create a communist counter to the Soviet Union, the new one was tied to a dubious theory that economic progress would make China democratic. For its own narrow gains, Wall Street enthusiastically pumped up this dangerous chimera. In doing so, the United States had forgotten George Kennan’s prophetic reservations about China. He did not explicitly speak of the Middle Kingdom but suggested as much.

The crux of the matter is this. America was presented a unique opportunity after the end of the Cold War to democratize the world order, starting with Russia and China. With China, it could have commenced with revisiting the one-China policy, and with respect to Russia, the US government should have managed and structured its collapse. If the Russian economy had been reformed to align with market capitalism and the needs of the consumer, and Russian democracy had been encouraged to adopt pluralism and multiple political parties, the spectre of authoritarian Russia would scarcely have risen. Democratic Russia would have eased West European fears, and Russia’s periphery would have shown greater empathy to its security concerns vis-a-vis the West. The United States had to take a lead in all this and Europe would have followed. Except that the world’s leading power left History to its own devices. After initial struggles and indirection, the second and third Major Powers of the world returned to their imperial/ authoritarian traditions. Vladimir Putin is the new Tsar and Xi Jinping has declared himself president for life.

On the other hand, America is split down the middle, with the rural poor, the working class, and the far Right backing Trump’s worst instincts and behaviour, while the by-and-large well-to-do liberals helplessly revile him. Establishment United States treats Putin as public enemy number one while Donald Trump cannot wait to meet him. The same dissonance infects Trump’s trade war with China. He is right on nearly every count, but he is just simply the wrong president for the Establishment to be punishing China. And if democracy was not actively encouraged after the end of the Cold War, Trump has gone to the other extreme of showing a profound bias towards authoritarianism. America will not turn authoritarian in the foreseeable future, but it is making it more difficult for itself by having a president who is enamoured of strongmen. It leaves the world order profoundly disrupted. The interwar years produced some of the world’s worst dictatorships. This is one history that cannot be repeated.

To be continued...

Please read “Method & madness -1” here.