Trying to see wholes

A reader with “conventional” foreign policy training writes that he has no clew what may come of the Kim-Trump meeting in Singapore. It could end quite badly, as we may reasonably foresee — worse than, say, a real estate deal that goes sour — but what would success look like? The “real” nukes are over the border in China; what do we face if the Chinese allow their North Korean wild card to be taken off the table? What might be their motives in disposing of it?

Will Japan and South Korea become estranged from the West, and Taiwan be lost, once the Politburo and its President-for-Life sacrifice their puppet bogeyman, and change the subject from this game of nuclear chicken to a new kind of trade war, and a more direct form of regional hegemony? Having used Kim Jong-un to compromise South Korea, and as a bargaining chip to effect American retreat from the region? What other sort of geostrategic trap might they be, consciously, leading the West into, the like of which our foreign policy experts, reared on the Cold War, are ill-equipped to see?

When Trump boasts that the economy of USA is still twice the size of PRC’s, his Chinese listeners must be smiling wryly. That is just the mistake that the Soviets made, and which they are not planning to repeat. By strict old-fashioned socialism, the Russians kept themselves poor. Reagan could bankrupt them simply by engaging in a serious arms race. Communist China is playing a longer game, to build a military superpower that will be much more sustainable, and an internal Gulag more comfortable for its inmates.

I try to think like a Talleyrand about such things, but then, I have met Talleyrand (in books), and I am no Talleyrand. What is for the best in a world of superpowers? What might actually save lives? He was, at heart, a friend to endangered men, and sometime traitor to his own state. From within the apparatus of power, he could see outside. He was more than a representative of French state interests: a mind looking to the good of all Europe. At our best, in the politics of the West, we have engendered such minds.

How do we protect, or even advance, our own interests, while mindful of interests beyond our realm? How do we reciprocally advance the interests of our own actual people (not “the peeple” of political ideologies) in the flickering light of those “ignorant armies clashing in the night”?

It is a long time since I was reading Talleyrand, and about him, but from those days I carried an impression of his intellectual chastity. By this I mean, his nearly “Taoist” ability to participate in events without being emotionally swallowed by them. His marvellous sense of humour was among his chief weapons, both in comprehending his enemies and in restraining himself. He had sight as clear as a man can have, who is up to his nose in the world’s charnel. His very survival through the French Revolution showed an almost superhuman wit and tactical charm. We need men, or even women like him, to advise our leaders and guide them through their own mad vanities.

With appropriate deference to the President of the Natted States Merica, we need men who can see beyond the economic questions. Money is power, and vice versa: we live in an age of money and power gone wilding. The masses are caught up in it, in their daily lives, and manipulated to exclusively material ends. The challenge of statesmanship in our times is to subvert this satanic machinery; yet to do so while maintaining public safety, against focused evils and real monsters, both foreign and domestic. This is not so easy a task as may appear.

I do think nuclear war is worth avoiding. But we must not be distracted by it from the more pressing concerns, of our Christian salvation.