Journalists need their next story so all the coverage is about who Rex Tillerson is and will he be confirmed. But diplomats are like chess players; they need to think a couple of moves ahead. So let’s assume Mr. Tillerson is confirmed…
Here’s a man who was given a medal of friendship by Vladimir Putin and who has already lobbied for sanctions imposed when Russia invaded Crimea to be lifted. What would stop him from lifting those sanctions now? Just because he isn’t working for ExxonMobil anymore doesn’t mean he’s turned his back on the only employer he’s ever had or that he has interests or his friends have interests in Russian oil.
And now that we’re such good friends with Vladimir and have acquiesced to his annexation of Crimea, would we raise a fuss if he invaded the Baltic States? He’s got half a foot in them already anyway. And Trump has suggested he may not come to their aid even though they are part of NATO—part of the art of the deal, to Trump, is not holding up your end of the bargain. This scenario was considered in an article in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/07/russia-nato-trump-shirreff/492938/) and in a novel by Richard Shirreff, former NATO deputy supreme allied commander Europe.
The stage is being set for just such an eventuality. You can see it unfold. Masked troops drive into Latvia in the middle of the night. Pleas to NATO are sent to committees, not generals and the deed is done. Bad news for Latvia, but the real damage is deeper. If the US isn’t willing to back NATO, there is no NATO. Sure, Europe pays less to the Alliance than it should but what we get is world peace. Because we cast our nuclear shield over Europe, the many European nations don’t have to have nuclear weapons. Do we really want a nuclear Germany? Instead of a stable trading partner and reliable market for our exports, Europe becomes a chaotic mess of nations scrambling to shore up their defenses. And become weaker in doing so. How is that good for America?
Russia does not have a strong enough economy to fight World War III, but if Europe is destabilized by the hesitancy of the US, it might be strong enough to invade Poland. Will Germany come to the aid of Poland? (They wouldn’t even bail out Greece.) And Germany depends on Russian natural gas for winter heat. Maybe it would rather strike a deal. And Hungary and Slovakia are weaker than Poland. Maybe they’ll make deals too.
Trump may get his wall after all and the Russians will pay for it. Only it will be an Iron Curtain. And Trump, so full of nostalgia, will get the US back to its mythical past again. But I don’t know if a renewal of the Cold War is what his backers had in mind.
Well, they took him seriously, not literally, anyway. Now we’ll find out what that phrase means.