On Saturday, December 10th, NBC’s foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, broke the news that president-elect Donald Trump planned to nominate Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, to be his Secretary of State. Trump confirmed that choice three days later, but most of America’s corporate-owned media have failed to consider its meaning in a helpful manner. Acting on behalf of the elite interests who saw Hillary Clinton as their ticket to continued primacy, media outlets like NBC have become obsessed with propagating the mantra that Vladimir Putin interfered in the U.S. presidential election, and have implied with little subtlety that Tillerson’s nomination proves that Trump and Putin are in cahoots. (Naturally, NBC fails to highlight the U.S.’s own history of “interfering” in the elections of countless other countries, with means ranging from distributing pamphlets to orchestrating violent coups against democratically elected leaders who dared to think and act independently of Washington.) Tillerson, undeniably, knows Vladimir Putin very well, having represented Exxon-Mobil in Russia during the Yeltsin kleptocracy, and having negotiated some massive deals with Russia since then. In particular, a deal to extract oil from Russia’s Black Sea and the Kara Sea in the Arctic, involving combined investments of up to $500 billion, was signed in Sochi in 2011 but blocked by the Obama Administration’s imposition of economic sanctions on Russia after the alleged “invasion” of the Crimea. Tillerson has been critical of those sanctions. But to understand the implications of all of this, we need to leave NBC’s anti-Russian hysteria far behind, and think thoughts that Andrea Mitchell’s paymasters do not want us to think.
One of the thoughts we are not supposed to think is that Donald Trump might actually know what he is doing. No less an observer than Professor Peter Dale Scott, the man who popularized the term “deep state,” believes that Trump is extremely smart, having practiced a kind of “jujitsu” against the media to secure his victory. Yet even Scott does not seem willing to credit Trump with anything more than campaigning ability, hoping that Trump will be a one-term president paving the way for Elizabeth Warren.1 Such a hope not only glosses over the human and environmental collateral damage that the expected failure might impose on the world outside the Beltway; it also misses a crucial opportunity to consider the possibility that the world’s most dangerous country is about to change tack – a matter of no small importance to the unacknowledged and uncounted victims of American state terrorism. Up to this point, criticism of Trump’s proposals has been confined largely to the domestic sphere – identifying his infrastructure plan as a massive privatization scheme (tax breaks for toll roads), and his fiscal policy as a recrudescence of budget-busting, trickle-down economics sure to alienate “the deplorables” who voted for him. Only now, with Tillerson joining the generals on the foreign-policy team, can we try to anticipate the empire’s new course beyond its hallowed borders. The choice of Tillerson verifies that Trump was serious about doing business with Russia, and therefore represents a repudiation of the insanely dangerous, neoconservative iteration of Operation Barbarossa exemplified by Hillary Clinton (and quietly enabled by Barack Obama). Trump will undoubtedly not be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for this enormously significant step toward peace. On the contrary, he will be vilified by America’s bipartisan, resentful establishment as an appeaser of today’s Hitler. For them, Trump portends not just the end of their ideological dominance, but the end of the glorious imperial project that made them feel so indispensable and exceptional. If they weren’t so drunk on power, perhaps they would be able to see that Trump wants another American century just as much as they do; he just wants to get there by a different route.
Houston, We Have A Profit Opportunity!
If anti-Russian hysteria is the least helpful perspective here – deliberately and cynically hiding the reality of American aggression and foreclosing inquiry into possible alternatives – will we fare any better in our quest to decipher Trump’s objectives by looking at his team as just another incarnation of the Bush-Cheney oil-industry cabal? (If so, hopefully we will remember to give credit to the Clinton and Obama Administrations for serving the same interests with more sophistication and Big Green complicity.) Tillerson can certainly be seen as the icing on the cake for Big Oil, promising a world of climate-changing, profit-taking opportunities outside the United States while Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Interior Department) and Scott Pruitt (EPA) supervise the raping of what’s left of the Homeland. And for the Pentagon – easily the planet’s single-biggest consumer of oil – a serious national commitment to oil extraction makes all manner of major operations possible. (The American empire will not meet the same fate as the Third Reich, beaten down almost within sniffing distance of the oil it so desperately needed.) This much, at least, will please the generals. Energy traders on Wall Street will make money. And Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, will become a household name.
There can be little doubt that the forces who oppose Trump – and by this we mean the owners who oppose Trump – will find new and improved uses for America’s professional environmentalists – the kind of people who pull down six-figure salaries and know how to milk bleeding hearts. Since America’s “liberals” tend to pay more attention to federal policy when a Republican occupies the White House (yet often excuse similar policies pursued by Democrats), any perception of blatant giveaways of public lands could be used to incite more Standing-Rock style protests from the citizenry, presenting the president with a “unification” challenge. (The extent to which Barack Obama averted a reputation-staining calamity at Standing Rock is unclear. But at least sales of his memoirs won’t be adversely affected. Happily for him, most of his potential market cares much less about the blood of Afghans, Pakistanis, and Yemenis killed by his drones.) In this regard, Trump’s vanity and egotism may make him more responsive to protest than the highly-paid talking heads at MSNBC would have us believe, and certainly more responsive than the fundamentalist Mike Pence, for whom conflict would be welcomed as a harbinger of the Second Coming. (Let it be duly noted that Trump has stated he does not favor giving federal land to the states, for possible sale to private parties, as many of his more radical party-mates advocate. But the corporations don’t really care who owns the land, so long as they get to exploit it and don’t get billed for cleaning up the mess.)
Unfortunately for the rest of the planet, America’s contemporary liberals ask far fewer questions when the Stars and Stripes are hoisted over the raping and pillaging of other countries’ resources. When George H.W. Bush crowed about kicking the Vietnam Syndrome in the Gulf War, he did not just mean that the United States had actually “won” the war. (The tremendous costs imposed on Iraq and on American servicemen were, as always, outside the calculus of “victory.”) No, he also meant that domestic protest had been essentially non-existent. The people had been sufficiently well-conditioned to remember their proper place and had not questioned their betters, just as the Framers intended. Overseas, then, the president’s hand is largely free to paint dollar signs in the blood, sweat, and tears of foreigners, who die in America’s wars and toil in the outsourced corporate hellholes that are said to offer them a chance at “economic development.” No segment of the ruling class has any problem with that at all; indeed, they require and expect it. So will Donald Trump emulate his predecessors in this grotesque imperial art form, or does he wish to express his creative side in a more benign manner? With a war criminal2 in charge of a well-fueled killing machine, Trump will have the biggest stick in global history. Is he going to use it, or just boast about how beautiful it is?
A New Deal for the Russians, An Old Deal for the Saudis, A Raw Deal for the Iranians
Throughout the campaign, Trump criticized American foreign policy – whether in trade or battle – as being a bad deal. Seeking to win an American election, he did not say that the Iraq War was a bad deal for the people of Iraq, or for the peoples of surrounding countries (and now Europe) whose lives have been turned upside down by regional destruction. American leaders do not ask us to care about foreigners; they simply exploit our love for ourselves. (In this sense, Mitt Romney, whose personal catchphrase was “No Apology,” would have been a fitting choice for Secretary of State.) As amoral as this focus on pecuniary matters undoubtedly is, it was at least remarkably refreshing to hear a presidential candidate publicly state the enormous financial cost of America’s imperial adventures. Of course, Trump could have gone much further. He could have told the American people that they have a third-world infrastructure and poor social services because the military-industrial complex has multi-billion-dollar, guaranteed-profit, no-bid contracts. He could have said we don’t need hundreds upon hundreds of military bases overseas, consuming huge chunks of federal discretionary spending. Nonetheless, what Trump did say sent chills down the spine of many sectors of the deep state, so much so that the rather well-informed Julian Assange believed that Trump would not be allowed to take power. (He may yet be right. Apart from the crude, violent solution to the problem, there is unprecedented pressure on members of the Electoral College to defy the wishes of their respective states’ electorates and deny Trump the presidency. The argument being made is that the Framers intended the Electoral College to act as a “safety valve” and prevent a foreign power from influencing the result. The CIA’s allegations of Russian tampering have come just at the right time, with the College scheduled to vote on December 19th.)
If Trump and Tillerson both survive the transition to actual power, they could act swiftly to repeal the sanctions that were imposed on Russia by Barack Obama. They could pull NATO forces away from Russia’s borders, defusing the tensions that never should have been allowed to build up and honoring America’s historic promise not to expand NATO to the east after the Berlin Wall fell. And whether or not Trump realizes it yet, they will also need to have an interesting chat with the Saudis about oil prices, which Washington has encouraged its nasty friends to suppress in an attempt to weaken the economies of both Russia and Iran. The lower price has caused the Saudis severe internal financial problems to which they are not accustomed, but they seem to have been willing to accept Washington’s policy partly out of hope that America’s frackers would be driven out of business, and also because the U.S. agreed to push for the removal of Assad from Syria, which is critical to the Saudis in their fanatical quest to destroy Iran and its version of Islam. It may be that the Saudis are now so desperate for cash that they will happily agree to a termination of this particular deal. From America’s point of view, this would enable them to resume their long-established function of buying expensive kit from the United States. (Just ask Mrs. Clinton, the architect of the biggest arms deal in history, what good customers they can be, to say nothing of generous donors.) Denominating all of this business in dollars keeps the American party thumping (at least for a few more years) with oil-backed security, as Henry Kissinger knew it would when the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s created the petrodollar, conveniently taking the place of the gold standard.3 Higher oil prices translate directly into higher profits for the oil companies, justify new investments in expensive new plays and pipelines, and will shore up the mountain of corporate bonds issued by fracking operations that could otherwise cause Wall Street to slip and fall (again).
But peace with Russia will also require a renegotiation of the other dimension of America’s deal with the Saudis – the (not so) covert funding of ISIS, the West’s gruesome alternative to “boots on the ground” in Syria. While the Saudi monarchy might be ready to turn the cash spigots back on, they will not be so eager to abandon their holy war. Trump and Tillerson are going to have to offer them a quid pro quo. (The United States is as likely to scare the Saudis with the prospect of democratic reform and women’s rights as it is to apologize to the widows of Iraq for killing their men and poisoning their children.) A continued free hand in Yemen will not be enough; after all, they must have some place to actually use all the warplanes they’re buying from the U.S., and we want them to be happy with their merchandise. So is the removal of Assad still on the table? While Putin is open to that possibility, regarding Assad as a bargaining chip in his dealings with the West, Trump has said that Assad’s ouster would allow ISIS to control Syria, and the defeat of ISIS is his top priority. From all of this one may discern the outlines of a deal, in which the Saudis stop funding ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Syrians are allowed to restore territorial integrity under their national government but without Assad in charge, Trump can take the defeat of ISIS to the polls in 2018 and 2020, and Iran is left more isolated than ever, to the delight of Israel.
The problem with that scenario is that the jihadis created by American nation-bombing are not going to put down their arms and go to work in call centers for Comcast Arabic. These groups came from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded military and received unhealthy injections of men and materiel from the chaos in Libya. Even if they can be persuaded by their current paymasters to pull out of Syria, they will be looking for another job, and one is waiting for them in the joint Saudi-Israeli Final Solution to the Iranian problem. Trump’s heated rhetoric on Iran is highly troubling in this regard, although Mattis – who has, amazingly, acknowledged that America pays a security price for being widely perceived as too close to Israel – might be able to educate him.4 So might Putin, unless offered solutions in the Ukraine, and other regions of special interest to Russia, that make Tehran expendable. But Putin’s choice is complicated by his close relationship with the Chinese, for whom Iran is a vital terminus in their new Silk Roads. Even in a landscape rearranged by Trump and Tillerson, Iran’s fate once again hangs in the balance, its beautiful countryside, fascinating people, and extraordinary cultural history all on the imperial chopping block, waiting for the axe to be swung.
Upending the Chessboard
No matter how much oil money is recirculated into congressional campaign coffers, there will be a widespread belief in Washington that Trump and Tillerson have brokered a retreat in America’s march to global dominance. The path to victory has long been clear in elite minds, wending through a shattered Middle East to a fragmented Russia and thence, finally, to China, eliminating all the potential challengers to American hegemony, much as Zbigniew Brzezinski spelled out in The Grand Chessboard. Yet Brzezinski himself has changed his tune lately, arguing earlier this year that the United States, while still the world’s most powerful entity, is “no longer the globally imperial power.” Although his analysis has rightly been described as self-serving5 and a prescription for continued western paternalism, it is perhaps as close as an American imperialist can ever come to saying “the gig is up.” What Brzezinski calls for is an American-led global realignment – a kind of triangulation strategy in which the U.S. consciously partners with either Russia or China to contain whichever one is seen as the most potentially disruptive. In Brzezinski’s view, painfully biased as it is, the biggest threat to global order currently emanates from Russia, but “in the longer run it could be China.”
At around the same time that NBC reported Tillerson’s likely nomination, RT made available to global audiences the 60th documentary film made by John Pilger, The Coming War on China. Beginning with America’s history of using Pacific islanders as nuclear guinea pigs, and revealing how American servicemen stationed in Okinawa almost launched a nuclear missile at China during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film shows how America’s “Pivot to Asia” has encircled China with a noose of military installations. (Some people might consider that an act of aggression worthy of economic sanctions, but those people are unemployable in western mainstream media.) The film concludes with scenes of Donald Trump lambasting China, complaining that America never wins any more, and calling for “victory.” Pilger’s implication could not be much clearer.
Unbeknownst to most Americans, Russia and China have been cooperating to an unprecedented degree, across every sphere of activity, to protect themselves from the obvious American threat. Combined, they have become the kind of rival that Brzezinski and the neocons always feared. While the neocons remain in deep denial about this reality, Brzezinski has recognized it. And so has Donald Trump.
Only Trump Could Go To Russia
When Richard Nixon went to China in 1972, he and Henry Kissinger had several motives, many of which related to their predicament in Indochina. But a major objective of this opening was to drive a wedge between China and the Soviet Union. There is a distinct possibility that Trump’s motive today, although we are not allowed to see it through all the establishment messaging, is essentially the same. While the mainstream media focus relentlessly on Trump’s alleged closeness to Russia, they downplay his oft-repeated animus toward China. One of his most revealing comments on foreign policy was that he had always been told that we should “never drive Russia and China together, and Obama has done that.” Of course, Trump should have said that the United States, led by neocons, had done that – and done it to an extent that Richard Nixon never had to face. The fact is that Eurasian integration has already gone so far that it is probably impossible to undo, and Vladimir Putin is certainly not stupid enough to allow his country to be left to the mercies of an empire that absolutely can not be trusted. Other members of Russia’s elite, however, are that stupid. And, as Paul Craig Roberts has often pointed out, Putin has not been nearly as aggressive as he should have been in neutering the incursions of Washington-backed NGO’s seeking to undermine him and bring Russia back into the Western sphere of influence. If we had real journalism in this country, we might know something about these internal dynamics; instead, all we have is caricatures and lies. We are never asked to wonder what Trump hopes to achieve by doing business with Russia, beyond making money for certain interests (and himself). Could it be that Trump wants to see if Putin can be brought around to a closer relationship with the United States, with the option in his back pocket of throwing Vladimir under the bus if he remains too independent? (If the ghost of Saddam Hussein could talk, he would explain how that works.) Could it be that Trump will offer Putin a better deal for Russia than the Chinese, who may well become, in the long run, a threat to Russia’s vast, sparsely-populated territory?
Such a Sino-Russian Split seems to be Brzezinski’s new goal, as he calls upon the U.S. to “promote the gradual realization in Russia (probably post-Putin) that its only place as an influential world power is ultimately within Europe.” But what Brzezinski doesn’t concede, and most American minds cannot even contemplate, is that the Russians and Chinese have a different – and possibly more legitimate – perspective, in which Europe becomes part of Asia. (Many German industrialists have a similar perspective.) If Trump seeks to realize Brzezinski’s vision, massive deal-making à la Tillerson – a nice, juicy carrot instead of the big stick – may be the only way to pull it off. Russia can not be defeated militarily. Better armies than America’s have tried, and real estate values plummet during nuclear winter. Oil is the only business that can generate the necessary purchasing power. And if the gambit fails, at least a lot of people will get rich in the attempt.
From an environmental standpoint, the planet is being offered a slow burn instead of a nuclear fireball – a terrible deal that Donald Trump does not criticize. Brzezinski, on the other hand (waxing sentimental as the grim reaper approaches?) urges his global realignment as the precursor to solving humanity’s survival-threatening environmental problems. Perhaps he should go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that enthrones Nature as the great imperial power that all others must respect and obey. Now that would have been a truly useful contribution to human affairs. Indeed, concern for the fate of the planetary ecosystem may even be something about which some hysteria would be warranted. Let’s just be sure to understand that, should such sentiments be expressed more frequently by the Western corporate media in the months ahead, they should not be taken entirely at face value. The formerly undisputed rulers of the world will avail themselves of whatever propaganda methods they can, but winning our hearts and minds is a victory they do not deserve.
- Whether Warren would actually represent “hope” in a more meaningful way than Obama is a question he was not asked and does not answer. ↩
- For more on General James Mattis, read Dahr Jamail’s first-hand account of the war crimes committed against the civilian population of Fallujah. ↩
- The books of John Perkins provide some of the best insight into the workings of the “Saudi Arabian money laundering affair.” ↩
- Of course, Mattis’s attitudes towards Israel might also doom his nomination, a fact that could be concealed by concerns about civilian control of the military. ↩
- For example, Brzezinski blames the Soviet Union for a million deaths in Afghanistan, without admitting his key role in sucking them into that quagmire, an achievement of which he is obviously very proud. ↩