It is now clear that the two former world superpowers are on the path to being the world’s two most powerful fascist governments. Russia already has a classically fascist form of government. The United States of America is about to get one.
Fascist government is defined by three essential factors: a strong-arm political leadership, the unification of state power and corporate economic power, and political populism. Stripped of other incidental characteristics – such as geographic location, language, the identity of which ethnic group it scapegoats in its drive to forge national unity – this is the essence of fascism.
In his Washington Post Op-Ed of December 9, 2016, “Donald Trump is actually a fascist,” Michael Kinsley accurately wrote that “all [his] seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world. He spent his previous career negotiating with the government on behalf of corporations; now he has switched teams. But it’s the same game.”
That is certainly chilling. But in our horror, or denial, we tend to forget the characteristics of the foreign policy of fascist governments. We have incredibly short memories.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was the direct prelude to the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, triggering World War II. (When Hitler decided to invade the USSR two years later, Stalin was reportedly paralyzed by surprise that his buddy had betrayed him.)
The Tripartite Pact of 1940, binding together Germany, Italy, and Japan into the Axis, preceded Japan’s attack on the United States a year later at Pearl Harbor. The Axis’s big loser, of course, was poor Italy, which unlike Germany and Japan, never recovered from Mussolini’s fateful miscalculation and is today one of the most unstable governments in the world.
What next? If fascist governments typically sign mutual nonaggression agreements as a prelude to massive military intervention in a third country, what would be the next targets for the world’s two new fascist superpowers?
Forget about Syria. Syria is finished. Aleppo is the Lidice of the new world order: Lidice, Czechoslovakia, some of whose citizens in 1942 defied German authority and whose town as a consequence was razed to the ground with no survivors. True, the complete victory of Assad and the Russians appears to bring some measure of stability to Syria, especially the western part, no doubt to the relief of other countries close to its borders.
No, the new candidates are more obvious. Russia cares only, and has cared obsessively for more than a thousand years, about securing its borders, which it does through territorial aggrandizement. The fact that the three Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – have joined NATO is anathema to Russia. That Ukraine even thought of doing so was enough to trigger an invasion in 2014. Donald Trump has already opined that NATO needs to be re-examined. So, with a new mutual nonaggression pact between Russia and the United States, where would Russia turn? To its west and southwest.
What about the United States? We are obsessed with ISIS and the Islamic world in general. We are joined in this by regional allies in the Middle East, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia – and, potentially, Iran. Yes, Iran. Iran, whose nuclear energy program Russia supports, enables, and protects by taking the huge bulk of Iran’s fissionable uranium under its safe-keeping. Absent that element, the Iran nuclear deal, whatever you may think of it, could never have been finalized. Forget about the window-dressing of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel statements by Iran’s ayatollahs. They hate the Sunnis more, they need Russia (more than Russia needs them, no doubt) and they respect Israel’s military might. Unimaginable? Improbable? Maybe not.
In any event, with Syria pounded into submission on its southern flank and with Iran beholden to Russia for its nuclear energy program, Vladimir Putin can turn his attention from the Middle East to the prickly thorn that has enraged him on his western border – the Baltics – and complete his work in Ukraine. All he needs to know is that the U.S. will look the other way, which Donald Trump has all but guaranteed. That is why Putin used all his powers, official and unofficial, overt and covert, to have Donald Trump elected President.
What does that mean for the United States, and in particular for Israel? Is this going to promote Israel’s security, external and internal, or destroy it? The stakes in this gamble are immense.
Beware the foreign policy of fascist governments. For in the end, they lose. And their smaller allies, such as Italy, also lose, bigtime. And Israel? This is the discussion that the American Jewish community should now be having, and in which it must also engage with Israel. Many Israelis (and American Jews) may welcome Donald Trump with open arms, and many others may not have a problem with Vladimir Putin. But it makes a difference who your allies are, and who your allies’ allies are. The ally of your ally is not necessarily your friend.
Gerson S. Sher, Ph.D. is a retired foundation executive and US civil servant who has devoted his career to the intersection of scientific cooperation, international affairs and global security, primarily with the countries of the former Soviet Union.