Trump Was Right About Russia
President Trump’s instincts, insight and intuition were especially accurate on eight major policy issues:
- U.S. domestic energy production
- Trade agreements
- Border security
- Manufacturing repatriation
- Defense, national security, and space
- The Middle East (Israel and Iran)
Each of the eight policy areas could take up a lengthy essay, and each was grounded in an essential American patriotism and pragmatism; all are connected by holding a priority in U.S. national interests. They share an overlapping relationship and are mutually reinforcing. They should also not be associated only with Trump, but with anyone who shares a similar policy outlook, because above all else they rest on a “Realpolitik” (meaning, a realistic, clear-headed approach to getting things done in a productive, sensible way, versus ideology and theory). I’d like to single out and discuss just one of these critical policy areas: Russia.
Early in Trump’s first campaign for president, he made an arresting public statement: the U.S. and Russia could have a normal, even productive relationship. He framed this position as a question, and asked, “why not?” Indeed, his overall posture toward foreign relations, is that a fundamental human relationship exists between countries, and this human element should be exploited (this comes from being a businessman, rather than a politician or lawyer, and much of his cabinet was also from the private, commercial sector). Even toward an otherwise belligerent North Korea, Trump took an extroverted, direct, businesslike and personal approach to its leadership. This of course didn’t sit well with the Washington establishment that makes a living off of “protocols” and formalities, rather than direct, open personal contact (Nixon and Kissinger were perhaps an exception in their Realpolitik approach to China).
This Washington, D.C. establishment is dedicated to maintaining the posture of Cold War relationships and interpretations. Why? Because even though the “Establishment” is often deemed conservative, in reality it is not -- its members are inward looking, progressive in their self-interests, and casually opportunistic. They will do anything if it perpetuates their careers, and provides security to them professionally and personally. That means that enemies must be constantly created and maintained because fear and uncertainty are their currency. Above all, the progressive Left that defines the core of this Establishment, is itself defined by what it hates and what it seeks to eradicate, rather than what it admires and works to build. Trump (especially his personality type) threatened the Establishment’s thin veneer of credibility.
This explains the current White House (and State Department) foreign policy stance: they have no actual business experience, so they fall back on theory and especially, ideology. This is also dangerous concerning U.S. policy toward Iran, which is another Trump success: he was smart enough to know that Iran must be militarily contained.
Trump saw through the foreign policy establishment’s self-serving dysfunction, and to him, the Cold War was somebody else’s war, not ours, or at least not our obligation to maintain if other options could be developed in the interest of cooperation, or in the management of growing risks. This is how businessmen think: contention and disagreement are an opportunity to change direction, and look for ways to solve problems, build business and grow economies; in a word, how to create wealth.
This is another reason why Trump’s background in real estate and casino operations was so fascinating: real-estate investment makes a claim on future stability and growth; casinos and gambling embody a spirit of risk-taking, but also require a keen eye on the odds, and expected payoffs, as well as an ability to call and raise. In foreign policy, war is often thought a method of profiteering, but smart players know that peace is the true capitalist tool because it brings more people to the tables, making them regular customers; it grows revenues and increases employment; it paves the way for investment and allows banks, capital, and even government funding to find their way into productive new ventures, versus current runaway federal debt financed spending.
America and Russia could be allies and natural business partners, or at least stable competitors. But the Cold War mentality of the Establishment in Washington makes a living off fighting, fear, and friction. It also of course represents U.S. corporations and other interests that see Russia as a natural resource prize; that was largely the excitement of 1990 during Glasnost: Western interests could grab Russia’s prized resources in minerals, oil, gas, agriculture, and certain engineering and manufacturing, and engage in an effective hostile takeover. Trump wasn't immune to some of these interests either, but his overall approach was engagement, and instead the U.S. is following a dangerous path of ignorance and escalation.
Trump was actually a peace president, including in his correct understanding of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. The Biden administration is by contrast, going down a dead-end policy path, facilitating a three-pronged global risk consisting of support for radical Islam, a superpower conflict with Russia, and U.S. domestic civil war. None of these would have existed or existed in the same manner and to the same degree under a Trump presidency.
Matthew G. Andersson is a former CEO and executive advisor in the Aerospace and Defense practice of Booz Allen Hamilton. He worked in Russia and the Former Soviet Union and studied with White House National Security Advisor W.W. Rostow at the Johnson School of Public Affairs.