Year In Review
That Was the (Sad) Year That Was

What have we learned during the past year, and how does it stack up against what was predicted?

Published on: December 31, 2017
Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.
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  • Everett Brunson

    A lot to unpack, but here are a few observations:
    1) Without taking the time to go through the archives I wonder if Mr. Garfinkle was equally pessimistic about another relative political novice that entered the White House in January 2009.
    2) The end notes proved to be as interesting as the article.
    3) Ayn Rand is not the boogie-man. (readers of this article should click on the “devotees of Ayn Rand” link contained in end note 16.) Hohmann does some good reporting here on who is influenced by whom, but I reject his premise that Rand is wrong-thinking on her views of takers and makers.
    4) getting to one of his main points vis a vis Trump’s foreign policy in regard to North Korea and Iran:

    A) Garfinkle asserts that Trump can not/will not get the Chinese to do anything they wouldn’t have done anyway is an ideological chimera. Under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations China’s lack of cooperation was readily apparent and America’s strategic patience posture proved woefully lacking. L’il Kim, like his father before him, inexorably continued a nuclear weapons program coupled with ICBM capability. Sanctions did not work and neither did world condemnation. President Trump has done more to involve the Chinese to actively curtail the NORK’s nuclear ambitions then has been done in the last 22 years. Garfinkel’s fears that Trump might take his own words seriously was exactly the catalyst necessary to bring the Chinese to the realization they could no longer let their puppet have free rein.

    And despite the cheating by Russia and China in secretly shipping oil, those shipments will not be enough for the North Korean engine to continue functioning. The defections of border soldiers in the last three weeks have exposed many of the NORK secrets that give evidence of the regime’s impending failure and also a window into the various war programs it has been experimenting–the presence of anthrax anti-bodies and radioactive contamination to name two. Additionally, the health woes of the two latest defectors tell much about the internal health of the NORK populace. If the soldiers eat first and best, the common people must be in dire straits indeed.

    B) The Iranians have long been playing a deadly game in the ME and their fingers can be found in many pies. Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon are just the tip of the iceberg. Realizing the danger facing them the Saudi coalition has even embraced Israel in confronting the Iranian threat to the region. I doubt this would have happened as quickly and as thoroughly without Trump. Indeed, were HRC in the Oval Office I would more likely expect her to side with Iran to preserve the farce that was/is the Iranian deal. Her past actions in regard to Egypt and Libya certainly demonstrate an almost maniacal devotion to destruction.

    Too, the actions of Iranian citizens this past week also say much about the stability of that country. While everyone will only watch from afar and not intervene ( really, does anyone expect Europe ,or even Russia to get involved with that doomed rebellion?) it does indicate that the Iranian hegemonic ambitions has so far outpaced the needs of its citizens they are now willing to risk death than put up with it any longer.

    Obviously I do not share Garfinkle’s low opinion of Trump’s foreign policy ignorance. Like Alexander’s solution to the Gordian Knot, Trump does seem to have a way of cutting to the heart of the matter.

    • Gary Hemminger

      When it comes to Trump all of the elites have TDS. The reason why is that they do things a certain way and expect a certain outcome. when someone does it another way and may even succeed, this shows them that the way to get an outcome X, may not always require a method Y. The question now is the question that really should be asked. It was obvious to all but an idiot that when Trump was elected the economy would soar because of the reduction in regulations. This was painfully obvious to everyone but an elite idiot. So now that the obvious has occurred and the economy is growing by 4% per quarter (remember how the new normal told us this was impossible) will the next election be about “the economy stupid?” If so Trump wins hands down. The campaign is all about “Do you want to put the democrats back in power with their job killing regulation and taxation.”

      • Everett Brunson

        And since it all seems to go against the prevailing wisdom, the prevailing wisdom gurus can only lash out with the “you’re too stupid to realize. . .” Meme. As to the war drums–the point you raised earlier–I think the chance for war is greater than 50%. I know what you meant, either we will go to war or we won’t (50/50), but the murmurs I’m hearing do point to a confrontation happening early this spring. If it does happen I hope it is swift and decisive.

        • FriendlyGoat

          In the cyber age, you do know that America is more vulnerable than ever, right? Swift and decisive, you say?
          Decisive that the rest of the world is going to kowtow to Trump? Madness.

          • Everett Brunson

            FG–you have the right fears but misplace them in the wrong culprit. The enemy isn’t Trump. It is L’il Kim.

            And the greatest danger to us isn’t a nuclear weapon, it is the EMP risk of a nuclear weapon exploded at high altitude–the ultimate cyber danger. And if you think “playing nice” with the NORK regime makes us any safer then your head is buried deeply in the sand.

          • FriendlyGoat

            After you blow up DPRK, the sun rises tomorrow on China, Russia and the world of Islam, none of which will think “playing nice” with the USA is a good idea. There have now been 12 presidents dealing with the Kims and there are reasons why what you (and maybe Trump, or maybe not) imagine as quick and decisive has not been initiated from here.

          • Everett Brunson

            Here is an example of your strategy: There is a gang in your neighborhood. They commit crimes which you’ve witnessed. You avoid telling the police as the gang will probably retaliate against you. Meanwhile they go on to commit other crimes. One day they rob you too. Though you give up your money they beat you just the same. And then you complain because the police are never around. Sucks to be you.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Here is an example of your strategy. You seem to be wishing for a war to be fought somewhere not in your “neighborhood” and seriously do not care what the fallout might be for people in this country or all others. There is a chance that Mattis is smarter and no such thing is coming about.

          • Anthony

            “As the New Year begins, we should reflect on the need for people who are grounded in their own culture but capable of reaching out beyond it – The Christmas Story suggests that we can somehow try to be loyal members of our nations, our families, our tribes and yet reach out to the broader human community of which we are also a part.” (Walter Russell Mead)

            Happy New Year (and good health), FG.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Happy New Year to you too.

    • FriendlyGoat

      The thing with Ayn Rand is that those who claim to be her fans and fans of Jesus at the same time are lying about one or the other.
      There are actually a lot of these people. Key word is lying——a lot, ruining both state and religion simultaneously.

      • Everett Brunson

        This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the charge but I reject it all the same. What has been said about Rand’s works can also be expressed as Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” I do not find it to be contrary to Christian ( nor Judeo-Christian) beliefs.

        I do find the idea that the creators of industry and wealth to be no more than sheep to be sheared for the non-producers totally abhorrent. The road to hell is, indeed, wide and giving the takers more road width isn’t helpful to them.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You’re welcome to reject whatever you want. That doesn’t make Jesus Christ and Atheist Ayn’s junk philosophy compatible. I’ll stick with my conviction that those who insist on such a merger are liars about one or the other. The idea that Christ endured the cross for the sake of subjecting imaginary takers to imaginary makers is as bad as crap theology gets.

          • Boritz

            Substitute ‘subjugating’ with ‘restoring balance between’ and you have a fusion between Christ and Rand.
            But if takers and makers are both ‘imaginary’ why bother. Just move on to this:
            imaginary taker: Trump stealing the election with the help of Russians.
            imaginary maker: Mueller making it all good again.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think of it more like this. A couple of days ago I bought some bananas at Walmart. There was a cut mark on the bunch stem where some maker harvested them. Some maker boxed them for shipment. Some maker trucked them into Walmart. Some maker put them on the display stand. Some maker checked me out of the store. Some maker was out on the lot rounding up the shopping carts. I am a very minor shareholder of Walmart stock, but I am not the maker. Alice Walton is not the maker. There are even limitations to the extent that Sam Walton is/was “the maker”. Net, net, the makers and takers stuff we hear from Republicans is totally confused bullsh*t. The people who like Ayn Rand do not know Jesus from a hole in the ground. It’s one or the other—-the real New Testament gospel or Ayn. It is never legitimately both.

      • Tom

        Or it could be that they like some aspects of her philosophy but reject the others. Kind of like you can be a fan of Star Wars while rejecting the underlying metaphysics.

  • Gary Hemminger

    Let’s allow Mr. Garfinkle in on the obvious:

    1) ISIS basically destroyed. the JV team was Obama
    2) The stock market and the economy unshackled from massive regulation and taxation (a taxation rate that basically required crony capitalism to function in any meaningful way)
    3) Trump going directly after media for its bias. Did he really have a choice? Was he supposed to just sit back and be attacked time and time again (even if he actually deserved it)? Did you ever see a boxer just get pummeled in the ring and never hit back?
    4) After the Obama & Bush foreign policy mess, maybe it would be a good thing not to telegraph every move to our so called allies and enemies. I don’t see any wars on the horizon. Under Bush all I saw were wars and under Obama all I saw was weakness and a growing caliphate.

  • Gary Hemminger

    I wonder if anyone would like to take a bet. Here is the bet:

    1) Trump will be defined by a war, as Garfinkle predicts
    2) Trump will be defined by the economy as Gary predicts

    Be glad to take a bet on this. I will win. Trump in the end will be defined by the economy. And even if Garfinkle is right and there is a war, it is 50:50 that it will be a good outcome rather than a bad one.

  • Joseph DeMarzo

    “But it has proved untrue, as other relative optimists said, that Trump would be a normal President once the campaign frenzy wore off.”

    It was and is impossible for Trump to be a “normal” President when the opposition party, media and the cultural “elites” refuse to accept the basic premise that he is the President. The “Resistance”, the pussy hat marchers, the 24/7 Trump attacks running on CNN, hysterical #Never Trumpers like Kristol, Stephens, Rove, et al., etc., etc. are unprecedented.

    Trump thus will not be a normal President, whatever that means. But compared to Bush/McCain/Romney, who tried to play nice but were destroyed nonetheless, he is far better and much more effective. And compared to Obama, and God forbid, President HRC, I will take him any day of the week. Trump is simply a reflection of the polarization that has been growing for two decades, and not the cause.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Another interesting, and as usual colorful article by Garfinkle. A significant component of it is a defense of past U.S. leadership in a world dominated by the economic policy often referred to as a “globalization”. The article points out that Hillary Clinton “notably failed to articulate anything like a defense of the traditional rationale for the U.S global posture. For political reasons she even caved on the trade agenda, which, in Asia, represented the underlying political foundation for an overdue redirection U.S. strategic investment toward that part of the world.” Clinton backtracked because she realized how unpopular globalization had become; her attempt to distance herself was unsuccessful. Trump has been attacking globalization for several decades; in 2016 he found a receptive audience.

    Academicians, like Garfunkel, may see the benefit of traditional globalist policies in the theoretical sense from their ivory towers. The reality is that its policies have resulted in a massive shift of employment to countries with low wages and permissive regulatory environments. The negative impact is clearly visible in what is referred to as middle (“flyover”) America. Globalist policies put the U.S. at a disadvantage, and badly impacted employment in manufacturing. Global free trade policies shift jobs and manufacturing to countries with the lowest wages; and which often provide government subsidies; or otherwise set up trade barriers limiting the ability of American businesses to compete. Outsourcing becomes a necessity for economic survival; in the face of it, scholarly articles about the benefits of “an overdue redirection of U.S. strategic investment towards” another part of the world do not carry much weight.

    Likewise, arguments justifying the U.S. taxpayer being burdened with paying a disproportionate share of other nation’s defense costs because if “not for the role the United States has played as security competition suppressor of first resort for so many years, the world total of military spending would be vastly higher than it is”’ (including U.S. military spending) are not persuasive. See no reason to defend Europe if they are not paying their fair share; nor do I believe withdrawing our support will somehow result in higher U.S. defense costs. Europe can stand or fall on its own dime.

    Although Garfinkle is focused on Trump – the “anti-globalist” stand he took also was somewhat similar to that of Bernie Sanders, who came reasonably close to winning the Democratic nomination (sans super delegates). It is very likely the Democrats in 2020 will nominate a candidate who also has strongly anti-globalist views, similar to Sanders.

    In short, although Garfinkle makes some excellent points, they reflect nostalgia for a past era that no longer exists, and will not return even if Trump was not president.

  • CapitalistRoader

    The military campaign far outran political thinking, so as would have been the case in a Hillary Clinton Administration, ISIS has been de-territorialized…

    I’m not so sure. Hillary got three-times as much campaign contributions from defense contractor than Trump (or Bernie, for that matter). She had a very good reason to not win wars. Prolonging military actions would have been payback to those defense contractors.

    Neocons gotta’ neocon.

  • Anthony

    “Human cognitive gymnastics being what they are…All memories get edited in the interest of emotional self protection….” (Adam Garfinkle)

    Indeed, what have we learned during past year (politically, domestically, internationally)? Well, Adam Garfinkle gives TAI readers a broad review of both his “process and substantive” analysis that, despite reader cognitive inclinations, lays out U.S. governance patterns detectable over last year in Trump administration. In that regard, that is the year that was.

    In any event, Adam Garfinkle is referencing the modern idea of Liberal Democracy” (our tension between individual freedom and communal well-being as animated by American politics and made palpable since Nov. 2016) but he also implies that Liberal Democracy has lost the faith of many of its Western citizens as a consequence of sharp and disturbing turns (trends) in recent decades. Still. a careful read of piece may leave the reader not with a partisan interpretation (Red/Blue. Republican/Democrat, White/Black, Obama/Trump, Urban/Rural, etc.) but an appreciation that liberal democracy (in America) requires melding of liberal and republican ideals (strength of the commonweal via democracy).

    “If the Enlightenment in all its major forms (French, English, Scottish) has had a single animating conceptual center, it is the idea of the non-zero sum nature of human society. By nurturing the cooperative aspects of human nature, people can limit the destructive excesses of the competitive aspects. That belief is at the core of the liberal project.” (Adam Garfinkle)

  • QET

    This is a really thought-provoking piece, a testament to what Garfinkle can achieve when he is authoring for a paying client who has no interest in paying for gratuitous expressions of his aesthetic distaste for Trump. Here, his observations on and criticisms of Trump are substantive and, I think, fair; and Garfinkle is far more careful here to connect the present with the past.

    are dissolving in a world becoming ever less bound together by the Enlightenment inheritance that has defined the global system for the past four centuries

    This sentence seems to contain the kernel of Garfinkle’s concern. But I wonder how accurate it is as a matter of history. My sense is that the European-American-erected and maintained “global system” has never really bound “the world,” at least not voluntarily. When many “rest of world” countries were more or less under Western colonial domination, it can hardly be said that they supported that system; their votes in its favor were cast by Western governments as their proxies. Following decolonization, the “rest of world” has seemed adamant in its opposition to this global system, and as far as I can tell for no compelling reason other than that it is a Western order.

    The idea that basic economics can explain the anti-Western behavior was conclusively discredited, in my view, by Japan’s post-WW2 rise. Before WW2, Japan sought to displace the West as the Pacific hegemon; those actions have historically been interpreted as based solely or mostly in a need/desire for control of natural resources, in a drive for autarky. But without such hegemony or autarky, Japan following the war did finally become highly prosperous and a dominant world economic power, so its behavior in the 1920s and 30s is more accurately explained as arising from motivations of national identity, recognition and pride. And it is nationalist pride that is driving China and Russia today, not any legitimate concerns over Western military aggression or economic subordination. China has risen to world economic dominance on the back of the very Western liberal order that it now seeks to displace with an order emanating from Beijing. There is no rational explanation for this other than non-economic motivations.

    So I think the world was never really bound together by an Western Enlightenment inheritance. It is just that the non-Western nations have not, until now (excepting Japan’s bid that led to the Pacific War), been powerful enough to challenge that inheritance, and now they are. Which is why it will be fruitless for the US to “double down” now on policy and moral advocacy in support of a traditional Western liberal order. Like Japan in the 1930s, China and Russia today want to see themselves reflected in the “international order” and liberalism, being a defining characteristic of the West, can’t do that for them.

  • Tom Scharf

    As if the “sad” year wasn’t a predetermined outcome in the mind of Garfinkle. 99% of every word he uttered in his previous essay was not falsifiable, so of course he can pat himself on the back for accuracy. In the end all he still has is Trump FutureCrime(tm), the gift that never stops giving in the ever pessimistic minds of our dear thought leaders.

    There is nothing scarier to the governing elite than the election of what they considered to be incompetents that achieve the same or better measurable results as previously approved administrations. It is noted that Garfinkle neither suggests nor tallies any concrete measurements for success beyond a “war”. He may want to review the glorious success of past Administrations in this measurement before condemning others before the fact.

  • Seanzorelli

    Before you criticize Trump’s literacy: “the tenants of modernity”.
    It’s “tenets”. One more time: TENETS!!!

    TENETS fer cryin out loud. Modernity is NOT a tenement.

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