Trump turns U.S. foreign policy thinking inside out: interview with The Times of London and Bild

What we are witnessing is a shift to a new strategic, geopolitical paradigm. 

Trump turns U.S. foreign policy thinking inside out: interview with The Times of London and Bild


by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

Over the weekend, the President-elect received two journalists from mainstream European print media for a joint interview in Trump Tower, New York:  The Times of London and the German magazine Bild. The event was videotaped and we are seeing today on television and on the respective websites of these papers some of the remarkable sound bites from the interview, particularly those which the British or the Germans will take very much to heart.


For the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May, nothing could have sounded sweeter than Donald Trump’s statement that she would be invited for talks in the White House shortly after he is installed in office and that he seeks very quickly to reach agreement on a bilateral free trade pact. The effect of the pledge itself, even ahead of its successful implementation, assures the British that the sting of severing ties with the EU will be greatly offset by new commercial possibilities in the world’s biggest economy; in this way, it strengthens May’s hand enormously as she enters into talks with the EU leadership over the detailed terms of what will apparently be a “Hard Brexit.”  Further adding to her leverage with the EU were Trump’s remarks suggesting their hoped for free ride with the US via the now defunct TTIP will be replaced by stern pressure on them, beginning with Germany and its automobile industry, to do more to manufacture in the USA. That precisely raises the relative importance of the UK market which they will otherwise lose if they impose too great penalties on Britain in their negotiations over Brexit.

For the general public’s consumption, Donald Trump used the interview to explain his special affection for Britain, speaking about his Scottish mother’s delight in the Queen and her watching every royal event on television for its unequaled pageantry.

However, we may expect that Theresa May will find there is a bill to pay for the “special relationship” as understood by Donald Trump in one of his exercises in ‘deal making.’ Whereas immediately following the election of 8 November the British media were writing about how their Prime Minister would be going to Washington to set poor, misguided Trump straight on the real nature of the Putin Regime, coming from her personal experience dealing with the Litvinenko affair, one may now better expect the tables to be turned and May to become a European advocate of détente with Russia at the behest of Donald Trump. In this connection, Boris Johnson’s out of character advice to Congress during his visit to Washington last week that they “stop demonizing Putin” may well have been a straw in the wind.  Theresa May and her people are surely in no position today to patronize their supposedly naïve American counterparts.

For the Germans, Donald Trump also offered a bit of flattery, saying how much he respected their Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, as he went on, he virtually flattened the Iron Lady’s reputation by calling her policy of unrestricted admission of illegal migrants into Germany and the EU a very great catastrophe. He noted that Merkel had thereby swayed the election results in Britain on Brexit and that for the same reasons we may anticipate the departure of still other countries from the EU.  Surely Trump’s list of countries on the way out include France, given the consultations his staff had with visiting French candidate for the presidency from the Front National, Marine Le Pen. 

Finally, among the sound bites that will be featured in media coverage of the interview, we hear Donald Trump describe NATO as an outdated organization that needs overhaul. However, apart from his reiterated insistence that Member States must pay their fair share, which, he claims, only Britain and four others from the 28 Member States are currently doing, we have in the interview no specifics on what kind structural change, if any, he seeks for NATO. We only hear that NATO has not been prepared to deal with the threat of international terrorism.

All of this is heady stuff, even if sketchy.  However, it is in another area,  Trump’s remarks on Russia and the terms he named for possibly lifting sanctions, that we find convincing proof that the President-elect’s approach to foreign affairs is not just the sum of isolated tactical considerations per given topical issues but a complete reinvention of the guiding principles of our foreign policy.

What we are witnessing is a shift to a new strategic, geopolitical paradigm. 

In the past 22 or so years, going back to the second term of Bill Clinton, the ideology of Neoconservatism with its stress on democracy promotion as being the whole of national interest, dictated policy decisions that amounted to the tail wagging the dog.  The Baltic States were admitted into NATO in its 2004 enlargement because they wanted it. The decision to station US, German and other NATO brigades in Poland and other states along the Russian border taken last July in Warsaw and implemented, in the case of Poland, by US forces in the past several days, was justified by the anxiety of these countries over the possibility of Russian aggression, even though our action has been highly provocative vis-à-vis Russia and brought us ever closer to direct confrontation. 

In the interview, Donald Trump changed entirely the metrics by which sanctions on Russia would be lifted. Instead of fulfillment of the Minsk Accords over the Donbas, which in any case, always depended more on the wishes of Kiev than on Moscow, the relaxation of sanctions would now be measured against progress on agreements to curb the nuclear arms race and achieve significant nuclear disarmament, issues that are fully within the power of the Kremlin. To be sure, these issues today are more complex than they were in the heyday of disarmament talks because of the US anti-ballistic missile installations in Poland and Romania, because of the forward stationing of NATO human and materiel resources in the former Warsaw Pact countries, because of the standing invitations to Ukraine and Georgia to enter NATO.  So any negotiations between Washington and Moscow will be very complex.  

However, the point is that Trump’s statement shows that he is focused on the big picture, on the triangular relationship between Washington, Moscow and Beijing that he believes to be of vital importance in keeping the peace globally, rather than on some amorphous reliance on expanding democracy globally on the unproven assumption that democracies among themselves are peace loving.

These elements in Donald Trump’s thinking, quite unexpected in a businessman, however wealthy or successful, not to mention in a real estate developer, bring him very close to the Realism of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, while his setting nuclear disarmament as a key goal, aligns him with Ronald Reagan and…strange to say, with Barack Obama at the very start of his presidency.


If Donald Trump can stave off the jackals from the media and the US foreign policy establishment who have formed a snarling circle around him even before the takes office. his term(s) in office may very well be among the greatest in a half century or more.



© Gilbert Doctorow, 2017




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 G.Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.