Dec 29 2016 : The Times of India (Delhi)
A rapprochement between Putin and Trump could transform the world in 2017
You could call 2016 the black swan year; it has seen the most astonishing inversion of global political order.
When the Berlin Wall fell a quarter century ago, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama prophesied that the victory of capitalism, democracy and liberal values was a slam dunk. In those terms the spread of liberal values to Russia and China, as they grew increasingly integrated in the global capitalist order, would have been deemed inevitable. Between the two Russia, especially, would seem a prime candidate for such transformation; not only was its economy weaker but also it was within the catchment area of liberal European culture and its ruling Communist Party had been overthrown.
But President Vladimir Putin has played what might seem to be a weak hand powerfully. Despite Russia being hemmed in by Western sanctions and its economy tottering, the Kremlin has achieved something even the Soviet Union in its heyday could only have dreamed of: influencing an American presidential election and tilting it against Hillary Clinton, who looked more inimical to Russian interests.
Trump eviscerated both liberal values and globalisation to win that election. The sectarian imagery he invoked struck hammer blows at what, according to Fukuyama, drives prosperous democracies such as America: trust. Alongside, according to the CIA, the Kremlin managed to hack America's democratic process*: it broke into the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails and released them on WikiLeaks, thus assisting Trump's campaign.
Illiberal governments, it appears, have been able to fashion powerful asymmetrical tools to turn the tables on liberal democracies. Pakistan, for example, uses terror and trained fedayeen fighters to keep a much larger India off-balance. And now Russia has crafted cyberweapons that sow division within America itself.
This has been accompanied by an asto nishing transvaluation of values. Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as a hero of America's alt right, an insurrectionist cyber-movement that targets multiculturalism and powered Trump's victory. Their muse is Russian thinker Aleksandr Dugin, who has close ties to the Kremlin and who you could describe as the un-Fukuyama. Dugin sees the US at the forefront of a liberal, globalising and imperialist world order, which must be opposed and replaced by nationalism and traditional values.
It cannot be denied, however, that the liberal establishment has played a major role in discrediting itself. The liberal elite presided over the global financial crisis and the slow collapse of the American dream, as inequality worsened across Western nations and Europe and Japan stagnated.
Concentration and consolidation of business make the US economy look increasingly `rigged' even as government, big business and bankers cultivate close and incestuous ties: thus reducing the gap between Obama's `liberal' America and Putin's `oligarchic' Russia. The US government acquired the derisive sobriquet of “Government Sachs“: a reference to the revolving door between senior government and Goldman Sachs positions, bypassing questions of ethics and conflict of interest.
Moreover America aggressively attempted to export democracy abroad an effort that bombed spectacularly, pun fully intended, in Iraq where it resulted in the destruction of the state and rise of the fundamentalist Islamic State that claims authority over Muslims worldwide. Syria's civil war was fanned by intervention from outside powers, creating a mammoth refugee crisis that in turn led to the closing of borders and rise of illiberal regimes and ideologies across the Western world.
Is all lost as we head into 2017? Not quite.People who have tasted liberal freedoms will not give up on them so easily. If globalisation is about to be replaced by a `Traditionalist International' as some have suggested, or even a `Nationalist International', the latter has a distinctly oxymoronic flavour and will not be sustainable in practice.
We will see a readjustment but not an overthrow of the current international order; nations necessarily have to continue to adjust to the existence of other nations, even if that adjustment takes different forms.
What form can such a readjustment take? Perhaps both liberal and illiberal nations can agree to coexist and give each other space to evolve their own political and economic systems at their own pace. We could return to the Westphalian principle of sovereignty , which bars intervention in another state's domestic affairs and which ended Europe's religious wars in the 17th century .
While Putin hates Hillary Clinton, he has made several positive statements about Trump. If the US and Russia were to arrive at a rapprochement, what form could it take? The US could lift sanctions on Russia and promise to lay off Assad. In return Russia could lay off Ukraine, not threaten other Baltic republics, co-operate with the US in other theatres and negotiate a fresh nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Fukuyama imagined history to be linear. But history can have cunning turns and throw the dice different ways. What if Trump were to repeat Nixon's historic rapprochement with Mao, but in reverse?
President Nixon's handshake with Chairman Mao in 1972 may have decisively tilted the Cold War in America's favour, as it broke the Chinese away from the Soviet bloc.
Today China, rather than Russia, is America's principal strategic rival. What if Trump were to shake hands with Putin now and bring him into greater alignment with the West than with China?
In that case Trump would have made China grate again. But since India would like to count both the US and Russia as its allies, such a development would surely favour India.
* It is the CIA fake no having confirming facts – Dr. Leo Semashko, website editor