From Star Trek to Star Wars
Earlier this week, venture capitalist Peter Thiel categorized Star Trek as “communist” and Star Wars as “capitalist” to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Why? Think about it. There is no money in the Star Trek universe. But in Star Wars, Han Solo has a debt to pay to Jabba the Hutt, which leads to the movie’s first action scene. There is order in Star Trek with the Federation of United Planets, while there is total chaos in Star Wars. There is more collaboration than competition in Star Trek, while it is quite the opposite for Star Wars.
Let’s carry this metaphor to global politics. Think of the Middle East as Star Wars, and think of the West and Asia-Pacific as Star Trek. What does the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration mean for our region?
First of all, there is a change in style. With Obama, you had a cerebral president commenting on the issues of the day, asking you to follow the light of his analysis. It’s nice, really. His language was a picture of political correctness, while still digging down for base truth. There is a reason why the Internet was flooded with jokes about Obama resembling a Vulcan, the hyper-rational aliens of the Star Trek universe. But however desirable those qualities might seem, they make Obama hard to understand for us in the Star Wars part of the world.
There is a bloody civil war going on in Syria and he just walks away to fine-tune some global trade deal with the Asia-Pacific. That’s unnerving.
With Trump, it will be an Old Testament relationship of “do this, don’t do that.” There may even also be a “don’t ever think about doing that, or I’ll blow up your planet” list. There will be no sweeteners, just actions and consequences, clearly laid out for us mortals. What does that imply for our region? Fewer communications failures, for one. Why have there been so many foreign policy mishaps around lately?
Because there are no clear rules of engagement any more. The one red line that Obama drew was violated and he did not do anything about it. I do not see Trump acting the same way.
Secondly, it’s going to be a brave new world where “Princes,” in the Machiavellian sense, do not intervene in each other’s business. That means there will be no more lectures about democracy and freedom of the press.
Dictators can once again be trusted partners. Too stark? Too gloomy? Maybe. But the clarity this will bring could be a net benefit too. Maybe we won’t have to dig around to understand the real intent of the most powerful man in the world, as you did with Obama. That alone could conserve energy.
Trump is no longer talking much about his (in)famous Wall, but his world is very much one of “us” and “them.” Whatever value there is in clear communication, such ideas are still deeply worrying. Think about what we learned from the Israeli experiment with the Wall: There is no security behind your side of it if you refuse to seriously engage with the people on the other side.
Engagement with the other is a must. Absence of clear rules of engagement during Obama’s Star Trek presidency highlighted that fact. We need someone to set down the law and back it up with iron if need be. A leader who says what he means. Can Trump make a difference? Maybe. Maybe not.
It is going to be a brave new world out there. More chaotic, and cold, like Hoth.