The ascension of the Republican candidate in a US presidential election is always a time when the leftists dust off their playbooks and resort to the usual attacks based on competence, corruptibility and belligerence. They have been particularly venomous this time. The last upset to their ambitions, the election of George W Bush, did not generate so much sinister heat and light, despite all the hanging and dimpled chads. But then the world was comparatively peaceful for the first 234 days of the Bush presidency.
The liberal reaction to the Republican victory last week is similar to that of Ronald Reagan’s back in 1980. That was also a time when left-wing militancy was at a peak and the Middle East was particularly unstable. Reagan was seen as a reactionary cowboy, a bungling warmonger all because he was standing up to the USSR’s global aggression, as exemplified by its invasion of Afghanistan, its deployment of SS-20 missiles in Europe, its support for numerous repressive terrorist-sponsoring governments, like Libya, Syria and Iraq and its brutal infection of weak post-colonial states with the misery of communism.
The wails of anguish over the Mrs Clinton’s ambitions fainting clean away merely echo the demise of that far-too-nice Jimmy Carter. Putin does seem to be a more energetic version of Brezhnev in wielding military power at the same time as his country’s economy once again slowly dies of neglect.
It is far too soon to know what a Trump administration will be like. The intense speculation is there because the liberal media elite are using scrutiny to recapture a narrative over which they lost control and understanding. Part of the frenzied climate is due to the internet-bred desire for instant gratification. Part of it is barely-disguised hostility.
The world is waiting to see what the ‘Trump Doctrine’ is going to be. As I have written before, Trump is the first person in 64 years to be elected president without having participated any previous democratic contest. This does mean that he was less vote-grabbingly bland and robotic compared to his rivals in the primaries. His maverick approach got him votes.
However the interests of state are consistent. Trump may have to adapt to office before the office adapts to him.
Another consideration that people forget is that this is a Trump administration. Trump is not a one-man government and he will be appointing a team of hopefully talented and able people. It is this team that will formulate policy in detail. The team might not have been that much different irrespective of which Republican won the election. Indeed, when Obama won in 2008, he retained George W Bush’s Defence Secretary.
The administration’s relationship with Russia is an area that is causing concern. Trump seems to be minded to reverse the West’s stance on the future of Syria, by accepting Russian dominance and Assad as president.
He appears to be adopting a policy of realpolitik, in contrast to idealistic and media-pandering polices of his predecessor. Trump seems to recognise the actuality of the military situation. To reduce Russian influence and eliminate Assad would require greater intervention than is now taking place and would probably result in direct confrontation with Russian forces.
This would be the first confrontation since American intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and the first direct conflict between the great powers (if the national wreck that was the People’s Republic of China counted as such at the time) since the Korean War. It would probably rapidly become a military escalation of a kind not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Trump looks to be in a no-win situation. He stands up to Russia, he is cast as a typical Republican warmonger by his opponents. He cooperates with them in the name of restoring relative peace but with a murderous dictator back in place, he is an appeaser retreating from US global commitments to far-away countries about which he is accused of knowing little.
Syria was always in the Russian sphere of influence. Russia is defending its interests. It is clear they are willing to risk war rather than lose Syria to a regime that would no longer welcome them. This is why they have sent a battle fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean. Its presence is as political as it is military, however ramshackle it may appear. Syria is the new Cuba. Russia is willing to fight to keep it.
The Syrian Civil War is not a binary conflict. It is not Reds vs Whites, Cavaliers vs Roundheads or Union vs Confederates. There are numerous mutually competing factions, each attracting support from overseas sponsors, with the exception of Daesh. Some of the anti-Assad forces fighting in Aleppo are Islamist. Picking a side to be the ‘goodies’ is not routine.
We are perhaps slipping to the era of Great Power politics last seen in the late 19th century, which is no bad thing for Britain. Militarily, we remain the Great Power in Europe, despite cutbacks. Conceding in Syria might be offset by a lowering of tension in the Baltic States, which is also in the interests of the UK.
The Left is complaining about the turn of events. But then this is what they always do. All we can hope for is that this possible new era will not spring forth the Left’s antidote to the Great Powers’ ambitions, a new incarnation of one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. Or also, a Gavrilo Princip.