Donald Trump has named Alabama Sen. Sessions to lead his foreign policy team, disappointing some “realists” who hoped Trump would turn his back on the neocon-dominated establishment, explains Gilbert Doctorow.
By Gilbert Doctorow
I imagine many anti-war colleagues will choke over Donald Trump’s selection of the junior senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions to head his foreign policy team. Sessions’s past strong support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the prosecution of the war that followed features prominently in his Wikipedia entry.
Surely, it is not heart-warming to read about Sessions’s rally in 2005 to protest an anti-Iraq War rally the day before. There he described the other side as committing the sin first highlighted by President Ronald Reagan’s neoconservative United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1984 – “to blame America first.”
Then there are the other, non-foreign policy positions of Sessions that will be galling to all progressives. Ranked as one of the most conservative members of Congress, his positions on civil rights, gay marriage, race relations, immigration and abortion rights follow conservative orthodoxy. The list of his domestic policy red flags goes on and on.
In any case, Sessions is not widely regarded as a foreign policy expert. Despite his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee, national security policy is not his strong suit. He is known more for his experience as a former state attorney general and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
By itself, the choice of Sessions is a seemingly sad commentary on Trump’s campaign. And yet it clearly fit within Trump’s political calculations of getting elected to the presidency. Picking Sessions came not long after Sessions issued his endorsement of Trump, one of the first major figures in the Republican establishment to do so. With his solid standing within the more conservative wing of the party, Sessions is a valuable asset to protect Trump against charges that he is not a real Republican, nor a real conservative.
Whether Trump really intends to take counsel from this new chief adviser on foreign policy is another matter, a question of strategy and not electoral tactics. In this sense, Trump may have been too clever by half.
As he draws together a foreign policy and security team, Trump’s choice of Sessions – a lockstep Republican on national security as illustrated by his staunch support of President George W. Bush’s Iraq War – may push aside “realist” and “anti-interventionist” military and civilian experts who have been left on the curb these past 20 years as the American foreign policy establishment purged its ranks of heterogeneous opinions to become dominated by a monolithic assemblage of warmongers.
A person who regularly communicates with me summarized the challenges facing Trump in formulating foreign policy as follows:
“The key is fleshing out for Trump what his elliptical statements, not only about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia, mean, and translating his deal-making into a new non-militarist diplomacy — making big diplomatic deals that will end the cold war and open other prospects, e.g., on nukes, etc. I sense he is ready for this, but the military people Sessions will recruit have contrary instincts and no regional knowledge. Trump does best tapping into the real conservatives who are closer to Rand Paul and worship the Reagan of 1985-88. Even the retired Gen. [Martin] Dempsey [former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], based on what [investigative reporter Seymour] Hersh wrote, might advise Trump.” (Hersh described Dempsey as resisting interventionist pressure to engage in “regime change” in Syria and instead worked behind the scenes with Russia to thwart gains by jihadist terror groups.)
The first task for a President Trump would be to take us back from the brink of nuclear war with Russia. In the context of needless confrontations with Moscow, which have produced a feverish atmosphere of mutual distrust, preemptive nuclear strikes have become all too thinkable.
A potential Trump administration in January 2017 should arrive in office with well-defined plans for resuming arms control talks that address directly American concerns over Russian tactical nuclear weapons and Russian concerns over America’s global missile defense system. Trump and his team should be ready to discuss and to act on a desperate need for a new security architecture in Europe that brings Russia in from the cold.
Only after these debts in arrears are resolved can we proceed in positive territory to revising the rules of global governance and replacing rancor and discord with concerted actions by all the big global players. This is the foreign policy which the American public has backed in opinion poll after opinion poll over the past 30 years. It is the policy which the establishment elites have denied us for too long.
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016