Greek history guides Trump going into July summit with Putin

Donald Trump understands power. 

When I served as his strategist, I never asked him if he had read Thucydides’ “The History of the Peloponnesian War. But even if he hasn’t, it doesn’t matter, because he understands its main lesson utterly instinctually.

{mosads}The first truly historical Western work teaches us that nations only have three levers. They only act out of fear, to defend their honor, or to realize a specific national interest. This is the eternal truth of international relations, valid both in war with Sparta or in preparing for a summit with Vladimir Putin.


Whether it is threatening a rogue North Korea with “fire and fury,” or deploying tariffs against erstwhile friends in order to redress the injustice of one-way trade relations, Trump understands how things get done in the geostrategic world, better than the vaunted policy “elite” who brought us such gems as most-favored nation status and WTO membership for Communist China or the plan to turn Afghanistan and Iraq into representative democracies.

From finally telling the assembled leaders of the Arab world in Riyadh that they must rid their societies and mosques of extremists and terrorists, or getting NATO nations to commit adequately to their own defense after decades of promising to do so but never following through, President Trump has done more to reset and to fix the international system than any head of state since Ronald Reagan precipitated the end of the Cold War by calling on then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” as he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

ISIS has lost its “Caliphate,” NATO is on the brink of winning back its credibility, the disastrous JCPOA Iran Deal of the Obama years is dead, Defense Secretary James Mattis has been dispatched to China to make sure the “Peoples Republic” understands its program of regional intimidation will not be allowed to continue. Yet, there remains the question of Russia and the former KGB colonel who runs the Russian Federation.

What should be the president’s approach to the Kremlin, when he holds his July 16 summit with Vladimir Putin? Whatever the tactical and operational focus, the strategic attitude must remain what it has been since before Mr. Donald Trump became President Donald Trump.

Nine days before his inauguration, President-elect Trump held a press conference in Trump Tower in New York. At the end of it, a reporter asked him about relations with Russia and Putin, and his response was telling:

Reporter: “What is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?”

President-elect Trump: “Russia will have far greater respect for our country when I’m leading it … But I won’t be giving a little reset button like Hillary. Here, press this piece of plastic … We’re either going to get along or we’re not. I hope we get along, but if we don’t, that’s possible too.”

That is the response of a realist and a pragmatist. In just a few sentences, the president demonstrated his understanding of not only Thucydides but of Sun Tzu’s and Clausewitz’s thinking.

In less than 60 words, he jettisoned the dilettantism of his predecessor and his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who believed good faith and a plastic gimmick would win over the likes of Putin and his tough-as-nails foreign minister. At the same time, he indicated that he understands how much power really matters, especially to a political elite formed by having lived in the USSR under communism. But he additionally demonstrated his appreciation for reality, indicating that better relations with Russia are desirable, given that it remains one of the few geostrategically important nations in the world, a nuclear state covering 11 time zones. Yet he closed by observing that if Putin wishes to remain adversarial, so be it: “We’re either going to get along or we’re not.” This is a president not weakened by any ideological filter or deluded by rose-tinted spectacles. 

Donald Trump will walk into his meeting with Vladimir Putin with his eyes wide open, ready to do business in the interests of America, her allies and regional as well as global stability. To that end, he will inform his Russian interlocutor, in no uncertain terms, that his destabilizing actions in Eastern Europe, the Baltics and the Middle East must stop. If not, our sanctions regime will not only stay in place but expand and deepen. More importantly, we will continue to drive global oil and gas prices as low as possible not only by expanding our new role as a net energy exporter but by working ever more closely with others such as OPEC to keep prices low. This will further weaken the Russian Federation and its oligarchs, who rely almost completely on oil and gas exports to finance themselves and their fiefdoms.

Russia is not just another country. It is an anti-status quo actor run by a man who called the fall of the USSR the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, one that he wishes he could reverse.

These sentiments indicate a leader lost in the nostalgia of an ideological age. If someone in the Kremlin reads The Hill (which I am sure they do), I suggest two things: Before the historic  summit, make sure your boss reads not only “The Art of the Deal but also some Thucydides. And remember, this is a very different president, one who actually understands power and who will not be “played.”

Sebastian Gorka (@SebGorka), Ph.D., is national security strategist for Fox News and former deputy assistant and strategist to President Trump. He is the author of the new book, “Why We Fight: Recovering America’s Will to Win.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Mattis Russia Seb Gorka Sebastian Gorka Thucydides Vladimir Putin

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