President-elect Trump’s foreign policy agenda as laid out in his Foreign Policy Speech in April 2016 is in stark contrast to the reigning foreign policy orthodoxy of Washington and Brussels. Trump’s vision sees the advancement of our national interest as a process which begins by making “America Great Again” and not by creating a “New World Order.” The American people voted for Trump’s vision.
It is time, therefore, for the Departments of State and Defense to adjust their sights, look beyond the post-Cold War “Wolfowitz Doctrine” of containment and encirclement of Russia and embrace new ideas. State and Defense need to come to see radical militant Islam and to a lesser extent an emergent China as existential threats to the United States rather than Russia.
In this respect, the Euro-Atlantic alliance needs to grasp the strategic potential in working with Moscow and others beyond the Euro-Atlantic sphere (as opposed to pursuing its strategic clampdown). It is no longer reasonable to argue that the post-Cold War dogmas of forced nation building, new world orders and “peace through confrontation” are viable approaches to achieving international peace and stability and in furthering our national interests.
To think that the United States must act preemptively to prevent and defend against any perceived threat before it even appears has proved to be both foolish and dangerous. Such a policy explains the endless wars which the American people and increasingly the world are tired of.
To overcome the barriers to constructive dialogue with Russia, we must understand that a) Russia and the USSR are entirely distinct realities, b) the U.S. and Russia have scores of interests in common – from defeating Islamist fanaticism, to stability in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, to limiting nuclear proliferation and to ensuring sustainable economic development and c) there are many shared values between Russia, Europe and the United States (and Latin America) based on our common pan-European heritage.
Sensing the real possibility that Trump truly seeks a genuine rapprochement with Russia (limited to areas where our interests overlap), the anti-Trump cold warriors, who include both Republicans and Democrats, are scrambling to ensure that he appoint one of their own to the top jobs at State and Defense. Ironically, these patriotic warriors don’t seem to understand that the Cold War is over and we won. Can anyone credibly maintain that Americans and our allies are willing to fight it again?
Trump should ignore their advice and follow through with his campaign promises just as he did with his nomination of Betsy DeVos as his new Secretary of Education.
Trump has been savvy in getting input from people like Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who understands the difference between engagement and confrontation and who sees, for example, the lunacy of imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. Her views, as those of Congressman Rohrabacher (R-CA), who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, are consistent with Trump’s foreign policy positions.
The American people want change and so does most of the rest of the world. Why not introduce fresh thinking into State and Defense in the wake of multiple strategic blunders since the fall of the Berlin Wall? These well-known blunders have contributed to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives, gutted alliances, wrecked whole societies and shattered nations? Does not a foreign policy based on engagement (in the President Reagan tradition) make more sense than a policy which focuses on global hegemony and forced nation building?
Beyond Russia, State needs to visibly reengage Latin American and Caribbean nations in order to reenergize relationships which have for so long been put on the back burner. A partial pivot south should be a priority for Trump’s foreign policy teams at State as well.
Our next Secretaries of State and Defense must hold to Trump’s fundamental view that “peace through strength” stands a much better chance of achieving “a stable, peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground” than the current post-Cold War foreign policy and new world order agendas which have proven a failure. Our next Secretary of State must work, as Trump wants, “to end the current strategy of regime change” across the globe whenever those regimes are not to our liking.
Trump may go down in history as either the greatest transformational president since Reagan or end up as a stymied leader embroiled in unnecessary international conflicts which bankrupt the United States and lead to untold suffering and dislocation.
It is critical, therefore, for Trump to appoint Secretaries of State and Defense who see the world as he does which is precisely why the American people elected him.
Dr. Alberto Martinez Piedra is the Donald E. Bently Professor of Political Economy at the Institute of World Politics and former U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala. Javier M. Piedra earned an MA from Hopkins SAIS, has over 35 years of work experience in finance and banking. He has lived the past 16 years full time in Kazakhstan. He is fluent in Russian and Spanish.