Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cancrizans

With Donald Trump’s tacit endorsement of Marine Le Pen’s candidacy in the French presidential election after the Paris terror attack, we enter a phase of history that is once again ‘unprecedented’. Never before have the United States and Europe formed an apparent alliance in the name of ideas and aspirations that seek to rout and displace democracy, and in the words of Garry Kasparov, ‘to roll back the progress and values of the modern world.’

As Kasparov notes, Le Pen, Putin, IS and Trump form a quartet devoted to the weakening of institutions that can challenge that roll-back. Putin in particular is indifferent to left and right, intent solely on acquiring power and causing disruption. Yet it’s hard to see the strategy here: for example, while in his public statements Trump avoids saying anything that could upset Putin, almost in the same breath he expresses views that appear to contradict Putin’s policies at a basic level. The most recent example of this is Trump’s letter to Congress on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, in which he declares his support for the Act and makes clear 'our commitment to its robust and thorough enforcement.’

What’s one to make of these contradictory steps and counter-steps? At the time of the recent U.S. missile strike on the Al Shayrat airfield, which marked an apparent reversal of Trump’s policy as he stated it during the presidential campaign, numerous voices were heard praising the shift and ascribing it to a ‘new Trump’ who was, according to them, now showing his true, democratic hand. Yet it’s doubtful that Trump has really abandoned his support for Assad, his determination to crush IS, and his willingness to join an alliance with Putin to achieve that goal.

Similarly, in his foreign policy appointments, President Trump has so far shown indifference to direction and ideology: Secretary of State Tillerson’s recent visit to Moscow ended with him remarking that U.S.-Russian relations were at a ‘low point’, and warning Russia that it risked becoming 'irrelevant' in the Middle East by backing Assad. At a Security Council meeting held the day after the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, the new U.S. Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that Russia and Iran have ‘no interest in peace’ and somewhat later charged Russia with ‘siding with Assad’. Little of this appears to harmonise with Trump’s Middle East policy statements during the campaign.

My own view is that Kasparov is correct: while Le Pen, Putin, IS and Trump in a sense work together to challenge the conventional view of the world and international relations that has been carefully built up since the end of the Second World War, their goal is ultimately the channelling of influence away from the centre and towards the extremes, no matter whether of right or of left. If this requires the forfeiting of previously held positions and policies, so be it: the aim is a dynamic process of backwards, crab-like movement, bypassing and manipulating political and electoral institutions, frustrating the pundits and commentators, leaving the press and media behind, and mapping out a new world that’s created not by slow, measured progress and democratic debate but by the amassing of global power in the hands of a few individuals whose ideas and visions are as yet obscure, but don’t look like the dreams of democrats.

(Cancrizans: [medieval Latin] moving backwards, from cancrizare, to move crabwise.)  
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