"Accidental Superpower" Author Peter Zeihan: President Trump's Foreign Policy In Geopolitical Context

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Peter Zeihan, author of "The Accidental Superpower" delivers a lecture on the current state of geopolitics at the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel's 2018 Winter meeting (Feb. 28, 2018). Zeihan describes a disordered world where the dreams of a liberal democratic order are shattered on the rocks of hard geography. Zeihan makes the case that because of its geographical position, the U.S. is likely to remain the world's largest superpower for at least the foreseeable future. In the rest of the world, he describes Russia and China being forced to choose between stagnation or conflict (and both choosing conflict), the European Union rapidly disintegrating, and the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict moving steadily towards a head.

However, Zeihan notes, the U.S. does not have to play a role in any of these conflicts if it doesn't want to. In fact, thanks to President Trump, the U.S. might be the beneficiary of a second century as the "last man standing," watching the rest of the world tear itself down repeatedly. Remarkably Zeihan predicts that due to rapidly shifting world events and U.S. demographics, President Trump is likely to be the "most internationalist" and "least populist" American president of the rest of our lifetimes.

Related videos: At a Senate foreign relations committee hearing Wednesday, the Republican Chairman wondered if Trump is making up his foreign policy as he goes while the Democrats repeatedly questioned the Secretary of State about whether Trump has made secret deals with Russia.



After laying a groundwork for how the world has changed since the 2008 recession, Zeihan explains how President Trump's preference for bilateral relationships fits in with this new era of direct state-to-state conflict coming soon. "So what we've seen is a cavalcade of world leaders coming to the United States to try to figure out how they fit in with the Americans in this new era," Zeihan explained.

[Chinese President Xi Jinping] was the fifth world leader to visit President Trump to seek a new bilateral understanding, and he reached ahead and said I don't want to meet in the White House, because in the White House the press corps will be there, the State Department will be there, and I need to have a conversation with you that I can't allow out yet, so they met at Mar-A-Lago," Zeihan said. "Xi said very simply, 'You hold all the cards that matter in this relationship, you control the sea lanes, global finance, markets, energy. We're working through a transition that might kill us, please, please do not pull the rug out from under us, especially not now. In exchange, let's talk about the trade deficit, South China Sea, North Korea, cybercrime, all of it.' And we made more progress in bilateral relations in the next ten months than we had in the previous three administrations. Is it enough? Hell no. But it is a start, and it was an interesting tip of the hand."

Japan:

ZEIHAN: [Japanese PM] Shinzo Abe gets it, he was the second world leader to visit Trump. He doesn't need the U.S. to be on Japan's side in the war. It would be nice [for him] but not essential. And he understands the new transactional nature of American foreign policy, and so in order to secure the relationship he brought with him a $500 billion bribe, investment from the Japanese Central government in infrastructure and industrial plants. Is it enough? Dunno, good start. He definitely understands how it works.


China:
ZEIHAN: In 2007, total Chinese lending surpassed total American lending. It then tripled in the next 18 months because of the financial crisis... Now we have this thing called shadow financing... You guys all remember the Obama stimulus package? $800 billion, 3% of GDP over two years. There was a lot of concern among economists that the U.S. couldn't metabolize that much money that quickly without a lot of fraud, a reasonable concern. [China does] an Obama stimulus package every 17 days now. Will you get growth that way? Sure. But it is not healthy or sustainable. And if anything ever happens to the punch bowl, you get Enron on a national scale...

25 years after the one-child policy, they're running out of 25-year-olds, I love China. They're not nearly as good at math as they would have us believe...

There is a lot of understanding in China that things are going from bad to worse very quickly. [Displays chart showing increasing Chinese foreign direct investment in the U.S. spiking in 2016]. This is not the culmination of a decades-old master plan by the Chinese to dominate the U.S. and force us to learn Mandarin. No, this is Chinese businessmen getting their money the <>covfefe out of town while they still can. A lot of what we've seen politically in China over the last year is about cracking down on this politically.

Back in China, their way around this (or to try to cope with this) is to establish a cult of personality. Make sure enough faces people recognize are executed on live television so your average citizen says, 'You know what, it doesn't matter if I have a job or can feed my family. President Xi is my leader, I am Han Chinese, and that is enough.' Back in November... Xi was supposed to name a successor, and he did, his identical twin brother. For those of you who missed that, he also put his name into the Constitution. And the debate right now is, should we remove term limits officially? That's what the West would do. But it is already done, we have a cult of personality officially now, he is president for life.


Germany:
ZEIHAN: You take anything as good as Germany and make it as big as Germany and its mere existence is a threat to everyone around it, and so European history is a pendulum which switches from periods of extreme German strength, when it threatens to overwhelm all of its neighbors, that forces a coalition of European powers to take it down, which leads to a period of extreme German weakness, at which point everybody gets sucked into a black hole... The only way you can hope for something better is to bring in an outside force to rewrite what is possible... you have to bring in the Americans... and only then can Europe be united, at peace, and free. Remove the U.S. and history starts back up.

So Angela Merkel was the third world leader to come and seek a new bilateral relationship with the incoming administration. She told him that if he does what he plans to do, it is not just the end of NATO and the European Union, but the end of Germany itself. And Trump's response: Yep.

Merkel didn't understand the new bilateral nature of American policy. The new transactional nature. She didn't bring anything to the table, she just came to ask for the U.S. to continue doing what it had been. And so on her way out the door, Donald Trump gave her a parting gift, a bill for service rendered for defending Germany since 1946. You can imagine how well that went over in Berlin. For all intents and purposes the American-German, American-EU, American-NATO relationship is already over.


Britain:
ZEIHAN: [British PM] Theresa May was the first world leader to visit Trump. She said Brexit is a done deal, we still have to work out the details, but it is a done deal, there is not going back. Which means we have to do a few things differently in London. First, we have to double our intelligence budget, because we can't rely on the Europeans any longer, in fact in many ways they are the target. We would like to share this information with you.

Second, May said, we have two supercarriers coming online in the next few years. They will be the only supercarriers on the planet that are not American flagged. We would like to explore with your nay how we can plug them into your pre-existing battle groups so the Anglo alliance can have a solid single strategic policy the world over.

Trump was like, wow this is huge. What can I possibly do in exchange? She told him Britain could really use a free trade deal, bilaterally. Done, they started talks the next day.


European Union:

ZEIHAN: Fun Fact: That is illegal in the European Union... So all the talk in Brussels these days is not just about how to punish the Brits for leaving, but how to punish them for having the audacity to plan for the next day. This is not wise, don't you have a few other things on your plate right now? A currency crisis, a governing crisis, a banking crisis, a German government crisis, a Russia crisis, a Ukraine crisis, and you're drowning in waves of refugees, but you want to bitch about Brexit right now? Not what I would call an institution that can adapt in times of extreme change, and it doesn't have a lot of time left.


Mexico:

ZEIHAN: The Sinaloa cartel proved so successful as a corporation that they become not only the largest drug trafficking organization in Mexico, but the largest drug trafficking group in the world... Say what you will about the Obama administration, they realized this.was a public safety threat, and the FBI made cracking down on the Sinaloa their top priority. And in 2016, we got El Chapo, and then we lost him, and then we got him again.

Here's the problem: Removing El Chapo, the guy who maintained the peace, meant all the factions within the Sinaloa are now shooting each other again.

The violence level has already spread to the border, where it is entrenched in Tijuana and Juarez, where it can be heard from San Diego and El Paso. And probably... [soon] it will make it to Laredo as well. Which means that all but one of the major plazas on the border will have active inter-cartel fighting -- just in time for the midterm primaries.

There are 34 seats in the Senate that are up for grabs, 25 are being defended by Democrats, 10 of those are in states where Trump won. There is going to be a blowout in 2018, but I don't think it is going to break in the way the Democrats think. Just as we are picking our candidates, we're going to be very well aware of the cartel situation in Mexico.

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