2018: A Watershed Year. Will 2019 Finish the Job?

On 1 January 2019, the following article was published on Impakter. In case you haven't seen it, here it is - and a Happy New Year to all (despite everything!)



2018 was a watershed year. The geopolitical table turned: The world changed from order to disorder. True, the ordered world we had known since the end of World War II till 2016 was far from perfect. It had many problems and inequities. And it had been slow - some say too slow - in moving towards a common sustainable development agenda and a climate control agreement. By contrast, the disorder brought in by Trump’s America First agenda is fast-moving. As fast as the Internet, it travels on social media.

The World is Like A Racing Car Without a Pilot

With Trump, the Monroe Doctrine is back in a lethal 21st century variant. In the 19th century, if America chose to isolate itself, it didn’t matter that much. The world had a driver (the Great Powers of Europe). Today the world is like a racing car without a pilot. Local wars and mass migration are more likely than ever before.And in July 2018, the U.S. stopped cooperation with the UN on human rights matter - sending, as the Guardian argued, a "dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world."

We’ll be lucky if we can avoid World War III and the climatic collapse of the planet.

The network of multilateral alliances created after World War II to contain the rise of Russia’s and China’s imperial ambitions is gone. Over the long run, as I have argued in a recent article, Eurasia is in our future, with a good chance that America is relegated to the sidelines.

Trump closed the year with a government shutdown. His aim? Always the same: To get the funding for the border wall he promised his fans. But one must question whether his end game is not something different and entirely personal: By raising the issue of “border security”, Trump is in fact deflecting attention from his looming problems with Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling of the presidential elections, a.k.a. “Russiagate”.

Over in Europe, there was another form of “shutdown” when British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked the can down the road asking Parliament to vote next year for the Brexit deal she had worked with the EU. Talk of a second referendum got louder though nobody seemed to agree on how to phrase the question. Also, the time left for organizing a referendum is getting squeezed, making it unlikely that the U.K. will in fact manage to reverse its decision and remain in Europe.

But it was Trump’s move - to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan - coupled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation on the same day that really shook up Europe - even though, as the Washington Post and Foreign Policy reminded their readers, he was a “deeply flawed defense secretary” with a questionable record.

Pulling out of Syria was universally viewed as a serious mistake. As French defense minister, Florence Parly said (on RTL radio) said, refering to ISIS, “the job must be finished.” And with Mathis gone, it won’t be  - Mathis who was viewed by America’s allies in NATO, especially Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, as “as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to Mr. Trump” and the “adult of last resort” who could restrain an unpredictable president.

But Trump shook up Americans too - at least some of them, for example firebrand filmmaker Michael Moore admitted that this was  the "the first time” he’s actually“frightened for the country":



One thing is certain: Trump made Russia very happy, opening the way to revived Russian influence in the Middle East. Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst, exclaimed: “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving.”

The financial world perhaps understood best what happened as 2018 wound up: the past week in the stock market - from 18 to 21 December - has been the worst week since the 2008 crisis. Adding insult to injury, Trump discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Powell after the latest interest rate hike. Whereupon the dark shadow of a looming bear market caused the White House to retract. What was unprecedented was that both shares and bonds took a hit : normally they move in opposite directions.

What made 2018 a watershed year?

Politico asked American historians how History would remember 2018, asking the “smartest historians they knew” to write the paragraph about 2018 that History books in the future would include.

Some attributed a big role to Trump, others didn’t. The majority agreed on one thing: 2018 marked the end of American world leadership.

To give a sense of what they said, I will quote but one of them. Jacqueline Jones, professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote: “The traditional narrative of the United States as a noble world leader and defender of human rights was slipping away, and by the end of Trump’s second year in office, the country was in danger of sliding into a garden-variety authoritarianism.”

Others were concerned with more pointed issues, some specifically American (and Trump-related), others worldwide:
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The rest on Impakter, click here.

Actually, I'm not pessimistic: as the 2018 midterms showed in America, voters still have in their hands their own future - and that of our planet. A bad regime (Trump's) can be castigated. 

Brexit, as of now, appears unavoidable. The U.K., barring some unexpected referendum, will fall out of Europe and become some kind of super Singapore. 

But let's hope that European voters will show equal awareness and sensitivity s American Democrats did when they vote in May 2019 for the European Parliament. What we DO NOT NEED is a wave of populists taking over Europe! That would be the end of both Europe and the fight against climate change.
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