One of my favourite films is Goodbye Lenin. For those of you haven’t seen the German language post-Cold War movie, it is about a loyal East German Communist party functionary who suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma just as the Berlin Wall is about to come crashing down. When she awakes her political life is completely changed. The world has moved on without her.
America, Britain and the rest of Europe are in danger of suffering the same fate. They have become so obsessed with their internal difficulties and fighting for domestic political survival that they are failing to realise that the rest of the world is moving on without them, and creating a new set of rules and realities contrary to their democratic systems.
There are only so many hours in the day and Donald Trump seems to spend most of them tweeting about the Wall and the Democrats. One of which is the answer to all problems and the other is the cause.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is taken up entirely with the dangers of Brexit happening or not happening or some variation on the theme. That is when she is not obsessing about the corollary threat of a far-left Labour government coming to power.
The European Union has finally woken up to the very real possibility that the nightmare scenario of a no deal Brexit is likely, as well as tackling immigration, far-right extremism, populist governments in Italy and Eastern Europe, stagnating economies and deteriorating relations with the US.
Meanwhile, the authoritarian governments to whom the West should be instinctively opposed, move on without the influence and input of the power centres which have directed the world order since well before the Second World War.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is particularly active. He is busy rebuilding his country’s arsenal of intermediate range nuclear weapons while a question mark hangs over America’s willingness to defend its NATO European allies. He is also busily driving a wedge between NATO Turkey and the West. In the Middle East, Russia’s unconditional backing for Syria has allowed it to emerge as the major non-regional power, and enabled Iran to position its forces on the borders of Israel. Trump’s response? Withdraw.
In Eastern Europe the Russians continue to consolidate their hold on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Recently they have also made noises about absorbing Belarus which would allow Putin to move his military forces right up to the borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. At the same time, economic problems at home have resulted in Putin’s lowest ever approval ratings—35 percent. The temptation to boost them with another foreign adventure must be growing.
China meanwhile is forging ahead with its belt road initiative. Its investments in Africa alone are $60 billion over the next three years. This is eight times the American investment. More than half of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s massive natural resources including cobalt, an essential part of every rechargeable smartphone in the world, is shipped to China. It has recently completed a naval base in Djibouti and is making increasingly shrill noises about Taiwan. At the same time, President Xi Jin Ping is projecting his country as the protector of rules-based world trade in contrast to Tariff-mad President Trump.
North Korea is a bit player in this drama, but it still has an important supporting role. Kim Jong-un is using his summit meetings with President Trump as a PR exercise to boost his image at home and abroad. To a large degree, Trump is doing the same. On the substantive front, Kim is making virtually no effort to reduce his country’s nuclear arsenal and there are recent reports that he is developing biological weapons as well.
In Goodbye Lenin, the family of the Communist party functionary attempt to protect their mother from the shock of political reality by constructing an alternative East German universe. She eventually learns the truth, gives a metaphorical shrug and dies two days later.
Tom Arms is editor of Lookaheadnews.com