Trump cannot make America great again without a strategy for Russia

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On the face of it President Trump’s Russia policy is reactive and not proactive. It is tactical and not strategic. It consists of piecemeal tactical maneuvers, but in fact, it is a combination of continuity and improvisation. Trump’s approach to Moscow is adversarial reflexively because of his promise to “make America great again.”

America cannot be “great again” if it is perceived to yield to others in the international arena. President Vladimir Putin’s strategic goals conflict everywhere with “America first” policy. He wants to restore Moscow’s power over the post-Soviet zone and reassert himself in vital areas of America’s interest: the Middle and Far East. Since Russia’s objectives conflict with America’s goals, the White House and the Kremlin have clashed. It is a clash of titans because the Russian Federation has inherited the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union. Thus, Russia is the only power in the world capable of destroying us. This in itself puts Moscow in the category of its own as our adversaries.

{mosads}Trump’s Moscow policy is reactive for the most part, but it also draws on certain preset patterns, conceived during the Cold War. One can easily discern the traces of both the Truman and Reagan doctrines. Trump has pledged to protect our allies, within and without NATO. He gingerly emboldens freedom fighters, even if, ultimately, he draws the limits of the American support, as with the Kurds, for instance. Trump treats the Ukrainians in a similar way. Washington is friendly and encouraging, supplying humanitarian and lethal assistance, but not yet the big guns that Kiev wants. But America does not overcommit. The prospect of the United States going to war for Ukraine are extremely distant to virtually nonexistent.

The White House is much more firm as far as support for our allies on the eastern flank of NATO. There Trump presides over the expansion of the American commitment from Estonia to Bulgaria. It appears that the allied armed forces are the main beneficiaries for now, but where there is security and U.S. government largesse and encouragement, American businesses follow. Very discreetly, Trump has encouraged the commencement of the erection of an infrastructure of the Intermarium, a pro-American bloc in the post-Soviet zone, between the Black, Adriatic, and Baltic Seas. Most of the participants are members of both the European Union and NATO. Thus, they are largely integrated into the Western security and economic systems. That galls Putin.

Propelled by a revanchist post-Communist ideology, Russia has embarked on an imperialist foreign policy to reintegrate the post-Soviet zone as evidenced by the annexation of the Crimea and other belligerent moves in the region. Putin has further challenged the United States virtually everywhere, including at home through cyberwarfare. In Syria, with the apparent demise of the Islamic State, it is Moscow’s clients who are the strongest party in that hapless country. Russia has essentially facilitated for Iran a land bridge to Lebanon, which threatens Israel. Meanwhile, in the Shia continue to dominate in Bagdad with the strongest parties backed by Teheran to the great delight of Moscow. The Turks likewise are more sympatico with the Russians than with us.

Russia has further shored up its position in Central Asia and the Far East. It edged us out of Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors. It cozies up to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It also has assisted North Korea in a variety of ways, including by providing employment for its slaves and infrastructure for its internet connections. Everywhere Putin has endeavored to thwart our moves.

The Trump administration has done well so far in Central and Eastern Europe. Elsewhere it has been on the defensive. Even though Trump’s reflexes toward Russia are sound, the White House lacks a clear cut strategy vis-à-vis the Kremlin. That needs to change. You cannot “make America great again” without a strategy.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a professor of history and the Kosciuszko chair in Polish studies at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C.

Tags Donald Trump Foreign policy Middle East Russia United States Vladimir Putin

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