Cold War One was no picnic Africa for as the superpowers duked it out by proxy. On October 4, Vice President Mike Pence declared what sounded very much like Cold War Two. This one, with China, should work out better for the continent.
Pence’s declaration came in a speech he gave to the Hudson Institute, a think tank. It does not belong in the same class as Winston Churchill’s Fulton, Missouri, speech which taught us to say Iron Curtain. But that is primarily because Pence, a wan, God-bothering sycophant gave it, and some Trumpy wrote it.
At the time, everyone was fixated on something else, as it always is in the age of Trump, the great distractor. The Romans had their bread and circuses. Washington has its fights over whether beer-guzzling frat boys who may have been sexual predators in their teens should be eligible to sit on the Supreme Court in their fifties.
Geostrategically, the US has been a bit at sea since the Soviet Union imploded. The first serious replacement enemy, heretical Islamism, was too inchoate to be a useful foe. It wasn’t going to race us to the moon or be deterred by our nukes or justify mindless expenditures on the hardware of conventional war.
So, after 9/11, we had to invent a nail to hit with our trillion dollar hammer. That was Saddam Hussein. The unforgivable stupidity of the Iraq invasion, and the absence of victory in any of America’s permanent post-9/11 military adventures, are a good part of what gave us Trump. His message that America wasn’t winning as it once had resonated with enough people in the right states to give him an electoral college majority.
If your stock in trade is winning, you need wins, and for wins, you need fights, and for fights you need foes. For big wins, you need not just any foe, but big, diabolical ones.
Trump from the start was reluctant to cast Russia in the role. Special counsel Robert Mueller may ultimately tell us why. But there may be an innocent explanation: Russia is a has-been power with an economy the size of Italy’s, run by a Mafia whose capo is a preening killer who likes to be seen with his shirt off. Putin can play anschluss in Ukraine and prop up the loathsome Assad in Syria, but try as he might to destabilise the West via Facebook, he’s no Joe Stalin.
No more worthy as contenders were North Korea or Iran, threats both, but pipsqueaks. And as much as I hate to say it, Trump is dealing with them effectively. He’s giving the Kim dynasty the love its latest iteration seems to crave. He’s building a ruthless Sunni — and Israeli — wall against Iran. Too bad Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman felt he had to treat journalist Jamal Khashoggi that way Henry II treated his turbulent Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.
Happily, there’s China, busily hollowing out the American economy by stealing all its mindless factory jobs and then using its ill-gotten trade surplus to launch a global loan-sharking business. See the dominos fall as desperate creditors surrender the strategic assets China lent them the money to build as part its Belt and Road and for which they now can’t pay.
Africa is not going to get trampled in this fight the way it was in the last one. The Trumpublicans have grown so febrile over China’s supposed “debt-trap diplomacy” that they have stopped hating development finance, or as they until recently called it, corporate welfare. They have launched something called the US International Development Finance Corporation to help US companies compete with China in Africa and elsewhere, and authorised it to enter into contingent liabilities of up to $60 billion.