Over the years we have often lamented the absence of grand-strategic thinking within the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. For the past quarter-century, successive administrations have displayed a chronic inability to deploy America’s political, military, economic, and moral resources in a balanced and proportionate manner, in order to protect and enhance the country’s rationally defined security and economic interests. Washington’s bipartisan, ideologically-driven obsession with global primacy (aka full-spectrum-dominance) has resulted in a series of diplomatic, military and moral disasters, costly in blood and treasure and detrimental to the American interest.
Donald Trump and his team have a historic opportunity to make a fresh start. The moment is somewhat comparable to the advent of Ronald Reagan’s first administration in January 1981: the global context is different, but the challenge of reestablishing a national-interest-based paradigm is not. Reagan used grandiloquent phrases at times (the Evil Empire), but in practice he was an instinctive foreign policy realist. Likewise, Trump’s “America First” is not a triumphal slogan of exceptionalist grandomania jointly practiced by the Duopoly for the past quarter-century. It is a call for the return to realism based on the awareness that the United States needs to rediscover the value of transactional diplomacy aimed at promoting its security, prosperity, and cohesion in a Hobbesian world. In terms of any traditionally understood calculus of national security, America is the most invulnerable major power in the world: sheltered by oceans, and supremely capable to project her power to the distant shores. Unlike Russia, China, and India, America has no territorial disputes with her neighbors and her integrity is not threatened by ethnic or religious separatist forces. As I wrote in last month’s Chronicles,
Today’s America has the potential to be a satiated power, like Rome under the Five Good Emperors, Britain for many decades after Napoleon, or the German Kaiserreich until the 1890’s. That status did not imply those powers’ withdrawal from world affairs. Trajan, Castlereagh, and Bismarck were not isolationists; they were prudent fine-tuners of their external environment, always cognizant of proportionate costs in pursuit of limited objectives.
There will be resistance, as witnessed by the outgoing administration’s frantic attempts to poison the well on every front possible. Giving up the imagined capacity to dominate the world and recognizing that it cannot be shaped in line with the elite class “values” will never be acceptable to the commissars in the mainstream media and the think-tank nomenklatura, but Trump can ignore them all at no cost. More seriously, some components of the national-security/military-industrial complex may also resist his attempt to reintroduce transactional criteria in defining “interests” and “threats.” It is likely that they will be more amenable to compromise, because they are more rational than the ideologues: venal and greedy, rather than manic-obsessive and deluded. If there is enough federal money for their corporations and their projects within the new grand-strategic structure, they will not conspire against the new regime.
The most important element of the new grand strategy is to improve relations with Russia and to end once for all 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 Valdivostok to the Americas. Trump seems to understand the need for a new paradigm, as reflected in his healthy skepticism vis-à-vis the evidence-free hacking hysteria. In the years ahead he can effect a paradigm shift in the West that would pave the way for a genuine Northern Alliance of Russia, Europe, and the United States, as all three face existential demographic and ideological threats—Asiatic and African in origin, Islamic in spirit—in the decades ahead.
In an uncertain and constantly brutal world, the Northerners must find the way of banding together, lest they be defeated in detail. This historic opportunity has been open to us since the end of the Cold War, but no U.S. leader has recognized it or acted upon its geopolitical imperative. Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama have all opted to pursue global hegemony, ideologically construed, and devoid of any tangible relation to our country’s rationally defined interests. Trump can and should reintroduce grand-strategic sanity, and help prolong the life of a civilization in mortal peril. Whether it will survive is an open question. That it is utterly doomed in its current form is beyond doubt.