There’s an old saying in poker: If you’re in a three-way poker game and you don’t know who the sucker is… you’re the sucker.

The idea is that in a three-handed game, two players will disadvantage the sucker by coordinating their betting and not raising each other. Eventually, the sucker is cleaned out and the two survivors can then turn on each other. The world is in a three-handed poker game today.

Russia, China and the U.S. are the only true superpowers and the only three countries that matter in geopolitics. Everyone else is either an ally of the Big Three or a secondary power. This means that the ideal posture for the U.S. is to ally with Russia (to marginalize China) or ally with China (to marginalize Russia), depending on overall geopolitical conditions.

The U.S. conducted this kind of triangulation successfully from the 1970s until the early 2000s. In 1972, Nixon pivoted to China to put pressure on Russia. In 1991, the U.S. pivoted to Russia to put pressure on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has lost sight of this basic rule of international relations. As this article shows, it is now Russia and China that have formed a strong alliance to the disadvantage of the United States.

This article relates specifically to the trade wars and Russia’s support for China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, which faces severe U.S. sanctions. Yet the China-Russia relationship goes much further to include the status of the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency and ways in which the U.S. uses the dollar as a financial weapon.

None of this means the U.S. does not have dialogue with Russia or China; it does. But it does mean that, at least for the time being, the U.S. is the odd man out, with diminished leverage as a result.

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