When someone says “let’s talk turkey” they want to talk about money – about who gets what in the deal. Drop all the talk of fairness and rightness and honor and all that stuff – this is a matter of cold hard cash. That simplifies things, and that seems to be how Donald Trump thinks. Billionaires talk turkey. That’s why they’re billionaires. Cash trumps fairness and rightness and honor, and that explains what seems to be Donald Trump’s foreign policy – so far.
Everything is subject to change with him, but he has said that NATO is a losing proposition for us – no one else in NATO pays their fair share for mutual defense and we have to take up the slack – we get stuck with the tab – so maybe we won’t honor our treaty obligations until they pay up. If Russia tries to take back the Baltic States, now part of NATO… we may not honor our treaty obligations to defend them. We’ll check the books. They’re not chipping in their fair share? Maybe we’ll let Putin take back Latvia and Lithuania and Estonia – but of course such talk will scare the crap out of those three little countries, so they’ll fork over big bucks to us. They’ll pay. They have no choice. That may seem like we’re forcing them to pay protection money – a low-level Mafia extortion thing – but it’s just business. Trump has said that he would say the same thing to Japan and South Korea. Pay the real cost for our protection of your little countries – now – or develop your own nukes, or turn to China for protection from the crazy man in North Korea. We don’t care. We want our money – and of course they’ll pay up. Building nukes is hard, and damned expensive. The Chinese will try to take over their countries. They’ll also have no choice. This is talking turkey.
This would be a shift to wholly transactional diplomacy, based on cash payments, but Trump is a billionaire. That’s how he got there. Enough voters in just the right places decided he must know things, and this is one of the things he knows. Keep things simple. Talk turkey.
Vladimir Putin is happy with this. For him, NATO is the enemy, at his borders. Trump has blown off NATO as not all that important anymore – we may or may not honor our treaty obligations for mutual defense. It depends – and of course Trump had no problem with Russia grabbing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine, which he wasn’t sure they did anyway. Over at State, Rex Tillerson will soon be running things – the ExxonMobil CEO who is a good friend of Vladimir Putin. Putin did award him that “Order of Friendship” after all – and Tillerson, another billionaire, wants to drop all sanctions against Russia over that stuff in Crimea and the Ukraine. Gobbling up adjacent sovereign nations is an issue for old-school diplomats. Sanctions are bad for business. Trump agrees. It’s a new world.
Perhaps it is a new world, and time to talk turkey, but then there’s Turkey, the country. In November 2015, Turkey, a NATO member, shot down a Russian jet on its way to drop a few more cluster bombs on the schools and hospitals in Aleppo. Turkey was with us in the mess in Syria, doing more than we dared to do. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he’d do it again. He was with us.
Putin’s response was fast and furious. Diplomatic and economic relations ended – the Turkish economy was hit hard, until last summer, when Erdogan finally issued an apology. Now Erdogan and Putin are best buddies, which is probably what they should have been in the first place. Putin runs a tight ship in Russia. His opponents mysteriously die. So do journalists who write the wrong things. Last year, on Bastille Day, Erdogan faced a military coup, but the Turkish military wasn’t like the French underclass in 1789 storming the Bastille – the coup failed, and then Erdogan shut down the press and arrested everyone in sight. No one dares protest anything there now. He too runs a tight ship, and Putin is clearly prying Turkey away from NATO – it’s only a matter of time before Turkey drops out. Russia is the major player in that region now, not the United States.
That’s why this week’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey – by an off-duty policeman shouting about the horrors of Aleppo – didn’t make one damned difference to these two. They’re cool. We’re not, but Trump admires them both. Trump has repeatedly praised them both as “strong leaders” – and a soon as he was elected, Trump spoke with Erdogan – one of the first calls. He wants in on this “strong leadership” thing. He wants to be a member of that club. He thinks he already is – but that call also seemed to be about the two or three Trump towers and hotels in Istanbul. They generate about a hundred and fifty million dollars in licensing fees for Trump each year. Is keeping Turkey in NATO worth the risk of losing that income stream? Russia is the major player in that region now, not the United States, but is changing that dynamic worth the potential personal financial loss? These things get complicated.
There was also that Newsweek review of Trump’s conflicts of interest – Erdogan wants an old enemy of his, who has been living in Pennsylvania for many years, extradited back to Turkey to be executed for “inspiring” that coup that failed. The United States doesn’t do such things, but Erdogan has arrested Trump’s Turkish business partners. Trump’s income stream suddenly went dry. Those guys won’t get out of jail until that old man in Pennsylvania is returned – do this or take a massive financial hit. Now, Erdogan is saying that the old man in Pennsylvania was somehow behind this week’s assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey – increasing the pressure on Trump, who can’t do anything about this until January anyway. Erdogan can wait. He’s got Trump by the balls, and Putin is giggling.
Trump may have miscalculated. Erdogan can talk Turkey too – it’s his native language – but at least one thing has been cleared up:
The consulting firm of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, dropped its controversial Turkish-linked lobbying client. The firm, Flynn Intel Group, started lobbying in September for a Dutch consulting company founded by the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. The termination form just posted online but is dated Nov. 16, the day before Trump named Flynn to the key post.
At least Trump’s national security adviser is no longer a paid agent of Turkey, more or less, but how does Trump get to be a member of that club of “strong leaders” in the real world?
Well, there’s a plan for that:
The leader of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party has signed what he called a cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling party and recently met with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the designated national security adviser to President-elect Donald J. Trump of the United States.
Word of the agreement with Russia was the latest sign that the Kremlin is forging bonds with political parties across Europe in what some European leaders suspect is a coordinated attempt to meddle in their affairs and potentially weaken Western democracies…
The Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, reported the signing of the agreement with United Russia, Mr. Putin’s party, on Monday on his Facebook page, where he also disclosed that he had visited General Flynn a few weeks ago in Trump Tower in New York.
“Internationally, the Freedom Party continues to gain in influence,” wrote Mr. Strache, a dental technician who has led the party since 2005.
The Trump transition team did not respond to request for comment on the meeting.
Of course they didn’t:
The Freedom Party, founded in the 1950s by ex-Nazis, surged this year to nearly capture the largely ceremonial presidency of Austria in May, but was defeated in a final runoff on Dec. 4. Still, its ascendance, alongside the rise of rightist parties in many European countries and with Mr. Trump’s victory, has raised new questions about political realignment across the continent.
So there is a club of “strong leaders” and it has these ex-Nazis at its center:
Mr. Strache’s trips to New York and Moscow were clearly intended to convey the impression that the Freedom Party, which still leads all opinion polls ahead of the two mainstream parties that have governed Austria since World War II, has international standing and intends to continue vying for power…
A Freedom Party-led government would press to lift the sanctions imposed on Moscow for its 2014 seizure of Crimea and meddling in war-torn eastern Ukraine. On Facebook, Mr. Strache said Monday that having the United States and Russia standing together would be important to solving the crises in Syria and Crimea and “to get rid of the sanctions that damage the economy and are in the end useless.”
Damn, Trump has been saying that too. The Freedom Party presidential candidate, Norbert Hofer, who just barely lost the recent election there, is as pro-Russian as Trump:
Austria jealously guards its neutrality, adopted after the allies withdrew from the country in 1955, and there is considerable nostalgia for the Cold War role played by Vienna as a venue for United States-Soviet summits.
In that spirit, the Freedom Party has long leaned toward Moscow. In the presidential campaign, Mr. Hofer had argued strongly that European sanctions imposed on Moscow should be dropped, a stance he reiterated in a lengthy interview with Russian television late last week.
Russian media loyal to the Kremlin have emphasized for over a year that the influx of some one million migrants, many of them Muslim, has divided and weakened Europe, where Germany, Austria and Sweden bore the main burden of absorbing the newcomers.
The Freedom Party is also anti-migrant, and seeks deep changes in the European Union…
Things are lining up:
As the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an American group that aims to preserve the privileged place of whiteness in Western civilization and fight “anti-Christian degeneracy,” Matthew Heimbach knows whom he envisions as the ideal ruler: the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.
“Russia is our biggest inspiration,” Mr. Heimbach said. “I see President Putin as the leader of the free world.”
Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump mystified many on the left and in the foreign policy establishment with his praise for Mr. Putin and his criticism of the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But what seemed inexplicable when Mr. Trump first expressed his admiration for the Russian leader seems, in retrospect, to have been a shrewd dog whistle to a small but highly motivated part of his base.
For Mr. Heimbach is far from alone in his esteem for Mr. Putin. Throughout the collection of white ethnocentrists, nationalists, populists and neo-Nazis that has taken root on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Putin is widely revered as a kind of white knight: a symbol of strength, racial purity and traditional Christian values in a world under threat from Islam, immigrants and rootless cosmopolitan elites.
Trump may get into that club too. He’s working on it, as Jamelle Bouie notes here:
Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, holds something close to this worldview: that the white Western world is caught in a civilizational war with Islam and that in this fight, Putin’s Russia is a potential ally to the United States, not an opponent. “I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents,” said Bannon in a 2014 speech. “However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes.” He continued: “I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive… I think we have to deal with first things first.”
It seems the new world order is the old world order, circa 1939, and Bouie is not pleased:
Empowering these views – giving state authority to a movement centered on white nationalism – is a direct assault on multiracial democracy and represents a dangerous subversion of a political prohibition on open racism that has sustained American tolerance, as imperfect as it is, for the last generation.
Bouie would say that. He’s black, but Josh Marshall is quite white, and he has a problem with how this all came up:
Normally when I’ve spoken of “press failure”, it’s a sharp indictment, one of various ways the political press has failed to probe deeply, challenge its own assumptions, to resist being played by political actors and other vices. This is a bit different. The failure is great. But the causes and how to rectify it are a bit less clear. In this case I’m talking about the fact that the US press still seems to have very little ability to find out what President-Elect Trump is doing – just as simple as that. The press is largely in the dark.
It is hard of course to prove a negative. How do we know Trump is doing a bunch of stuff secretly if we don’t know about it? That’s a good question. But here’s how. We keep finding out about Trump’s on-going business projects because we hear about them in the foreign press. So yes, we know about them. But we’re reliant on the foreign press or, in many cases, foreign individuals who happen to discuss their dealings with Trump publicly or on social media. One example is the building project in Buenos Aires. Or, remember the meeting that Trump had with his Indian business partners in Trump Tower a few days after the election? We only learned about that because the business partners posted some pictures of the meeting to Facebook and those pictures were picked up in the Indian press (which helpfully for American journalists is in many cases published in English.). We see the pattern again and again.
Now we have another example. We learned overnight that Trump’s designated National Security Advisor Michael Flynn met secretly in Trump Tower with the chief of the Austrian Freedom Party. The Austrian Freedom Party is not just any foreign political party or even any right-wing populist party. The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 by former Nazis, though that lineage can be slightly misleading. It is not and was never simply a re-founding of the Austrian Nazi party. Still, it is a far right nationalist party, made up in its early years disproportionately of former Nazis which for many of these early years was shunned in national politics but also provided a home for people who were shunned by or unwilling to join the country’s big two political parties. In more recent years it has had surges of popular support as a far-right anti-immigrant party.
The party made news yesterday for a new pact it has signed with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party but also for the meeting with Flynn. What’s critical though is that both were only revealed in a Facebook post by party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. Before he posted the news on Facebook, we didn’t know this meeting had happened.
That’s the secondary problem here:
The fact that Flynn chose to meet with Strache is a big deal. We likely wouldn’t ever have known about it if Strache himself hadn’t disclosed it. That’s a problem. In the most recent episode of my podcast, I talked with Josh Green about Donald Trump’s and Steve Bannon’s plan to bust apart the EU by first striking a free trade agreement with the UK and then trying to break up the EU by striking individual bilateral trade agreements with Germany, France, Italy, etc.
Whether or not that is really plausible, whether that is something a Trump administration could really pull off, the goal is wild and extremely newsworthy. Yet, there’s virtually no discussion of it. There are other meetings like the one with Strache that we are not hearing about.
Bannon and Breitbart News are big supporters of all the far-right anti-immigrant parties in Europe. Trump basically ran as the US far-right anti-immigrant candidate. So it’s not like this is surprising. Bannon would be on very solid ground saying, ‘What’s the surprise? This is what we said we would do.’ He at least, if not Trump, would be right. Still this is extremely important stuff.
This is a new world order:
The US has spent more than half a century trying to prevent the rise of far-right European nationalist parties to national leadership. Now the incoming administration appears to be trying to create a sort of far-right white and anti-immigrant international to ally itself with. This is a big deal. We need to know a lot more about this. But we’re getting very little information. The Trump Transition seems to be very effective – much as they’ve been with on-going business deals – at keeping it all secret. I don’t think this is necessarily a case of the national press not trying to find out. But whatever the cause, they’re not finding out.
Perhaps that is the way with strong leaders. Keep everything hidden. Say nothing. Flynn meets with the Austrian Nazis. Let the press scan Facebook postings, but something is up:
“This is not just any opposition party: It is one with Nazi sympathies,” said Daniel Serwer, a former state department official who’s now a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “Nor is Flynn any national security adviser. He is a documented conspiracy propagator. His long-term strategy colleague, Steve Bannon, is an ethnic nationalist and anti-Semite. The president-elect is an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration bigot.”
“At risk of appearing to be a conspiracy theorist myself, I think we are seeing an effort to build an international coalition of like-minded anti-Muslim, anti-immigration ethnic nationalists who can be depended upon to undermine the liberal democratic order of the West, in particular its international norms regarding peace and security, its trade and investment rules, and its human rights standards,” Serwer said. “Candidates for inclusion in this coalition include President Putin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Sisi, Marine Le Pen and Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland. I’m sure more will appear on the horizon.”
Trump has appeared on the horizon. He wants in on this new but oddly old world order. He wants to be a “strong leader” too – just like the big boys – but they know how to jerk him around. He’ll dance to their tune. He’s no more than a businessman, a billionaire businessman, but still just a businessman. Amateurs don’t get to join the club.