Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at TheNation.com.) Whatever else one may think about Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, Cohen argues, his foreign policy views expressed, however elliptically, in a Washington Post interview this week should be welcomed, especially in light of terrorist attacks on Brussels, for their challenge to the bipartisan neocon/liberal principles and practices that have guided Washington policymaking since the 1990s—with disastrous results.
That policymaking has included the premise that the United States is the sole, indispensable superpower with a right to intervene wherever it so decides by military means and regime changes, and by using NATO (“coalitions of the willing”) as its own United Nations and rule-maker. In recent years, from Iraq and Libya to Ukraine and Syria, the results have been international instability, wars (both proxy and civil), growing terrorism, failed “nation building,” mounting refugee crises, and a new Cold War with Russia.
Trump proposes instead diplomacy (“deals”) toward forming partnerships, including with Russia; rethinking the rightful mission of NATO; Europe taking political and financial responsibility for its own crises, as in Ukraine; and a smaller American military footprint in the world. In effect, a less missionary and militarized American national-security policy. Cohen suggests that Trump may be calling on an older Republican foreign policy tradition. And that he is emerging as a realist in two respects: In reality, the world is no longer unipolar, pivoting around Washington; and the United States must share and balance power with other great powers, from Europe to Russia and China.
The orthodox bipartisan establishment, Republicans and Democrats alike, have reacted to Trump’s proposals, Cohen says, as though he is the foreign policy anti-Christ, readying all-out assaults on his remarks. It is possible that this existential confrontation might lead, if the mainstream media does its job, to the public debate over US foreign policy that has been missing for twenty years, and certainly during the 2016 presidential campaigns.