Does Donald Trump’s victory mean we’re on the verge of the Third World War?

On the contrary, Trump’s worst enemy would concede that he is a deal maker. He enjoys a deal, and is none too fussy about who he deals with

Click to follow

Relax: Donald Trump will soon be in White House. I know, I know – but whatever else you may think about Donald J Trump, he is not going to pick any fights with Russia. The threat of a second Cold War, and with it the risk of a slide into a Third World War, has receded. Indeed, it is next to impossible to envisage it. 

Under a President Hillary Clinton, however, that Third World War would have been an all-too-possible – even likely – scenario. She would have continued the policy of the Obama administration in which she served. That comprised ineffectual posturing against the Russians, alternately placing sanctions on them (over Ukraine and Crimea) and then trying to negotiate and cooperate with them instead (over Syria), neither to much effect. 

America’s relations with the world’s other nuclear superpower matters, and the whole world needs someone who can make them work. Trump was always much more likely to do that than Clinton, and that realisation played some role in his victory. 

America doesn’t want a scrap with Russia. Clinton would have ramped up the rhetoric, laid down the ultimatums, issued the demands. Either she would have ended up in some sort of confrontation, probably fought by proxy by hapless others, or else suffered a humiliating climbdown, a re-run of the Cuban missile crisis but with a much less happy ending. There was also that outside chance of mutually assured destruction of Planet Earth. That’s now evaporated, and that’s why we can breathe a sigh of relief.

So, Trump the Peacemaker? Why not? Diplomacy, despite appearances, is about more than platitudes and polite cocktail parties. It is about identifying vital national interests and pursuing them. It is about doing deals. 

Even Donald Trump’s worst enemy (and there is some stiff competition for that accolade) would concede that he is a deal maker. He enjoys a deal. He is none too fussy about who he deals with, either.

Which brings us to Vladimir Putin. The importance of personal political chemistry is often overstated in international affairs, but it has a role.

Plainly, there are some intriguing parallels between the President-elect of the United States and the President of the Russian Federation. Both men lead nations that are concerned about economic failure and a perceived loss of prestige. President Putin never ran on the slogan “Make Russia Great Again”, but he might as well have. Both are oddly thin-skinned and surprisingly sensitive to slights, personal and national. Both have a self-image of being tough realists. 

What’s more important right now, however, is that both agree that Isis is a greater threat to both their nations than they are to each other. Trump seems content to allow Russia to pursue its own interests, in its own way, if it leaves America alone. The feeling is mutual. It might be too strong to suggest America and Russia forming some kind of strategic partnership, but it is no longer as outlandish an idea as it might have seemed even a few months ago. 

Putin: Russia ready to restore US relations after Trump win

To borrow a phrase of Margaret Thatcher’s about Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin is a man Donald Trump can do business with. Secretary Clinton wasn’t able to get along with Vladimir, personally or politically. That’s the point and that’s the difference.

Trump is no dove, but he is no warmonger either. He will smite America’s avowed enemies, especially militant Islamist terrorism, but he will not start “wars of choice”. He wants to look after America’s veterans, not create many more of them. He recognises that America is war weary. 

This is not new: before 9/11 and the adventure in Iraq changed everything, George W Bush was elected on an “America First” policy, a reaction to Bill Clinton’s interventions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East. It is, similarly, one reason why Barack Obama succeeded George W Bush, after that disastrous war of choice in Iraq yielded no discernible benefit to anyone. 

There has always been a tussle between America’s conceptions of her national interests being pursued in a global role, whether protecting the world from communism or intervening in humanitarian wars, and the much older tradition of isolationism. A century ago Woodrow Wilson wanted America to guarantee the borders of Europe after the Great War, with an explicitly moralistic agenda attached. His ambitions came to nothing, but after 1945 they were fulfilled, big time. There is scarcely a plot of land on Earth where Americans haven’t died or stood guard to defend other people.

Is the tide turning back to isolationism? A new kind of Pax Americana? 

Some decades ago President Kennedy declared that his nation would “pay any price, bear any burden” to defend freedom anywhere in the world. As Donald Trump might quip: “Not true any more.” America has neither the money nor the will to play the global cop.

When Trump suggested during the campaign that America’s European allies could do more to pay for their own defence, it caused a furore. Europeans could not believe anyone would question the Atlantic alliance. It was the same resentful, spiteful sense of entitlement that has propelled Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel to lace their “congratulations” to Donald Trump with poisonous insult. They really don’t like this supposedly uncouth guy. Tough. 

They, or more likely their successors, will have to deal with him with respect and with gratitude for all America has done to deliver and guarantee their freedom so many times. It is not unreasonable for Nato allies to be asked to pay their subs if America is asked to risk shedding its blood (again) in return. Crucially, if Europe wants Putin to keep his paws off the Baltic republics and Eastern Europe, then Europeans will have to be a bit more responsible and respectful to The Donald. 

The contempt that many in Europe hold for America is as bottomless as it is unfathomable. It will not serve Europe, that is the European Union, well. It will, as an interesting side-effect, only make Trump even better disposed to the post-Brexit UK. Every cloud, eh? 

Trump the Peacemaker, we must hope, will be inclined to do some unlikely deals elsewhere. In Pyongyang, for example. I doubt whether Kim Jong-un is much bothered about Trump’s “locker room talk”, attitude to personal taxation or anything else he may have done. On the “Nixon Goes to China” principle, Trump might also be intrigued by the possibility of pulling off the ultimate deal with the hermit king of North Korea. 

In Tehran, in Beijing, in Havana, in Ankara, in Riyadh, in Tel Aviv, there are hard-nosed men (usually), friends and foes alike, waiting to do business with him on the right terms. Drained of any ethical content – and we will have to face up to that unpleasant fact – American foreign policy will be about the pursuit of the American national interest, which usually in fact means peace.

Trump the Peacemaker? He is not a neo-con, attempting to create beacons of Western values in Afghanistan or Iraq. He is not an ideological Cold Warrior, like Ronald Reagan. As Hillary Clinton has graciously and bravely pleaded, give Trump a chance to lead.