The discussion in 2017 (and a small portion of 2016) was about whether Russia interfered, colluded or meddled in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Up until this point, it does not seem to be the case. What should be discussed is America’s foreign policy. As the international order is changing and the world seems to be shifting eastward, it is worth taking a look at what issues candidate Donald Trump raised during his Presidential campaign. This is not to condone Donald Trump and his presidency but rather an attempt to raise awareness of the dangers America’s foreign policy poses to itself and the international community. During his campaign, candidate Trump asked five fundamental questions that many people have been asking and wondering for quite some time. The public might have not liked his answers but the questions he posed should be taken seriously. As a refresher, the five fundamental points were as follows:
- Why must the US lead the world everywhere on the international stage and play the role of the world’s policeman?
- What is NATO’s mission? Is it obsolete? Is it fighting terrorism?
- Why does the US always pursue a policy of ‘regime change’?
- Why do we treat Russia (and its President, Vladimir Putin) as an enemy when it should be a partner?
- Donald Trump’s answer to the use of nuclear weapons.
The United States as “Policeman”
For many decades, the United States has been playing policeman in the world and caused much harm to local populations. These problems continue to plague many of the countries’ internal politics. Following the Second World War, the United States’ foreign policy was to ensure that American-style “democracy” was promoted wherever this was in its national interest. Most of the time, this was the reason for many of the proxy wars that took place throughout the years.
When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev thought that they had ended the Cold War in the 20th century, the Americans interpreted that they had “won” and the Soviet Union had lost. Thus, successive administrations pursued a foreign policy of ensuring “freedom and democracy” for countries throughout the globe—even if they were not ready for that type of governance. We see this in continuous American interventions in the Middle East, the Caucuses, and South America.
American foreign policy promotes policing the international community to minimize human rights violations. They do so when it is expedient. America dragged its feet on the Rwandan genocide yet overreacted in Serbia. In both instances their actions had a detrimental effect on long-term stability. We will revisit the Serbia case later on.
In other instances, the United States attempted to control certain narratives by imposing sanctions upon countries that committed what it claimed were violations. We saw this most recently in 2014 when Russia accepted the Crimean plebiscite to join Russia. At the time, Barack Obama sanctimoniously imposed sanctions on Russia because, in his judgment, it was unacceptable that one country annex a part of another country. We must remember that over a century ago the United States seized eastern Cuba (Guantanamo) by force, claiming that it was liberating Cuba. Guantanamo is still under American control, even though Cuba gained independence over half a century ago. Guantanamo was always Cuba’s main port for trade with Europe, which is vital for Cuba’s import and export trade.
Recently, the United States has accused Russia of interfering in its 2016 Presidential Elections. While jury is still out on this, let’s quickly look at where the United States actually interfered in other countries’ elections. We can go back to 1996 when the Americans openly helped elect Boris Yeltsin become President of Russia even though he actually lost the election to Gennady Zyuganov. The meddling was so blatant that the movie, Spinning Boris, was released in 2003 based on this incident. More recently, in 2009, the Obama administration played a key role in an illegal coup in Honduras. There are other instances but that would require several books.
Neither “freedom” nor “democracy” was what played a part in these interventions. The United States was simply interested in expanding its sphere of influence. America had its own view of what entailed a human rights violation, which deeply frustrated many countries. It acted when it suited its narrative and national interests. By acting as “policeman,” its foreign policy has created much of the instability that we are seeing today.
During the 2016 US Presidential Elections, Donald Trump consistently questioned NATO’s mission. He asked if it was obsolete and wondered if it was really fighting terrorism. He also lambasted other NATO members for not paying the required 2% of their defense budget while the United States did all the heavy lifting. On the latter, he was only reiterating what President Obama had been lamenting for years during his presidency. However, where Donald Trump differed from his predecessor was that he did not mind if the lack of payment from member states led to the break up of NATO. In any case, his question regarding NATO’s purpose is valid. Sadly, we never got to hear his complete answer let alone have an honest debate or discussion.
NATO has been problematic—especially after the break up of the Soviet Union. Feeling that it might be weak from an attack from the Soviet Union, some European countries along with the Americans enacted the security apparatus with the sole purpose of defending the member states in the event that the Soviet Union would attack those states. Fast-forwarding to the end of the Cold War, George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev negotiated an oral agreement that if Germany were to reunify and join NATO, it would not move one inch eastward toward Russia’s border. That promise was not only broken, it has expanded to the greatest military force in modern peacetime history. As well, its expansion eastward has led it all the way to Russia’s border by land, sea, and air. Moreover, while it says that it is fighting terrorism, it has done the opposite (i.e.: Libya). Rather, it is used to enforce human rights violators (i.e.: Serbia) and “Russian aggression” when the “aggression” is in response to what it is doing along Russia’s borders. For instance, on Russia’s western border—along the Baltic Sea—there are 300,000 NATO troops on high alert and NATO is ramping up deployment and exercises on a daily basis.
NATO has aided and abetted in America’s unilateral approach to the international order in the post-Cold War. The best example is in the case of Serbia in the late 1990s. When it was said that Slobodan Milosevic was committing war crimes while preventing the Kosovans from gaining independence, using NATO forces, the United States bombed Milosevic’s forces in the hopes it would lead to the withdrawal of Milosevic’s forces from Kosovo. In other words, NATO and the United States were ensuring that Kosovo gain its independence from Serbia (a bizarrely different approach America and Europe took with regards to “Brexit” and Catalonia). Today, Kosovo is an independent country that is, for all in tense and purposes, a NATO protectorate and, more importantly, a leading country in organ trafficking.
While there might’ve been war crimes committed in Serbia, there was an alternative way to dealing with the crisis. It could’ve coordinated and cooperated with Russia to solve the problem. After all, Serbia is in its neighborhood and they both share cultural and religious similarities. During that period, under Boris Yeltsin, Russia was in a “helping America” mood and would’ve helped resolve the problem. After all, America and Russia were supposed to be “friends.” Sadly, the Americans did not use Russia’s help to solve the problem, which deeply angered the Kremlin under the Yeltsin government and the Russian people. For Russians, this was like a brother being slaughtered and it could do nothing about it.
In essence, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO has been operating without a cause. It says that it is fighting terrorism but terrorism is more rampant today than ever before (and it is still on the march). However, the majority of the time, it seems like it is more interested in deterring Russia as it accepts new members that is along Russia’s borders who have a longstanding historical grievance with Russia. Some might argue, if the country wants to join NATO, it has the right to do so. While the following might sound like heresy, a country is not allowed to join NATO if it feels like it. As one esteemed Russian expert put it, “NATO is not a non-selective fraternity or the AARP. It is a security organization whose sole criterion for membership should be whether or not membership enhances the security of its members.” It is safe to say that these members today are less safe as a result of the expansion of NATO. Whatever one thinks about Russia or its current President, it is worth revisiting the usefulness of this alliance. For the moment, it seems to be part of the problem, not the solution.
To ‘Regime Change’ or not ‘Regime Change,’ that is the question
When Donald Trump said that he thought that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should remain as President of Syria until the terrorists were defeated, he touched a nerve in the American foreign policy establishment. That’s because, up until the 2016 US Presidential Election, the United States has long been, in some manner or another, performing a foreign policy of ‘regime change’ and the American foreign policy establishment was scared that Trump was going to reverse it. The foreign policy establishment has pushed this policy on a regular basis in countries around the world—namely in the Middle East as well as in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses—under the disguise of promoting and bringing Western-style liberal democracy into the countries within those regions. In both instances, it has proved to be a disastrous policy, as many had predicted even before the crusade had begun.
In the Middle East, it is well known that it wanted to remove the dictators of countries to bring “freedom and democracy” to the said countries. For instance, in Iraq, the George W. Bush administration wanted to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on grounds that he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction and that he had close ties with Al-Qaeda. In its estimation, based on those allegations, it felt that it needed to act urgently to remove him from power. Both those accusations ended up being false. However, the damage had been done as the United States and its “coalition of the willing” unilaterally invaded Iraq and removed its President. Today, the country is in a complete mess and a haven for militias and terrorism. The same can be said with other countries in the Middle East including Libya and (nearly) Syria. Libya is another haven for terrorism after NATO forces assisted in killing former Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi. And, in the case of Syria, if it weren’t for Russia’s intervention, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would’ve had the same fate as Gadhafi. This is not to advocate for the dictators in power but rather to demonstrate the thought process of the United States foreign policy class (with assistance from the Israelis) and its lack of knowledge about the region.
In regards to the so-called “color revolutions,” the same powerful figures in the United States’ foreign policy apparatus have continuously supported the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe—namely in Georgia and Ukraine. Leaving aside that Georgia and Ukraine have long been on NATO’s radar for membership, these powerful foreign policy figures again did not (and maybe still do not) understand the implications of supporting a revolution that can have potent implications and disastrous outcomes for the said countries. In both cases, the United States meddled in those country’s affairs to ensure that it had all the tools to ensure that those countries were ripe to join NATO. However, it did not take into account (or did not want to take into account) that, in both instances, Russia would intervene because, for Russia, both those countries were “red lines.” Russia deems that NATO is a national security threat given its military capability. Both Georgia and Ukraine are right on Russia’s border and having NATO on its border was a “red line.” It is as if the American foreign policy class does not believe Russia is entitled to have its own national security concerns. Maybe the foreign policy class should ask a simple question: what would America do if a military force not seen since World War II was approaching its borders en masse to, say, Canada? Any honest person would answer that America would probably do the same. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that neither Georgia nor Ukraine are bastions of Western liberal democracy; something that the American foreign policy establishment very much want it to be.
Is Russia a partner or an adversary?
Another question that Donald Trump literally asked throughout the campaign was, “wouldn’t it be great to work with Russia and Putin?” Sadly, instead of asking why he thought, “it would be great to work with Russia and Putin,” everyone chastised him and accused him of being some sort of Kremlin agent, Putin puppet, Putin’s useful idiot, or—even worse—the Manchurian candidate. Let’s be clear, Donald Trump is dangerous in many ways but he asked an important question that was worth asking because relations between the two countries are at its lowest point since the late 1940s. That isn’t good for two nuclear superpowers especially since there are many hotspots in this exceedingly more dangerous New Cold War between Russia and the United States. That is, in Ukraine (the epicenter), in Syria and the Middle East, and NATO expansion along Russia’s borders—namely in the Baltic States where there is daily NATO military buildup. Any mishap in one of those hot spots can lead to war, and potentially a nuclear war, between the two countries.
There are many areas where Russia can help the United States and other countries. Namely, in no particular order of importance, it can help in nuclear proliferation, combatting international terrorism, the fight against global warming or climate change, global income inequality, cyber security, and many other important issues of national security. However, for all this to take place, the intoxication in the political arena needs to veer away from Russia (or Russians) and Vladimir Putin as being bad words. These days, anytime someone speaks to a Russian (let alone someone from the Kremlin), it is seen as speaking to the enemy and deemed treasonous. Also, the Russo-phobia and xenophobic attacks need to stop. The general consensus today is that Russians are, as former NSA Director James Clapper said, “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” Leaving aside what former CIA Director John Brennan warned to the American people about having Russian contacts, this recipe sounds awfully familiar to a dark period in America’s history—the McCarthy era of the 1950s during the Second Red Scare when Sen. Joseph McCarthy was on a witch-hunt for anyone in America with “Communist ties.” Once a suspicion was detected, the accused would be brought to the House for Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Congress. The charged would be publicly humiliated. As a result, many people’s lives were ruined as a result and some never fully recovered.
Fast-forward to the present and we seem to be in the same situation. With no actual evidence, Russiagate (aided and abetted by the mainstream media) has become a primetime issue in American politics and academia. Anyone seeking a conciliatory approach to resolving the tensions between US-Russian relations has also been slandered as being Putin’s friend, his puppet, or other ludicrous and insulting slanders. This activity, whatever one wants to call it, is damaging any chance to have better relations with Russia. No one has put anyone in the White House or the Kremlin. As much as one despises the leaders of the two countries, the Presidents need to talk and sort out the contentious issues that have soured the relationship—without the slandering. Not to scare anyone but the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists readjusted its “Doomsday” clock (midnight indicating nuclear apocalypse) to two and a half minutes to midnight—something not seen since the early days of the Cold War in the 20th century.
While we wish that Donald Trump were not the President of the United States, he has been elected and he should be given the authority to negotiate with his Russian counterpart, like Democratic and Republican Presidents did before him, without the slanders. With all indications showing that we are in a similar situation to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it worth revisiting it for just a second. Imagine if John F. Kennedy was President of the United States in today’s environment. He would have never be able to negotiate with Nikita Khrushchev to resolve the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear war would almost certainly become a reality.
America’s Nuclear Policy
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked candidate Donald Trump if he would ever use nuclear weapons. Trump thought about it for a bit and said, “no…I take nothing off the table.” He was lambasted for the comment. In essence, he was reiterating official American nuclear policy that the United States does not take “first use” of nuclear weapons off the table. In other words, Trump reiterated, in his own way, what has been American policy for over 70 years. To be clear, Trump does raise danger of nuclear confrontation in a way that most of his predecessors attempted to avoid. However, what occupied most of the media’s discussion was about Trump’s psychological fitness to be President of the United States when the media should’ve been discussing America’s nuclear policy. Sadly, we never saw that debate and the policy has remained the same.
It is high time to discuss this policy given the potent relationship with Russia and an increase of nuclear states from two to nine since 1949. The Cold War might’ve ended on paper but the sentiment has stayed the same and, more importantly, the possibility of nuclear war never ended (and is closer now than ever before). No President has ever been successful in reversing America’s nuclear policy of “first use.” Since President Reagan, no American President has been able to reduce the growing nuclear threat. However, President Obama tried to reverse the decades old policy of “first use” but he received much opposition from his cabinet, his national security council, as well as many European and Asian allies. Having said that, he could’ve chosen to override his dissenters but, in the end, chose not to do so. Ultimately, Obama did not try hard enough because he did this way too late in his presidency and only after he modernized and improved America’s nuclear arsenal by miniaturizing its size and making the arsenal more precise but not changing the lethality of the weapons. Essentially, Obama gave lip service to having a “nuclear-free world” throughout his 2008 campaign and his two-terms as President but it never came to fruition part in parcel because he did not try hard enough.
As Adam Shatz correctly points out in the London Review of Books, “perhaps the question we should be asking is not whether Trump can be stopped, but whether the system as a whole can be overhauled.” Indeed, since President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American government has consistently increased its President’s power to be the sole rational decider of the most irrational decision one has to make. That is, if a nuclear launch is necessary. Just for one to have an idea, during the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt was concerned with how much power was invested into the Presidency of the United States. He promised that once the war was over, he would like to return “(the) powers under which (he acted) automatically (be reverted) to the people—to whom they belong.” It is unknown if he would have acted upon that promise but that quote should give the reader an idea of how concentrated the powers of the Presidency were with regards to nuclear weapons. It has been 75 years since Roosevelt made that statement and the nuclear threat is just as dangerous now (if not even graver) than it was when he uttered those words and the President has the same (if not more) power to press the nuclear button—obliterating the planet in roughly twenty to thirty minutes.
These questions that Donald Trump asked in the 2016 US Presidential Elections were long overdue questions that needed urgent answers. Instead of having a debate, there were slanders and, even worse, a sort of censorship on any dissent—that exists until today. For a country like America that prides itself on freedom, Western liberalism, and democracy, one would expect that it would practice what it preaches.
It is high time that these questions be answered and discussed because America has extended itself a bridge too far as being the policeman of the world and practicing a policy of ‘regime change’ for several decades. As a result, an exorbitant amount of money has been spent on its military and rebuilding countries into democracies when that money could desperately be used to fix the many problems its own country is suffering from. That is one of the main reasons why America elected Barack Obama and Donald Trump (not John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton) who both promised, in their own way, to look after “The Forgotten Man.” The NATO and Russia questions should be debated extensively because, with regards to the former, it is a major reason for the tensions for the latter question. As well, both NATO and poor relations with Russia are threatening America’s national security as well as the international communities’ national security. Certainly, Russia being America’s partner rather than adversary can help America and the international community on issues of national security. However, better relations with Russia can help defuse the last question Donald Trump raised: nuclear proliferation and, at the very least, significantly reduce the quantity of nuclear weapons. With America and Russia occupying over 90% of the available nuclear arsenal, cooperation with Russia is not just necessary but rather imperative.
The hope with raising the questions Donald Trump asked is to begin the discussion that is so desperately needed. Also, it is an effort to replace the recent discourse of hysteria—which is a national security threat in its own right—and censorship of dissent with a discussion about America’s foreign policy, which is making things more dangerous for Americans at home and abroad as well for the international community. Donald Trump is dangerous in many ways but the problems existed before he was elected to office and will exist after he leaves office. The longer the questions are left untouched, the more problematic they become to resolve—and it is extremely critical that they do get addressed sooner rather than later given the dangers America and the international community are facing. Liberals and Democrats alike want to get rid of Donald Trump but that will not solve the problem. If these foreign policy questions are not urgently addressed and altered, “Trumpism” and the extreme right wing political trend will remain after he leaves office and become louder. Does America and the world really want to go down that path?