The challenge facing the West

Here is an excerpt from my recent post on Trump’s Trade War:

Why has it taken this long to respond?

The last incumbent in the White House refused to confront the rising menace. A risk-averse culture led to micro-management and Obama’s mantra of “Don’t do stupid sh*t” frequently translated into “Don’t do anything”.

On Obama’s watch the US abdicated its global leadership, leaving the door open for charlatans like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to step into the void. His legacy is a series of brewing crises that risk a major global confrontation in the next few decades. Taiwan and the South China Sea, India and Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. All of these hotspots have the potential to spark a major conflict. It needs just a single miscalculation from an emboldened aggressor accustomed to being able to bully their neighbors into acquiescence.

All this seems eerily familiar. As Winston Churchill long ago warned: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Bold leadership is required in the West. Unfortunately Trump is not up to the task.

Donald Trump

His style is too divisive to ever unite the country or Western allies against the common threat.

I later revised my description of Xi and Putin from charlatans to scoundrels after receiving this note from Alan Hartley:

Colin, you refer to “leaving the door open for charlatans like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to step into the void”

Macquarie Ed.5 :”charlatan – someone who pretends to more knowledge or skill than they possess”

The reference to “charlatan” reflects an ill-informed Western view of world leadership. Rather, I suggest both men possess far more knowledge and skill than blinkered Western eyes have been able to discern.

Beware under-estimating leadership that has driven the rise of China and growing power of Russia. The tactics may not please Western pedantics, but those same people cannot be too at ease either with Donald Trump’s dragon diet approach – eats roots shoots and leaves.

I agree that we should not underestimate the threat that the two pose to Western democracy. Both have proved adept at exploiting weaknesses in our system. Their absence of principles and lack of respect for the rights of others make them a serious threat. The situation is exacerbated by weak leadership in the West.

Vladimir Putin

Putin in particular is highly skilled at exploiting weakness and creating chaos to keep his opponents off-balance. Like Erwin Rommel’s campaign in North Africa, a smaller opponent can outmaneuver larger, more ponderous forces through confusing and erratic behavior. But they are unlikely to prevail in the long-term over a patient, methodical opponent who slowly but relentlessly restricts their ability to maneuver, like Montgomery did at El Alamein1.

Xi Jinping

For that reason, Xi Jinping is a far more formidable opponent. The Chinese approach is more like Montgomery or Sun Tzu: slow, patient and methodical. While the US are masters at shock and awe, I question if they have the patience to play the long game. This is a struggle between two competing ideologies that may take generations to resolve.

Notes

  1. Hat tip to Tim Harford: Chaos has its limits even in Donald Trump’s White House

Martin Wolf: Xi’s power grab means China is vulnerable to the whims of one man

Xi's Power Grab

From Martin Wolf at FT:

Sometimes an announcement succeeds in being both unsurprising and shocking. It had long been evident that China’s Xi Jinping would not — indeed, could not — step down from power. He has made too many enemies, particularly through his anti-corruption campaign, even if he wanted to go, which seems unlikely.

Yet the announcement that the two-term limit on the presidency is to go, is still shocking. What seemed likely is now a fact. Mr Xi has discarded the attempt by Deng Xiaoping to institutionalise checks on the power of China’s leaders — itself a reaction to the wild excesses of the era of Mao Zedong. What is re-emerging is strongman rule — a concentration of power in the hands of one man…..

Read the full article at FT.com