The Trade War Begins?
April continued many of the same themes from March, beginning with the apparent start of a trade war between China and the US as China made good on its threats of retaliation in a major way. China expanded its list of tariffs, targeting 128 US exports with up to 25% in increased tariffs. China’s Global Times newspaper ran an editorial saying that if anyone thought China would restrict itself to symbolic reactions, “say goodbye to that delusion,” and that countermeasures taken would be more than just those minimally required to satisfy a domestic audience. The immediate consequence of China’s countermeasures was a drop in the dollar and a plunge in US stock market values. The Trump administration responded however by further increasing the scope of tariffs on China, designed to target a range of Chinese technology exports produced under the “Made in China 2025” program, as a means of pressuring China on its technology transfer policies. By the end of the month, Trump’s policy on China (which some analysts in the media saw as a pressure tactic that formed part of an effort to negotiate new trade arrangements with China), began to produce ironic results, with Trump suggesting at one point he would consider rejoining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Withdrawal from the TPP was one of Trump’s very first acts in assuming office. (Note that while it was reported that Trump had changed his mind and was considering rejoining the TPP, he then changed his mind again and decided against it.)
While the notion of a “global trade war” appeared to be the product of overblown, fear-filled representations in the US and international corporate media, it became clearer that the focus of Trump’s concerns was specifically China. What appeared then to be a growing move toward an economic Cold War with China (precisely at the same time as the US relied on China to pressure North Korea—a counterintuitive strategy), began to produce a series of interesting ramifications. One such ramification was felt in US universities. “Globalization has transformed American universities into a front line for espionage,” argued Daniel Golden, author of the recently published book, Spy Schools. Ironically, The New York Times, having energetically fanned the flames of anti-Russian hysteria and xenophobic paranoia, it now accused the Trump administration of doing just that, only with reference to China and Chinese researchers on US campuses who may soon face tighter restrictions in gaining access. What media elites obfuscate, of course, is that deglobalization is increasingly a fact. Whether the favourite target is Russia (for Democrats) or China (for Trump’s Republicans), either way the logic, means, and outcomes are the same: diminished international cooperation at the heart of the globalist ethos.
Professor Peter Navarro, Donald Trump’s adviser on international trade, had this to say about the president’s plan for tariffs against China:
“the Chinese have refused to end their unfair trade practices; and the US trade deficit in goods with China has grown from $347bn in 2016 to $375bn during Mr Trump’s first year in office. While the trade deficit balloons, China continues to steal US intellectual property and force American companies operating there to surrender their leading edge technologies in exchange for access to the Chinese market. Today, Chinese sovereign wealth funds and other state actors are scouring Silicon Valley trying to buy up the crown jewels of the American high-tech industry”.
Added to that, the administration released an explanation of the impending crack down on China, in which the following was pointed out:
“Year after year, China continues to distort global markets and harm U.S. businesses and consumers with unfair trade practices. For example, China’s unfair industrial policies, like their ‘Made in China 2025’ policy initiative, clearly state China’s goal of taking away domestic and international market share from foreigners. Members of all political parties, the U.S. business community, and workers around the world are concerned about China’s behavior”.
The New Cold War
In what initially seemed like an attempt to begin repairing a relationship with Russia that US actions had plunged to its worst state since the Cold War, Trump reportedly invited Vladimir Putin to a meeting at the White House. The invitation came during Trump’s telephone call to congratulate Putin on his election victory, which itself provoked the ire of the liberal imperialist media (that is, the majority of the US media). Such talk would not continue even to the end of the month, and the suggestion was quickly dropped and never mentioned again in April. With the US’ mass expulsion of Russian diplomats in late March, a Kremlin aide basically discounted the chances for any meeting. Immediately following that, in the first week of April Trump announced a further round of sanctions against Russia. The Russian ambassador to the US attested to never having seen such anti-Russian hysteria being mass orchestrated in the US. Even early in the month, the White House spokesperson boasted at a press briefing: “the President is absolutely correct when he says no one has been tougher on Russia”—then made the unilateral demand that for relations with Russia to improve, it was up to the Russian side alone to “improve its behaviour”. Amplifying the “no one has been tougher” theme, the Trump administration catalogued for the public all of its actions against Russia, along with a litany of accusations against Russia (even some media detailed Trump’s “tough on Russia” actions). A long Cold War 2 is assured when all of the dominant parties in the US now agree that the best way to prove one’s patriotism is by bashing Russia. Reaching the height of absurdity, by the end of the month the Democrats launched a lawsuit against Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign, in another desperate attempt to justify their election defeat as the result of external forces—the worst of conspiracy theories fuelling the new Cold War agenda. The lawsuit would later rightly be thrown out of court.
Regarding the Skripal controversy that was launched by the UK in March, the UK laboratory responsible for tracing the chemical agent could not in fact confirm that Russia had made the substance, in a direct contradiction to the absolute, categorical assertions by Boris Johnson, the UK’s foreign secretary ( a position he would occupy only for a few more months). Meanwhile, considering that the Novichok nerve agent was reputed to be extremely deadly, the Skripals continued their amazing recovery in private, while the immediate area of the alleged attack was never evacuated. Russia raised interesting questions about the close proximity of the UK’s chemical weapons laboratory, Porton Down, to the site of the attack. Readers should keep in mind that this supposed attack, allegedly by Russia, was used to rally NATO and the EU in mass expulsions of Russian diplomats, sanctions, and an extreme heightening in Cold War tensions with Russia. In May, Czech president Milos Zeman confirmed the following about the Czech Republic’s production and testing of Novichok, which liquidated the assertion that it could only have come from Russia: “Novichok was produced and stored. It was a small quantity, though. But we know where and how it was done. Let’s not be hypocritical. There’s no need to lie about this”.
Challenging Imperial Hegemony
In what sounded like a direct rebuffing of US dominance, China’s Defence Minister visited Moscow and declared, “The Chinese side came to let the Americans know about the close ties between the Russian and Chinese armed forces”. Then there were rumours of Chinese plans for military bases in various Pacific locations. This sort of challenge, and the broader challenges to imperial dominance by the US that are posed by Russia and China combined (when previously the dream was to have the US and China combined in a “G2” to rule the world), has to produce consequences. One consequence, as pointed out by Putin, is that the US is willing to construct a new world disorder that makes cooperation with Russia impossible.
The Promise of Peace on the Korean Peninsula
April saw a striking increase in peace efforts on the Korean peninsula, in a dramatic reversal of the state of affairs of the past year since Trump took office. The month began with South Korean performers, visiting the North, in a concert titled “Spring is Coming,” which was attended by Kim Jong-un and his wife. China praised North Korea for its commitment to diplomacy and peace. On April 27, an historic summit occurred between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. The two Korean leaders signed a declaration “vowing the halt of hostile acts, denuclearization, and a push for joint talks with US and China”. Then it was revealed that Trump had sent then CIA director Mike Pompeo on a secret mission to North Korea to begin talks about preparing for a summit (with the The New York Times in obvious distress over Trump endorsing the idea of a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War, and that Trump was acting far too independently of Japan). President Trump in the meantime could not stop talking about “what ifs” imagined about the upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. Statements from North Korea were comparatively fewer in number, but arguably of greater substance when they came, such as the announcement in late April that North Korea was suspending nuclear testing, and promised to destroy a test site—the reason being that it had completed its nuclear weapons development and would no longer need such tests. Kim Jong-un was seen as entering negotiations from a position of strength. Few US commentators, if any, observed that Trump’s enthusiasm for talks with North Korea simply validated the continuous and long-established Russian emphasis on dialogue. At a meeting with France’s Emmanuel Macron at the end of the month, President Trump declared that he thought Kim Jong-un was “very honourable” and “very open,” reversing himself on previous months of atrocious insults.
On the sidelines, the family of Otto Warmbier, understandably consumed by grief, kept up their media campaign about their son being tortured to death into what amounted to a dead-end lawsuit against North Korea. Unfortunately the Warmbier family bought into one imperial presumption: that the jurisdiction of US courts is the entire planet.
The US: A Permanent Occupation of Syria?
The return of “Trump 2016”—Trump the nationalist—seemed to gain weight when Trump suddenly announced in early April that he had ordered his generals to begin planning the US’ withdrawal from Syria, much to the consternation of the neoconservative-dominated Fox News, and its CIA-affiliated liberal imperialist twin on foreign policy, The Washington Post. On April 3, Trump declared:
“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS….We’ve completed that task and we’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do”.
He added that “the mission” is “very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us”. Trump was accused by the media, including his “friends” at Fox, of telegraphing US military intentions (for which Trump had excoriated Obama), creating a “vacuum” (i.e., terra nullius logic) which ISIS and/or Al Qaeda would fill, and of ceding ground to Russia and Iran—with the only acceptable alternative apparently being the permanent occupation of Syria or an effort dedicated to recolonization via regime change. Syria was apparently forbidden from occupying its own national territory.
Meanwhile those around Trump kept coy with any questions about a US withdrawal from Syria, even though his advisers reportedly had known for months before Trump’s announcement about his desire to get out of Syria soon. Apparently the Pentagon had developed plans for what elsewhere was called “nation building” except in Syria’s case it would be about building a state within a state. While it’s true that Tillerson and McMaster were both advocates for a long-term US intervention in Syria, and both were fired by Trump, the entry of Bolton would seem to simply continue the theme of unrestrained US intervention. The media panic about a diminished imperialist US stature was palpable, even if contrived. Meanwhile, reports of the numbers of US forces in Syria concealed the thousands of “private contractors” the US had also deployed.
Not even a week after Trump’s announced desire to withdraw from Syria, and almost a year to the exact date of the last US airstrike on Syrian government targets, suddenly there was yet another dubious chemical weapons atrocity—it would never be proven to have happened. On April 9, Trump now stated that a US military strike was likely, calling Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad an “animal” (Nikki Haley called him a “monster” and invoked “civilization”). Nikki Haley meanwhile announced at the UN that there would be no withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Trump vowed that US power would be used to “stop” atrocities (how this would be done after the fact of an attack made as much sense as anything else). Yet again Trump invoked “humanitarianism”. Once more there was a dangerous rush to judgment. Repeating the pattern from a year before, Trump seemed eager to follow a media-driven “do something” imperative.
Both the Russian and Syrian governments denounced the social media reports of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma as fake news, propagated by the White Helmets who have known working ties with Al Qaeda. Russian forces could find no trace of any chemical agent in Douma. Russia’s UN ambassador asserted that the attack had been staged, and that there should be an impartial investigation before any rush, yet again, to take armed action. Early in March, Russia had publicly warned of a likely staged chemical attack designed to provoke foreign military aggression against Syria.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, in statements that are rarely carried by US media (which tend to feature only Nikki Haley, as if the UN was merely a stage for her soliloquies), offered a visceral condemnation of the US’ domineering attitude and belittled its supposed international friendships. After Haley announced—on what authority is not known—that the US and Russia “will never be friends”, Nebenzia responded:
“We’re not particularly keen to be friends with you. We’re not begging you for friendship. We want normal, civilized relations—which you arrogantly refuse, disregarding basic courtesy. You are misguided to think you have friends. Your so-called friends are just those who can’t say no to you. This is your only criteria for friendship”.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also tore apart the now fashionable “logic” of asserting that alleged attacks are “highly likely” to have been perpetrated by X or Y. Before the US military strike on Syria, the US, UK, and France made their case at the UN Security Council—but there was widespread opposition in Europe and Latin America against any further foreign intervention and military escalation. Even among NATO members, Germany refused to take part in any strikes, while Italy banned use of its territory for conducting the strikes.
In the usual rush to action before evidence was verified, reprising the still recent Skripal controversy, the UK’s Theresa May called an urgent cabinet meeting to plan joining a US strike on Syria, without seeking the approval of parliament. More on this below.
To date, neither the attack nor the perpetrators have been corroborated. In what is now the standard routine in selling fiction as fact, the US claimed to have evidence (“very high confidence”) but would not share it since it was “classified”. In the first of a series of empirical rebuttals by Russia, its Ministry of Defense presented proof that the chemical attack was staged, which was ignored and thus unchallenged in Western media. Some analysts rightly condemned the rush to military action as “madness” in the rich tradition of many other false flag attacks, with the latest one predicted accurately by Russian sources, while the Syrian government publicly revealed its discovery of a chemical weapons factory run by rebels. Indeed, a report from February not only confirmed, according to US Defense Secretary James Mattis, that the US had never found any evidence of sarin gas being used in prior alleged talks—but that the US was anyway preparing to “act” against Syria for any future chemical weapons use. Added to this is the history of known US false flag attacks.
Ironically, in the name of “the international community,” the US committed itself to act unilaterally, in violation of the UN Charter, in an act of aggression against a sovereign member of the UN. Israel was quick to take advantage and lead the way in striking targets in Syria with missiles. The only thing that the US attack on Syria actually stopped was any further talk from Trump about withdrawing from Syria. Trump appeared, as some said, to be “bipolar,” first beating his chest to Russia about the impending US missile strike, which heightened a sense of international terror of the prospects of a nuclear war, then suddenly striking a conciliatory tone, bemoaning the current state of US–Russian relations. Once again this year, Trump would publicly boast that no one had been tougher on Russia than him, making this a recurring theme of his foreign policy. Russia warned Trump not to engage in Twitter diplomacy, and to avoid doing damage in Syria to cover up the lack of evidence on the ground (not that the US ever suggested it would launch strikes at the very same spot which had already suffered from an alleged chemical attack). In addition, Russia seemed to publish open warnings to the US that it would militarily oppose any US strikes on Syrian soil, along with direct statements warning the US of unspecified consequences. The result was that US, British and French forces took great care not to attack Russian forces, but otherwise there was zero response from Russia when the attack on Syria (below) actually came.
One question is whether Trump was ever really sincere about withdrawal from Syria. John McCain, who next to Lindsey Graham is one of two senators posing as de facto Secretaries of State in the welcoming US media, spared no time in blaming Trump for provoking the crisis by first announcing his intention to withdraw US forces from Syria—aiming at Trump’s intentions seemed to be the whole point of this episode. In response to the constant criticism at home, some thought that Trump ordered the strike on Syria in order to boost his approval ratings and gain positive mileage in a media landscape that is almost uniform in its rejection of him—in fact some evidence suggested there was a surge in support for Trump after the strike. Mainstream, that is, corporate imperial media in the US was rife with accusations and counter-accusations by liberals keen to promote military intervention, while denigrating those asking the most basic questions about evidence. The US media, along with Muslim American organizations, were unanimous in their demands for regime change in Syria. Though on the right, and generally supportive of Trump, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was astoundingly one of the very few who objected to the conformist, pro-war command in the media to just “shut up and obey”. If that is in any way an accurate reflection of reality, then the anti-Trump opposition is doing the rest of the world a great deal of harm, and not by accident. (Indeed, “Antifa” protesters would mob Carlson’s home later in the year—this was the only person at Fox that they targeted.)
As was now too customary to be ironic, it was a range of right-wing alternative media personalities—Trump supporters—who came out to denounce Trump’s decision to attack Syria, showing once again how far the left has ceded the anti-war territory to the right. Sebastian Gorka came out in an attempt to quell internal opposition—“Donald Trump is not a neoconservative and never will be”—in what was a tortured, twisted justification for military intervention, but somehow also in the name of non-intervention at the same time. Others emphasized that this was merely a limited action, and that Trump has no intention of getting stuck in Syria.
Two things were missing from the debate. One was an answer to the basic question of why the Syrian government would launch such an attack, when it was winning. The Commander of US Central Command, Army General Joseph Votel, publicly confirmed that the Syrian government had won the war. Second, there was still no rational explanation of why, even if true, deaths from chemical weapons attacks were less acceptable than deaths during the ordinary course of war in Syria. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made the astounding statement that belief´justified the US military attack, and confirmed the US had no actual evidence of the so-called chemical weapons attack (see also here). The belief was based, of all things, on “social media reports” by unspecified NGOs and “open source outlets”. In fact, the US attack took place before the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team was scheduled to arrive in Douma to determine whether chemical weapons had indeed been used there”. As Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, put it: there has been an “endless, primitive and unsubstantiated bogus stories, which are made up—sometimes by high-ranking US officials,” that “Russia didn’t fulfill its obligations” in ensuring the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, when the US had previously certified that all such weapons had indeed been removed.
The anticipated US attack began on Saturday, April 14, as announced by Trump in a televised address. The US claimed—and this amazing statement was not queried by the media—that it struck a chemical weapons storage facility (if true, then that alone would have caused a catastrophe on the ground, dwarfing any one alleged Syrian government chemical attack), as well as a research and development facilities, or three targets in total. Syria claimed that its air defenses intercepted a third of the 30 missiles fired by the US—while the US claimed to have fired roughly 120 missiles (which would seem extreme given that only three small targets were selected)—elsewhere the number claimed was either 103 or 105, with other claims being that Syria intercepted 71 of the missiles. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that all countries were required to act in accordance with the UN Charter, which bars any member state from launching an attack on another, without any provocation or immediate threat to its security—especially when there is no UN Security Council approval. If anything, justifications used for the attack proved that it violated international law. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman observed how it was seemingly impossible for Syria to entertain ideas of a peaceful future, even for a moment, without instantly being subjected to the threat of foreign terror. Vladmir Putin argued that the unilateral attack would have, “a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations,” reminding everyone that, “Washington already bears the heavy responsibility for the bloody carnage in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya”. The former vice-chair of the Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Willy Wimmer, a former state secretary to Germany’s Minister of Defense, offered some cutting insights:
“Since the illegal war against Yugoslavia in 1999, they [the US, the UK and France] want to have their own international structure. They want to destroy the Charter of the UN. They are no longer interested in having an international organization, which can work. And, therefore, they do their utmost to create their own world where they can do what they want to do. The attitude of the French, British and Americans is the same attitude, which was used by Adolf Hitler in 1939 to enter into World War Two. Since 2011, when the war in Syria started, it was, from the very beginning, a common effort of the US, British and French to destroy, by force, the Syrian state… for their own purpose. Now they have to face reality, and the reality is that Syria survived as an independent state by the help of Russia and Iran, mainly, and the support of both of these countries was in strict accordance to
The US claimed the action was not designed to overthrow the Syrian government, or intervene in the civil war. Of course, the US was already involved in the so-called “civil war” (it is an international war), on the side of anti-government forces. Initial claims by the US that this was (another) “one off” action were, as usual, almost immediately contradicted by other factions in government, such as Nikki Haley who, in her usual bellicose manner, declared the US remained “locked and loaded”. As usual, US media virtually ignored anyone else speaking at the UN Security Council, usually framing Haley as if she sat alone and was speaking only to herself (which is perhaps more reflective of reality than media propagandists intended). Thus the poignant statement by Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, revealing that US forces illegally occupied a third of Syrian territory, went mostly unnoticed.
Both the UK and France took part in the missile strikes, in both cases without the consent of their respective parliaments, further showing how much executive power is inflated and distorts “liberal democracy” in Western nations engaged in seemingly permanent warfare. British Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, disputed the legal authority for Britain’s participation in the attack, refuting the “humanitarian intervention” angle. Corbyn denounced the government’s violation of international law, and that it appeared to answer to Donald Trump rather than the parliament. Reactions from the British public against prime minister Theresa May participating in the air strikes on Syria were almost uniform for being particularly scathing. One British opinion poll showed more opposed the air strikes than supported it, with the number of opposed growing if such action could risk conflict with Russia. Another British opinion poll showed that only 22% of the public would support a missile strike on Syria, on the eve of the attack itself. In both France and Britain, parliamentary opposition to the apparent US takeover of those nations’ foreign policies was acute, where memories of the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Libya remained alive. Theresa May’s defensive gainsaying did little to assuage opponents. In the US Congress, an array of representatives on both sides of the partisan divide denounced the US attack as a violation of US laws. In all three cases—the US, UK, and France—what became evident is that the airstrikes, ordered unilaterally by the executives, damaged democracy in those nations. By avoiding debate in parliament, those who ordered the air strikes were relieved of the responsibility of presenting convincing evidence of the Syrian government’s alleged culpability in the alleged chemical attack.
As for evidence, witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma told the press, at a gathering organized by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, completely contradicted the reports published in the West. Their memorable statements cast, at the very least, enormous doubt on the veracity of videos and what they were purported to show. This event was mostly ignored by Western media. Summing up their testimonies: no attack, no victims, no chemical weapons. Poking enormous holes in the so-called “evidence” of the attack, Russia’s delegation to the OPCW asserted that Russia would not tolerate another false flag attack on Syria. In a report that was widely ignored by Western media—one whose implications placed the “chemical attack” in Syria in the same rank as Iraq’s fabled WMDs—the OPCW itself concluded in July that “no organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties”.
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, jumped at the opportunity to push events in Syria in an anti-Russia direction, and without the permission of President Trump—and reportedly to his great annoyance—decided that she would announce that the US was about to apply additional sanctions against Russia, for its support of Syria (or “Assad” as she likes to say). Except she was wrong—the administration quickly hung Haley out to dry, and completely contradicted her. Trump seemed late in understanding that Haley and her team were part of an internal, “Never Trump” neoconservative element. There would be no further sanctions on Russia over this issue. In the end, Haley looked like a fool, and the White House appeared confused and divided. Predictably, The New York Times published moaning articles like this one, replete with the usual Russiagate fake news and conspiracy theory (see the correction at the bottom of their article), where the main theme is that Trump is not enough of a war-monger and needed to escalate tensions with Russia. Other liberal imperialist organs were similarly convinced that in not razing Syria with total US war against the country, Trump was somehow showing “restraint,” and this was taken to be evidence of some sort of “Trump doctrine”.
“We want to come home. We’ll be coming home. But we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint…. do want to come home, but I want to come home also with having accomplished what we have to accomplish”.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, countered that the US had no intention to leave Syria.
The US can Occupy Syria Forever, but is Forbidden to Occupy its Own Country?
The nationalist immigration policies spearheaded by the Trump administration were to come under a direct challenge by a slow-moving “caravan” of migrants headed for the US border via Mexico. The caravan was supported by a NGO calling itself “People without Borders” and its journey was seemingly abetted by Mexican authorities. One of the responses of the Trump administration was to sign an order sending National Guard units to the border with Mexico. President Trump pointed to a situation of “lawlessness” on the US–Mexican border and described it as “fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people”. But while the US had to debate whether to send troops, to the US’ own border, there was to be no debate about whether to send US troops all the way to Syria. The jarring juxtaposition of the two contrasting stances came out in a single question by a reporter at a White House press briefing—a reporter who nevertheless failed to note the contrast:
“there seems to be a perception that, at times, the President makes announcements and then the White House has to come up with policy to match what the President said. Like with the talk about the military at the border, there weren’t really a lot of details about that at first. And with the issue with Syria, and him saying he wanted to, kind of, pull all the troops back”.
In another White House press briefing, reporters once again failed to notice the bizarre contradiction between their thinly veiled criticisms of Trump’s desire to pull US troops back from Syria, while apparently complaining about the decision to send troops to the US border.
Prelude to Withdrawal: Trump and the Iran Nuclear Agreement
Amid cherry blossoms, champagne, and displays of haute couture, Emmanuel Macron met with Donald Trump for a three-day visit, in a lavish display of what many of us understood to be an absolutely phoney friendship (the problem for Macron is that Trump also understood that). It seemed then that Trump might be open to remaining in the agreement (the JCPOA), if “new ways” of “containing” Iran were found, as Macron intimated. Trump also threatened Iran with unspecified retaliation should it restart its nuclear development, if the US withdrew from the JCPOA. In spite of the display of mutual affection, Macron proceeded to address a joint session of Congress, in which he took apart major planks of Trump’s America First policy. If Macron thought that this insult to Trump was smart diplomacy, then he was very poorly advised—and he would reap the appropriate benefits of his decision very shortly.
Top Articles for April
- “Will China Really Supplant US Economic Hegemony?” Kenneth Rogoff, Project Syndicate, April 2.
- “America’s self-satisfied ‘Me Generation’ has abandoned the anti-war movement,” Robert Bridge, RT, April 2.
- “Assange works for the people – now we need to save him,” Slavoj Žižek, RT, April 2.
- “‘The Business of War’: Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon,” Scott Shane and Daisuke Wakabayashi, The New York Times, April 4.
- “We work for Google. Our employer shouldn’t be in the business of war,” The Guardian, April 5.
- “What’s Been Stopping the Left?” Dani Rodrik, Project Syndicate, April 10.
- “The Max Bootification of the American Right,” Michael Warren Davis, The American Conservative, April 13.
- “Caught in a lie, US & allies bomb Syria the night before international inspectors arrive,” Eva Bartlett, RT, April 15.
- “Trump: Prisoner of the War Party,” Patrick J. Buchanan, The American Conservative, April 16.
- “Trump’s Misguided Plan for ‘Stabilizing’ Syria,” Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, April 16.
- “Syria Is Not Ours to ‘Turn Over’ to Anyone,” Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, April 16.
- “Hollywood’s malicious propaganda dehumanizes all Russians,” Michael McCaffrey, RT, April 17.
- “Stench of hypocrisy: British ‘war on terror’ & strategic ties with radical Islam,” John Wight, RT, April 19.
- “Neocons & Russiagaters unite! New think tank will protect democracy from Russia, sell books,” RT, April 27.
The US B-phase Meets China’s A-phase
At the intersection of imperial decline for the US (the B-phase marking its descent) and the rise of China (A-phase), a meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, ostensibly about tariffs and trade, was instead interpreted by some as a meeting to discuss the future of the world. Others warned that China and the US might be falling into the “Thucydides trap” (see especially Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?) China had become too big for the US to contain, and China’s entry into world capitalism did not just change China, it changed the world. At a high-level trade meeting between the governments of the US and China—that deserved at least as much if not more media attention than the upcoming summit with North Korea, but received barely a mention in most cases—China made it very clear that it would not bow to the US, and would be willing to fight to the end. One Chinese official said, “We will not offer concessions on anything we consider to be a core interest”. China would not succumb to any threats from the US, nor offer concessions as preconditions for talks, especially where the issues of “Made in China 2025” and a reduction in its trade surplus with the US were concerned. In the event of a trade war, Chinese officials pointed out that China’s economy is more resilient than the US’, and that was a good point. Days after the meeting began, there was no progress towards any sort of resolution; if anything, China toughened its stance by punishing US hotels and airlines for listing Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as separate territories on their websites, while companies in other countries complied with China. During the course of the days of meetings, Trump called Chinese president Xi Jinping, though the anodyne “readout” of the phone call masked any and all disagreement. Meanwhile Democrats united with Republicans in the Senate in classing China as a threat to US security and values. Some rather insightful analysis unmasked the frailty of Trump’s stance on China.
By the end of May, the Trump administration seemed for a moment to be caving in to China. Steve Mnuchin told the media on May 20 that the prospective “trade war” had been “put on hold”. China called the US’ bluff, and won—or so it seemed. All China had to do was to make some vague promises to reduce some trade barriers and buy some more products from the US, when or for how long was not clear. Nothing more was said about the “Made in China 2025” campaign, and Trump himself intervened to save China’s ZTE telecom corporation from facing bankruptcy. That the US had not emerged victorious from the trade talks with China was confirmed by Trump himself. In response to a question about if he was pleased with how the trade talks with China went, Trump responded: “No, not really. I think that they’re a start…. So, no, I’m not satisfied, but we’ll see what happens. We have a long way to go”. (In June, however, Trump would reverse Mnuchin altogether. This momentary pause, however, would be resurrected at the end of the year in the form of a 90-day trade war truce.)
The only signs of a trade war appeared at the very end of the month—but not between the US and China. Instead, Donald Trump decided to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from allies: the EU, Mexico, and Canada. In a sign of a true trade war in the offing, Canada retaliated immediately and massively.
*Update on Trump’s steel tariffs: there was in fact some evidence that jobs were returning to the US steel industry, thanks primarily to Trump’s protective tariffs. Later, it was reported that a UK investor would reopen its steel plant in the US, to avoid the impact of US tariffs, thus creating new jobs. Less noticed was the impact of US sanctions on Russia: a decline in Russian investment in the US steel industry, and the potential layoffs of thousands of workers in Russian-owned steel plants in the US.
How to Lose Friends and Make Enemies: The Art of the Deal
Turkey continued its slide out of the US orbit (more on this below), with US help: Turkey announced it would retaliate against any attempted de facto sanctions by the US, such as the plan to block sales of major weapons to Turkey. Prospective losers: NATO, the US. Prospective winners: Turkey, Russia.
Elsewhere, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte urged leaders at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific region to adopt a foreign policy that is independent of the US and that pursues Asian interests. Importantly, Duterte pointed out that the development experience proved it was futile to try to mimic the US.
Pakistan for its part was determined to show Trump some of the consequences of alienating it, as he had done at the opening of the year. The government of Pakistan detained a US diplomat and barred him from leaving the country after he was involved in a fatal traffic accident. A US plane sent to retrieve him was forced to leave without him. In addition, all US diplomatic staff would be placed under new travel restrictions within Pakistan.
While not losing friends it never really had, the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, juxtaposed with Israel killing at least 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza, hardly won the US any acclaim outside of Israel. Media in fact depicted the glaring contrast between a smiling and applauding Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, sent to Israel for the opening, and scenes of deadly mayhem in Gaza. Amazingly, in the midst of ongoing carnage, Kushner proclaimed that the event marked an advance for the cause of peace. The Israeli government in the meantime claimed it was acting in self-defense against the protesters, claiming the right to protect its sovereignty—the kinds of actions that would get Syria’s Assad labeled a “monster” and an “animal” by the Trump administration, when faced with armed local and foreign fighters.
US–North Korea Negotiations
A bad sign that cast a dark cloud over impending talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un: predictably, Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, chilled the prospects for peace by invoking—with a straight face—“the Libya model” for handling North Korean denuclearization, again continuing with the attitude that the US would unilaterally decide what was to be done. Numerous analysts were, fortunately, quick to notice Bolton’s paradigm, and lambasted him for it. Weeks later, Trump seemed to at first contradict Bolton (though there was a general misunderstanding of what specifically Bolton meant by the Libyan model), but then Trump actually came out with worse, threatening precisely the kind of homicidal regime change that Libya suffered should North Korea fail to accept a deal—which is an unacceptable way of negotiating since it suggests an ultimatum, to be accepted under duress.
Bolton was not the only one undermining Trump’s upcoming peace talks: the climactic and dramatic confrontation with special counsel Robert Mueller took an even darker and nastier turn, threatening to badly distract Trump during a very sensitive time. By the end of the month revelations were coming out of the extent of the FBI’s role in spying on the Trump electoral campaign in 2016, during the rule of the Obama administration, in what looks like the build-up to an attempted coup.
What was potentially more serious were the possible consequences of Trump’s facile assertion, following Bolton, that the question of the US troop presence on the border with North Korea was “off the table”. He made this remark on May 4, to reporters on the tarmac, during a trip to Dallas. Then why would North Korea want to negotiate? What is the point of a peace treaty, and a non-aggression pact, if a foreign superpower stations tens of thousands of troops on your border? How would Kim Jong-un sell that to the people of North Korea, and to its powerful military establishment? Trump appeared to think that North Korea was prepared to give up everything, just for the promise of an eventual easing of sanctions. What is also vital to note is that objections to the presence of US troops in South Korea, is a dominant demand in South Korea itself, where the prospect of peace immediately opened the doors to new demands that US troops exit the country. Here Trump’s argument seems to be with South Korea, at least as much as North Korea. Moreover, a peace treaty would abolish the need for the THAAD missile “defense” system, which Russia and China always felt was ultimately aimed at them. “Maintaining the power balance in East Asia”—a broad, generic and euphemistic way for US officials to insist on asserting dominance—remained the dominant, underlying concern.
John Bolton would again threaten to mess up negotiations, when in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News, on May 8—the day Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—he indicated that North Korea would not be allowed to engage in any activities to provide itself with nuclear energy. Though few noticed, it was hardly a suggestion that North Korea ever volunteered, or would agree with.
Throwing cold water on Trump’s incessant triumphalist narrative at home, a classic case of counting one’s chickens before the eggs hatch, Kim Jong-un warned Trump to stop portraying the North’s openness to peace as a declaration of surrender. Much of what Trump had been boasting made it seem that North Korea was simply caving in—which would hardly encourage North Korean participation in dialogue, if dialogue was reduced to discussing terms of surrender. If Trump thought he had a green light to impose a 21st-century equivalent of the Versailles treaty on North Korea, he had another thing coming. China meanwhile continued to play a significant role in the negotiations, mostly behind the scenes, with two China–North Korea summits happening: the second happened soon after the first and was not publicly announced beforehand. This second meeting would become significant for what was suspected about its significance.
On the same day that Trump announced termination of US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, arrived in Pyongyang for preparatory discussions concerning the upcoming summit. Pompeo returned with three Korean-American prisoners freed by the North, which most of the US media falsely called “hostages” (a label slapped on carelessly whenever American spies are legitimately imprisoned abroad). Defense Secretary Mattis said there was good reason to be optimistic about talks with North Korea. Meanwhile, the media continued the barrage of expert opinions criticizing the very idea of holding a summit, claiming that in having one, Kim Jong-un was already winning.
Soon after the prisoner release, the DPRK–US summit was announced, to be held in Singapore on June 12.
However, various bellicose statements and acts from Washington placed the talks in jeopardy, beyond the public remarks made by John Bolton on the “Libya Model”. North Korea threatened to not show up for the summit if it was being pushed into “unilateral nuclear abandonment”; North Korea condemned the US–South Korean military exercises then taking place; and, the North immediately called off talks with the South. Trump had in fact rendered the outcome of a summit unworkable, by essentially turning it into an act of coercion: either agree with the US, or face annihilation. In a rare item, from March, we were given some insight into what North Korea is talking about when it speaks of “denuclearization”. In May, we were given a little additional insight into what North Korea means by “denuclearization”. What events of this month showed was that previous second-hand filtering of what North Korea allegedly promised, as spoken by South Korean counterparts, were not to be taken at face value—we were told that North Korea would accept continued US military exercises with South Korea before the summit, and then the exact opposite turned out to be true.
As predicted, by foolishly pursuing China over trade issues, at the very same time as the US was relying on Chinese support to pressure North Korea, it instead seemed that China might have given North Korea incentives for hardening their stance. By the end of the month, Trump was alleging much the same about this now famous, tightly guarded second meeting between the leaders of China and North Korea. In a memorable meeting with South Korean president Moon and the press in the Oval Office, Trump stated:
“I will say I’m a little disappointed, because when Kim Jong-un had the meeting with President Xi, in China, the second meeting—the first meeting we knew about—the second meeting—I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un. So I don’t like that. I don’t like that. I don’t like it from the standpoint of China. Now, I hope that’s not true, because we have—I have a great relationship with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He likes me. I like him. We have—I mean, that was two of the great days of my life being in China. It was—I don’t think anybody has ever been treated better in China—ever in their history. And I just think it was—many of you were there—it was an incredible thing to witness and see. And we built a very good relationship. We speak a lot. But there was a difference when Kim Jong-un left China the second time. And I think they were dedicating an aircraft carrier that the United States paid for. Okay? Because we paid for it”.
Trump ended the month on a note of pessismism, thinking aloud to the press that the summit with North Korea might not even happen, or not happen on June 12: “There’s a chance; there’s a very substantial chance it won’t work out. I don’t want to waste a lot of time, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time. But it may not work out for June 12th”.
Indeed, things fell apart for June 12. Trump withdrew the US from the summit, which he announced on May 24, both at a press briefing and in a letter to Kim Jong-un. The US, which had done nothing in the way of diplomacy to secure the summit, which had engaged in premature boasting about Nobel prizes and was running victory laps, which issued demands for unilateral and total surrender, and then even invoked the image of a destroyed Libya as the only other future North Korea could envision, did everything that was required to scuttle any talks. Anticipation was maximized, South Korea did its best to flatter Trump’s ego, and talk was of North Korea completely surrendering any nuclear development (see John Bolton on Fox News Sunday, for April 29, and Trump’s rally in Washington, Michigan, on April 28). No head of state could ever meet another under such terms and conditions. North Korea had freed US prisoners, destroyed a nuclear test site, and held talks with South Korea—and the response was zero concessions plus continued military exercises with South Korea, and then threats from John Bolton and Mike Pence, who both invoked Libya. North Korea, which officially had been silent much of the time since the prospect of talks was first announced, now began to make itself heard very clearly—denouncing comments by Bolton, Pence, and condemning South Korea for taking part in military exercises with the US.
Interestingly the North Korean response to Trump’s announcement was quite conciliatory and amicable, and by the next day Defense Secretary Mattis was already suggesting that the summit might be back on. Early fears about escalating conflict seemed premature. Nonetheless, the media reaction in the US was scathing towards Donald Trump (example1, example2), and many of the essays were generally fairly well reasoned. South Korea’s government was embarrassed by the fact that Trump had not even bothered to either consult or notify it in advance of announcing the decision to cancel/postpone the summit. Some saw this as further evidence that North Korea was succeeding in its aim of driving a wedge between South Korea and the US.
South Korea soon returned to its role as an intermediary, and began to oversell North Korean commitments in advance of the delayed summit—at least where US reporting was involved. In other media, we would hear South Korean president Moon Jae-in stating that Kim Jong-un was in fact highly sceptical of US trustworthiness when it came to a security pact, upon which denuclearization would depend. Kim and Moon had met for their second summit on May 26 (the first was on April 27), and they planned a third summit for June 1. US and North Korean officials continued to meet, still with the idea of having a summit on June 12, if possible, with Kim Jong-un sending Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, to the US (which compelled the US to go against its own sanctions to allow him in).
The US, the JCPOA, and Iran
As we approached Trump’s supposed May 12 deadline for either renewing the sanctions waivers on Iran, or unilaterally terminating the JCPOA, more analyses showed just what a strategic blunder the US violation of the Iran nuclear agreement would be. Peter Harrell outlined the various problems in a comprehensive article in Foreign Affairs, describing the extents to which the EU, the UN, Russia, and Turkey would not only essentially nullify the impact of any new US sanctions (and there would be domestic political and commercial hurdles to face in re-imposing sanctions), but Iran would essentially be in a “win-win” situation. Without the JCPOA, Iran could manage with US sanctions, since the US isolated itself, while also being free to resume and expand its nuclear development. Here is Harrell’s concluding paragraph:
“Even taking all these steps, however, would not change the fact that withdrawing from the JCPOA would be a strategic mistake for Washington. It would allow Iran to resume its nuclear program and raise the risk of a future military conflict with Tehran. And in all likelihood it would not even fully impose the kind of economic pressure that forced Iran to agree to the JCPOA in the first place. The result would be a major setback for U.S. strategic interests”.
One possibility not explored in Harrell’s article is that Iran, and the other signatories (minus the US), could continue with the deal in place. Iran’s leaders suggested they could live with the deal, without the US, as long as it served Iran’s financial and economic interests, and no attempt was made to undermine or coercively restrict Iran’s international influence. Iran saw the US withdrawal from the deal as representing no significant obstacle to the development of Iran’s oil sector. Furthermore, Germany and France indicated they too would continue with the deal in place, even if the US withdrew; Britain indicated the same. It thus seemed as if the worst that could happen is that the US would be giving up its place at the table. That, at least, was one of the outcomes envisioned. Far worse was also envisioned. Europe thus continued to lobby Trump against pulling out of the JCPOA. UK foreign minister Boris Johnson went on a media tour in the US, in advance of meeting with Trump, warning that the alternatives to the deal could be far worse, up to and including outright war with Iran. France’s Emmanuel Macron, treated as a star during a visit to Washington, called US withdrawal from the JCPOA opening “Pandora’s Box” and said it could lead to war. As for war, and specifically war-mongering, a corresponding attempt to rewrite history unfolded in a US court which, astoundingly opposed to logic, reason, and facts, found Iran shared responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and ordered it to pay $6 billion to victims, a ruling that was laughed off by Iran which did not participate in the proceedings. This kind of active myth-making reminds one of the ugly lies told in support of war with Iraq before 2003. The irony is that the US is actively collaborating with Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, as it did in Libya. Yet in Trump’s speech (see below) he repeated the lie that Iran backed Al Qaeda and the Taliban, covering up for their known Saudi and Gulf state sponsors.
Then on May 8, the much anticipated announcement came. In a televised address to the nation, Donald Trump announced the US was unilaterally withdrawing from the JCPOA. While feigning concern for the welfare of the Iranian people—already subject to a blanket travel ban—Trumped vowed to impose massive economic sanctions over 180 days. These were meant to be the “highest level” of US economic sanctions to date, although many sanctions had remained in place despite the JCPOA and direct trade between the two countries was already prohibited. At one point, it even seemed that Trump threatened Iran with war. Israel cheered the deal by immediately ordering a missile strike on Syrian targets (Syria intercepted its missiles). The Israel lobby in Washington clearly had success. This was as Trump’s speech ended. Israel then raised its alarms fearing a response—on Fox News, the Israeli ambassador to the US then proceeded to make it appear as if Iran was being belligerent. Allegedly unrelated, Iranian backed Houthi rebels fired several ballistic missiles at the Saudi capital, hitting various targets. A mere two days later, Israel undertook its biggest airstrike on Syria since the early 1970s, firing dozens of missiles on alleged Iranian targets, also allegedly in response to an Iranian missile volley. Israel boasted that it had set back Iran considerably in Syria, which if true was news no doubt welcomed by Al Qaeda and remnants of ISIS.
In describing the new sanctions regime and list of US demands at the end of the month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed a good deal of the Trump administration’s underlying assumptions and unrealistic expectations of what an agreement on Iran should look like: it would be an agreement of Washington with itself and against Iran. Essentially, the Trump administration could accept nothing short of Iran’s complete and total surrender, its reduction to being a vassal of the US once again, to have no independent foreign policy, to have no influence beyond its borders, and to have no allies outside of the US. The basic thrust was a purely neocolonial one, to a degree not seen since the 1960s at the latest. As Iranian president Rouhani said to the US: “Who are you to decide for Iran and the world? The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent…that [colonial] era is over”. Moreover, the means chosen could never achieve such ends—while the US can sanction European companies doing business in Iran, and block US companies, it cannot stop either Russia or China from investing in Iran, nor can it stop Iranian companies from doing business in Europe, nor can the US block Iranian oil sales, simply because this time the US lacks the backing of the EU and the UN. The US is the only “rogue state” in the picture, having turned its back on an international agreement. Pompeo threatening “the strongest sanctions in history” could be little more than noise: precisely given the isolation of the US, just by default the sanctions regime could not be greater than it was when it had full international backing. Iran would not experience what either Iraq or North Korea suffered from international sanctions. Pompeo was simply trying to cover up for Trump’s impetuous miscalculation. Even more bizarre was Pompeo blaming the lack of rain on the Iranian government, a foolish statement that was lost among all the other foolishness.
If Trump thought he would win votes at home, a new poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed the US withdrawal from the agreement. On a separate matter, had Obama not relied so heavily on executive authority, it would not have been so easy for Trump to undo his agreement: “As Tom Cotton warned the Iranians years ago, an agreement entered into by a president and not submitted to the Senate as a treaty can be abrogated by the next man who holds the office”.
Much of the decision made little obvious sense, not even in terms of narrow self-interest. The US Navy sounded more nervous now about the safety of its ships in the Gulf. Both political allies and enemies of Trump appeared united in their criticism. As one writer adequately summed up,
“President Trump is withdrawing the United States from an Iran nuclear deal that has worked, in the name of unrelated demands that are unworkable, at very high cost to America’s alliances and the value of its word, with no viable alternative policy in place and at the risk of igniting the Middle East”.
Just how questionable was Trump’s reasoning was indexed by the degree to which someone like Susan Rice could come across as rational and logical by contrast. Inevitably, companies such as Boeing, already struggling against international competitors, would find themselves locked out of the lucrative Iranian market, leaving the door wide open to Airbus and others by default. In fact, one of the very first announcements after Trump’s speech ended was that the
US Treasury would terminate civil aviation companies’ export licenses. The US was scoring an own goal. Civilian passenger jets have nothing at all to do with nuclear weapons development, in case it needed to be said. When the speaker of Iran’s parliament responded that “Trump does not have the mental capacity to deal with issues,” he may have been making a reasonable and valid point. It is more likely that Trump has an abundance of the “wrong kind” of mental capacity. The Iranian speaker made an excellent point however: Iran would no longer be obligated to honour its commitments to the JCPOA. Having freed Iran’s hand, there was nothing the US could say about it either, if Iran resumed its nuclear development. All the US could do is add sanctions to sanctions and pray that it amounted to something—the other option was a war of such massive consequences that Iraq would look like a fairy tale by contrast.
Analysis of the aftermath of Trump’s decision is ongoing, especially as the new realities it created continue to develop. One early assessment was that the withdrawal isolated the US diplomatically, from its own allies:
“Under Donald Trump, America has proved itself to be unreliable—untrustworthy to its negotiating partners, and unfaithful to those who made sacrifices and took risks at our behest”.
That statement was echoed by Austria’s chancellor. This kind of loss of credibility the US could ill afford on the eve of negotiations with North Korea. Another analysis, in language that was perfectly warranted, noted that “a parade of warmongers, cretins, and outright liars” had only affirmed Trump’s decision to cancel US participation, as he promised in the 2016 campaign—not least of whom was John Bolton, who in a memo to Trump discussed ways of engineering an Iranian breach of the agreement to justify its abrogation. Meanwhile John Bolton appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News the night of the withdrawal to do what appeared to be an undignified victory lap.
As some had anticipated, Iran’s first response was to indicate it would continue abiding by the JCPOA, for the time being. Iranian anti-imperialists would have their hand strengthened, having warned against the futility of negotiating with the US. This would not be the only time that the US blundered into strengthening Iran’s hand. Given how the US was now engineering a situation where Iran would return to its previous stance, Trump repeated his threats of war against Iran, the type of outcome which the JCPOA had successfully avoided. Yet, if Trump’s ultimate aim is regime change in Iran, then his move would likely end in costly failure. Trump’s decision guaranteed that damage done would travel in several directions, each harming the geopolitical dominance of the US.
There was also a distinct question about the role of domestic opposition to Trump, and specifically the Democratic establishment, in provoking and/or pushing Trump to antagonize Europe and re-target Iran. First there was former Secretary of State John Kerry’s admission to engaging in “shadow diplomacy” to preserve the Iran deal, without the knowledge or approval of the Trump administration and which engaged in the kind of “multilateralism” that directly contradicted “America First”. Barack Obama, rarely heard from, also condemned Trump’s withdrawal, in a posting to Facebook—and it was Obama’s legacy that Trump had been steadily dismantling. There was also the solidarity between the leadership of the EU and the Democrats, not lost on Trump who kept score and whose hackles must have risen at the speech given by French president Emmanuel Macron to a joint session of Congress, which directly challenged Trump’s political agenda (more on this below). Then two of Obama’s Middle East policy advisers published an article in The New York Times that seemed to advise Europe on how to fight back against Trump, which included suggestions that European states withdraw their ambassadors from Washington, expel US diplomats from Europe, as well as sanctioning US companies. Trump made it clear, at least to some, that Europe no longer matters to the US. Further European responses, as with the cover of Der Spiegel, ranged from the vulgar, accompanied by pointless calls to “join the Resistance” against Trump, and of course for further strengthening the EU just as it came under widespread local challenges among member nations. It is doubtful that such responses will do anything except confirm in Trump’s mind that he made the right decision. The EU was badly weakened as a bloc, however, as would become more apparent by the end of the month with the political crisis in Italy with the attempted blocking of a new government coming to power after the recent elections (it eventually did take power).
European leaders joined Iran in saying they would also maintain the JCPOA, without the US. European leaders also criticized Trump’s decision. May, Macron, and Merkel issued a joint statement condemning the move and urging the US against doing anything to prevent the remaining parties to the agreement from upholding the agreement. However, since US sanctions would also be applied to European companies doing business with Iran, it seemed that right from the outset the US was impeding Europe from maintaining the JCPOA, trying to return Iran to international sanctions (this time minus Russia and China, however), and pushing it to revive its nuclear program. The new US ambassador to Germany was schooled by his hosts when just a few hours into his job he issued an ultimatum to German companies to begin “winding down” business in Iran immediately—such that US sanctions on Iran, now effectively also applied to Germany, which is decidedly illegal. A German industry group immediately denounced this extraterritoriality of US sanctions. Such US sanctions functioned as protectionism for US companies and violated WTO rules—opening up a new front in a potential global trade war. On the other hand, some analysts found great weakness in the European position and doubted the power of the EU to stand up to Trump’s sanctions, which would thus truly end the JCPOA for Iran. Europe meanwhile tried to reassure Iran, even as its biggest corporate investors were already pulling out. European companies lobbied to have their interests in Iran protected.
That Trump’s move had almost instantaneously driven a huge wedge between the US and EU, seemed to be one of the immediate achievements, reminiscent of the situation before the US invaded Iraq in 2003. This was perhaps the most striking outcome of Trump’s decision: that instead of the major line of conflict being between the US and Iran, it was the growing “Atlantic crisis” and the EU’s “open rebellion” against the US which emerged as the new line of conflict. This widening rift spread to NATO’s ranks, with Trump specifically singling out Germany for criticism, just three weeks after hosting Merkel—Merkel’s desire for greater independence from the US only furthered Trump’s original anti-NATO leanings in 2016. If Trump had not blundered, then the EU had to be his primary target all along, and NATO would serve as his lever. Much of this was symbolized by how Trump entertained visiting European leaders who tried to dissuade him, all charm and smiles, and then stabbed them in the back as they left—though Macron was foolish enough stab Trump in the face in his address to the US Congress. The outrage from Europe was unmistakable in the days that followed, with public denunciations from the highest levels of the US as an actor that needed to be replaced, that the US was not the world’s economic policeman, that European nations would not be treated as vassals, and that the US had no right to arrogate power over European foreign policy. Turkey was not only not fazed in the least by Trump, it saw great opportunity in economic ties with Iran, furthering Turkey’s drifting apart from NATO and the US. (Later in the month, US legislators sought to block sales of F-35 fighters to Turkey, citing its “thuggish” and “hostile” behaviour, and that it was out of line with NATO.)
The fallout from Trump’s JCOA decision was thus one of the more memorable moments in 2018, since it hardly had any precedent in well over half a century.
Top Articles for May
On Zero Anthropology this month:
- “Documentary Review: ‘The China Hustle’ is a Problematic Cautionary Tale” May 3.
- “Book Review: Washington’s Long War on Syria, by Stephen Gowans” May 10.
- “North Korea: The Undaunted State Tests the Limits of Empire” May 25.
- “Documentary Review: ‘Inside Job’ is Still Relevant” May 25.
Top articles of the month:
- “How to Stop Trump,” Robert Reich, The American Prospect, May 1.
- “The Real Villain Behind Our New Gilded Age,” Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, The New York Times, May 1.
- “The U.S. and China Are Finally Having It Out,” Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, May 1.
- “Chasing the Ghosts of Benghazi,” Declan Walsh, The New York Times, May 3.
- “The Challenge of Reinstating Sanctions Against Iran: It’s Not as Simple as Withdrawing From the JCPOA,” Peter Harrell, Foreign Affairs, May 4.
- “Can America’s Credibility Survive the Death of the Iran Nuclear Deal?” Christopher A. Preble, The National Interest, May 8.
- “The dishonest case against the Iran deal,” Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 8.
- “An ancient trap awaits China and US,” Niall Ferguson, Boston Globe, May 7.
- “Response to ‘A Call to Defend Rojava’,” MR Online, May 7.
- “Karl Marx sacrificed logic on the altar of his desire for revolution,” Steve Keen, RT, May 9.
- “Trump’s Iran gamble won’t topple regime, but could start ‘war’ with EU,” Martin Jay, RT, May 10.
- “Trump’s withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal gives Europe a choice: Become vassals or be independent,” Finian Cunningham, RT, May 11.
- “The real reason tech billionaires are prepping for doomsday,” Jason Rhode, Salon, May 12.
- “Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think,” Gerard Alexander, The New York Times, May 12.
- “How Choice Can Save Europe: The EU Needs Less Technocracy and More Democracy,” Catherine De Vries and Kathleen R. McNamara, Foreign Affairs, May 14.
- “Bluffer or crusader: Is Trump’s trade war with China for real?” Dave Lindorff, RT, May 16.
- “Google’s march to the business of war must be stopped,” Lucy Suchman, Lilly Irani and Peter Asaro, The Guardian, May 16.
- “How #MeToo Has Undermined the #Resistance,” David French, National Review, May 16.
- “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” Matthew Stewart, The Atlantic, May/June.
- “Antifa or Antiwar: Leftist Exclusionism Against the Quest for Peace,” Diana Johnstone, Consortium News, May 21.
- “The pitfalls of disarmament through Western eyes,” Dennis Riches, Lit by Imagination, May 22.
- “Kim Jong-un is Succeeding in Making South Korea Decouple from USA,” Playing the Devil’s Advocate, May 25.
In what was an unusually remarkable year already, June seemed like it would be the most memorable of all turning points: a trade war erupted between the US and Canada, Mexico, the EU, and then China too; and, Donald Trump had a successful peace summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, which further highlighted the pro-imperialist positions of his domestic opposition. Also this month, the US was announcing that it was withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council. The end of the month was swallowed by media coverage, in the US, concerning the so-called “crisis at the border,” during which we witnessed the basic precepts and methods the US has deployed in its “humanitarian intervention” abroad, coming home. Nevertheless, the Trump administration tooted its own horn mid-way through the month, proclaiming that President Trump had “restored American leadership on the world stage”.
The US and North Korea: The Kim–Trump Summit in Singapore
The month began with an unprecedented meeting in the White House between a US president and the second-in-command of North Korea. Trump met for two hours with Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, then walked him to his vehicle and waved as he pulled off. In remarks to the press immediately after, Trump confirmed that there would indeed be a summit with North Korea, in Singapore, on June 12. He sounded unusually diplomatic and pleasant toward the North Korean side, even claiming that the relationship between the two countries were probably better than they had ever been. On the other hand, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s legal adviser, mouthed off in Tel Aviv about North Korea getting “on its hands and knees” to allegedly “beg” for the talks after Trump called them off a few days before—repeating the same kinds of mistakes of bravado, loose talk, and insults that derailed the talks previously. On the other hand, the mainstream media continued the barrage of pieces throwing doubt on Trump’s preparedness for the encounter—yet it would end up being Trump himself who confirmed that he did not prepare for the meeting, trusting his “intuition”.
Trump went to Singapore after tearing up US participation in a range of international agreements, after a particular flop of a G7 meeting with unprecedented hostility between supposed allies, and this is how he presented himself to Kim Jong-un. Heaping insults on Justin Trudeau was somehow meant to impress Kim Jong-un.
Both leaders arrived in Singapore, with significant excitement greeting them. Trump, arriving from a bitter G7 meeting, after which he attacked Justin Trudeau personally, flew into Singapore on Sunday, June 10, as did Kim Jong-un, who took serious precautions in his travel arrangements. By this point Trump had already significantly lowered expectations, saying that it would just be a meeting where the two leaders got to start dialogue:
“at least we’ll have met each other, we’ll have seen each other; hopefully, we’ll have liked each other. We’ll start that process … But I think it will take a little bit of time”.
The lowered expectations might have been well advised. The usual appeal to authority that is the now customary wail of panic-stricken, discredited elites, was evidenced by the scorn heaped on the work of Dennis Rodman, for not being a “professional”—when his work was fundamental to laying the groundwork for the peace talks. Others, with a longer and more considered view of history, pointed out that, “The history of U.S. foreign policy is littered with unsuccessful presidential summits, even when they have been preceded by months of careful preparation and infused by a coherent strategy and clear objectives set by a well-informed and experienced president”.
Just the fact of meeting and talking was significant enough: already there was evidence that the campaign of “maximum pressure” was over and not likely to come back. Sanctions on North Korea were already being loosened, tested, and plans made for a future after the talks. In the meantime, clearly in a deep, quiet panic over the summit, Fox News saturated its coverage with talking heads offering Trump advice from a distance, hoping to pressure him—including advising flatly undiplomatic and plainly rude tactics such as not shaking Kim Jong-un’s hand, or preventing photographs of the two leaders together.
The Summit, televised live around the planet, began with an encounter between the two leaders, with a few remarks to the public, and it wrapped up in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 12 (Singapore time), with the final event being an extended press conference by Donald Trump, and the release of the text of the agreement jointly signed by Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. There were brief remarks by the two leaders. Also released was the video, “A Story of Opportunity,” prepared by the US side and shown in person to Kim Jong-un, which offered the progressivist American vision of the future. Though often decrying the nature of media coverage, the Trump White House released a statement featuring clips from a range of news media that offered positive assessments of the Summit, hailing it as a success.
Initial lists of Summit outcomes did not seem to be particularly compelling in terms of either side offering real change. North Korean state media reported that the Summit had been a great success. North Korea’s government would even go as far as removing anti-imperialist paraphernalia from the capital, and cancelled the annual anti-imperialist rally. Trump went quickly from lauding the move toward eventual denuclearization, into a full blown cheer for what he said had now been achieved: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” and “The World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe!”. Trump seemed ready to conclude a process that, at best, would take years and many more significant concessions. Trump also vowed to stop US war games on the Korean peninsula, admitting that they are “very provocative”. Not among the naysayers was the UN Secretary General, who immediately issued a statement of support on behalf of the UN. Regional experts called the Summit a “beginning,” and thus noted an absence of details on denuclearization. But there was also confusion, thanks to vice-president Mike Pence, about whether the US was stopping war games, or not. Also, 10 days after the summit, Trump signed an order extending all extant executive orders pertaining to North Korea as a “national emergency,” citing North Korea as a continuing threat to the national security of the US.
Early reactions, including one from a former CIA expert, was that “denuclearization,” the way the US envisaged, is not what the Summit agreement affirmed. Others held that at the very least the Summit was a real turning point, that averted war and began a peace process; also set to rest was the trope that Kim and Trump are “madmen”.
One interesting assessment was that the summit had been a significant success for North Korea:
“The joint declaration specifies no timeline for denuclearization nor it does have steps to verify disarmament. It also refers to denuclearization on the entire Korean Peninsula—Pyongyang’s preferred phrasing—and does not include the words ‘verifiable’ and ‘irreversible’ despite months of U.S. statements. Trump also agreed to something North Korea has sought for years: the suspension of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises”.
In some key respects, Trump’s concessions matched what had long been the position of Russia and China (both of which were keen to formally rejoin negotiations on Korea): that the US freeze war games in return for North Korea suspending testing nuclear weapons. The double-freeze approach finally won. In addition, one outcome of the Summit is that China was now pressing for sanctions to be eased, almost immediately, with Trump acknowledging—without criticism—that China had already eroded sanctions enforcement over the last few months. Kim and Trump also promised to personally visit each other’s capitals in the near future.
Another assessment saw the Summit as a victory for all of Korea, and the signed document as simply an aspirational declaration and not an agreement on denuclearization as such:
“The North Korean side played its cards exceptionally well. It built its capabilities under enormous pressure and used it to elevate the country to a real player on the international stage. The ‘maximum pressure’ sanction campaign against it is now defused. China, Russia and South Korea will again trade with North Korea. In pressing for an early summit Trump defused a conflict that otherwise might have ruined his presidency. The losers, for now, are the hawks in Japan, South Korea and Washington who tried their best to prevent this to happen. The winners are the people of Korea, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. Special prizes go to President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and to Dennis Rodman who did their best to make this happen”.
Others offered well-informed analysis by individuals who were intimately involved in negotiations with North Korea and who argue that North Korea is not intending to “get away” with keeping its nuclear weapons, but that the North instead has real reasons for wanting to denuclearize. The argument here is that North Korea developed nuclear weapons to entice the US to the negotiating table, in order to end the Korean War, remove all sanctions, offer diplomatic recognition, and end the US military threat to North Korea. In addition, a rapprochement with the US would allow North Korea to diversify its foreign relations, not remaining exclusively dependent on China, when North Korea has traditionally preferred independence. Another view is that the Summit simply resulted in a momentary stabilization. Yet, as Pepe Escobar noted, “by reaffirming the Panmunjom Declaration, the US President has committed to bringing its military back from South Korea and thus a complete denuclearization of the South as well as the North”. The accusation by liberal media was that, somehow, Trump managed to get nothing at all from the summit with Kim Jong-un—though even within this line of attack, there were some thoughtful pieces that at least addressed the facts of the summit in detail, with some showing how one could still take a Democratic, anti-Trump line and yet concede the significant value of the Summit.
For more, please read: “Which Door Has Opened? Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, and the Singapore Summit”.
After the Summit ended, South Korea and the Pentagon confirmed that war games scheduled for August had indeed been cancelled. The US media continued to react with apparent horror, even choosing to lie with statistics: the argument was that US war games actually cost “little”—just some $10-20 million or so each time—and were thus but a small portion of an absolutely gigantic, record-breaking military budget. North Korea continued its coordination with China, as Kim Jong-un flew to Beijing for his third state visit so far this year.
Canada and the Trade War with the US
Though the Canadian response to US tariffs was proportional in dollar terms, it was massive in the range of goods covered. Yet one of the more interesting proposals floated in the Canadian media was the idea to target Trump, his family, and his companies directly:
“This could take the form of special taxation on their current operations, freezing of assets, or even sanctions against senior staff. Canada could add a tax to Trump properties equal to any tariff unilaterally imposed by Washington. The European Union could revoke any travel visas for senior staff in the Trump organization. And the United Kingdom could temporarily close his golf course”.
We also learned that Mike Pence tried to strong-arm Canada into agreeing to a five-year sunset clause on NAFTA, as a precondition for Trudeau visiting Trump in attempt to finally bring current negotiations to their intended close (they were to be over by June 1). Trudeau of course flatly rejected that, cancelled the trip, and thus NAFTA negotiations remained suspended—which was then used as an excuse by the US side to lift the exemption from tariffs for both Mexico and Canada. A number of analysts presented reasoned articles indicating why a trade war with Canada would be disastrous for both sides, just as it would be with Mexico. Canadians looked back in history to the 1930s trade war between Canada and the US, after the passage of the Smoot-Hawley Act, and found support for the argument that such a conflict would be economically counterproductive. Few, if any, articles in the Canadian media discussed the potentially positive effects of a trade war, in terms of protection of domestic industries, the development of new domestic industries, lessened dependency on the US and restrained capital outflow from Canada to the US. Of course, once a free trade system has been in place for decades, any abrupt change, for which a country has not prepared, is bound to cause serious damage at least in the short term.
On his way to the G7 summit in Quebec, where small protests had already occurred in anticipation of the event, President Trump was in trouble. Rumours, possibly baseless ones, circulated about Trump not wanting to attend the G7 meeting. That Trump reasonably criticized the absence of Russia from what a few years before was the G8, suggested his opinion of the value of the meeting was not as high as it could have been. Informally dubbed “G6 + 1” by members of the EU, and Canada, and competitively renamed “G1 + 6” by Larry Kudlow, either way the facts spoke to US isolation at the gathering. Trump, in remarks at that White House before leaving for Canada, insisted that Canada had treated the US unfairly, repeating his complaint about a 270% tariff on US milk, but not the facts about the US trade surpluses with Canada, which include a dairy trade surplus for the US. On his way to the summit, Trump mocked Trudeau’s indignation over the trade tariffs. In fact, conversations between Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, and between Trump and Emmanuel Macron, became strikingly acrimonious in the days before the summit—with Trump reminding Trudeau that the White House was burnt down in the War of 1812, in reply to Trudeau’s disbelief that Canada could be seen as a security threat. As for Macron, he managed to maintain a façade of pleasantries with Trump at the G7 meeting, but the camaraderie appeared strained. It thus seemed strange that G7 leaders, and the uncritical media, at first painted a rosy picture of positivity and differences being ironed out, only to have to then abruptly reverse course and show that the summit had ended in a fracas. Trump’s “ill-mannered” performance meant he arrived late for a breakfast, skipped two other events, berated the press, leaked some ugly remarks, then made new threats, all against supposed allies.
“The six countries of the G7 without the United States, are a bigger market taken together than the American market. There will be no world hegemony if we know how to organize ourselves. And we don’t want there to be one”.
Macron essentially described the US as a rogue state. Angela Merkel’s response, that Trump’s behaviour was “depressing,” also spoke of Germany and the EU carving out greater independence from the US. On his way to Singapore for the summit with North Korea’s leader, Trump took the time to tweet the following about Justin Trudeau and Canada:
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!”—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), June 9, 2018.
“PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” —Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), June 9, 2018.
What Trump made clear is that his tariffs had little to do with “national security,” and were mainly punitive measures. Trudeau pushed back politely but strongly, which seemed to provoke Trump’s ire. Adding fuel to the fire, Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade assistant, appeared on Fox News to declare that there is “a special place in hell” for leaders like Trudeau who “betray” Trump. Both the French and German governments condemned Trump’s poor diplomacy—Emmanuel Macron’s office issued a statement saying, “International cooperation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks,” while the German foreign minister remarked, “In a matter of seconds, you can destroy trust with 280 twitter characters”. In the US media, editorials such as this one in USA Today condemned Trump’s strategy, showing how it would achieve outcomes opposite to those that were intended.
Once in Singapore, when he should have been focusing on talks with North Korea, Trump continued his Twitter tirade against Trudeau and Canada, showing just how personal the conflict had become. In Canada, there was unified political support across all parties for stiff Canadian retaliation against US tariffs. Indeed, there was also talk of an anti-US consumer boycott in Canada, though it was mocked by US media in ways that showed how long overdue Canadian nationalism had been. On the other hand, the way the proposed boycott was framed by Canadian media, almost seemed to invite dismissal or ridicule, as a trivial, petty, unlikely movement fuelled by social media. The most striking act was a ludicrous death threat against the US ambassador in Ottawa.
Trump’s position, which would simply never fly in Canada, is that Canada’s long-established domestic supply management should be completely eradicated—however, the US then explicitly denied this was its position. It is that system which prevents Canada from experiencing shortages and the crises of overproduction now plaguing US dairy production, where the state of Wisconsin, all by itself, produces more milk and cheese than all of Canada. Having overproduced, the US wants to break into the Canadian market, and flood it, realizing a profit that sustains US producers, while killing off Canadian producers. That Trump thought this classically imperialist position was somehow reasonable, says a lot, and Trudeau (to his credit) made it very clear that it was absolutely not open for negotiation. That fact, plus Canada, Mexico, and the EU standing by their intention to retaliate against US tariffs—against Trump’s “warnings”—seemed to drive Trump over the edge. Trump’s warnings against any retaliation against the US also suggested vulnerability on the US side, that Trump feared the outcome of a backlash but did not want to back down.
However, deciphering Trump’s position is not without its challenges, especially given the notorious chaos and factionalism in the White House on trade issues. Trump’s assistant on trade and manufacturing, Prof. Peter Navarro, in a fairly reasonable piece, articulated a position of maximum free trade—that is not economic nationalism, as much as it is unvarnished neoliberalism. It’s unknown if this is merely a tactic: to call out the hypocrisy of free traders given the lack of actually free trade, in order to permanently shut down any more talk of free trade. Trump would later proclaim himself as a loyal supporter of tariffs, not free trade.
The problem at this point seemed to be that Trump got himself into a jam, resulting potentially in a lose-lose situation. His warnings/threats against allies, not to retaliate against US tariffs (preposterously arrogant and guaranteed to augment the backlash against the US), betrayed the fact that now Trump realized that trade wars were neither “good” nor “easy to win”—he was now afraid that the costs for workers, consumers, and companies in key states needed to win elections would be in jeopardy (the Republicans in fact lost Wisconsin itself, plus Pennsylvania and Michigan, in the mid-term elections later in the year). Thus on the one hand, Trump risked losing a section of his limited political support base, hurt from a trade war he caused (hence Navarro complaining that retaliation is “an attack on our political system”); on the other hand, if Trump backed down, he would look weak, and possibly lose support. Just as Trump was trying to address the US conflict with North Korea, with the hope of pacifying the situation, he created an altogether new rift elsewhere.
Back in Canada, the earliest evidence of any real economic impact of the US tariffs was confused and mild at best. Some outlets claimed that the mere fear of a trade war was already “putting a strain on the world economy”. There was also news, framed in mysterious terms, about a sudden and unexpected drop in Canadian manufacturing sales. Yet, for the CBC, the really big news was that well off Canadian vacationers would see the prices of their private boats rise. However, there may be a political reason determining CBC’s slanted coverage.
As predicted, Canada would now face the challenge of instantly arriving at nationalist solutions to a neoliberal problem, and under the leadership of neoliberal elites. Since bowing to Trump would prove costly in terms of domestic politics, with the Liberals already losing key provinces at the heart of Canadian industry, with national elections to follow soon, the federal government sounded off as “tough”. Privately, however, it clearly wanted a way out. The CBC seemed to have been tasked with preparing Canadians for a soft landing, by pushing a stream of stories that made bowing to US demands more palatable. Thus the CBC began to publish a series of articles with a common theme: take all the US’ blows, pay the tariffs (effectively a “Trump tax,” that would subsidize the US and transfer even more capital into US hands), and maintain “free trade” in name only—that is, do anything not to jeopardize the neoliberal order, no matter how much in retreat it already was, and do anything possible not to fan the flames of a growing Canadian nationalism. In that vein, the CBC would push stories about how US auto tariffs would destroy the Canadian auto industry—but they would not explain why companies like Bombardier could not now be protected by a closed Canadian market, and manufacture a 100% Canadian-made car, that car dealers would be forced to sell. If anything, the end of free trade should have meant that industry came back to Canada, but this kind of worker empowerment is precisely what the ruling elites wanted to avoid, or were conditioned and trained to not even envision. So the CBC continued, with sob stories about an imperilled gin maker, and comments from Saputo Inc. that unnecessarily condemned Canada’s dairy supply management.
Nonetheless, Canada was projected to be the number one country to be hit hardest by US tariffs. In the meantime, Canadians are routinely misled by the Liberal government, the “defence” industry, think tanks and associated academics, which would have citizens believe—as an article of faith—that Russia is the biggest threat.
The US Trade War with China
Seemingly “put on hold” mere weeks before, the US trade war with China was definitely back on: President Trump announced over $50 billion in tariffs on a list of roughly 1,102 Chinese imports, including several hundred identified as “strategically important”. Only two weeks into June, and Trump managed to achieve multiple trade wars with all of the US’ major trading partners worldwide. China immediately retaliated, and Trump then instructed officials to devise more tariffs to retaliate against China’s retaliation. Wall Street meanwhile developed an apparent immunity to the prospects of a trade war; now that there was certainty of a trade war, investor uncertainty was no longer as much of an issue as before—but the stock market remained volatile, so the value of such “snapshot” observations was limited.
The key fact to note here is that the world’s two largest economies were now in a full blown trade war. One question was: why would China assist the US on North Korea from this point onwards? As one observer noted, Trump had crossed the river with North Korea, and burnt the bridge with China.
As China prepared for massive retaliation, the US vowed to impose further tariffs in response. President Trump threatened to impose an additional 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, with China promising to match that in response—however, since China imported much less from the US than vice versa, it faced the prospect of soon running out of US goods to target with tariffs. Interestingly, the Trump administration released a statement making the US appear as a victim of an unjust China, accusing China of “threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong”—i.e., the US as a victim, of responses it itself had provoked. Stocks across Asia plunged on the news of an expanded trade war.
The US also released a report purporting to detail China’s threat to US intellectual property. China was accused of “cheating” on multiple levels. The report took particular aim at China’s “Made in China 2025” policy. Following the report’s release, the Trump administration announced plans for new curbs on technological exports and investments in China.
Just as there was confusion about what impact US tariffs would have on Canada, there were mixed results for the US as well, which suggested that any benefits from protectionism might be offset by losses, effectively neutralizing the potency of the measures.
In order to avoid the impact of tariffs, a UK firm decided to invest in the US and reopen a steel plant, creating new jobs. On the other hand, to avoid the EU’s counter-tariffs, Harley-Davidson planned to move some of its production into Europe itself, creating new jobs there and not in the US.
Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag. I fought hard for them and ultimately they will not pay tariffs selling into the E.U., which has hurt us badly on trade, down $151 Billion. Taxes just a Harley excuse – be patient! #MAGA
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), June 25, 2018.
In addition, the prospects for the US’ position in front of the WTO appeared to be grim. On the other hand, that might spell the end of the WTO. There was already discussion on Fox News that Trump went into this prepared to dismiss the WTO, which he saw as consistently unfair to American workers (he is partly right too, except for the national particularism—the WTO is arguably unfair to all workers, American or not).
Economist Robert Samuelson predicted Trump’s trade war would result in failure, but did not specify how he measures success or failure. At the same time, Samuelson agreed with Trump’s intention to limit the transfer of high technology to China, even calling for what amounts to a global boycott of China in terms of technology transfer (he did not indicate how this could be done, under international law). Meanwhile, RT boasting of the hi-tech nature of China’s new advanced weapons systems, can only add fuel to the fire. If anything such revelations would appear to validate and reinforce Trump framing trade issues as national security issues.
Looking Forward to July and the Helsinki Summit
As June came to a close, we already had an outline of the “big events” to take place in July, chief among those being the summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, as well as the meeting of NATO heads of government, and President Trump’s visit to the UK. With the Democratic Party pushing its “Russiagate” conspiracy theories at all costs, even to the point of threatening the national security of the US by unnecessarily inflaming tensions with Russia, July appeared set for more shrill, partisan opportunism in the US. Not even positive assessments of the World Cup festivities in Russia—where liberal Western media practically confessed to having produced only wall-to-wall negative coverage until then—could stop themselves from reproducing loose, insulting insinuations to conclude their articles.
Well before the summit with Putin even happened, some were already opining that “Trump was handing Putin a victory in Syria”—yet at the same time making some important observations about the nature and extent of Russia’s power and its influence among contending Middle East actors. Other rumours circulating in advance involved the NATO meeting, with the spectacular speculation being that Trump was considering withdrawing, or diminishing, US military forces in Germany.
Top Articles for June
On Zero Anthropology this month:
- “Trade War and the Nationalist Exchange: Trudeau Trails Trump,” June 1.
- “Better Off Without NAFTA, Part 1: Introduction—the US, Trump, and Facts and Fictions about Winners and Losers,” June 7.
- “Better Off Without NAFTA, Part 2: Canada—Localized Profit, but a Net Outflow of Capital,” June 7.
- “Better Off Without NAFTA, Part 3: Mexico—Armed Rebellion, Mass Migration, Flat GDP,” June 7.
- “‘One Day This Door is Going to Open’: A Review of ‘Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang’ (Documentary),” June 10.
- “Which Door Has Opened? Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, and the Singapore Summit,” June 17.
Top articles of the month:
- “Italy Challenges the Postwar Order,” Alessandra Bocchi, First Things, June 2.
- “Who is your oppressor?” Asam Ahmad, Canadian Dimension, June 3.
- “US fingerprints all over Nicaragua’s bloody unrest,” William Whiteman, RT, June 4.
- “Is there method to Donald Trump’s supposed madness on trade?” Jim Jatras, RT, June 4.
- “The Shape of Sino-American Conflict,” Minxin Pei, Project Syndicate, June 6.
- “Normalizing Trade Relations With China Was a Mistake,” Reihan Salam, The Atlantic, June 8.
- “Commentary: Whatever happens next, the Trump-Kim summit is a win,” Peter Van Buren, Reuters, June 12.
- “North Korea Issue is Not De-Nuclearization But De-Colonization,” Ajamu Baraka, Black Agenda Report, June 13.
- “A Blow to Interventionists, as US and North Korea Move Toward Peace,” Jeffrey Sommers & Peter Paik, CounterPunch, June 13.
- “There’s Something Fishy About U.S.-Canada Trade Wars,” David Singerman, The Atlantic, June 14.
- “America the Horrible?” Heather Mac Donald, Cuty-Journal, June 14.
- “Why Can’t Democrats Give Trump Credit on North Korea?” Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, June 15.
- “Old wine, new bottles: Trump withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council is business as usual for US,” John Laughland, RT, June 20.
- “How to Challenge the Elite Consensus for Endless War,” Andrew J. Bacevich, The Nation, June 20.
- “Does ‘anti-racism’ contribute to racism?” Samir Gandesha, Canadian Dimension, June 21.
- “Will the Foreign-Policy Establishment Learn From Trump’s Election Victory?” Robert L. Borosage, The Nation, June 21.
- “Americans Are Sick of Endless War,” Stephen Miles, The Nation, June 21.
- “Atlantic Council finally admits Ukraine’s Nazi problem, and seems upset RT reported it earlier,” Bryan MacDonald, RT, June 25.
- “Democracy requires borders,” Editorial, Washington Examiner, June 25.
- “Three Cheers for Trump’s Peace Trifecta,” John V. Walsh, Dissident Voice, June 28.
- “The Collapse of the Never-Trump Conservatives,” Emerald Robinson, The Spectator, June 29.
- “Trump Threatens Canada: ‘Defence’ Community Remains Silent,” Yves Engler, Dissident Voice, June 29.
- “Musings II … The ‘Intelligence Community,’ ‘Russian Interference,’ and Due Diligence,” Jack Matlock, June 29.
- “Who’s the Most Woke? The Cultural Anxiety of Righteousness,” Julian Vigo, Counterpunch, June 29.