Donald Trump’s foreign policy statements  especially those about Russia  may appear awkward and naïve, but they actually display an intuitive understanding of how the world has changed in the post-Cold War era.


A person records as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally in Akron, Ohio. Photo: AP

For a very different take read: "Donald Trump's pro-Russian comments still under scrutiny"

The current U.S. presidential campaign featuring Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump seems to have turned into a real circus long ago. Unfortunately, the daily coverage of this campaign by the American media has frequently overshadowed some very interesting factors underlying significant shifts in U.S. public opinion and the new configuration of political forces in the world order.

Of special interest and significance are the changes in the relationship of the two major political parties and their conceptual approaches to the most basic foreign policy issues. These changes were slowly but consistently accumulating in the period following the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the bipolar system after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They were depicted, among others, in the erosion of the traditional Left-Right divide, whereas Democrats were relative “doves” in terms of foreign policy, apprehensive about the massive use of force abroad, while the Republicans were the “hawks,” enthusiastically supporting large military budgets and highly interventionist policies. Yet, during the 1990s, the Democrat Bill Clinton showed himself to be quite an interventionist president, willing to use military force abroad, especially in the Balkans.

This erosion of the traditional American political landscape reached its culmination during the current presidential campaign. The very contrast of the two leading parties’ official candidates symbolizes the challenges facing the United States both in the domestic and foreign policy arenas.

On the Democratic side, there’s Clinton — a personification of the traditional political establishment, the merger of political, economic, and financial elites, who have been in power for the last 40 years (ironically, she is trying to position herself as a “candidate of change”), supported by the establishment.

Scandals surrounding her opponent Trump overshadow some very interesting features of Clinton’s foreign policy platform — while claiming to be U.S. President Barack Obama’s successor, on most foreign policy issues, she stays way to the right not only of the current president, but even of her Republican rival (in this sense, she could be considered an ideological successor to Dick Cheney, who served in both Bush Republican administrations, rather than Obama).

Also read: "What is Russia's real role in the US presidential election?"

Every time Clinton touts her foreign policy credentials and vast experience, former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ sarcastic remark  “Experience is good, but judgment also matters”  comes to mind. Throughout her tenure as U.S. Senator and then U.S. Secretary of State, and especially during the current campaign, Clinton has shown an amazing inflexibility, adherence to the Cold War stereotypes, an inability to think imaginatively and to break through the narrow circle of advisors, who all appear to think in the same way. One might get the impression that she got stuck somewhere in the 1960s, even before the period of détente.

And still, the political establishment, regardless of its traditional political orientation, is looking to her as a symbol of stability and predictability. It is not surprising, considering the fact that her opponent is Trump — an unpredictable political outsider with strong populist tendencies, who refuses to play by conventional rules, speaks his mind, rejects political correctness and offers solutions that break with the conventional wisdom.

In this sense, both the very figure of Trump and the hysterical reaction to his phenomenon by the political establishment have some pretty interesting parallels with the figure of Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin and sloppy attempts by the Communist nomenklatura, the media and the academic establishment serving it to discredit a political outsider and to block his political advancement in the late perestroika years.

Practically all their actions in 1987-1991, which were aimed at proving that Yeltsin was trying to destroy the political status quo, brought results opposite to the desired one. In Trump’s case, this is true for the areas of both domestic and foreign policy.

In regard to the latter, the most shocking were Trump’s loud proposals concerning the deportation of illegal immigrants and a ban on Muslim immigration. Also well known and much less controversial is his skeptical attitude towards the further development of economic integration groups in the Asia-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic regions (although it should be mentioned that on this latter point, Trump’s position finds support on both the left and the right edges of conventional political spectrum while on the immigration issues, he has recently started to moderate his position).

But these populist statements and their noisy coverage by the media overshadow some other interesting proposals from Trump in the foreign policy arena, showing that this 70-year old really has an ability to think creatively, rejecting the Cold War stereotypes. Among these are Trump’s statements, indicating his realization that, in the absence of bipolarity and a quick shift of the center of power from the North Atlantic to the Pacific, NATO’s original model has outlived itself, and the European allies have to at least adequately share in their own defense effort.

This is also shown in Trump’s desire to normalize relations with Russia and avoid conflict with China and to work with them in dealing with the new real global threats, coming first of all from the rogue states and Islamic terrorist groups.

Also in contrast to Clinton, Trump does not show a craving for sponsoring military coups or getting militarily involved in numerous military conflicts in the Middle East and other unstable regions. Especially significant is the fact that he, again, in contrast to Hillary, does not believe that various tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts (such as those in Syria and Libya) necessarily represent a struggle for democracy and require direct U.S. military intervention.  

For a different take read: "Why Hillary Clinton is better for Russia than Donald Trump"

And, thus, instead of repeating comical statements about Trump being Putin’s puppet (it would be much more entertaining and productive to look at the list of foreign donors of the Clinton Foundation), his ardent opponents should rather look at the quickly changing international environment around them — because the world Clinton lives in ceased to exist decades ago, and the stubborn refusal to accept this fact could lead American foreign policy into a dangerous dead end.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.