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Post-Helsinki summit Cold War echoes


US President Donald Trump speaks about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers and cabinet members on tax cuts at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM

The presidents of United of States of America, more so from John Fitzgerald Kennedy to Barak Obama, have tended to impact history more for the brilliance of their public remarks than the perspicacity of their policies and actions. And political analysts have variously observed that mastery of the spoken word has more than its conventional significance on the fate of U.S. presidential candidates. But the current holder of that all-powerful office, Donald Trump, promises to be the exception that would prove that rule. President Trump would not, by any standard, pass as a brilliant public speaker, but the proven efficacy of his policies and actions in less than 24 months in office dwarf the full-term achievements of most of his predecessors. In most instances Trump has succeeded with seeming ease in international situations which his predecessors had considered impossible.

For example, in over 60 years since the Korean war, the western world could not tame the military adventurism of North Korea. But Trump somehow not only managed to get the North Koreans to resume communications with their estranged southern brethren, but he also succeeded in making the North Korean leadership see reason in commencing negotiation talks on dismantling its nuclear armament programme. He has also put a measure of effective check on Bashar al-Assad genocidal excesses in Syria’s protracted civil war. Next, Trump looked China (U.S. leading trading competitor) in the face and accused her of cheating through currency manipulations; and consequently imposed tariffs on imports from China.

Trump’s immigration proposals have been just as audacious. He proposes to wall-off illegal immigrants from one of his southern neighbours, Mexico; just as he enacted a novel ban on would-be visitors from select terrorists-infected countries. The effects of these actions and policies have been phenomenal; U.S. economic indicators have since headed northwards. But reactionaries are fanning the embers of counterproductive-Nativism against the president; with some members of Congress lobbying for impeachment proceedings on Trump, on the allegation that he colluded with the Russians in meddling with the U.S. 2016 presidential election that brought him to power. That controversy rages on.

President Trump’s just-concluded European official tour was no less unconventionally bold, if controversial. In Brussels, Trump openly railed against fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member-nations for failing to meet the 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) target set for the organisation’s annual budget. The U.S. would altogether opt out of its obligations to NATO if other member-nations continued to come short, the U.S. president threatened. The defaulters immediately retorted by labeling him “a disruptor” of international bodies. Trump was acting out a Russian script, the defaulters alleged, since NATO was essentially set up to check the expansionist excesses of the Russian Federation. Trump was dauntless; he would stir up even more stinging controversy in the United Kingdom, even amid growing protests against his visit. When a journalist at his joint news conference with the British prime minister, Theresa May, asked about his views of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin; Trump unequivocally said, “Putin is not my enemy; he is my competitor. I don’t know him that well; he is not my friend either; we could be… But he is not my enemy.” The statement expectedly elicited strong emotional reactions across the western world. How could a U.S. president publically deny that Russia is an adversary of the west? Most of the western world has been asking.

Whilst that question yet buzzed Trump gave a practical effect of sorts to his unexpected remarks in the UK at his Helsinki summit with the Russian president. In a seeming subtle attempt to create a room for Trump to assuage the perceived emotional injuries of his surprise remarks, a U.S. reporter asked his president to elaborate on his relationship with Putin. “We have all been foolish in dealing with each other over the years…a lot of mistakes were made in the past. It is time to correct those mistakes. Putin is not my enemy; he is a competitor…and I say that as a compliment…”, Trump responded in part, reiterating the point he had made just before departing the UK. Conservative America is now loudly calling for Trump’s head in all but words.

This has been the intractable challenge of mankind almost from creation: the inability of the human mind to evolve from a traditional position. Trump didn’t say anything new in Helsinki. He hadn’t minced words throughout his 2015 campaign in commenting about the Russian leader. He even went as far as wistfully stating that he looked forward to being friends with Putin, because according to his reading of history, “the world would be a much better place if the U.S. and Russia got along well”. All true pacifists would agree on this. A conciliatory relationship between the two global superpowers would certainly signal the beginning of a nuclear-arms-free world, a much coveted phase of human evolution.

That envisaged conflicts-free phase of human evolution has actually been within grasp since the world unanimously condemned the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, decades previously. But few world powers, notoriously the U.S., have had the greatest challenge abiding by the spirit and letter of the non-WMD-proliferation UN Charter. This was the genesis of the destabilising arms race between the U.S. and Russia – otherwise dubbed the Cold War. The ongoing reductionist outrage against Trump’s Helsinki-summit performance is a confirmation that, indeed, the Cold War still rages in the minds of many in both America and the Russian Federation. My “Buying the same horse twice” article made the point on these pages, and it is pertinent to quote relevant section of the piece in extenso:

“But, as the proxy wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and other places have since demonstrated, Perestroika and Glasnost didn’t stop the cold war. The western and eastern doctrines have since resumed their ego-centric struggle, albeit in a modified form as decreed by dialectics. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s every action points nostalgically to a ‘reformed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ while U.S. President Donald Trump talks just as nostalgically of a ‘great native America’. Let us hope that the two modern leaders will be humble enough to connect the dots leading to the twenty-first century synthesis: a more equitable world order. That depends on if the two can trust each other. Even the lead actors of Perestroika and Glasnost, U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev, had expressly recognized this when they agreed to ‘trust but verify’ each other. It was therefore a good pointer to hear presidential candidate, Donald Trump, rhetorically ask his supporters, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if Putin and I get to like (read trust) each other?’”

Indeed, the emerging reality of climate change and rapidly declining global resources enjoins cooperative relationship between all nations, going forward. So, by all means, nations should compete among themselves for excellence; but that excellence should not be for the vainglorious purpose of national aggrandizement and bullying weaker nations as has been the case. Rather, nations should compete to excel in promoting the wellbeing of the human race; for, as all the Holy Writs make clear, all knowledge is for the sole service of mankind to the eternal glory of the Magnificent Creator. This should be the global response to the post-Helsinki summit Cold War echoes from the western world.
Nkemdiche is an engineering consultant, wrote from Abuja.

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