The hand on the trigger: How an American president wantonly prepares the next war

The great world powers slipped into World War I without really wanting it. But they had been arming themselves for years, so all that was needed was but a spark – such as the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne – to detonate a powder keg filled to the rim.

A lot of explosives had accumulated

not only in the arsenals of the military, but in the hearts of the people. In the first moment of the declaration of war, many people throughout Europe were seen to be overwhelmed by enthusiasm. “… the war of 1914… was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful… That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk and rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it were a festival”(Stefan Zweig).

Quite a few military men and politicians at the head of states did, of course, suspect the calamity that the war would bring all of them, but there was no turning back for anyone without losing face. The politicians more or less willingly let themselves be driven and they in their turn were the ones that drove their peoples into annihilation.

Today the world is being driven again,

but nowhere in the world is the impending war greeted with enthusiasm, neither by the United States nor by its rivals. Not even by the American President. It is difficult to believe Donald Trump, because he mixes truth and falsehood at his own discretion, but we may trust that he does not want to start a war with Iran, because until now he has largely kept his promises to his electorate – and one of these promises was the reduction of US-military presence outside its borders. So why is the current American President showing the world such an unpleasant face? Why has the US since George W. Bush ceased to be what it has been for so long, namely a shield for Europe, to which it owed its freedom and prosperity during the second half of the past century?

After completing his ten-volume history

of human civilizations in 1961, Arnold Toynbee remarked that the „American Empire“ had two characteristics that distinguished it from its predecessor the British Empire at that time already extinct for about two decades: abundant military bases and an emphasis on generous economic aid for its allies. In a policy “unprecedented in the history of empires,” America was making “her imperial position felt by giving economic aid to the peoples under her ascendancy, instead of… exploiting them economically.” Yes, the USA was by and large a milder hegemon than all previous great powers.

The Pax Americana created at the end of the Second World War was soon to prove an advantage for most of its satellites in the first three to four post-war decades. US-historian Alfred McCoy notes that “at the end of World War II, the United States invested all its prestige and power in forming nothing less than a new world order through permanent international institutions — the United Nations (1945), the International Monetary Fund (1945), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1947), predecessor to the World Trade Organization….“

We should emphasize the role

of the United States as a force for peace and order before we talk about its current president and the danger that he so massively and so wantonly conjures – doing away with the reputation of a great nation in the eyes of world opinion. Immediately after taking office, the new lord of the White House committed the unforgivable stupidity of counteracting almost all of his predecessor’s rulings. Obama had gone to great lengths, with the help of his allies, to negotiate a treaty obliging Iran to use nuclear power exclusively for civilian purposes and to submit to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Trump tore the treaty apart and, in this way, frivolously gambled away the prestige of the United States as a contracting partner that could be relied upon. How can we believe a state where each president cancels the commitments of his predecessor?

And still worse the incredible naivety

of transferring business practices to international politics! The predominant criterion when concluding commercial deals is the benefit each party derives from it. No competitor, even if seeing a pistol aimed at his chest, will risk his life for a few dollars less.So, the real estate agent Trump believed he could transfer this insight to politics. „They will give in as soon as I scare them to death – and then we’ll make a deal,“ that is the simple philosophy of the currently most powerful man on earth.

The pistol, in this case,

does not just consist in measures to make the Iranian economy collapse. The export of oil, to which the country owes its modest standard of living, is by now largely curtailed, and any embargo breakers must expect heavy penalties. That is why Europe is no longer fulfilling its obligations towards Iran, and has largely broken off its business relations in order not to risk the US boycotting its own companies.

But now, Trump has still gone

one step further. It was not enough for him to choke the economy of Iran. Since the beginning of this year, he uses the military in order to ensure that his message is understood correctly. Two aircraft carriers have recently been stationed off the coast of Iran, plus strategic bombers B-52, together with stealth bombers F-35 and a rapidly growing number of US soldiers. They are currently being relocated to the Persian Gulf.

Only a politically blind, highly egocentric

businessman like Trump could seriously believe that it would be enough to play with aircraft carriers and bombers off the enemy’s coast to make him aware that he was no match for a man like Donald Trump. Militarily, Iran has become the strongest state in the Near East. According to experts, it is quite capable of eliminating in a first strike all American military bases in the Gulf with highly efficient missiles from its own production. The country cannot be compared to Iraq, Libya or Syria. The mullahs are now well aware of their strength, especially since Trump’s approach is once again driving the population into their arms, after having almost lost them. As several previous uprisings have shown, the regime has by no means enjoyed undivided support among its own people. On the contrary, it was only able to maintain its rule with the help of police-state repression.

But just as Donald Trump knew

how to drive once again the people of Venezuela into the arms of their incompetent autocrat Maduro, he now unites the people of Iran behind their leadership – even though the country and its inhabitants have never been as badly off as they are today. Trump is a master at not making America the number one country, as is his avowed intent, but at making enemies all around. Abe Shinzo, the Japanese prime minister, is still a rare exception. On June 13, he tried to putty the broken porcelain, but he had no more success than Heiko Maas, the German exterior minister. Ayatollah Khamenei expressly declined to negotiate with the American President as long as the latter continues economic sanctions and threatens his country with military deployment.

Now the enemies are facing each other

with loaded pistols. No one can retreat without losing face. How is Trump going to recall his aircraft carriers without being ridiculed by the world as a paper tiger? And how can the regime of the Ayatollahs give in without losing the support of the population and being laughed at as a weakling? Unlike business, it is about honor and national prestige that nations are driven to war. These notions have never gone out of fashion between them – neither in the US nor in Iran. Trump steered his country into this stalemate not because he wanted this war, but because he makes rash decisions and is therefore unfit as a responsible leader of the world’s greatest power.

I think that war is inevitable, but that is of course no more than a personal opinion – fortunately history has never allowed prophecies to become true with absolute certainty.

For the time being, each of the two opponents

is still waiting for the stupidity of the other, i.e. for the first act of aggression, so as to have a pretext for striking with unmitigated power: the Iranians with simultaneous rocket attacks on all American bases and ships; the Americans with immediate strikes by their stealth bombers on all Iranian military positions and radar stations. As of now, acts of provocation are already occurring. Today, on 13 June, two oil tankers were fired upon in the Gulf of Oman. We may assume that there are quite a lot of war mongering groups that long for a conflagration and even want to bring it about at any price. After all, we should not forget that many people in countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, which for years were exposed to terrible devastation, have nothing to lose. If war is inevitable let it be transferred to the rest of the world.

America’s military will, of course,

win the war against Iran in a few weeks, but Donald Trump will not be able to win peace. Up to the present day, peace has neither been won in the Near East nor in Libya. Iran has left no doubt as to what will be its first measure after the outbreak of war. It will immediately block the Strait of Hormuz, which could be barred for years afterwards due to permanent terror in the region. In this case, the main artery for oil supplies to Western countries will be severed indefinitely. We should have no illusions about what is really at stake: nothing less than the current prosperity of Europe, Japan and many other countries. But let’s not dwell on our losses only. Iran – like Syria and Iraq another country famous for some of the greatest testimonies of human civilization – will sink into rubble as has already happened in large areas of the Middle East. And this happens for no other reason than that an ill-advised American president is frivolously experimenting in big politics with business practices that may succeed among brokers.

Trump has issued the slogan „America First“

We may find it hard to blame him for that. Every statesman is obliged by his oath to benefit above all his own country. True statesmen, however, always refrained from shouting this intention from the rooftops but wisely concealed it. This is not the current president’s way; in fact, he could do more harm to his country and the world at large than any previous one. Only a miracle may still prevent the fire of war from flaring up in Iran, the Strait of Hormuz from being mined, and Europe from plunging into chaos due to severed oil supplies.

Miracles are not at all impossible,

a kind of miracle is visible even at this very moment as hardly anyone seems to suspect the demons that are ready to pounce on us. Indeed, many will reject these lines as pure scaremongering. Hopefully, these people are right!

From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pankaj Mishra – all those one-eyed judgments of history

Again and again the interpretation of history has been seduced by naive humanism, because the latter represents the voice of conscience without any ifs or buts. The castles in the air thus created are full of charm as they embody the noble ideal in the face of a reality which lacks such perfection. From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pankaj Mishra – all those one-eyed judgments of history weiterlesen

A globe ruled by Beijing?

How does a leading US-American expert on the Warring Empires of our time, historian Alfred McCoy, assess the future relationship of the superpowers and the relative strength of his country compared with that of rapidly ascending China? As to the ECONOMY, he is in no doubt that the Middle Kingdom will soon surpass the Unites States.

“China became the world’s second-largest economy in 2010. That same year it also became the world’s leading manufacturing nation, ousting the United States from a position it had held for over a century. By April 2011, the IMF was projecting that China would overtake the United States in real GDP to become the world’s largest economy in just five more years.” “From 1820 to 1870, Britain increased its share of global gross domestic product by 1 percent per decade; the United States raised its share by 2 percent during its half-century ascent, 1900 to 1950; at a parallel pace, Japan’s grew about 1.5 percent during its postwar resurgence, from 1950 to 1980. China, however, raised its slice of the world pie by an extraordinary 5 percent from 2000 to 2010 and is on course to do so again in the decade ending in 2020, with India not far behind.” These are abstract figures but they have a direct bearing on the range of investments left to the US government as social costs are placing an increasing burden on the budget. “As its share of world output fell… to just 17 percent by 2016… its social welfare costs started climbing from 4 percent of GDP in 2010 to a projected 18 percent by 2050.”

McCoy does not discuss the reasons for his country’s economic decline (outsourcing and ill-conceived free trade) but he describes its consequences. “Between 1999 and 2011, Chinese imports eliminated 2.4 million American jobs.” And he states that “despite volumes of economic studies to the contrary, just 19 percent of Americans polled in July 2016 believed that trade creates more jobs.”

In the wake of economic decline people were forced to significantly reduce their spending on EDUCATION. “With rising social disparities pushing the United States down to number fifty-six in income equality worldwide, its families increasingly lack the resources to… invest… in their children’s education. The results can no longer be denied. “In 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tested 510,000 fifteen-year-olds in thirty-four developed nations, finding those in Shanghai came first in math, science, and reading, while those in Massachusetts, “a strong-performing U.S. state,” placed seventeenth in reading, twentieth in science, and twenty-seventh in math.” “After leading the world for decades in twenty-five to thirty-four-olds with University degrees, the Unites States sank to twelfth place in 2012. That same year, the World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre forty-seventh among 144 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction. Two years later, its position slid to fifty-first.” The situation is even worse when considering that Americans themselves have turned into a minority in domestic Universities. “A survey of some 150 major American universities in 2010 found that more than half of all graduate students in the sciences were foreigners: 70 percent in electrical engineering, 63 percent in computer science, and 52 percent in materials engineering.”

            The EFFECT ON SCIENTIFIC OUTPUT has become obvious in the course of the two last decades. “In 2008, the United States still held the number two spot behind Japan in worldwide patent applications with 232,000, although China at 195,000 was closing fast, thanks to a blistering 400 percent increase since 2000. By 2014, China actually took the lead with nearly half the world’s total, an extraordinary 801,000 of them compared to just 285,000 for Americans.” This downward trend is further exacerbated by dwindling government funding. “From 2010 to 2013 Congress imposed the sharpest cuts to science since the end of the space race in the 1960s, accelerating the slide in research and development (R&D) from 2 percent of GDP in the 1970s to only 0.78 percent by 2014.” “While Beijing’s soaring investment in R&D was on track to surpass the United States by 2026, Washington was reducing its research funding, both civil and military, from $160 billion in 2006 to $140 billion in 2015—cuts that will certainly shrink the nation’s pool of talented young scientists.”

            At the same time Beijing strengthens its RELATIONS WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD pushing the United States away from its leading position. “In October 2014 Beijing announced the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China’s leadership sees this institution as a future Eurasian alternative to the US-dominated World Bank. Despite pressure from Washington not to join, fifty-seven countries – including close American allies such as Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and South Korea – signed on, contributing $100 billion in capital, which made the new institution half the size of the World Bank on its opening day in January 2016.” At the same time, trade connections between China and the surrounding world become progressively closer. “Beijing managed to double its annual trade with Africa over just four years to $222 billion, three times America’s $73 billion.”

Trade connections between Europe and China make use of direct transport by rail which is much quicker than traffic by container ships. “High-value manufactured goods, like computers and auto parts, /can now/ travel 6,700 miles from Leipzig, Germany, to Chongqing, China, in just twenty days“ /but most goods rather travel in the opposite direction/. “In 2013, Deutsche Bahn AG (German Rail) began preparing a third route between Hamburg and Zhengzhou that was expected to cut travel time to just fifteen days.”

            American superiority remains uncontestable only in one domain: THE MILITARY. But here, too, the effects of economic decline are evident. “In 2010, the US defense budget of $700 billion represented nearly half (43 percent) of world military spending, compared with only 7 percent for China” – an enormous burden on the economy. “The United States struggled, circa 2012, to maintain 40 percent of the world’s armaments production with only 23 percent of its gross economic output.” These expenditures will be sharply reduced in the coming decades. “Just as the National Intelligence Council had predicted, “rising entitlement costs” to sustain an aging population will “consume an increasing portion of the Federal budget,” driving defense’s share of GDP downward from 7 percent during the Cold War and 5 percent in the decade after 2001 to only 2 percent in 2030, forcing a relentless retrenchment of the US global presence.”

            Meanwhile Beijing is constantly strengthening its military clout. “In August 2016, three years after the Pentagon abandoned its own attempt at satellite security through the disaggregated F-6 system, Beijing launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite.” “China produced the world’s fastest… /supercomputer/ … until in 2016 it finally won in the way that really matters: with a supercomputer that had microprocessor chips made in China. By then, it also had the most supercomputers in the world with 167 compared to 165 for the United States and only 29 for Japan.” Its capabilities for defense steadily increased: “As China’s economy grew, its defense budget, constant at 2 percent of GDP, increased fourfold from $52 billion in 2001 to $214 billion in 2015, second only to Washington’s.” The conclusions drawn from this development seem to be obvious. “Chinese innovation in military technology is on a trajectory toward world leadership sometime around 2030, just as America’s current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.” But even in 2016 “in Obama’s last months, a RAND Corporation study, “War with China”, warned that Beijing’s improved capabilities now meant a US victory was no longer certain.”

            McCoy concludes that probably around 2030 the US WILL CEDE its place as the leading superpower to China. “So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003 /when the US embarked on its devastating war with Iraq/” (all quotes from McCoy 2017).

            However, this remains a question of speculation. In the coming years, China will certainly suffer strong, perhaps even dramatic slumps in growth, especially as the country is heavily indebted (about 300 percent of GDP. However, like in Japan, this is a domestic debt!). Then everybody will doubt the further rise of the Far Eastern giant, but what matters is the country’s growing strength compared to the rest of the world – and in this respect significant losses are unlikely. Nevertheless, the rise of China to the rank of world hegemon will not mean that the former empires, the US and Russia, will lose their status as great powers. Because of their nuclear capabilities they may still threaten their rivals and the rest of the word with total destruction. This is the decisive difference compared to all previous history. Russia suffered the worst possible collapse in the nineties but even its comparatively low economic standing does in no way impair its current impact on world politics. It remains a great nuclear power. US armament may be much more sophisticated but as long as intercepting a ballistic missile with a speed of Mach 20 is infinitely more difficult than just dumping it on an enemy’s country, even smaller nuclear armed countries pose a massive threat to world peace and human survival. The seemingly irrepressible ascent of China is therefore unlikely to fundamentally change the current rivalry among superpowers.

(This is a chapter of my book “In Search of Meaning and Purpose in History – Life in the Era of Warring Empires”. The German original has been sent to a Publishing House but the English translation is – at least for the time being – accessible on the internet: “In Search of Meaning and Purpose in History„)

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