Detente is as essential to Trump for the sake of his domestic programs as detente was critical for Gorbachev to implement his new thinking domestically.
General Flynn’s Resignation and the Collapse of Donald Trump’s New Foreign Policy Initiative
By Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
The resignation of General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor to President Trump on February 13 was immediately followed by a feeding frenzy of the sharks in the anti-Trump camp. Hillary Clinton came out of hiding to radiate pleasure at the announcement. We heard similar delight from media standard-bearers of Dump Trump – CNN and The New York Times – as well as among Trump’s former rivals in the Republican primaries who continue to hold key positions on Capitol Hill.
Then we were witnesses to a sensational about-face in the just beginning roll-out of Trump’s New Foreign Policy. First, we heard the President’s press secretary Sean Spicer say that “Trump expects Russia to give Crimea back to Ukraine.” Then we heard Defense Secretary James Mattis in Brussels (NATO headquarters), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Bonn (G20 Foreign Ministers meeting) and Vice President Mike Pence in Munich (Security Conference) collectively unleash the following barrage. They pledged unswerving loyalty to the NATO alliance, insisted that any new talks with Russia must be conducted from “a position of strength” and vowed to hold Russia accountable for the full implementation of the Minsk Accords, meaning all sanctions stay in place pending that achievement.
Against these depressing new signals from the Administration suggesting continuation of the disastrous foreign policy of the last 25 years, the newly revived enemies of détente on Capitol Hill in the same time period added a far more awesome bludgeon against Russia to their already announced resolution on further sanctions over Syria. In response to alleged violations by the Kremlin of the Treaty on Intermediate and Short-range Missiles (INF) dating back to 1987, Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) has introduced a bill enabling the re-installation of American nuclear tipped cruise missiles in Europe. If enacted, this would undo the main achievements of disarmament from the Reagan years and bring us back to a full-blown Cold War.
These various confusing developments have unnerved even Trump’s long-time loyalists. Some friendly pundits have claimed that Flynn was the sole advisor to Donald Trump urging accommodation with the Russians and that his departure dealt a fatal blow to détente. Others have urged the President to reconsider what they see as a collapse of will under Neoconservative and Liberal Hawk pressure. They remind him of the disasters that the policies of American global hegemony have created in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Implicit in this well-meaning and sometimes condescending advice is a remarkable failure to understand the political acumen of Donald Trump and his entourage. He did not win the election on November 8 by chance. It was the fruit of a more sophisticated calculation of voter support and Electoral College arithmetic than anyone else could muster. Trump did not get his most contentious cabinet appointments – Tillerson at State, De Vos at Education and Sessions as Attorney General – through the Senate confirmation hearings by luck. It was the fruit of hard work and brains in striking “deals” with political friends and foes.
Consequently, I view the present backtracking on Russia and on a New Foreign Policy as just a tactical move that does not mortgage its future. The events leading up to General Flynn’s resignation entailed use of illegally obtained tape recordings of his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak from the time when he was still a private citizen. The content was selectively leaked to the public within the context of an impermissible collusion between the intelligence agencies and the liberal press intent on bringing down Trump.
It was obvious that no progress on his foreign policy change of course is possible until the subversive, perhaps even seditions plotters in the State Department and in the NSA, the CIA and the FBI are sent packing. Some must be brought before the courts for their felonies. Only when his back is secure can the President begin the sensitive negotiations leading to policy change.
We are told that in Rex Tillerson’s absence on his European travels pink slips have been widely distributed on the Seventh Floor of the State Department, where the “shadow government” first put in place by Dick Cheney after 9/11 has festered. The New York Times has reported on Trump’s plan to appoint businessman Stephen Feinberg to evaluate and recommend reorganization of the intelligence services. This is believed to point to a major shake-up there to restore order and loyalty to the Chief Executive.
At the same time, we may expect the President to rally public opinion around his Administration and its policies, both domestic and foreign. His appearance at the Melbourne, Florida airport this weekend where 35,000 reportedly gathered is surely only the first of many such public demonstrations of popularity and generation of “alternative news” to what the mainstream media are fabricating.
Donald Trump remains in close contact with his supporter base across the country not only via social media but using weekly, at times daily questionnaires delivered by email and asking the respondents to prioritize his next possible moves. Surely, this grassroots support gives him the confidence to wage battles against the Establishment in a bold manner.
However, it must be emphasized that Trump’s pre-electoral and post-electoral commitment to détente is not an aberration in his political thinking. What so many people, including supporters, fail to understand is that detente is as essential to Trump for the sake of his domestic programs as detente was critical for Gorbachev to implement his new thinking domestically. Only via detente, meaning an end to the permanent wars abroad with their heavy operational costs and meaning the dismantling of military bases abroad, can Trump free up budgetary resources to finance his plans for massive infrastructure investments in the USA, his plans for increasing military assets within the USA, and his commitment to addressing the needs of veterans. We are talking about sums on the order of $600 billion annually which presently go to maintain our 800 military bases abroad in 70 countries, bases which generate more anti-Americanism and which entangle the USA in regional conflicts where it should not be.
But whereas Gorbachev's successor squandered the peace dividend on hare-brained schemes, Trump has the capitalist world's best minds ready to help reallocate the peace dividend to the productive economy.
Those who question Trump’s intellectual strength ignore his proven ability over a long business career to attract and motivate a small team of not more than a dozen devoted assistants who helped him run a multi-billion dollar real estate empire. These assistants in turn helped him to sift through the business proposals of brilliant opportunists who always flock to money and power. In this sense, Donald Trump was always highly leveraged. With some luck, this efficiency and singular vision will now guide US affairs of state, including a new foreign and defense policy.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2017
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G.Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst who appears regularly in Russian mass media directed at the domestic audience. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.