Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Views Reflect Sentiments of People


Strategic Culture
by ANDREI AKULOV

 

Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Views Reflect Sentiments of People

On March 22, Donald Trump carried delegate-rich Arizona by a wide margin. He easily defeated his opponent (Ted Cruz), taking all 58 of its Republican delegates and adding to his delegate lead despite Mr Cruz’s easy victory in Utah.

Those Republicans who hoped to stop Mr Trump suffered another blow. If not defeated in Wisconsin in two weeks, he is unlikely to be stopped from clinching the Republican nomination in June.

Fully three-quarters of Republican primary voters expect Mr Trump to be their party’s nominee.

Having won in eighteen states, the candidate is close to nearly forty-eight percent of the delegates.

It brings into focus Mr. Trump’s stance on key foreign policy issues.

 In his interview with CNN ahead of March 22 Western Tuesday vote (Arizona, Idaho and Utah), Donald Trump said the US should rethink its involvement in NATO because the defense alliance costs too much money. «Frankly, they have to put up more money», he noted. «We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much, and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea», emphasized the Republican presidential hopeful.

He elaborated on the subject with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21, questioning the sacrosanctity of the US’s global military commitments, and asking why Washington is so insistent on leading a potential third world war against Russia.

The Republican frontrunner advocates a light footprint in the world. According to him, «in spite of unrest abroad… the United States must look inward and steer its resources toward rebuilding domestic infrastructure».

Trump said that US involvement in NATO may need to be significantly diminished in the coming years, breaking with nearly seven decades of consensus in Washington. «We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore», Trump said, adding later, «NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money». He questioned the United States’ continued involvement in NATO and, on the subject of Ukraine, said America’s allies are «not doing anything».

«Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we’re doing all of the lifting», Trump said. «They’re not doing anything. And I say: ‘Why is it that Germany’s not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of Ukraine, why aren’t they dealing? Why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war with Russia», the candidate noted.

Trump also held a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday 21 against the backdrop of a hotel he is building at the Old Post Office just blocks from the White House, which he hopes to occupy come January 2017.

Asked if he wanted a better relationship with Russia, Trump seemed to be open to the idea.

«I want a better relationship with everybody. And with Russia, yeah», he said. «If we can get along with Russia, that’s very good».

«[Russian President Vladimir] Putin says very nice things about me. I think that’s very nice. It has no effect on me, other than I think it’s very nice», the Republican frontrunner added.

One needs to pick up more pieces to get a broader picture of what his stance on Russia would be like.

On Feb. 26, Reuters reported that Trump’s advisor on Russia was Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who supports closer cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

The newly named team of Trump’s foreign policy advisors includes one expert who may bring Russia and the US closer once again.

Carter Page is a former executive with Merrill Lynch who now runs his own international investment firm and teaches energy policy at Bard College. He is a specialist on Russia highly critical of the United States role in Ukraine, and with a long history of skepticism toward what he regards as unnecessarily antagonistic US policy toward Moscow. When Page was with Merrill Lynch, he formed lasting relationships with his Russian counterparts and expressed the belief that the US could accomplish more in its relationship with Russia by seeking a partnership rather than resorting to threats.

In a 2014 piece he wrote for the Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank, Page argued that the US instigated the Ukrainian uprising in February 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have exchanged favorable opinions of each other.

The advantage of Donald Trump for Russia is the fact that he is a non-systemic candidate – he is not a member of Washington’s establishment. He can reset the balance of bilateral relationship, turn the page and start a new chapter.

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Donald Trump is a businessman; his stance is not based on emotions, but rather calculations. He knows well the expediency of US shouldering the burden of NATO is questioned among American experts and people.

Recently, Trump has started to pay more attention to foreign policy issues. He can use Hillary Clinton’s poor foreign policy record to his advantage. 

More broadly, he questions the financial logic behind Washington’s military commitments across the globe and advocates non-interventionism. Meeting the Washington Post’s editorial board, he emphasized that the world was different and the US should not be nation-building anymore. «I think it’s proven not to work, and we have a different country than we did then. We have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting, probably, on a bubble. And it’s a bubble that if it breaks, it’s going to be very nasty. I just think we have to rebuild our country», Trump said.

The events like the March 22 bombings in Brussels seem as though they’d naturally reinforce Trump’s position. His policy on terrorism isn’t particularly nuanced, and it clearly plays well with an electorate that’s worried about the threat of a terror attack. In Gallup polling from the end of February, Trump was seen as the strongest GOP candidate on defense and terrorism, with nearly half of Republicans surveyed identifying him as the best at dealing with those issues. (The rest of the responses were about evenly split between Cruz and Marco Rubio.)

The possibility of a President Trump should be taken seriously. It means that next January the highest political office in the US can be taken by a man who is uninterested in what the Washington’s establishment thinks. Trump can be a game changer able to introduce drastic changes into the US foreign policy reshaping the traditional pattern. 

It all takes place against a particular international background. Americans aren’t the only ones who find their alliances burdensome. The next French presidential election is scheduled to be held in April and May 2017. One of the front-runners, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, has promised to leave both NATO and the EU, to nationalize French companies, and to restrict foreign investors. Like Trump, she foresees a special relationship with Russia.

By the time that happens, the UK may also be on the way out. In June, it is to vote in a referendum to leave the EU. It’s possible the UK will unmoor from Europe to drift away from the transatlantic alliance as well.

With France out, the EU will not be the same. It will cease to exist as a single market. Without the UK, NATO will never be the same. It may cease to exist as a close-knit military and political alliance. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks of leaving the West in favor of a strategic alliance with Istanbul or Moscow. And there are serious divisions inside the EU.

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The phenomenon of Donald Trump reflects the changes in the mood of voters. The burden of keeping the US-led West united along with all the overseas commitments appears to become a too heavy load for America. It may change the US and its foreign policy at the very same time when the West in general may be in for drastic changes. The broader process will impact the West’s global vision, including the relationship with Russia. Even if Trump loses the nomination or election, the very fact so many people support him is enough to make a compelling case for change, including the revision of foreign policy priorities.

Strategic Culture

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