America’s Strategic Confusion

US President Donald J. Trump had the strategic idea that peace with Russia would be a “good thing”. His administration came to power with a mere inclination to somehow alter the course of post-Cold War history by partnering with Russia. He wanted to secure an altered foreign policy relationship toward both the Middle East and Europe. His blueprint was so vague that it was almost indiscernible. But his instincts were sharp and so revolutionary, that the US “deep state” understood just how dangerous to the status-quo Trump could become.

In Moscow, the Kremlin never really believed that Trump could win. For if they had believed such a thing, they would never have hacked into the American election for fear of disrupting a potential insurrection against the American global strategy. For the last twenty-five years, the old Cold War era bipolarity has been replaced by a US attempt to secure a unipolar world-wide hegemony. But such a global security architecture not only had its nation-state detractors (Russia, China and Iran), it was also very expensive, leading to both extreme financial bubbles and deleterious US wage stagnation.

Trump secured a solid Electoral College victory, by tapping into a generalized distress, caused by a deepening US trade deficit and the loss of US jobs to automation and cheap labor from abroad. Instead of a global liberal order, working-class Americans demanded a change in both US trade policy and foreign affairs. Trump’s unconventional rhetoric (not to mention his ultra rudeness and bellicose manner toward the “Establishment”) worked to accentuate a deep sense of alienation and loss among large sections of both the working and middle classes. Trump’s rhetoric — combined with eight years of recession and tepid growth rates — caused a political revolution on the American right.

But a revolt against the “Establishment” was also percolating on the far-left of the US political spectrum. This far-left revolt was not without its political successes; but in the end, it could not unite de-classed white youth with more conventional African-American voters. Such unification was essential to secure the Democratic Party nomination. However, these two US political revolutions are definitely not to be considered as short-lived phenomena. On the Bernie Sanders left, the revolution heralds an era of US isolationism (albeit with a pro-Palestinian tilt). However, on the Trump right, it has now been self-labeled as “America First”. The new president espouses a transactional foreign policy that conceives of Russia as a foreign policy partner.

Re-enter the American foreign-policy “deep state” and its hegemonic unipolar strategic policy. These people and institutions are ubiquitous in Washington DC. They represent nearly the entire US Senate and big chunks of the US House of Representatives. They have captured the US State Department and most of the high brass at the Pentagon. Within the intelligence services (CIA etc.), the foreign policy antecedents are uniformly anti-Russian. And within the vast think-tank community of ex-foreign policy government functionaries, NATO expansion toward Russia’s borders is held up to be sacrosanct. Throughout the American capital, the very idea of global security (not true peace) is erroneously held to be a US unipolar project.

The US “deep state” opposed Donald Trump with a vengeance. Yes, the president’s team had made mistakes. They should have waited to communicate with the Kremlin until after the inauguration. They should have understood that such a dramatic change in US policy (partnering with Russia) would draw great scrutiny. Foremost, Trump should have never encouraged the Russians to hack into Mrs. Clinton’s emails, and given the highly charged atmosphere, Trump should never have fired FBI Director James Comey. But Trump is an outsider and to a great extant, a political neophyte to the ways of “inside- the-beltway” Washington hardball. The new president’s “off the cuff” and unfiltered, abrasive New York City style alienated far too many people (including myself). Yet, his “America First” policy is neither hegemonic nor isolationist. In fact, the concept of partnering with Russia (and China) to solve the current global instability — in Europe, Syria, the Middle East, and on the Korean Peninsula — is a transactional concept. The mere expression of this new policy apparently set off alarm bells all across Washington.

But where has the American “deep state” been for the last sixteen years? On both the traditional right and the traditional left, confusion reigns. The expansion of NATO eastward, in combination with US support for an orange-style coup in the Ukraine, was a serious miscalculation. The US administration of George W. Bush had made a similar mistake with the nation-state of Georgia in 2008. Obama never absorbed the lesson from that Bush blunder. Until the US begins to understand that the separation of Russia from the security architecture of Europe is an impossible burden on Moscow, danger will continue to lurk around every geopolitical corner.

The Kremlin learned the corollary lesson with regard to Soviet expansion into the Western Hemisphere (Cuba) back in 1962. That episode nearly caused a global nuclear war. But what about the US “deep state”? Why can’t they fully digest the important lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis? Why is America’s strategic interests more important than Russia’s? Why can’t we partner with them for the sake of peace?

Trump merely asked one simple question: Wouldn’t partnering with Russia for peace be a good thing?. From the standpoint of the Middle East, it certainly would. European security instability has once again spilled over into the region of the Levant — just like it did during the Cold War. Now, however, the stakes are far higher. Unlike that past era, Russia now feels existentially challenged from a military alliance directly on its border. It cannot forfeit its position in the Middle East without some kind of quid-pro-quo in Europe. As Russia teams with Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran (and other Shiite militias) to create a hair-trigger superpower reality, the current geopolitical situation is now far more dangerous than the Arab-Israeli wars of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.

For Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, Iranian expansion and potential nuclear capability are serious existential threats. Iran signed the nuclear deal with Obama because it didn’t require any kind of alteration to its regional behavior. In fact, Obama bent over backwards to offer up a deal which would allow Tehran a serious nuclear program with the potential for a very limited breakout time. In exchange, the Iranian Supreme Leader gave his mere promise to not build atomic weapons. Trump understands (unlike Obama} that such a nuclear “deal” has all the makings of a North Korean type endgame. Now Trump finds himself saddled with a situation whereby if he seriously attempts to roll-back Iran’s regional behavior, he risks escalation with Russia and the prospect that his European allies (fearing the potential loss of the nuclear deal) will side with Iran.

The US “deep state” has Donald Trump seriously boxed-in over Russian policy. Any vital move on his part toward Russian rapprochement will be met by a negative reaction from his own political party and the potential prospect of an impeachment trial. Trump — through his own mistakes and the anti-Russian sentiments of the establishment political parties — has now been rendered an American president with a reckless foreign policy. However, it is the US “deep state” which has placed Trump in this proverbial box.

Trump (with Russia’s help) wanted to become the “peace president”. But he has been stymied at every step by all of the various institutions of the US foreign policy establishment. These organs of government offer no new ideas of their own. On the contrary, they continue to leave the world in a very confused and precarious situation. Only a well-publicized alternative approach can unharness a bound president and set the US and Russia on a path toward partnership. Sometimes miracles do happen. We can only pray that one will happen soon.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).