The geopolitics of the International Community have been heavily distorted by the weight of two major political figures. Thanks to their domineering personalities, apparent immunity to criticism, and willingness to embrace controversy in the pursuit of their agendas, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump have played oversized roles in reshaping the politics of the globe. While Putin has been a national leader for decades and Trump is still very much new to government, both leaders appear to admire each other. Not only do they share the same personality type, which has been described as narcissistic and “hyper-masculine,” they are self-serving, highly-skilled manipulators who appear to lack moral constraints. They have also demonstrated a willingness to discard their associates, who they demand absolute loyalty from, out of convenience. In terms of foreign policy, they have both embraced the sort of behavior expected from rogue states, which has troubling implications.
Although Russia’s relevance in the post-Cold War world order had been a mere shadow of the Soviet Union’s significance, Vladimir Putin had managed to capitalize on anti-Western sentiments inflamed by displeasure over the George W. Bush Administration’s use of preemptive strikes, i.e. the justification for the ill-advised and thoroughly mismanaged Iraq War. Despite Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, which Russian officials attempted to justify based on the Bush preemptive strike rationale, Putin continued to build his reputation as a global leader, probably reaching the height of his Western appeal during the Sochi Olympics. Putin then chose to invade Ukraine and steal Crimea before launching a guerrilla war against Eastern Ukraine. This, of course, frightened America’s European allies and forced the Obama Administration to confront Russia for violating international norms with economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Russia was engaging in the behavior of a rogue state in order to assert its influence over Ukraine and reestablish itself as a global power. At the peak of the Ukraine Crisis, Putin even started taunting NATO allies by ordering Russian fighter jets and submarines to pass close to NATO borders as well as NATO planes and ships. Against the backdrop of the highly responsible, strategic, and global-oriented Obama Administration, Putin’s lightly veiled threats to the modern world order gave the Russian President power over world leaders. He could safely frighten the Peoples of the world into pro-Russian policies. Those who did not succumb to Russia’s bullying were vilified as Putin rallied those disenfranchised by the US-dominated world order to support a new Russian-world order. Through the South China Sea and other aggressive campaigns, the likes of China were able to cautiously mimic Russia’s rogue behavior to gain standing on the world stage.
Although Russia and China had to pullback from their aggressive foreign policies, because it was actually helping the US rebuild support against them under the leadership of Barack Obama, they continued to use rogue behavior as part of a mutually-beneficial effort to create a post-America world order. Thanks to the rise of Donald Trump, things have changed. Recognizing Russia’s attempts to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential Election, Putin apparently hoped to find an ally in Trump. Trump is, however, a man more than willing to use people to achieve his goals then discard them in order to further his agenda. Even if Trump, or someone within his campaign, felt Russia could help Trump achieve his political goals, US politics and geopolitics have now made it far more beneficial for the Trump Administration to suffocate Russia and Putin’s political allies with sanctions. In other words, Trump has never or would never feel obligated to Russia or China, which has often provided Trump and his associates with lucrative financial opportunities.
The Trump Administration’s foreign policy is most clearly defined by the tariffs it has broadly applied to America’s trade partners as well as the erratic nature of the President, who is willing to lash out against those who offend him with all forms of weaponry available to him and change his mind at the drop of a dim. Against the backdrop of the erratic, aggressive, and thoroughly uncompromising Trump Administration, the rogue behavior of Russia and China is ineffective. The current US leadership, after all, does not care about maintaining a stable International Community; henceforth, the reason the Trump Administration is willingly to engage in seemingly rogue behavior of its own in order to assert US interests. That said, it is not the goal of Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin, nor Xi Jinping, to actually destroy the International Community. The goal is to restructure the world order to secure the domestic interests of their nations. The US, China, and Russia need the International Community to thrive, even if Donald Trump truly believes the world needs America more than America needs the world.
With Putin slated to leave his post in 2024 and Trump exiting the US Presidencies in 2020, or 2024, one must question whether this is the “new normal” or a temporary shift in geopolitics. Where Putin has nearly revived the polarization of the Cold War, Trump could well be engineering an economic cold war. The hope is that Putin and Xi will abandon their rogue behaviors in the face of the Trump threat while European political leaders will rise to the occasion and help moderate the erratic policies of the Trump Administration. The problem is not that Trump, Putin, and other national leaders are asserting the interests of their nations. It is not that Putin is trying to secure Russia’s borders against NATO expansion or Trump is trying to recalibrate US trade relationships in order to rebalance trade deficits and foster domestic production. The problem is that world leaders are ignoring global interests by embracing highly disruptive policies without working toward a stable, prosperous world order that secures the interests of all nations and Peoples.
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