History never repeats itself, but we may compare certain pivotal events in the quest for meaning and order in an apparently chaotic world. Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 and Donald Trump’s unexpected triumph in 2016 differ in countless, relatively insignificant ways, but they share one key characteristic: True Americans have risen against an anti-America of moral, cultural, spiritual, and civilizational decline. After an awful interlude, filled with disasters at home and abroad, there is an instinctive patriot in the White House.
In foreign affairs, Trump’s victory should be reflected in a radically new grand strategy. “America First” is not a triumphal slogan of exceptionalist grandomania shared by the duopoly of yore. It is a call for a return to diplomatic realism based on a recognition that the United States is a great power—for the time being (but not forever), the globally predominant power—in a world of lesser powers that act in accordance with the rational aims of promoting their security, prosperity, and cohesion in an Hobbesian world.
In practice, the first task is to improve relations with Russia—which is essential—and to establish a workable modus vivendi with China, which is highly desirable. Outreach to Russia is vital to the definitive settlement of the European civil war that erupted in 1914, continued in 1939, and resulted in the frozen conflict called the Cold War. Now is the time to effect a pan-European entente that embraces the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles to Vladivostok to the Americas. Trump has an historic opportunity to pave the way for a genuine Northern Alliance of Russia, Europe, and the United States, as all three are facing similar existential demographic and ideological (primarily jihadist) threats in the decades ahead. In an uncertain and ever more brutal world, the Northerners must find a way of banding together, lest they be defeated separately.
This historic opportunity has been open to us since the end of the Cold War, but no U.S. leader has recognized it, let alone acted on it. Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama all opted to pursue global hegemony, ideologically construed and devoid of any tangible relation to our country’s rationally defined interests. Trump has perhaps the last opportunity to reintroduce strategic sanity and save a civilization in mortal peril. In addition to all her hubristic blunders, Hillary Clinton did us all a service by running an explicitly anti-Russian campaign. The American people voted against the Deep State duopoly, but in doing so they also voted for the candidate who “can do business with Vladimir Putin”; who holds that “Crimea is none of our business”; who said that “NATO is obsolete”; and who has declared, let us hope irrevocably, “read my lips: no more regime change.”
It is to be hoped that Trump will strike a bargain with Russia on Syria. There must be no more support for radical Islamic terrorists, whatever their “moderate” disguise. This will necessitate some frank discussions with our “allies” in Riyadh and Doha, in which they are told in no uncertain terms that we know their game, and that they must cut off support to jihadists. America may not overtly cooperate with Damascus and Baghdad (and implicitly Tehran) to destroy IS/Daesh, Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and the rest of the jihadi monsters, but Trump’s national-security team should let the Arab boots on the ground complete the work that is currently under way in Aleppo. In the months ahead the United States should play mainly a supportive role: no ground forces, limited air power, and “engagement” only with the prior agreement of Syria’s and Iraq’s sovereign, legitimate governments.
As for NATO—strategically useless and tainted with criminality, as it has been ever since Bill Clinton’s aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, for the benefit of the KLA—Trump should start with the demand to end the “free-loadism” of its European members. He should disengage from the Baltic and Black seas, drop Russia sanctions, and deal on a neutral basis with Ukraine. Further east, he should ride herd on the Iran nuke deal with Moscow and Beijing, but not reject it. He should keep the Saudis at arm’s length, treating them as the leading state sponsor of terrorism that they are.
Donald Trump is neither a dogmatic neocon nor a consistent noninterventionist. His impulses are instinctively nationalist, consistent with his views on immigration and trade, and realist. His guiding principles as a practical matter should be distinguishing where our vital interests are (the U.S.-Mexico border) and are not (Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea, etc.). “What’s in it for us? Let’s make a deal!” is no weakness; it is statecraft. Trump needs to avoid the GOP/neocon apparat like the plague and appoint realists to his administration to make America great again. It is not too tall an order.