Great Game Theory
It comes from all corners, this chatter about American imperialism. From either end of Asia, all the space in between, and the rest of the BRICS laying around. Although, you don’t hear it from the Europeans as much as you used to. The truth is that the United States has been trying to back off the global stage ever since George W. Bush realized that the Mission was not, in fact, Accomplished. If the polls are to be believed most Americans want to be wrapped in what Peter Zeihan calls “the Absent Super Power.” And yet, pull back on the US led security umbrella and all these little geopolitical grease fires start to pop up. What is a super power, however reluctant, to do?
First, realize that technology has largely made isolation impossible. Second, and it hurts to hear it, but America has never been able to contain the world’s heavies alone – United States has always needed allies. So this week the Senate just did its best to scrap what alliances Washington hasn’t already infuriated, by blocking Biden’s $61bn request for aid to Ukraine and $14bn for Israel.
It may have started World War III.
The general wisdom is that if the US cuts Ukraine loose, Europe will follow suit sooner rather than later. When that happens Ukraine, practically speaking, is done for. And that is true enough. For the moment, let’s leave aside that all that military aid would do more for the US economy than most of our current industrial policy. Or that it would ensure crucial allies for fractured years to come. Let us also leave aside that – with all due respect to Greta Thunberg – the ensuing nuclear conflict in ten years or so will do more harm to the environment, the spotted owl and property values than an additional 1.5 Celsius in global temperatures. Washington may be in a trade war with China, but the EU is currently weighing its options. Europe knows that it can’t go it alone in the face of large aggressor. They’d rather cling to the US, but if left to their fate as Russia gnaws at its edges like a cheesecake, the EU will have to make its own peace.
Beijing would rather do business with the US as well; to continue as the world’s workshop is the only way that it can keep its economy going. If that market disappears behind a wall of trade restrictions China too will adapt. Which brings us to the next potential grease fire…
The signals coming from Washington can be read by Beijing and its Asia allies as clearly as by Moscow and the rest of Europe. You are on their own. The price of that isolation is that the US will not be able to dictate how abandoned allies manage with the coming chaos. South Korea, Japan and the rest region will be forced to deal with an overbearing China they can’t resist without US help.
The United States hasn’t spent the last 70 years dictating terms to the world – and getting immensely rich – because the rest of the world is scared of the Colossus, but because the rest of the world was, and is, scared of something else altogether: disorder and chaos. Now Washington is exporting the stuff with a bizarre mix of isolationism, halting power projection and ham-handed industrial policy seemingly designed to irritate trading partners. The only partner America won’t infuriate is…
The Holy Land is burning hot, but this will likely be a short(ish) war. At the moment, no real power wants to get directly involved, which will keep that part of the conflict contained. The risk of conflagration is with the Iran openly targeting US assets in Syria, off the Red Sea and Israel. A direct strike on Iran’s oil capabilities remain open, if a slim, possibility as Washington attempts to keep the eroding balance of these global grease fires from spreading. The situation will not remain static through the election cycle.
As if that wasn’t enough end-of-the-year fun, on Monday, Venezuela “officially” annexed the Essequibo, which makes up 2/3 of neighboring Guyana along with its territorial waters – at least the part with all that oil. The issue here isn’t so much invading Guyana – the Essequibo is sparsely populated jungle, but the oil rights. On Thursday, US Southern Command announced it will conduct flight operations in Guyana, and Anthony Blinken announced America’s “unwavering support of Guyana’s sovereignty.” Exxon does not want to go to war with Venezuala, and Caracus doesn’t want to fight Brazil, with US support at the same time.China has skin in the Essequibo oil fields as well, and doesn’t want BRICS partner Brasília spinning intoUS orbit.
That will be enough to put an end to that foolishness – for now.
To leave Ukraine to its fate – and the Senate appears set to do it – will be to abandon European allies to make an uneasy peace with Russian and China on their own. The knock-on will be to invite conflict in Taiwan, which can’t be won without uneasy Asian allies. Retreat from that fight, so goes Indo-Pac leaving India is a very unforgiving position.
If you are looking at a map… all of Europe and Asia, and most of the Global South will be in the sway to a China-led block in a maneuver that would have given Sun Tzu a case of the giggles. That’s pretty much the world with the exception of (probably) Scandinavia and Great Britain, Canada, the US and Australia. The good news is that an alliance of Anglophones and Scandinavians will fare well enough – in fact, they might be the only places worth living. Goods will be scarce and more expensive, but the situation tolerable.
Understand that North America can be reached by wrecked, darker, less-free world. The best-case scenario being that fleets of cargo ships left over from the collapse of global trade are used move economic refugees in numbers that will make the current migrant issue seem like a leaky faucet. The worst-case scenarios involve nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic gliders.
The United States is the biggest economy, and most powerful military in the world, that is true. Still, it can’t contain China and Russia alone. Allied with dynamic countries of Asia and Europe, however, the maneuver is fairly simple.
And well worth the money.