Author’s note: This article was written on January 2, before the Trump administration was fully fleshed out and well before the inauguration.
As a new year begins I wish to highlight two 2016 events and/or upheavals that have the potential to challenge and or alter the hitherto unrelenting course of western militarized economic globalization/globalism. I say potential because it remains to be seen just how these developments will unfold and if and how they will affect the imperial war and economic devastation machine. These events are Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory in the US and what it may signify. And, most notably, the Syrian government’s continued resistance and impending victory against western backed terrorist forces. The defense of Syria, with the help of the Russian military, especially the recent liberation of Aleppo, after an almost six-year-long proxy offensive against it, has served a blow to the western imperial agenda while greatly strengthening Russia’s position globally. These events are unfolding and remain very fluid and indeterminate. President-elect Trump has yet to be inaugurated and despite the recent ceasefire agreement, the war for Syria is not over. Yet the fact that the Trump victory and impending Syrian victory happened at all, suggests that the existing US-led global establishment may be losing ground.
I. Trump as Potential Threat to the Global Establishment?
As I have written elsewhere the larger significance of Trump’s victory has very little to do with Donald Trump. Rather than get caught up in personal assessments—whether negative or positive—of Trump, it is important to look at what his win symbolizes. Trump promised and galvanized a type of economic populism during his campaign, vowing to reign in neoliberal globalization and corporate power as well as the power of the Federal Reserve. He also made overtones about the need to limit US intervention and wars abroad. These two positions suggest a possible departure from the existing neo-con/neo-liberal agenda of endless war and economic devastation and would be a welcome change, especially with respect to the foreign policy. Whether or not Trump will actually deliver on his claims remains to be seen. Presidential candidates are notorious for breaking promises and changing course once in office.
Preliminary or tentative picks for Trump’s administration or to various bureaucratic positions seem to contradict some of what was said on the campaign trail. For instance, as Bloomberg news reports, he promised repeatedly during his campaign that he would not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Yet Trump picked Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney to run the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees planning and spending across the executive branch. Mulvaney is a co-founder of the House Republicans’ deficit-fighting Freedom Caucus. In the past he has voted for increasing the normal retirement age for Social Security to 70 and has called for an end to Medicare.
While the above is worrisome, as a non-American I am far more concerned with US foreign policy than domestic policy. This is where I hope to see real change. The US has been a belligerent bully that has terrorized the entire world—directly or indirectly—for at least the last fifteen years (if not closer to fifty). I believe that whatever one’s personal opinions are on Trump, much of the world would welcome any changes in US foreign policy that would have the US become less meddling, less war mongering and generally less imperial/hegemonic.
As his official inauguration draws closer, one of many burning questions, is “…will Trump stay the course in challenging the neo-con/liberal-hawk establishment that rules the roost of Washington’s foreign policy?” Trump alluded to a less interventionist and less destabilizing foreign policy during his campaign. He has also made several overtones about improving relations with Russia. That said, there have been many neo-con names floating around as tentative administration picks, among them several Bush-era officials and advisors. This raises some possible red flags. It remains to be seen who will ultimately make up the Trump administration, but so far, they are not anti-establishment.
It also remains to be seen who will bend to whom—meaning will Trump have the power to make “establishment friendly” officials (in Congress, the Senate, etc.) bend to his will, or, will he have to bend to theirs? While it remains to be seen, the fact that numerous establishment entities (from the CIA to the Federal Reserve) remain terrified of his looming presidency may indicate that US politics, both foreign and domestic, could take a turn under Trump.
I believe that what matters most at this juncture (i.e., before he officially takes office) is what his win signifies about the American public and how fed up they are with business as usual. An important observation that can be made from the Trump victory is that the American public appears to be less easily swayed by mainstream media than what had been previously generally assumed. Western mainstream media did everything in its collective power to demonize Trump and keep him from gaining wider support. It relied heavily on political correctness and identity politics to do so. But it did not work. Indeed it may be argued that the outrageousness of their ad hominem attacks on Trump (i.e., Trump is worse than Hitler, Trump will start WWIII) actually backfired and moved people on the fence towards Trump rather than away from him. It seems that the US population is more concerned with things like imperial war and the economy than with the politics of identity and political correctness.
I suspect that under a Trump presidency we will witness a welcome decline in liberal identity politics and political correctness, which is little more than a stifling diversion that divides people and distracts us from the larger issues and problems that actually unite us all, regardless of differences of gender, race, sexuality, etc. These deeper issues include: the economy, increasing unemployment and economic despair, economic and social collapse, and endless war. I believe that the majority of everyday people are more concerned with the above issues than ‘identity politics’ and that these will be the issues and problems that occupy the global popular imagination in 2017 and beyond.
II. On Syria, Russia and the Threat to Western Empire
While the above are unknowns, one thing that is certain is that the western imperial machine has failed miserably in its regime change agenda in Syria. The US-led failure to oust Bashar Al Assad’s secular government is a global game changer that may decidedly tip the balance of power away from the US and its western and Mid East allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, until very recently, Turkey). Syria’s withstanding would not have been possible without Russian involvement, firmly placing Russia as a counter to western empire as we move into 2017. As Argentine journalist and analyst, Pedro Brieger, aptly maintains, Russia has emerged as the key actor in global politics, in recent years: “Russia proved that it has become the key player in the international arena. If you want to understand that just look at what is going in Syria,” Brieger told Sputnik News.
It was Russia’s direct involvement in Syria and its provision of crucial military and strategic support to the Assad government that allowed Syria to resist the dirty proxy war that has been waged against it for almost six years. It was also Russia, in cooperation with Iran and the purely opportunistic Turkish regime, that brokered a nationwide ceasefire between anti-Assad terrorists and the Syrian government, which came into force on December 29, 2016. One of the biggest turning points has been the recent liberation of the strategic and once most-populous city of Aleppo from Daesh/IS control and occupation. With instrumental help from Russia, the Syrian government has been able to take back the city. In mid December the Russian Reconciliation Center evacuated 50,000 civilians from eastern Aleppo. The evacuation of 5,000 ‘rebels’ and their family members from eastern Aleppo, via a humanitarian corridor, began around the same time.
Overall, though the West tried to topple the Syrian government for almost six years, using terrorist or ‘rebel’ groups as proxy, it has not succeeded—and this failure arguably weakens western/US/NATO’s global hegemony going forward. Most importantly, western actions in Syria (and the broader Middle East) have highlighted just how hypocritical and contradictory western powers are. While the US has long claimed to be waging a global war on terror, it’s overt support of terrorist groups in Syria, such as the US-backed ‘moderate’ terrorist group Nour al-Din al-Zinki, that brutally beheaded a Palestinian child in July 2016, as well as terrorist staples such as Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, demonstrates the US’ willingness to promote terrorism for its own interests.
This is not a new trend. The US has been arming and backing Islamist radicals and terrorist groups for decades, especially in its efforts to undermine the influence of Russia–a world power that does not seek uni-polar power like the US does and has repeatedly called for a multi-polar world in terms of both culture and politics. The US has been backing Islamic terrorist groups since at least the 1970s when, as the US admitted in the 1990s, American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen—presently known as the Taliban—in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet-Afghan war began, suggesting that the terrorist group was to a large degree a creation of the US.
Promoting Islamic extremism was one western response to the so-called communist threat (read as the threat to NATO and US power) posed by the Soviet Union. The same is true of contemporary terrorist groups such as ISIS. While the west claims to currently be at war with ISIS, the reality is that western/NATO powers actually supported and armed these violent lunatics in an effort to undermine other secular Muslim regimes such as Assad’s Syria. For instance, the BBC in 2013 reported that states such as France and the US gave arms and military support to the Free Syria Army, a so-called insurgency group openly linked to ISIS, in Syria.
Overall, despite western rhetoric against Islamic extremism and radicalism, Russian and or Soviet influence and involvement in the region has long been a secularizing force while the US and other western powers have long been allies, champions and or architects of radicalization. This is evidenced not least by the west’s very cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia and Wahabi/Salafi Sunni Islam, which is arguably the most radical, extreme and violent interpretation and practice of Islam today.
Much of the US’ motivations for radicalizing Sunni Muslims are linked to its unwavering support for Israel. But it also serves the US’ own hegemonic interests, not least its efforts to undermine the Soviet Union in the past and Russia presently. For instance, an obvious yet unspoken component of the US/NATO campaign in Syria, as well as their efforts in Ukraine, and the so-called Missile Defense Shield in Europe, is to undermine Russia’s ability to not only project power but also to defend itself strategically. These are examples of the West’s attempts to militarily and economically contain Russia. But with Trump seemingly intent on a detente with Russia—reports have come out that Russia is not on Trump’s list of Pentagon priorities—the tide could turn. If Trump does indeed plan to change US-Russia relations, and to adopt a less interventionist and less aggressive foreign policy in general, then 2017 could mark the beginning of the long transition to a saner and potentially more multi-polar world.
Do we dare hope for such things? It all remains to be seen. It is far too early to know and it will be interesting to see how things unfold. But what can be said with certainty and I would like to close with this, is: With respect to the West’s imperial agenda, 2016 has been a welcome failure. Despite western mainstream media’s and the global neo-liberal/neo-con propaganda campaign against ‘evil Russia-Putin’ and ‘evil Trump’ and its insistence on the need to oust the ‘Syrian regime’ – at the end of 2016, these three stand as robust as ever. Indeed all of these targets have been made more powerful and more relevant due to the west’s (and its allies’) colossal miscalculations. The fear-mongering campaign has backfired and has, ironically, helped elevate the status and influence of Russia-Putin, Trump and the Syrian government as we enter the New Year.
Dr Ghada Chehade is an independent analyst, writer and performance poet. She holds a PhD from McGill University. She blogs at: Ghada’s SoapBox
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al-Masdar News.