Trump has tweeted his opposition to Scottish independence. “Is Scotland going for the vote, by the way. It would be terrible. They just went through hell”. Hell being IndyRef1, and not the Brexit campaign that contributed to the murder of Jo Cox MP, and Jacub Rusiecki, factory worker, or the suicide of 16 year old Dagmara Przybysz after racist bullying; nor the spike in physical attacks and racist harassment following the Brexit vote, Trump supported Brexit and saw his own election to the US presidency as ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’.
Currently, the major foreign policy difference in the USA is between the Old Guard of Democrats and establishment Republicans on the one hand, and Trump and his ‘America First’ business backers on the other is over their attitude to Russia and the EU. Even after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Bushes Senior and Junior, followed by Obama, continued to see the Russian Federation as their principal enemy. However Trump and his further Right, America First backers are prepared to pursue an alternative realpolitik, where Putin’s Russia and the European far Right help them to break-up the EU.
Because Trump wants to break-up the EU, he sees the Scottish government as an opponent. The USSR no longer exists as the number one threat to US imperial power. So some powerful US business interests see the EU as a more threatening long-term economic (and potentially military) global contender than Putin’s Russia. Trump is providing these people with a political base, at the heart of the US state, to attain their aims. The US is a presidential republic, which gives whoever occupies the post some formidable powers.
The break-up the EU would mean one major US competitor is eliminated, leaving behind considerably smaller ‘fish in the sea’ to deal with. At present, Russia is a global economic basket case and hence a lesser threat. Offer Putin a deal, use him to help undermine the EU, and the US position in the world could be strengthened. Yes, maybe in the future the balance of forces may change, but, as John Foster Dulles long ago stated, “The United States of America does not have friends; it has interests.” And, that sounds very much like the sort of business talk Trump likes.
The EU remains a powerful global player operating from behind its own protectionist barriers. The EU is able to benefit from its large population, varied resources and geographical position to lessen any susceptibility to external pressure. It can maintain higher environmental and product quality standards, better social provision, and working rights, than smaller states considerably more susceptible to external pressure. These are all anathema to Trump’s big business backers.
Recent imperial wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been, in part, proxy wars between the USA and Russia. However, they also have been far more complex than that. This has placed the US in the position of trying to manipulate mutually antagonistic forces – Iraqi Shias (backed by Iran), Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Kurdish pershmergas. This has resulted in a series of set-backs and stalemates for US foreign policy. Trump has highlighted these failures and suggested trying other courses of action in alliance with Putin. This would mean overturning the one consistent US foreign policy over the years, which has been opposing Russia.
The Old Guard still want to continue to use the EU to undermine Putin’s Russia. For a long time, it has been US policy to exert its influence in Europe through Germany, a major economic power, and through the UK, an even more willing political ally. The US state gave its backing to the EEC then the EU to yoke these two states together for its own ends. Germany was kept, not only militarily weak in comparison to its growing economic clout, but continued to be occupied by US troops. The EU was never permitted to develop its own independent military forces, so that it remained dependent on US-run NATO.
In the past, there were times when Germany (and other EU member states) could use their economic and hence wider political clout to assert their independence from US foreign policy. Some members, including Germany, did not comply with US demands over the Iraq War in 2003. Germany also exerted a strong economic pull on the post-1989 Eastern European countries. The strategy of Ostpolitik, pioneered by Willy Brandt, as early as 1969, had to wait until the walls and other barriers came down, and the US’s rigid control over relations with the USSR and Warsaw Pact were no longer relevant. German products and services had long been attractive to Eastern European consumers. After 1989 they were now available. Before this, climbing over machine-gun manned walls or crossing mine-strewn fields and barbed wire fences had fatal consequences. Afterwards, access to jobs in the EU, especially in Germany, was open. Therefore Germany could offer a strong counterweight to US (and UK) political pressures.
German foreign policy, in the absence of strong military backing, has been to use its economic strength to maintain and extend its influence to the east. German businesses wanted to involve the Ukraine more closely with EU, but like Turkey, by dangling the carrot of membership, but not necessarily granting it. German business wants to make trade deals with Russia, particularly over oil and gas, in return for manufactured goods and services. Any NATO sabre-rattling and US state support for far Right forces could destabilise that extensive zone lying to the east, and erect barriers to further German business penetration.
US governments have long recognised the dangers of Germany pursuing its own independent course. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the USSR in 1991, these were relatively easily contained. After these events, the UK, the other prop in the US EU strategy, became particularly useful. Since Thatcher, the UK has gone along with every US imperial adventure. The UK continued to oppose the development of an independent EU military force. It has given its strong support to NATO. Under both Thatcher and Blair, the UK state was a promoter of neo-liberal ‘free’ market policies, hoping to dilute the then more social market basis of the EU set-up. The UK’s Social Chapter ‘exemptions’ could contribute to the further undermining of the EU’s set-up.
Thatcher and Blair had been keen supporters of rapidly extending EU membership to the ex-Eastern European states. They knew, after these states’ political subordination and oppression following their USSR occupation from 1944-5, and after their economic subordination and later economic stagnation under COMECON, that their governments would be both very pro-NATO and much more supportive of US-UK promoted neo-liberalism. The ‘Chicago Boys’ helped a new rising class to get rich quick by pocketing the assets and destroying most of the social services that had existed in these countries. With the help of the ‘Chicago Boys’ newfound local allies, they opened up the East European economies, taking control of those parts of the economy that were worth saving and leaving the rest to rust.
When Eurosceptic Cameron attempted to renegotiate EU migrant workers’ freedom of movement, he hoped to get the support of Poland, Hungary and other eastern EU member states. They were already openly flouting Germany and the EU over the negotiated resettlement of Syrian asylum seekers. Cameron spent a lot of time and money wooing these states, offering them more arms and British troops on their borders with Putin’s Russia. However, seeing the possible longer-term threat to the free movement of their own citizens within the EU, the East European EU member governments only allowed Cameron to negotiate the most minimal exemptions. These were certainly nothing like enough to appease the Europhobic, anti-migrant, Tory Right and UKIP.
Instead, the Tory Right and UKIP turned to Trump in the USA as well the growing populist Right in Europe. These were the allies they needed in their Brexit offensive. The electoral setback for Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France limited the possibilities of the British Right finding allies in this direction after the Brexit vote. Given May’s latest Tory alliance with the populist Right DUP, they would have had few qualms about seeking support in such quarters had that option remained open. However, the more recent election of Trump as US president has politically reinforced May’s Brexiteers’ anti-EU stance. Trump has opened up the prospect of the UK as a European offshore, short contract, low wage, tax haven – Singapore wrapped in a union jack; or for the more deluded, the re-establishment of global British influence in Empire2 (albeit under US tutelage).
In reality, Trump has the British government where he wants it – dangling the prospect of a future trade deal to be made at his own time and leisure, when the UK is in the weakest bargaining position. Can’t scrap Obamacare and put health provision completely at the mercy of private business; then how about offering them the NHS assisted by Jeremy Hunt.
But Trump is looking much further for potential allies to undermine the EU. Sarah Palin could see Russia from her Wasilla home town in Alaska and did not like it. Trump seems to be able to see Russia from his hardly less distant Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. But Trump likes what he sees in Putin. Here is somebody with the same contempt for any opposition, for democratic politics, for vote counting, and is not afraid to take the sort of action needed taken to assert his power. And, see that Russia Today – its presenters look so American and it paints a much rosier picture of the world than all those ‘Fake News’ channels’ in the US. God, you can’t even rely on Fox News these days! Putin also backs the far Right anti-EU Jobbik in Hungary, Ataka in Bulgaria, Golden Dawn in Greece. Some of Trump’s Alt-Right supporters are connected to these forces, although he publicly keeps his distance at present, not wanting to provide further ammunition to the Old Guard.
American anti-Russian sentiment is so deeply rooted, that following the Cold War and the rise of Putin, the Old Guard has been using his purported involvement in the US presidential election to conjure up the spectre of ‘Trumpgate’. Of course, they won’t admit that it was the failed policies of Hilary Clinton’s own big business backers, which provided the real impetus behind Trump’s electoral support. Nevertheless, if the Old Guard does not succeed in impeaching Trump, they could yet rein in Trump’s pro-Putin tendencies. Even his more adulatory supporters, who hate everything Obama and Clinton stand for, are not immune to anti-Russian sentiments.
To counter this Old Guard pressure, Trump has sent Vice-President Michael Pence to visit Montenegro and Albania, to involve them more closely in NATO. They lie beyond the EU’s current borders, and hence are more amenable to Trump. They can, in turn, put some immediate pressure on the EU, particularly through its Right populist-led states. This can then be directed at Germany. Only the US has the political clout to rein in Putin after any new deal. But, if war does unfortunately break out, only NATO has the power to see off Russia.
An indication of the success of such US pressure has been the announcement by Poland’s Right populist and increasingly authoritarian, Law and Justice-led government, that it is going to make a major claim for war reparations from Germany. This increases the tensions within the EU. No doubt the hardline Brexiters in the UK government see this as welcome diversion, weakening Germany’s negotiating position.
The outcome of any trade deals with the US, particularly under Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, would reflect the relative economic strength of the two negotiating powers. As a major corporate businessman, Trump knows the rules of the game – the more capital, the more clout. He has a long record of riding roughshod over smaller companies and individuals, to get his way.
In this respect, China, as a rising economic giant poses a real problem for the USA; and far from threatening to break-up it looks like expanding its power. Chinese economic penetration expansion is already economically far advanced in the Russian Far East, and poised to extend to Siberia. If Trump was able to pull Putin away from his current alliance with China, and help the US support to thwart Chinese now global designs, even the Old Guard could learn to live with him.
The prospect of war with China would increase. If, however, the Old Guard managed to impeach Trump, then war against Putin’s Russia could precede this. Thus, neither wing of US imperialism offers any reassuring future for humankind. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, both the Old Guard and Trump oppose Scottish independence. And SNP government support for NATO means that it will continue to be a plaything of US imperial politics.
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