Like Donald Trump or not – and I like him no more than, well, Hillary Clinton – there is one thing he might be good for. Peace. A small matter, I know, when set against his serial (alleged) philandering and worse, but worth pondering for a moment. A hideous, but necessary thought experiment runs something like this.
What is the single most important relationship the United States of America could build to secure world peace? Why, the same one that, when it goes horribly wrong, leaves us all sliding towards testing the doctrine of mutually assured destruction in a nuclear age. Always a bit mad to end up there. Yes, that’s right, the most important relationship is with the Russians, or, as we once knew them, the Soviets. They’re the ones we need to get along with.
Now this is where The Donald scores above his sensible, sane, intelligent and diplomatic Democratic opponent. Donald gets it. He gets that if you decide to run your foreign policy devoid of moral content with the sole guiding principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” (copyright Joseph Stalin), then peace, cooperation, even alliance with Russia is possible, indeed desirable.
The Russians, more than a little cynically, have asked the West for decades to join them in a war against “Islamist terrorism”, but which they principally mean the separatist movements in Chechnya and elsewhere. Donald Trump is the first presidential contender, more even than George W Bush, who looks like he’d actually want to take them up on the offer. Trump is fixated to the point of racism on the militant Islamist violence that he tells his fearful audience is “just around the corner”. It is all too easy to imagine a state visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington where he is feted and falls into the arms (we hope no more) of an affectionate President Trump. The US-Russia Strategic Partnership would be the fruit of that particular liaison, with secret provisions, no doubt, on assassinating terrorist leaders, and public pledges on intelligence sharing, with the whole relationship consummated by series of joint bombing raids in Syria. They would share a goal to destroy Isis, even though they have not been able to do so recently, because it would be part of a wider cooperation. Such would be the new world order.
I mean, let us be clear. This would not be a humanitarian approach, and it wouldn’t work either. You don’t beat terrorism that way, nor end civil wars through mass bombing. But the US-Russia alliance of 2017 is not supposed to, in that sense. It’s just supposed to make two testosterone-fuelled leaders of the planet’s superpowers feel good about themselves, and impress their constituents who yearn – on parallel – for their countries to be “great again”.
When that happens, they are much less inclined to start a war with one another. The rest of the world, or the parts of it fortunate enough not to be on the wrong side of either or, especially, both, can be assured that Russia and America have found a new future for us all. Only the Chinese would be unduly put out, and there wouldn’t be much they, or their wacky unreliable friends in North Korea, could do about it.
How about Hillary? Well, she is certainly needled by Trump’s laser-guided focus on the US national interest, accusing him of being a Russian puppet, joking that he reads his speeches translated from the original Russian. That’s why she doesn’t get it. She thinks, like President Obama, that her job is to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine, in the Baltic republics and elsewhere in eastern Europe, and around the world generally. She is right, in the sense that that is what America’s best traditions call for. She is wrong by the Kissingerite doctrine of placing the American national interest first and last in foreign policy. Sometimes, as in Nixon and Kissinger’s time, that means making overtures to unpleasant regimes and taking bold initiatives in the cause of a broader, wider peace. Even if that means sacrificing smaller nations and former allies (as with the expendable South Vietnamese). It is ugly, but it works, after a fashion.
Ronald Reagan, who Trump consciously tries to emulate, was a different case. He started as the coldest of Cold Warriors, outspent the USSR on defence, broke its will to win the arms race, and eventually made peace with an exhausted Mikhail Gorbachev. The option was not open to Reagan, for ideological and strategic reasons, to make an easy, early peace with the Soviet Union. That’s where Trump is different to his hero; Trump would make such a peace. He will define America’s interests in such a way as to suit Moscow. Reagan’s administration could not tolerate the Russians occupying, say, Afghanistan, and spent time and money trying to drive them out; Trump couldn’t give a trump about who’s in power in Kabul.
You can condemn that semi-isolationist “America First” mindset if you want, but the easiest way to prevent the next world war is simply to let the Russians have what they want, provided it makes no difference to you. Trump has almost said as much about American intentions; smaller Nato allies, if they don’t pay their way, can go hang if they want American men and women to lay down their lives for them. The Russians can have Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania if they want. We’re not talking about giving them Rhode Island or Alaska, are we?
It’s a mistake to think that Democrats are always “soft on Russia” or, to put things more positively, that they want détente and peace and will take risks for them. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter did: But some of the toughest of Cold Warriors came from Ms Clinton’s party – JFK, LBJ and Harry Truman gave the Russians hell for decades, partly because, as Democrats, they felt they had to demonstrate that they weren’t pushovers for the guys in the Kremlin. Maybe a bit like Hillary does now. The nearest the world has ever come to destruction been the 13 days the world held its breath during the Cuba missile crisis of 1962: climate change has nothing on that little episode for scariness.
Something like the Cuba crisis could happen again under President Hilary Clinton; one can see her issuing unenforceable ultimatums on Putin because his proxies have grabbed some bit of territory in the Caucasus most of us haven’t heard of. That is much, much less likely to occur under President Trump. That’s true whatever they say about his attitude to women – which is, I hasten to add, unhealthy, immoral, demeaning and wrong.
I agree that it is a false choice, and that it should be possible to have a civilised figure with a blameless private life running America and who will also pursue peace. That, though, is not the choice that presents itself on 8 November.
So Trump for Peace? Not as mad as it first appears, though the price would be heavy. Maybe his supporters – the unswayables, the deplorables, Trumpers – could start singing a new tune, one that John Lennon gave the world.
All together now: “All we are saying is Give Trump a Chance…”
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