American children go door to door in costumes on Halloween, learning to be little extortionists; they ring, say: “Trick or treat!” and hold out some receptacle, expecting the householder to deposit candy. This odd practice is nearly universal in the U.S. and is apparently now progressing into international relations, where tricks and threats of tricks are being used to demand treats in the form of other folks’ territories and coastal rights, a behavior seemingly driven by general economic decline.
Looking into the All Hallows Eve darkness, what do we see? Argentina has defaulted on debt, Brazil’s Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, is running out of water at about the same rate as some smaller cities in California and customers aren’t buying as much as they have been from China, India and Germany. Hmnn …
Japan and the E.U. are trying to buy off economic doldrums by printing money, the policy that has failed the U.S. and is now being rescinded there. The middle East is a suppurating boil that only looks decent from central Africa, which is worse. According to U.S. politicians, this is a recovery. In fact, world trade does not support the conclusion.
Politicians are running scared all over, they’ve promised solutions they can’t deliver. This political catch 22 is particularly felt just now in Russian and China; both are diverting their people’s attention from domestic decline by increased external aggressiveness that has taken territory from Georgia and Ukraine and is now threatening more of Ukraine. The Baltic states, Finland, Germany, and Scandinavia are seeing Russian aircraft intrusions and their shipping is being harassed by Russian ships. Poland is moving more military to its Eastern border, recycling a history of past Russian invasions. Russia has returned to cold war tactics and its Czarist and Communist tradition of expansion.
China is claiming chunks of India, especially on the Tibetan border. It is also claiming large swaths of the China Sea that are generally accepted international waters and China is repudiating treaties it has signed. These moves are drawing responses from its Asian neighbors, especially Japan, which has been forced from several of its post WWII pacifist policies in response.
Russia and China have been antagonists; China has claims on Eastern Russia that it is for the moment, putting aside … because Russia, punished by Western trade sanctions over Ukraine, is now dependent upon China for much that it had been buying from the West. Both see the West, i.e. the U.S. mostly, as a primary obstacle to their expansionist plans. Both see the aggression necessary to deflect internal pressures as well as fulfill various economic needs. And each believes that it can handle the other.
So our Halloween world sees two reluctantly joining, historically aggressive bad actors sharing a common foe: the West, personified in the United States. Neither is a superpower but both are massive and nuclear. Add that the governments of neither are secure; neither can easily accept backing down in public.
Thinking over today’s world, the monsters of Halloween, were they to suddenly turn real, seem paltry. We are going to need a lot of the saints whose day comes tomorrow, in high offices. But the monsters aren’t real — well, the Halloween ones, anyway — and if there is even one saint who is a politician now, we haven’t noticed. But maybe we can muddle through to Christmas …