Making Putin Smile

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia a world power again. Aside from its nuclear arsenal it is way too small by most other measures to attain such a status anywhere in his lifetime by overtaking other countries unless those other countries are significantly weakened. Nuclear war means mutually assured destruction (MAD) or something so close to it as to be unacceptable to any rational nation state. While Putin may be evil, he is rational. Putin never seems to smile. (Laughing at people is not smiling.) Let’s juxtapose those facts.

The way Putin’s Russia can become one of the “big boys” again is by shrinking its competitors. One of them is the European Union. Its economy dwarfs Russia’s. Russia interfered in the Brexit referendum on the exit side. If you think American politics under Trump is a mess (and it is!); take a look at the Brexit fiasco. If the UK ends up leaving the EU, especially sans an exit deal, it will weaken the EU and devastate the UK’s economy. It may also resurrect violence along the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, but that is another, albeit significant, issue. If the UK leaves expect other nations to follow in fact there are already rumblings of a Polish exit.

While the EU is an economic alliance, its military counterpart is NATO. Putin views NATO as a threat. Despite the fact that Russia has a formidable military it is no competition for a combined US and European force which is basically what NATO constitutes. By installing Trump in the White House Putin has an anti-NATO person as commander-in-chief of NATO’s mightiest military power. That is a good start.

Diplomatic influence has long been one of America’s sources of international clout. Under Trump the State Department has been decimated. Two years into his administration a host of positions including ambassadorship are unfilled mainly because he hasn’t even nominated someone yet. His two Secretaries of State, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, were hardly world class choices! A retired oil man and a backbench congressman; we could certainly do much better than that. Putin still faces significant diplomatic competition (most notably from China) but a weakened American State Department certainly helps “bring the competition down to size” from Russia’s perspective.

Now I’d like to turn to the American dollar. It is still the global currency of refuge because it is the most trusted and desired. One of the reasons the American dollar enjoys such lofty status is because of our Federal Reserve which has been almost completely politically independent and led by largely apolitical experts in monetary policy. Trump wants to change that. A few weeks ago he nominated Stephen Moore for one of the two open spots. To be succinct Moore is grossly unqualified and a Trump sycophant.

Last week Trump floated an exponentially worse choice in Herman Cain. Cain became the punchline of many jokes during the 2012 Republican primary until his bid was ended by credible sexual harassment/assault allegations. The thing most people remember about Cain’s campaign is his 9-9-9 tax plan.

While those nominations are appalling don’t be shocked if the Republican Senate confirms both. One of the three pillars holding up the modern Republican Party is the promotion of ignorance. By that I mean keeping people ignorant so they will vote Republican. In this case it will be the literal promotion of ignorance. Neither Moore nor Cain possesses the requisite monetary knowledge to sit on the Fed’s Board of Governors.

I’m not saying the Russian ruble will become the new default international currency but if the American dollar, the British pound sterling and the Euro all weaken the ruble rises by default.

The person making most of this possible is Donald Trump and therefore he may be the only person in the world capable of making Putin smile. We just don’t know what goes on in those private meetings; or should I call them Trump’s performance reviews by his boss?

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