The impending clash between an Establishment that marginalizes itself by its obstinacy and supercilious attitude to the new occupant of the Oval Office and a determined President pulling in the other direction can only spoil the political atmosphere and threaten stability at home.
From Triumphalism to Outreach
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
The immediate impact of Donald Trump’s electoral victory among those of us who had supported his candidacy was triumphalism on the day after. This euphoric mood was very well captured on a special edition of the Russia Today’s ‘Cross Talk’ show, which registered an audience of more than 110,000 on-line viewers, a number which is rare if not unprecedented (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLKP_lPiqpc&t=600s).
However, much of the potential for positive change which came with Trump’s victory will be dissipated if we do not all do now what Barack Obama and Donald Trump did a couple of days ago: reach out to shake hands with political opponents, who will remain opponents, and nonetheless move forward together in a constructive manner.
If left to its own devices, the US foreign policy establishment will continue doing what it has done since November 8th: wishing away the whole Trump victory. At present, they are in denial, as we see from op-eds published by The New York Times and other anti-Trump mainstream media. They question his mandate for change and his ability to execute change. They offer to hold his hand, bring him to his senses and ensure that his election was in vain.
These spokesmen for the establishment choose to ignore that Trump’s first moves after winning were to reward those in his party who had first come out in support of him and who stood by him in the worst days of the campaign, of which there were many. I note the rising stars of Pence and Giuliani, among others. This makes it most improbable that he will also reward those who did everything possible to stymy his candidacy, first, and foremost our foreign policy loudmouths.
Perhaps to comfort themselves, perhaps to confuse us, they say that Donald is interested mainly in domestic affairs, in particular rebuilding American infrastructure, cancelling or modifying Obamacare. They call him an isolationist and then fill in the content of his supposed isolationism to suit their purposes. They propose to give him a speed course on why continued global hegemony serves America’s interests and the interests of his electorate.
Yet, the record shows that Trump formulated his plans for US military and foreign policy explicitly during the campaign. He said that he would build up the US military potential. He spoke specifically of targets for raising the number of men and women under arms, raising the construction of naval vessels, modernizing the nuclear arsenal. These plans are cited by the Establishment writers today as contradicting Trump’s thinking about getting along with all nations, another major motif of his campaign rhetoric. They propose to help him iron out contradictions.
I maintain that the apparent inconsistencies were intentionally planted by Donald to secure the support of unsophisticated patriots while a very well integrated program for the way forward has been there in his pocket all the time.
Expanding US military might will cost a lot, at the same time Trump has said he will not raise taxes nor raise debt. This means, in fact, reallocation of existing budgets. The most obvious place to start will be to cut back on the number of US military bases abroad, which now number more than 600 and which consume 600 billion dollars annually in maintenance costs. The Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky recently described this spend rather colorfully when reassuring his compatriots that the US is not as powerful as it appears: said Zhirinovsky, a lot of the Pentagon’s allocations go to buying toilet paper and sausages, not military muscle as such. Moreover, the bases abroad tend to create local, regional and global grievances against the United States that, in turn, increase the need for still more bases and military expenditures.
If Trump begins by cutting back on the bases now surrounding and infuriating the Russian Federation, he will take a big step towards relaxation of international tensions, while saving money for his other security priorities.
Trump has said he will require US allies to pay more for their defense. This particularly concerns Europe, which is prosperous, but not carrying its weight in NATO despite years of exhortations and cajoling by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The US pays two-thirds of the NATO bills. The Pentagon budget represents a bit over 4% of GDP, whereas in Europe only several countries have approached or crossed the 2% of GDP minimum that the US and NATO officials have called for. As a practical matter, given the ongoing stagnation of the European economies, widespread heavy indebtedness and the ongoing national budgets operating at deficits that exceed the guidelines of the European Central Bank, it is improbable, read impossible for Europe to step up to bat and meet US demands. This will then justify the US withdrawal from NATO that figures at the sidelines of the wish list of Trump supporters, not isolationism per se. Trump supporter and military analyst Andrew Bacevich wrote recently in Foreign Affairs that the US may well pull out of NATO completely in the early 2020s.
As a fallback, the Establishment spokesmen speculate on how the president elect will be taken in hand by members of his own party and by their own peers so that his wings are clipped, and the directional changes in US foreign and defense policy are frustrated before they are even rolled out during the 100 days of the new administration. Very likely, that same foreign policy establishment will resume its howling in the wind once they are proven wrong, when following the January 20th inauguration, Trump proceeds precisely down the path of policies he clearly enunciated during the campaign.
Why am I so sure that Trump the President will follow through on the foreign policy promises of Trump, the candidate? There is a simple explanation. His announced policies regarding accommodation with Russia, renunciation of regime change as a US government priority abroad and the like were all set out by Trump during the campaign in the full knowledge they would bring him no votes, given the electorate’s total absorption in domestic policy issues, and would only cost him support within his own party. This is indeed what happened. We may assume that once he is in the saddle, he will not shy away from implementing those clearly stated policies. The impending clash between an opposition that has marginalized itself by its obstinacy and supercilious attitude to the new incumbent in the Oval Office and a determined President pulling in the other direction can only spoil the political atmosphere and threaten stability at home.
Accordingly, I have some constructive recommendations both to my own colleagues in the Trump camp and to our opponents in the foreign policy establishment and mass media. I hope they will find an audience and a positive response.
I earnestly ask the editors of Foreign Affairs magazine and their peer publications serving the International Relations expert community to finally open their pages and give equal time for high quality contributions by us, followers of the Realist school, whom they have systematically excluded over the past several years as the New Cold War set in. I address the same message to our mainstream electronic and print media, which has engaged in McCarthy-ism by blacklisting commentators whose views run counter to the Washington Consensus and also publicly denigrating them as ‘tools of Putin.’
To put it in terms that anyone in the Russian affairs field, and even members of the general public will understand, we need a six to nine month period of Glasnost, of open, free and very public debate of all those key international security issues which have not been discussed due to the monopoly power of one side in the argument. I am calling for genuine partisan debate as opposed to stifling bipartisan singing from the hymn book. This concerns firstly the question of how to manage relations with Russia and China. We have been flying blind, stumbling towards a nuclear war these past several years precisely because alternative policy views were kept out.
For our part, the till now silenced opposition to the Washington Consensus of the Bush and Obama years, we must engage with our intellectual opponents. Only in this way can we strengthen our reasoning powers and the quality of our policy recommendations so that we are fully prepared to deal with the fateful questions under review.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2016
* * * *
G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015