“America First”, properly understood, is a simple statement of realpolitik. Trump has probably never read a book about foreign policy, and his historical knowledge is superficial, but he’s a realist, a pragmatist, and an American patriot. So he acts, almost instinctively, in what he sees as America’s best interest. He respects other world powers, but not world opinion. He’s surrounded by knowledgeable and experienced people, and has Herr Doktor Kissinger on call, so he’s getting good advice. As a result he’s amazed his friends and confounded his enemies in his first foreign policy moves.
As a New Yorker, he’s familiar with the Five Families — the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese. I see the world as the Five Boroughs of New York writ large, with Five Families — the American, European, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. There’s one big distinction. In the world we live in, one of the families, the American, doesn’t live in the same city as the other four. We’re on the outskirts, and our turf doesn’t collide with anyone else’s. So we’re the natural peacemaker.
The European/Russian border has been a source of tension for over 200 years, and it will be for a very long time. But Russia also has to concern itself with its eastern neighbors, the Chinese and the Japanese. There are territorial disputes, some going back to the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945. Both Russia and Japan claim ownership of the Kurile Islands. The Rape of Nanking is remembered in China today, and these two sister families will never trust one another. So it’s complicated.
Except for us. Since, with the fracking revolution, we are a self sufficient North America, we don’t need to be friends with anyone we don’t want to be. The exceptions are Israel and the Anglosphere, which we ally ourselves with for cultural and historical reasons. We want and will pursue good relations with the other four families, but we don’t need any of them.
Trump came into office with the intention of coming to an understanding with Putin. For a variety of reasons, that’s off the table for the moment. A Trump/Putin summit will take place at some point, and both parties will have an incentive to come to terms with one another. No hurry.
For the moment our problem is the Norks, a bunch of renegade criminals operating on the turf of the Chinese family. This is China’s part of town, and they have jurisdiction. But Trump has bluntly told them, as a Genovese to a Gambino, if you don’t take care of this, I will.
He’s got to back it up. He’s said the situation is intolerable, so that means he has to do something about it. If a Gambino says he’s going to do a hit, and doesn’t do it, he loses face. And losing face can cause big problems, since it suggests weakness.
I read that the carrier Ronald Reagan may be joining the Carl Vinson. If any pilots are forced to engage, I hope they’re from the Reagan. The Gipper would be proud. He did the same thing in the Gulf of Libya in 1982.
If the Chinese do take care of the Nork problem, it would create a marvelous opportunity for an Chinese-American Grand Bargain. Solve all our problems, geopolitical, territorial, economic, trade, currency, at one big meeting. It could be the basis of a de facto alliance, a Pax SinoAmerica over the whole Pacific. The Chinese family and the American family together could enforce the peace. With our friends the Japanese.
Trump’s foreign policy is evolving before our very eyes. He didn’t plan it. It’s just happening. China is no longer a trade manipulator because we’re offering them an incentive to take care of the Norks. That’s flexibility, adaptation, evolution. NATO is no longer obsolete. When the situation changes the policy changes. I’m delighted and amazed.