Unraveling Trump’s Strategies for Russia, China, the Mid East and Europe
The assertion that the foreign policy directions charted by the 45th President of the United States directions are unknowable, as claimed by Donald Trump’s many detractors at home and in Europe, is just an urban legend. Plenty of clues have been thrown out in his tweets and remarks – not always as off-the-cuff as they sound, – and by his choices of cabinet members and advisers.
DEBKA Weekly’s analysts and intelligence sources are able to draw in broad strokes the incoming president’s foreign policy strategies, as they evolved in long discussions with his top nominees: vice-president elect Mike Pence, designated Secretaries of State and Defense Rex Tillerson and Gen. James Mattis, National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats – in between their Senate confirmation hearings.
Trump’s global orientation is dominated by the role he assigns Vladimir Putin’s Russia. His rationale is simple. Russia commands the most powerful military tool in the world today, and Putin, moreover, has no qualms about putting it to work to achieve his ends – witness Russian thrusts into Georgia in 2008, Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2015, and Syria later that year.
At the same time, American needs at least five years to build an army big and powerful enough to make America great again. He can’t even be sure that the massive tasks of renovation, expansion and reconfiguration of its special operations forces, air force and navy, as a tool of global offense, would be done by 2022.
In the meantime, Trump is willing to give the Russian army extensive leeway in the Middle East as well as other parts of the world. He trusts in America’s economic strengths and the well-honed negotiating skills he and his top people command to cut deals with Moscow that delimit the spread of Russia’s world influence and objectives, while satisfying America’s strategic interests.
Overall, the incoming president does not see US-Russian military rivalry as superpowers in the same apocalyptic light as his political, military and intelligence critics in America and Europe. He considers their intelligence leaks and demonic innuendo, which magnify Russian misdeeds as cyber invader of America’s electoral system, as basically an attempt to stymie his plans for collaborating with Putin in certain areas – in so far as the Russian military behaves in a manner that he deems advantageous to America.
On one point, Trump agrees with his predecessor, Barack Obama: He is against sending large-scale American soldiers to fight in major Middle East wars. Obama was prepared to devolve on the Russian military and intelligence the colossal task of battling ISIS in the Middle East and Africa. He talked about this principle for eight years, but very little came of it in the way of collaboration.
Russia, Mid East & China
Where Trump departs sharply from Obama’s line is in his belief that America has no real interest in directly interfering in the conflicts and problems of the Middle East in places like Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iran, or even the never-ending Palestinian-Israeli dispute. The repercussions of the “Arab Spring” project sponsored by Obama in 2010 are still dragging on, with no end in sight.
The incoming president and his team propose instead to limit US ties in the region and focus them on profitable relations with the Gulf emirates and Israel, by virtue of its advanced intelligence and technological power. Both are deemed strategic assets for America. The rest of the Middle East may be left for Moscow to pick up. Putin wants to expand Russian influence in that troublesome region; Trump does not.
Secondly, the new US President is intent on drawing Russia onto America’s side in the military and economic contest he is preparing to wage against China, whom he accuses of currency manipulation at the expense of the American economy and imperial designs as manifested in the South China Sea region.
Above all, he is determined to prevent the two former communist allies ganging up against America. Isolated from Moscow, Beijing could no longer do as it pleases or challenge Washington for preeminence as the world’s No. 1 superpower. Even before taking office, the new US administration is moving on the quiet to drive a large wedge between Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping.
Europe and NATO
Donald Trump’s most radical policy departure from the lines followed by the Obama, Clinton and second Bush administrations affects Europe and NATO. His predecessors perceived the European Union as the world’s largest trading bloc and stable enough to stand on its own feet; NATO was the cement binding the US-EU alliance, which enabled America’s phased troop withdrawal from the continent.
The new US president’s perspective is colored partly by his view of Russia’s role in his foreign schemes and his proposition to pin US influence in Europe on two focii – Moscow and London.
This policy stems from four underlying factors:
1. As in the Middle East, Trump prefers to engage with major strategic allies and not bother with the smaller fry. He therefore sees no strategic or economic advantage in investing in relations with the Baltic nations, Ukraine, or East and Central Europe.
He also regards as a fiasco, the stranglehold Obama sought to place on Russia by expanding NATO membership through East Europe up to the Russian border and keeping the missile shield initiated there by George W. Bush.
He therefore proposes to downsize the Northern Alliance and keep it out of Europe’s internal disputes, the reverse of Bill Clinton’s intervention in the three-year war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Hence Trump’s terse comment this week: NATO is no longer in use.
It is therefore safe to assume that if, in the near term, the Serbian army invades Muslim-ruled Kosovo to capture regions populated by a Serbian Christian majority, the American president would not this time run interference by sending NATO jets to bomb Belgrade.
Indeed he is unlikely to move against any move that curtails a strengthened Muslim presence in Europe.
2. This consideration figures large in the new US president’s disapproval of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He made no bones about grading her decision to welcome one million migrants into her country as a “catastrophic mistake.”
3. The other factor is Trump’s ambition to weaken the European Union and the German chancellor, as its dominant figure, because he sees them today as an impediment to his plans to work with Putin.
In any case, he and his advisers have concluded that the EU as a trading power and its currency are in steep decline, since most of its members are in poor shape. Greece, Ukraine, Italy, Ireland, France and Spain are either in the throes of extreme economic crises or rocked by political instability. Merkel too faces an election in September amid popular resentment of her open-arms policy for Muslim refugees.
4. Trump assigns Britain a special role in his European policy objectives on two scores:
First, he is a big fan of the UK’s exit from the European Union. Prime Minster Theresa May’s hard-hitting speech to Parliament Tuesday, Jan. 17 fitted in perfectly with the Trump vision of the UK’s place in Europe.
She threatened EU leaders that she will walk away from negotiations with Brussels on future ties if they try and give Britain a “bad deal.” Unveiling her 12-point plan for the “divorce talks,” she stressed that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal” and warned leaders in Brussels that any attempt to damage the UK during the negotiations would be an “act of calamitous self-harm” for the EU.
With Donald Trump at her back – he has promised to place post-Brexit Britain at the top of the queue for “very good” American trade deals – May is taking the lead in his contest against Angela Merkel.
Second, the new US president proposes casting Britain and its intelligence services in the roles of counterweight against Russia and its clandestine agencies in Europe.
To throw a spanner in this scheme, Trump believes his foes cooked up the “revelation” that a former agent of Britain’s MI6 secret service planted the “dirty dossier” about him, which US intelligence then leaked to stir up another short-lived scandal around him.