Today there was a lot of discussion around Trump’s diplomatic faux pas with Taiwan. How upset will China be? How will they respond? It’s notable that Trump posted a defensive tweet about the exchange, which makes it seem more likely that it was a mistake than some master plan.
On one hand, he threw Taiwan under the bus, saying they called him first. But then they rejected that, saying it was pre-arranged. It’s possible for them both to be right, of course. Maybe they did in fact call him first, and maybe before that call there was more discussion than Trump is letting on. But whatever happened, Trump may have annoyed both China and Taiwan at the same time.
I don’t know much about China and Taiwan beyond the basics. I know that the One China policy is a big deal. I know that Taiwanese residents have a pretty different attitude than the mainland Chinese. I know that America’s formal policy is to not recognize Taiwan as its own nation. But I don’t know where we go from here. Obviously relations between Taiwan and China will take a further hit, but beyond that, I don’t know.
Does China make clear how upset they are in words and stop there? Do they start making aggressive naval maneuvers? Is there a trade war? I just don’t know. But I have the feeling that even experts steeped in decades of study into this relationship are experiencing more confusion than they are used to. This is uncharted territory, and you can only navigate that way for so long before you run into trouble.
Which brings us to Russia. Here’s the shorthand for Russia. They used to be a superpower. They are no longer a superpower. Their economy took a massive hit when Obama leveled sanctions on them in 2014. Putin is doing everything he can to counter and challenge America and NATO. Russia would be overjoyed if NATO weakened. Russia would be overjoyed if sanctions were lifted. Russia is publicly pointing out how overjoyed they are that Trump won.
I read an article today that made a point I agree with fully: Russia just wants to do what helps Russia. And sanctions hurt Russia. Therefore their meddling in the election — a fact, as delivered by our national security agencies, not a theory — was not anti-Hillary or anti-Democratic party. It was simply favoring whoever they think will lift their sanctions.
Not to say they’re that single-minded or capable of feeling satisfied after one victory. This is the Russian government we’re talking about. There’s always more. Much more. So there are a lot of moves happening on the chess board simultaneously: Ukraine, Syria, the EU, including the upcoming French elections, and many more besides.
But if Trump goes with Romney on the State side and Mattis on the defense side, that sends a pretty clear signal. It is hard to overstate how hawkish and hardline those two men are with regards to Russia. So maybe Russia gambled that Trump would be more favorable to their plans, but in doing so made Trump look to some people like a hapless puppet. And if that’s a perception they want to counter in the administration, they have to go really tough on Russia. Maybe even harder than Obama has? I doubt it, but I could see the optics requiring it.
Imagine the alternative. Trump would go from admiring Putin to benefiting from Russian sabotage to becoming president to … going light on Russia? A state that’s threatening to undo our alliances and muck up actions America is trying to take across the globe. Can you imagine an administration that turns away from those realities? I just can’t. It would move the “Trump is a puppet” feeling from worst-case conspiracy theory to something that would look far more real to everyday Americans. Ones that expect him to drive hard deals and always put America first.
So we’ll see how hard the administration decides to go against Russia. I think they may over-compensate in the other direction. But if Trump decides to go the other way and play nice, I have a feeling he doesn’t fully understand how that’s worked out for Russia’s friends and enemies over the last century. Or maybe his advisors are fully aware of the background and they don’t care. But either way, some things are going to change. And Russia is going to have strong opinions about it one way or another.
Next post: December 4th, about puzzling out where Trump gets his mandate. The right, or the middle? And what does the right think about the close ties to Russia?