It has been said that bullshit baffles brains. In terms of geopolitics, July proved to be a continuous onslaught of bullshit. In fact, if you’re not baffled by this point, you may want to book an appointment with your doctor. After a tumultuous trip abroad, Donald Trump has managed to cause significant damage to long-standing international alliances. We are witnessing a dangerous paradigm shift in international relations. One that sees a reversal of roles, where Washington now takes it’s cues from the Kremlin.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was an invention of the early Cold War, meant to check Soviet aggression. Moscow responded by establishing the Warsaw-Pact – a Soviet led organization consisting of it’s client states. While the Warsaw-Pact, and the Soviet Union for that matter, have gone the way of the dinosaur, NATO continues to be an important military alliance. One reason for NATO’s continued relevance is that Russia – the USSR’s successor, remains a strategic pain in the ass. The only person who seems unaware of this political reality, is Donald Trump.
As Gordon and Daalder point out in an article in The Atlantic, Trump publicly calling into question NATO’s defence guarantee can be interpreted by Moscow as an invitation to push the envelope – something Vladimir Putin has demonstrated he has no qualms about doing. On a number of occasions Putin has been willing to use violence to achieve his political goals: Chechnya in 2001, Georgia in 2008, and importantly – Ukraine in 2014.
More than any other, Ukraine proved to be a blueprint for how Putin operates. During the early days of the invasion, Western media outlets were debating whether or not an invasion was actually happening. Even now, some commentators still site ‘Russian separatists’ for downing flight MH17. Russian separatists? Just where the Helldid Russian separatists get surface-to-air technology? They didn’t! It was the Russian military that shot that plane down. So why the confusion? Simply put – Putin lied. Bullshit baffles brains. The question is now: will he interpret Trump’s statements on NATO as permission to meddle in Poland? Or perhaps the Balkans?
If Russia does decide to press it’s luck, what will that mean for Canada? After all, we are an important member of the NATO alliance, and if Russia chooses to role into Poland or some other member’s backyard we would be expected to act. Even worse, what if it’s our backyard? Keep in mind, Moscow has had it’s eye on the arctic for some time. At stake are potentially billions in oil and gas revenue. Without a strong American commitment to NATO, Putin has little to lose in pursuing a territorial land grab in Canada’s north.
Some readers may think me alarmist in my assessment. War is something we in North America have not had to really take seriously in some time. For the majority of Canadians, war can seem like an abstract idea. Something that happens someplace else to someone else. The reality of conflict is that it can happen anywhere, and at any time given the right ingredients. One ingredient are leaders who are not averse to conflict, and possess egotistical and delusional concepts of the world they inhabit. Sound like anyone we know?
For the game theorists in the room, just stop. Game theory is a fancy system devised decades ago when a bunch of really smart people came up with a way of predicting conflict. They plug different scenarios into a funky matrix to help them determine a specific outcome. It can be an incredibly useful tool. However, game theory makes one BIG assumption: that the actors involved arerational. This is clearly not the case with Trump.
To make matters worse, leaders have become adept at mudding the waters of truth. Putin outright lied about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and it seems that Trump has adopted the same tactic when dealing with his own citizens. As Barak Obama pointed out in his Johannesburg address, political leaders just double-down on their lies when called out.
In the 1980s political advisors to Ronald Reagan came up with the concept of ‘plausible deniability’. Essentially, a way for the president to reasonably say he was unaware of the facts on the ground, and so escape prosecution. Putin has become a master of what historian Tim Synder calls, ‘implausible deniability’. In short, Putin really doesn’t give a shit what you think. It was obvious that Russia was invading Ukraine, but Putin said Russia wasn’t. And so, the world was left scratching it’s head. Bullshit baffles brains.
In Helsinki, Trump publicly sided with Russia over his own intelligence agencies concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He said he couldn’t see why it ‘would’be Russia. When questioned by reporters at the White House the very next day, Trump backtracked, saying what he had meant was that he couldn’t see why it ‘wouldn’t’be Russia. In essence, he pulled a Putin and told an outright lie. Frighteningly, many among his base are buying this line. Again, bullshit baffles brains.
In the book Jazz, Rock and Rebels,Uta G. Poiger outlines how the U.S used pop culture to undermine the communist regime in East Berlin. Indeed, globalization played a role in ending the Cold War. What Gorbachev had intended to be reform, turned into revolution largely because Soviet citizens knew about MacDonald’s and wanted their Big Mac’s. In fact, there is even a theory in political science known as the MacDonald’s theory: countries with a MacDonald’s don’t go to war with one another. In 2018, we seem to be undergoing the reverse. Instead of political ideals being imported from West to East, we’re seeing Kremlin style politics moving East to West.
Political commentators of all political stripes (except Tucker Carlson cause he’s a bowtie-wearing idiot) denounced Trump’s performance at the Helsinki Summit. Former CIA Director John Brennan even went so far as to call his actions ‘treasonous’. Despite this, by the end of the week Republicans were attempting to dodge the obvious – the president is a liar and a fool. If Americans continue to allow the bullshit to persist, we could all be dragged down a dangerous path.