These are happy days for all Western armchair analysts and strategists out there. Countless writers on social media, political commentators and journalists publish wastelands of text – but in reality they could put their sentiments in one single very well known – German! – word: “Schadenfreude”, the “malicious joy”.
What happened? The diplomatic conflict between Washington and Moscow seems to be escalating. In August, the Russian government required the United States to cut back its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said that it would make the number of US staff in Russia equal to Russia’s diplomatic corps in the US.
Washington responded: Russians who want to visit the United States must wait much longer for visas. And today, they can only apply in the Russian capital Moscow. On the last day of August, US officials ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and offices in Washington and New York. Thus US and Russia would have three consulate offices each. Moscow had 48 hours to comply and the facilities had to be sold.
That sounds pretty much like a Cold War 2.0 scenario. But why does that cause joy and happiness at so many liberals in US and Europe?
The answer is easy: They think that US president Donald Trump somehow “betrayed” his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The Western liberal narrative says: Russia was meddling in US elections 2016, as Moscow was supporting Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton. Putin expected Trump to be a future ally while Clinton is known as a notorious anti-Russian politician. And now Trump is backstabbing Putin. 2:0 for Western liberals. The two most hated presidents, Trump and Putin, are turning against each other instead of going into an alliance against the liberal world order.
Following that logic, every conflict between Washington and Moscow is seen as a little victory of the Western liberals.
But is this liberal narrative correct? It is – as many liberal narratives – far from reality. There has not been a shred of evidence showing Russian meddling in the US elections. There are many myths circulating, but that’s all it is, myths. The joy of many Russians on social media does not constitute evidence for interfering in US elections. It is simply joy expressed by many Russians over Trumps campaign and victory. Nothing more.
And maybe indeed the Russian government had been looking forward to Trump’s presidency. Russia didn’t counteract Barack Obama expulsion on December 29th, 2016, in the last days of his presidency, of 35 Russian diplomats and two seized estates beloning to the Russian state, one on Long Island and one on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Instead Putin invited the children of 35 US diplomats to the Kremlin for Christmas.
Russias’ hopes to restore ties is neither evidence for meddling. If it had been, then the whole bunch of European governments meddled in the US elections in 2016 by every day expressing the hope that Hillary Clinton would win against Donald Trump. German newspapers published articles lecturing the Americans who to vote for, and who not. Were they meddling in US affairs? Of course not. It was just stupid. But political stupidity is in the genetics of Western liberalism – so it can’t be blamed for it.
But what is happening in Washington? Why does Trump contradict his pre-election promises? If he had followed up on some of his pronouncements, it would have been a revolution, a U-turn in US foreign policy. Trump had promised to stay out of Syria, to cooperate with Russia in the war against Islamic terrorism, to reconcile with Moscow. He had promised to respect the sovereignty and independence of other nations – a total contradiction of Washington’s policy where the administration spoke already about “world inner politics” when they meant in reality foreign politics.
But right after he moved into the White House, the reality hit all those who had hoped for change. Trump attacked Syria several times, his UN ambassador Nikki Haley turned out to be the worst Neocon of all, verbally attacking and threatening more countries than Senator John McCain can pronounce the names of. For his statements during the official visit of Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri in Washington in July, Trump actually deserves a prize for political comedy. His words were: “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah is in fact fighting the Islamic State in Syria as an official ally of the Syrian army, so Lebanon is not fighting Hezbollah. On the contrary: Hezbollah is a partner of the Lebanese government and one of the reasons why the Syrian war has not expanded into Lebanon yet.
But Hezbollah is at the same time classified as a “terrorist organisation” by the US and American lawmakers want to increase the sanctions against this Shiite group – sanctions which would automatically hit Lebanon as well.
Officials in Beirut have raised concerns that US efforts to widen sanctions on Hezbollah could damage the banking industry because of the group’s widespread influence in their country. Hezbollah holds seats in Lebanon’s parliament and government. At the same time, Trump wants to increase the support for Lebanon. How should all that work out? How can he slash that “Gordian knot”?
Trump sympathizers excuse all his mistakes, his awkward statements and his nonstop failures in keeping his promises with references to the so-called “deep state”. The Trump-supporter narrative says: He wants to, but he can’t. He is surrounded by liberal enemies who manipulate, influence and control him. He wants to stay out of Syria, he wants to be friendly with Moscow, he wants to stay out any foreign conflicts such as Venezuela. But he can’t. Evil liberal swamp!
But this narrative is as unreasonable as the liberal narrative about the Russian meddling in the US elections. The simple truth is that the Trump camp totally failed in getting ready for taking over power. They failed in preparing the ground for realizing his promises in foreign policy. They notoriously spoke about the “liberal swamp”, but failed to identify and neutralize it. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know, that a spider web of lobby organisations in Washington would go berserk the moment Trump acts on some of his foreign policy promises. The real shocking element of Trumps presidency is not his clumsiness, but the abysmal naivité of his political camp – and the embarrassing speechlessness of his once loudest supporters.
The so-called “deep state” is no metaphysical, undefeatable monster – it is the strong and influencial collective of lobbyists, NGOs, think tanks, businessmen and politicians, all willing to defend their interests to their very last breath. If one seriously wants to overcome this collective, cheering to frog memes and ranting against liberals is far from enough.
Trump’s presidency is not useless, if those who oppose the transatlanticist way are willing to analyze and to learn from the mistakes and failures. One man is not enough to change a country, “drying the swamp” is not possible just with enthusiasm. It needs a huge amount of people willing and capable to replace the collective of the so-called “deep state” – and a leader who is strong and reckless enough to realize such a political purge within the elites.
Europe should observe very carefully what is going on in Washington. Otherwise the liberal “Schadenfreude” will never end.