Opinion

How Putin Has Already Won a Stealth World War

With the US captured — or undermined — Canada and Europe face a new world order.

By Crawford Kilian 31 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

The western nations, and especially the United States, appear to be fighting a Third World War we never anticipated. What’s more, we appear to have lost it already.

Watching events in the U.S. since the election of Donald Trump last November, it’s easy to imagine that a victorious foreign power has occupied Washington and is now ensuring that the Americans will no longer dominate international politics. The Americans are alienating their foreign allies while turning on one another domestically. Seventy-two years after the Second World War and 26 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has abdicated its role as superpower.

Having gained and held that position by overwhelming force of arms (or the threat of such force), the Americans seem incapable of believing that they could be defeated by anything else.

But even without hard evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin really does look like a master strategist — the most apt pupil in 2,500 years of Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu.

Others have drawn the same parallel, especially since the Russian takeover of Crimea and occupation of parts of Ukraine. But Russian involvement in Crimea and Syria looks like a mere warm-up exercise.

Peace as deception

“All warfare is based on deception,” Sun Tzu stated, and what looks like peace can be the greatest deception of all. Russia is at peace with the U.S. and the NATO countries, and maintains strong economic ties with the West. That, after all, is why western trade sanctions have been a painful annoyance to the Russians.

But while we have annoyed them, the Russians have applied other precepts of Sun Tzu.

“If you know yourself and know your enemy,” the master taught, “you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” Putin has had decades to reflect on the reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union, which he called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and “a genuine tragedy for the Russian people.”

He has also had those decades to continue Soviet scrutiny of the West in general and the U.S. in particular — not to confirm Russian biases and ideology, but to quantify our strengths and weaknesses. We should be flattered; we haven’t studied ourselves as closely as the Russians have.

“That general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend,” Sun Tzu wrote, “and he is skillful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.” The idea of a cyberattack on American computers had long been understood, but not the idea that presidential candidates’ computers could be hacked and their contents published. Nor have the Americans understood that their free press could be disbelieved by millions of their fellow citizens. Even a counterhack against Russian media, flooding the country with facts about Putin, would be equally disbelieved by ordinary Russians.

Outdoing the master

“Of all those in the army close to the commander, none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none is more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations,” Sun Tzu wrote. Here Putin has outdone his master by conducting secret operations in plain sight, enabling Trump and his relatives and cronies to conduct business in Russia before taking over the White House.

“There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited,” Sun Tzu warned, so it follows that “To subdue the enemy without fighting is supreme excellence.” Hence, “The best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.”

The U.S. has an anxious sense that the enemy is not only within the gates, but within the palace. Yet evidence is still lacking, so the country hesitates to oust its commander in chief. Moreover, the constitutional means of replacing a president can’t apply. Trump chose his vice-president and cabinet; all would have to be removed from office, as would key members of the Senate and House of Representatives. If the president himself is a Russian agent in place, and his party controls Congress, only a coup d’etat can create the conditions for rescuing American democracy.

A coup, of course, would end the two-century legitimacy of American succession, and almost certainly lead to years of civil unrest if not outright civil war. From the Russian point of view, that would be just as good as keeping Trump in power. Either way, the U.S. and its allies would be unable to deter or punish their enemies.

What allies?

But we might well ask: What allies? After the recent G7 meeting in Taormina, Sicily, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded that the post-1945 world order, presided over by the U.S., is now dead.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are to a certain extent over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she said.

Merkel is unlikely to be the only NATO member to feel that way. The government of Justin Trudeau must feel even more isolated, with less room to step away from Trump into the protection of Europe. If Russia has taken over the U.S. “whole and intact,” we may find fewer allies than we once could count on — and find ourselves as vulnerable to subversion as our American cousins.

In the aftermath of this silent Third World War, we may have to seek friends like China, or whatever survives of the European Union. Or we may have to turn ourselves into a giant Switzerland, neutral in all conflicts. Like the Swiss, Finns and Swedes, we could arm ourselves so well as to make ourselves not worth attacking. But we would also have to build cybernetic defences.

And most importantly, we’d better study Sun Tzu. If we do not know ourselves as well as our enemies know us, a Canadian Trump awaits us.  [Tyee]

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