Donald Trump’s win shook up the System but the empire is already striking back as the same-ole powers-that-be seek to “guide” Trump back to establishment-friendly and pro-war policies that many voters rejected, writes Gilbert Doctorow.
By Gilbert Doctorow
The immediate impact of Donald Trump’s victory among those of us who favored his candidacy over Hillary Clinton’s 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.
But much of the potential for positive change which came with Trump’s victory will be dissipated if all of us do not do 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 U.S. foreign policy establishment will continue doing what it has done since Nov. 8: wishing away the whole Trump victory. At present, these think tank scholars and major media columnists 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 (at least regarding its message about trying to cooperate with Russia on shared goals such as fighting terrorism) 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 Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, among others. This makes it most improbable that he will also reward those who did everything possible to stymie his candidacy, first, and foremost the neoconservative and liberal interventionist foreign policy loudmouths.
Perhaps to comfort themselves, perhaps to confuse us, these foreign policy elitists say Trump is interested mainly in domestic affairs, in particular rebuilding American infrastructure, canceling 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 U.S. military and foreign policy explicitly during the campaign. He said he would build up the U.S. 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 the contradictions.
Explaining Trump’s Contradictions
But the answer to the apparent contradictions could well be that Trump was saying what he had to say to get elected. Consistency has not been at the center of Trump’s style. I maintain that the apparent contradictions were intentionally planted by Trump 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 U.S. 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 U.S. military bases abroad, which now number more than 600 and which consume $600 billion annually in maintenance costs.
The Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky recently described this spending rather colorfully when reassuring his compatriots that the U.S. 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 would take a big step towards relaxation of international tensions, while saving money for his other security and domestic priorities.
Trump also has said he will require U.S. 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 U.S. pays two-thirds of the NATO’s bills. Trump has declared that this is unacceptable.
The Pentagon budget represents a bit over 4 percent of GDP, whereas in Europe only several countries have approached or crossed the 2% of GDP minimum that the U.S. 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 U.S. demands.
This will then justify the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 his directional changes in U.S. 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 if they are proven wrong after Trump’s Inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, and he proceeds precisely down the path of policies that he clearly enunciated during the campaign.
Why do I think that Trump as 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 U.S. government priority abroad and the like were all set out by Trump during the campaign in the full knowledge they would bring him lots of well-organized criticism and gain him few votes, given the electorate’s focus on domestic policy issues.
He also knew that his positions, including condemning President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, would cost him support within his own party leaders, which is what happened. He even weathered Hillary Clinton calling him a “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the third presidential debate and other McCarthyistic innuendo portraying him as some kind of Manchurian Candidate.
A Clash over Wars
Thus, we may assume that once he is in the saddle, he will not shy away from implementing these clearly stated policies. The impending clash between a foreign policy establishment with its supercilious attitude toward the new incumbent in the Oval Office and a determined President pulling in the other direction will surely create political tension and prompt many angry op-eds in Washington.
Accordingly, I have some constructive recommendations both to my fellow Trump supporters and to Trump’s opponents in the foreign policy establishment and mass media. 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 followers of the “realist” school, who have been systematically excluded over the past several years as the New Cold War set in.
I address the same message to the mainstream electronic and print media, which has engaged in a New McCarthyism 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 genuinely open debate, which allows for opinions that clash with the bipartisan “group thinks” that have dominated the Democratic and Republican elites. This concerns firstly the question of how to manage relations with Russia and China. Without any serious consideration of where the West’s escalating hostilities have been leading, we have been plunging forward blindly, stumbling towards a potential nuclear war — precisely because alternative policy views were kept out.
For those of us who have been part of the 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 is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.