The Washington Post’s David Ignatius declared “The New Realism” has dawned Tuesday evening, in a column that’s wrong on both history and nature, yet still manages to illuminate an international phenomenon.
“The politics of national self-interest,” he wrote, “is on steroids these days. For global leaders, it’s the ‘me’ moment. The nearly universal slogan among countries that might once have acted with more restraint seems to be: ‘Go for it.'”
As proof, Ignatius’s lead paragraph cites a referendum on Kurdish independence, Saudi Arabia’s “Saudi first” line, and Russia’s entirely self-serving foreign policy.
“The prime catalyst of this global movement of self-assertion,” he continued without a trace of humor, “is, obviously, President Trump.”
A catalyst is defined as “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.” A “prime catalyst” would be the most important of the catalysts.
For even the most casual consumer of news — the kind of guy who catches a few subtitled news clips at the bar, the kind of woman who turns on an hour of local news after work — the theory that Donald Trump is the most important ingredient in a new order of global self-interest seems… off.
“Haven’t we heard of this Kurdish independence thing for a while now,” you might wonder.
“Wasn’t there something about the Twin Towers that had to do with the Saudis?” some could ask. “I thought I might have heard that.”
“Russia has been a problem for my entire life, hasn’t it?”
The short answer is, “Yes — yes to all of those things.”
Kurdish independence, for example, is a thousand-year idea with its most modern seeds in Turkey’s conquest of the land the Europeans figured they’d toss to the Kurds after World War I ruined the Ottomans. The Kurds have waged high and low levels of violent insurrection there ever since, and much to Turkey’s self-interested chagrin, the Kurds got their first semi-autonomous government after a Western alliance promised to protect it from Saddam Hussein’s murderously self-interested Baghdad over two decades ago.
After Baghdad’s unquestioned authority was destroyed when the United States took an interest in 2003, it looked more and more likely a modern Kurdistan would become a reality. “In event of a more fragmented Iraq or Syria,” the U.S. National Intelligence Council wrote in its 2030 predictions report, “a Kurdistan would not be inconceivable.”
In 2012, when that report was published, an independent Kurdistan was actually far more conceivable than, say, a Trump presidency.
Saudi self-interest, too, exists independently of Donald Trump’s. The United States first took interest in this desert kingdom when President Franklin Roosevelt realized their oil was an important resource. Since then, it’s been a rocky ride, with highs in the allied liberation of Kuwait and lows when majority-Saudi hijackers launched the biggest terror attack in U.S. history — an attack planned by a wealthy Saudi Arabian with the backing of other wealthy Saudi Arabians. Compared to that, the Saudi oil embargo against the U.S., which helped topple a U.S. president, is peanuts.
When some of the redacted pages of the congressional 9/11 were finally released in 2016, they included mention of “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists inside the Saudi government.” That support, the government knew, was the bargain the royal family and its supporters paid to make sure al-Qaida only attacked people outside of the kingdom. Indeed, The Council on Foreign Relations reported that people and charities inside Saudi Arabia were al-Qaida’s “most important source of funds… for years.” The Saudis’ self-interest, it seems, reshaped the world before Jan. 20, 2017, and Ignatius’s age of “the New Realism.”
The world’s thousand years of interactions with Russia have also seen their share of nuance, but it is absolutely safe to say that in the past century, from World War I to the civil war in Syria, the Kremlin has not made a single decision that was not first and foremost for the benefit of the Kremlin. As the seat of the most murderous regime in history, a lot of those decisions weren’t even made in the interest of the Russian people. Their self-interest rattled the world long before President Trump brought on any new age.
David Ignatius, of course, knows all this. Every bit of it. It’s not even contested history. Plus, he lived a few decades of it.
So why would he even suggest that Donald Trump is the catalyst for the historic state of nations? Likely, because in paragraphs four and five he gets to his real issue: President Donald Trump’s opposition to the liberal global order as the solution to self-interest.
“He withdrew from the Paris agreement on climate change and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Ignatius writes, citing a non-binding agreement President Barack Obama made without Senate consent and a trade deal all major candidates for American president opposed at one point or another on the 2016 campaign trail.
President Trump flouted neoconservative Democracy Peace Theory, Ignatius writes next, claiming Trump’s rejection of democracy-building in the Middle East is “almost word-for-word” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinking, and somehow shows “Trump’s disdain for traditional limits on the exercise of power.”
If this idea — opposing overseas democracy-building is refuting limits on power — makes zero sense, don’t panic: You are simply guilty of reading more closely than Ignatius’s editor.
But Ignatius, it seems, isn’t panicking either. “The enlightened center is holding up in Europe’s core,” he writes, lauding the assault on Christianity, individuality, Western law and women’s rights (peppered with suicide attacks) slowly unfolding in “Europe’s core” at the invitation of its “enlightened” rulers.
“China, too, manages to retain the image that it stands for something larger than itself,” he adds, lauding the last globally powerful communist dictatorship. That dictatorship, of course, is characterized internally by conquered cultures, mass labor camps, and a healthy trade in the organs of religious dissidents. Externally, it’s best characterized by an aggressive and illegal expansion over its neighbors’ waters and resources. China: Our final bulwark against the selfish order of Donald Trump.
“The politics of selfishness may seem inevitable in Trump world,” his unintentional satire concludes. “But by definition, it can’t produce a global system. That’s its fatal flaw.”
It’s fine to wish for a world where the Kurds don’t seek autonomy, the Saudis hold hands with Iran and the Russians wake up wondering how to bring prosperity back to Venezuela, but to assign Donald Trump the role of “prime catalyst” for this disorder — or to suggest that a wicked China and dying Europe are the key to its reversal — is plain stupid. “The prime catalyst” of men and nations’ self-interested agenda is not President Donald Trump, it is the eternal nature of man and his relation to power.
Despite his stupid theory, David Ignatius, a man with a long and public career, is not plain stupid. Rather he, like so many thousands of his colleagues in the elite circles of power across the world, has lost touch with basic political reality.
And for that, President Donald Trump is indeed “the prime catalyst.”
Christopher Bedford is editor in chief of The Daily Caller News Foundation, a senior editor at TheDC, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Art Of The Donald,” published by Simon & Schuster. Follow him on Twitter here.