A panel of experts weighs in on the choice American voters face this election
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord and a Senior Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. Не provded this topic for the Discussion Panel of prominent experts
Political commentators of all stripes have agreed on one sad fact about the 2016 presidential election: never before in living memory has the electorate had to choose between two candidates who are so distrusted and/or disliked by the majority among us. The campaign has seen both parties engage in personal mud-slinging and misrepresentation of the policy positions of their opponent. Each side has repeatedly called the other a liar and corrupt. It would be amusing, if it were not tragic, because one of the two will be our next president.
For his part, Donald Trump has contributed to the confusion by bringing into the final race against Hillary the methods he used so successfully against his rivals in the Republican primaries, namely making outrageous statements about immigration, about race relations and the like to set himself apart from the stuffed shirt Establishment figures. Given that so many voters line up for or against those emotive issues, whereas they either do not understand or could not care less about international relations, there is a compelling logic to what Donald is doing.
But at the same time he is creating a distraction from the one substantive issue where he and Hillary are truly at opposite poles. And that issue is precisely America’s future foreign policy and whether we face 4 years of peace with Donald and his accommodative approach to world governance or a high probability of nuclear war with Hillary and her constellation of Neocon advisers egging us on to ever more provocative assertions of a global hegemony, and in particular, to brazen attempts to "contain” both Russia and China.
The question for our panel is whether and why we can trust Donald Trump to deliver a peace agenda once he is in the Oval Office? Do we take on good faith or do we have demonstrable reasons to believe his promises to get along with Russia and China, to pull back from America’s over-exposed positions in NATO, especially in defense of the Baltic States against a fictive Russian aggressor? Should we be ready for yet another bait-and-switch election as we had with Obama eight years ago?
My personal reassurance that I am backing the right man is to look at his enemies. The whole US foreign policy Establishment, led by its Neocon cheerleaders, is doing what it can to prevent his election. Is that enough of an insurance policy? Are there other factors?
Expert Panel Contributions
A Crystal-Clear Choice
By Martin Sieff
Martin Sieff is a Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow and former Managing Editor, International Affairs at United Press International. He is the author of Cycles of Change: The Three Great Cycles of American History and the Coming Crises That Will Lead to the Fourth (2015) available from www.martinsieff.com
The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in this year’s US presidential election could not be of more consequence: It represents the last real chance to end the mad stampede of the US political establishment towards a thermonuclear world war with Russia, with China and Iran at the very least also arraigned on the sidelines against the United States.
There is no doubt that if Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is elected he will immediately face a no-holds-barred all-out attempt by the combined Democratic and Republican establishments and the current military-industrial leadership to delegitimize him and either drive him from power or force him to bow and accept their existing complex of reckless policies.
However, Trump has made repeatedly clear in serious policy speeches that he is determined to push through his reassessment, defuse tensions with Russia and end the dangerous strategic over-extension of US forces throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia.
There can be no guarantee that Trump will succeed in achieving his expressed goals in foreign policy. He will certainly not be adovish or disarming president. But he has been totally consistent in his expressed determination to be a more cautious and responsible one.
By contrast, a vote for Hillary Clinton will ensure, at the very best, more of the existing collection of aggressive and dangerous US global security policies posing, to the apparent contentment of the American public as "responsible” ones of "containment” and "stabilization.”
Even more alarming are the genuine concerns over Hillary Clinton’s health record, her documented bouts of uncontrollable rageagainst personal staff during her periods as First Lady and Secretary of State. The public has also just learned from published FBI documentation about Ms. Clinton’s feckless incompetence in the way she handled her personal communications during her four years as secretary of state.
These issues alone should utterly disqualify Ms. Clinton from consideration for the post of Chief Executive of the United States, in charge of the nuclear release codes.
It was not hard to predict, or expect, that George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama would both prove to be "bait and switch” presidents. Bush was unquestionably one of the most stupid individuals ever to sit in the Oval Office. Obama has consistently been – especially on foreign policy and national security issues – one of the weakest and most malleable.
Trump’s lifelong personality has been entirely different from both Bush and Obama. He can be expected to be extremely pragmatic in making tactical reversals and course corrections when specific policy initiatives fail or set off unanticipated counter-reactions. However, Trump’s basic commitment to his overall goals of ending US global strategic over-extension and restoring sane relations with the other great thermonuclear power appears to be solid and sincere.
Whether Trump will succeed in achieving these goals, of course, we cannot say. But he will seriously try to do so. The choice between him and Clinton therefore, should be a crystal clear one to all Americans.
Martin Sieff is a fellow of the American University in Moscow and the Global Policy Institute in Washington. He is the former chief foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International (UPI). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.
He is the author most recently of Cycles of Change (Amazon-Kindle,2015), a study of the patterns of US political history from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama and of Gathering Storm exploring the coming domestic and international crises about to hit the United States, both available at www.martinsieff.com
Trump and Clinton, Clinton and Trump
By Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong is former political counsellor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.
President Clinton means more wars. Deeply implicated in the wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria, she is contaminated by the noxious gospel of American Exceptionalism; the arrogant (and profoundly ignorant) assumption that the US is morally justified in doing anything anywhere to anyone at any time because its intentions are pure. "American Exceptionalism" is manifested today chiefly by armed force: military bases around the world, US special forces active in half the countries and war after war since the close of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. It should be clear – even if it isn't to the Exceptionalists – that the US is losing these wars, that each sets up the conditions for the next and that their consequences, far from the "stability" fantasised by the Exceptionalists, are uniformly disastrous. Clinton will end none of them and will start new ones. Added to which, given her extreme rhetoric, there is the non-zero possibility of bringing us to World War Last against Russia and China.
Trump, on the other hand, boasts of his skills at negotiating The Deal. This deserves more attention than it has received. "American Exceptionalism" never negotiates because there is nothing to negotiate about: there's the Exceptionalist way, the correct way, and there are all the other ways and they're all wrong; other countries' national interests count for nothing against the Exceptional. For the Exceptionalists a "negotiation" is a command to do it our way – the right way – or we bomb you. This is not what Trump is talking about: in a real deal both parties feel that they have achieved a good result; a real negotiator respects the other side's interests and takes them into account; a real deal doesn't need to be bombed into place. As US power drains away – and even Zbigniew Brzezinski understands that it is "no longer the globally imperial power" he said it was only twenty years ago – managing the decline will be enormously important for the safety of the world. Far better that we have The Dealmaker for four or eight years than The Exceptionalist.
Can President Trump deliver on his promise to step away from confrontation and wars? There's a very good reason to expect he can. The years of the so-called "imperial presidency" have shown us that while American presidents have to struggle to achieve anything domestically they can start wars ad libitum – especially now that the secret of disguising neocon aims behind a froth of humanitarian rhetoric has been discovered. So all President Trump has to do is not start them.
Therefore Trump is the obvious candidate to hope for and there are good reasons to think Trump can deliver: his starting approach is to negotiate and all he has to do to prevent a new war is to not start it. The other differences between the two candidates fade into froth and bubbles: no more Exceptionalist wars trumps – if my feeble pun may be accepted – everything else.
The choice is simple: War or Peace
By Edward Lozansky
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow Sate and National Research Nuclear Universities
Now that the presidential campaign enters its final stages one has to find some simple arguments to convince the electorate whom they should vote for. Long essays written even by the most sophisticated political technologists, journalists or scholars won’t do the job.
Intellectuals and well-educated people have already made up their minds. Some of them might have their own, sometimes hidden agenda, so trying to persuade them to change their minds is close to "mission impossible.” At the same time, regular folks have to worry about day to day business and do not have time to read these essays anyway.
Of course, issues like jobs, immigration, foreign trade, gun control and race relations are definitely important for determining the quality of everyday life. But there is a still more important; I’d say existential issue which has been hardly mentioned during the campaign: who most likely will get us into a nuclear war that will end civilization as we know it?
Although both candidates in their public statements concentrate on the threat of terrorism the military in the U.S. and other NATO countries talk about high probability of large-scale conflicts with Russia and even with China.
Professor Michael Klare from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA has recently analyzed in the "Le Monde Diplomatique” the details of the recent report of by the Institute of National Strategic Studies (INSS) which is a branch of the US National Defense University. His conclusion, and he is absolutely right, is that presently the "major powers are planning for 'big wars' - large-scale, high-level conflicts.”
"Such conflicts which long considered most unlikely, are now deemed 'plausible' by western military strategists…More worrying is the fact that many politicians believe that war is not only possible, but may break out at any moment - a view that historically has tended to precipitate military responses where diplomatic solutions might have been possible,” – writes Klare.
Sadly, western Main Stream Media (MSM) in the best traditions of Soviet-style agitprop is overwhelmingly in tune with Hillary’s war-mongering rhetoric and her neocon and liberal interventionist backers. However, ordinary citizens in their right mind should be encouraged to see through this propaganda to the clear facts.
All the wars that both Clintons and Obama got us into should make folks take a pause and think. For my taste, Trump said many foolish things on the campaign trail but those were just words and he had the courage to apologize. Hillary, on another hand, is responsible for many serious problems, if not outright crimes and these were not just words but deeds. At the same time, Trump at least promises to steer the country out of war with Russia and concentrate on defeating our real enemies like ISIS and al-Qaeda who are indeed threatening the security of the United States and of our European allies.
This is why for me the choice is very simple: Vote Trump if for peace, vote Hillary if for war.
Hillary Is Not Up to the Job, Trump Is
By Jim Jatras
Jim Jatras is a former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership
In assessing the fitness – or lack thereof – of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to be the next U.S. president, let’s start by taking stock of where we are now and the legacy Hillary would seek to build upon. When all is said and done, being president is not just a list of policy views (though on that Trump is also vastly superior to Hillary) but the measure of the man (or woman, as the case may be) in dealing with foreign leaders.
Consider the pathetic, embarrassing figure of Barack Obama on the world stage. He got elected in 2009 as the "anti-Bush” who would restore America’s prestige in the world, for which he promptly got a Nobel Prize for having done precisely nothing.
Eight years later, how’s that working out? The United States is neither loved nor feared. In particular, Obama himself seems to have become an object of derision.
Case in point: Obama recently cancelled a meeting with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who had publicly called him a "son of a whore.” Duterte is waging a harsh war on drug gangs (low-tech, but any worse than Obama’s targeting terror suspects with drones?), and to the jihadist Abu Sayyaf movement (an ISIS ally) he says "I will eat you alive.”
Duterte says he is not an American puppet, he’s the leader of a sovereign state, and is responsible only to the people of his country. Some have called him the Philippines’ Donald Trump Philippines first! Can you blame his salty language when being nagged by the likes of Obama? (Hillary commented: "There has to be a certain level of respect that is expected on both sides.” Evidently there isn’t. Just imagine what she could expect from tough guys like Duterte.)
The "thrilla in Manila” tempest came on the heels of Obama’s poor showing in Beijing at the G20, where his Chinese hosts "dissed” him by declining to provide the customary red carpet and airplane descent staircase, forcing Obama to emerge from the built-in metal stairway of the aircraft. (China says it was not deliberate and blames the U.S. for refusing a Chinese translator.) Obama’s meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, mainly on Syria, was universally described as "icy,” as the administration doggedly sticks to its demand of "regime change” in Damascus and trying to protect al-Qaeda allies in Aleppo from the Syrian army and Russian air force.
More recent "triumphs”: Hillary opposed the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (spokesman: "She has always valued a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU. And she values a strong British voice in the EU”) and Obama went to London to speak against Brexit; the Brits promptly voted for it. Obama and Hillary endorsed Angela Merkel’s open door for dangerous migrants (Obama: "being on the right side of history”; Hillary: Merkel is "the greatest leader in Europe”) and she gets hammered at the polls in her own home state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern by-elections by the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany. Merkel might not seek reelection next year.
The bottom line is that Obama and Hillary clearly aren’t up to playing rough with the big boys. They are both provocative and weak, the worst combination.
Hillary, if she wins, can be expected to take Obama-ism to new lows. On substance, she would step up the provocative, belligerent side of the Obama legacy. Her shadow Secretary of Defense, Michele Flournoy, has indicated an interest in bombing Syrian forces early next year. Hillary’s shadow CIA Director, Michael Morrell, wants the U.S. to assassinate Russian and Iranian personnel in Syria ("covertly” but with our calling card, so they’ll "get the message”). In short, Hillary would double down on the bloody fingerprints she’s left in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, and Syria. A nuclear confrontation with Russia or China or both can’t be ruled out.
At the same time, on personal style, she would evoke no respect from her interlocutors. What’s will she do if challenged – cough on them?
In sharp contrast, as shown in Mexico City, Trump can be both tough and reasonable, the best combination. Who’s capable of going toe to toe with Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, and other tough customers, not to mention non-wimpy allies like Bibi Netanyahu, whose contempt for Obama is well-known? Whom will they respect, and whom will they think they can game the way they gamed Obama and expect to game Hillary?
On Making America Great Again... and Less Threatening.
By Vladimir Golstein
Vladimir Golstein is Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at Brown University
Foreign policy is the area where American presidents have traditionally the greatest leeway, and where they can therefore do the greatest damage both to the US and to the rest of the world.
Recent foreign policy and military ventures of one American administration after another is cause for great concern, both from the moral perspective (militaristic adventures that push the amount of deaths into thousands can hardly be morally justified, especially when no tangible benefits can be demonstrated), but also from the perspective of the very survival of the human species. It is clear for any unbiased observer that endless challenges, intimidations, or provocations of both Russia and China can easily escalate into nuclear confrontation.
Judging by the neocons' almost unanimous and extremely vocal support of only one candidate, the foreign policy establishment--the one that has been behind the majority of recent foreign policy decisions--expects Hillary Clinton to continue along the business as usual model. I use the term ‘business’ in a dual sense, since numerous economic reports underscore how the military industrial complex (MIC) is thriving under these policies of threats and paranoia.
Since financial and business interests do seem to drive all sort of policies, including foreign policy, it stands to reason to question the MIC’srole, and its attitudes toward both candidates. There is a theory that once in office, Donald Trump, despite his promises to challenge and rectify the old course, will be told that unless he wants a total collapse of the US economy, he better continue with it.
That's a false concern in my opinion. Trump's policies of revisiting major issues of US foreign policy, including the role of NATO and the ever growing list of global ambitions, should not necessarily result in dismantling the MIC, but rather in its re-orientation. That applies to all kinds of businesses, by the way. Why not switch from offensive to defensive weaponry? The US does need a strong military that is capable of defending the country if it is challenged or threatened by economic and military rivals. It simply does not need a military that thrives on escalation of threats, intimidation and paranoia. If Europeans feel threatened by Russia, they should put their money where their mouth is and provide an adequate defense. The US President should take care of his own citizens first, their domestic security and prosperity.
With his promise of a more inward-looking policy, Trump is by far the superior candidate. There is nothing wrong in bringing a variety of industrial jobs, including the military jobs, back to the United States, nor is there anything wrong with focus on issues which really matter: such as the creation of regional partnerships with the US's potential rivals like Russia, China, or Iran. These partnerships can produce a spirit of trust and cooperation, rather than demonization and escalation of hatreds. I therefore see Trump's candidacy as viable and realistic. Fumbling economics, increased dangers of military confrontation, the failure to respond appropriately to 21st century challenges all point to the need to overhaul the blatantly inadequate policies articulated by the end of the Cold War. Trump seems to be the only candidate with the vision and ability to offer something new, realistic and directed toward international cooperation rather than escalation of hostilities and violence.
Can we trust Donald Trump to deliver a peace agenda once he is in the Oval Office?
By James Carden
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation
No. The sad fact of the matter is that despite the thin ray of hope that Trump’s promise to improve relations with Russia carries with it, we cannot trust Donald J. Trump with the Presidency.
Period. Full Stop.
Leave aside his highly objectionable immigration "plan”, his pledge to boost defense spending, his reliance on crude jingoist and racially antagonizing rhetoric, his questionable business record, and his utter lack of experience, temperament and judgement and please ask yourself this: Has Donald J. Trump shown, over the course of the past 18 months, any sign that he might be able learn or to grow while in office?
That, it seems to me, is the question. And to see why, let’s turn to the career of another entertainer-turned-politician: Ronald Reagan.
As readers are no doubt familiar, Mr. Reagan was a Republican cold warrior nonpareil. He campaigned as what William F. Buckley would have called ‘the rightward most viable’ Republican candidate in 1976 and 1980. In his first three years in office, he radically increased defense expenditures and publicly called the Soviet Union an "evil empire.” And yet, by the middle of his term, the career hardliner dismissed the advice of his longtime coterie of hawkish advisers and under the guidance of his Secretary of State, George Shultz, and, importantly, his wife Nancy, embarked on a series of summits with his Soviet counterpart that led to the INF treaty and a general easing of tensions which immediately preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In other words: President Reagan questioned his own long held assumptions. JM Keynes famously (and perhaps apocryphally) once said that "when the facts change, I change my mind; what do you do sir?” We know what Reagan did. And for that he is owed the thanks of a grateful nation.
Can anyone envision Trump doing likewise?
This is not to say - as so many neoconservative Republicans have - that the only choice left is to vote for Hillary Clinton. The Clinton family’s embarrassing, hungry, grasping acquisitiveness may, hopefully, and at long last, be their final undoing - should reports that the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is investigating the pay-for-play scheme commonly known as The Clinton Foundation prove accurate.
And so, I propose an alternative, one that will allow voters to at once retain their dignity and to show that they object to this sham election worthy of a banana republic:
Stay home. Don’t vote.
In the meantime, members of the responsible, non-interventionist Left and the responsible, non-interventionist Right should waste no time in finding and backing a challenger to whoever emerges victorious in November.
Four years of Trump and/or Clinton will perhaps finally awaken the latent exhaustion with regime change, military interventions and new cold war among the wider electorate.
Four years goes by in a flash: the time for responsible Republicans and Democrats to prepare for 2020 is now.
Trump will dismantle the "Deep State” and liberate American foreign policy
By Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst and radio host at Sputnik News
The main differentiator between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton when it comes to their foreign policy platforms is their relationship to the "deep state”, which is just another name for the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies that ensure strategic continuity between the US’ phased regime change transitions (otherwise known as "elections”). Hillary Clinton is the ultimate insider and has cultivated extensive contacts with the neo-conservative strategists who have run and influenced the US’ foreign affairs for almost the past three decades. Popularly referred to as "neocons”, the leading faces of this movement are Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, each of whom believes that American primacy must be achieved through hard power and the weaponization of chaos theory to divide and rule Eurasia, a disastrous imperative which has regrettably led to the never-ending wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The neocons and their acolytes infest the "deep state” and are most prominently represented in the CIA and State Department, from where they exercise controlling influence over the US’ international engagements.
On the other hand, Trump is closer to the Pentagon and the Justice Department. Only the first matters when it comes to foreign policy, but the latter’s corresponding relevance will be revealed shortly. Trump’s appeal to the Armed Forces is because of his strong stance on supporting veterans and his personal relationship with former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn, who not only advises his campaign, but was even diplomatically pragmatic enough to the point of accepting an invitation to visit Moscow last December and celebrate RT’s 10th anniversary. It was during this time that he was photographed sitting at the same table as President Putin, which contributed to Hillary Clinton’s wild conspiracy theory that Trump is somehow a KGB agent. The reason that Trump is being attacked in such an outrageously false manner is because he plans to dismantle the neocon-led "deep state” and replace its proponents with individuals like Flynn, who are proud American patriots but advocate a pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Russia when it comes to fighting terrorism and other shared areas of global concern.
Trump understandably has appeal among the rank-and-file bureaucrats who make up the "deep state” structure and are aware of just how counterintuitive the neocon policies have been for American interests, but it’s just that they need a courageous leader at the top who’s willing to take these entrenched ideologues head-on and remove them from the bureaucratic decision-making equation. Trump will do this by putting the right people in the right positions who will then proceed to ‘clean house’ and expel, isolate, and/or contain the nefarious actors within the "deep state” that have been serving globalist, and not American, interests for the past four presidencies. Hillary Clinton won’t do that and will in fact only make the problem much worse than it’s ever been by peddling presidential influence and favors through the Clinton Foundation, which Peter Schweizer convincingly argues in his bestseller book "Clinton Cash” was just an institutional vehicle for unprecedented international corruption.
A future President Trump might actually have to go as far as having his Justice Department investigate and indict not only the Clinton Foundation, but also the Soros Foundation too, which was just revealed by Wikileaks to be a complementary instrument of corruption that sometimes even surprisingly influenced Secretary of State Clinton herself. This would be the only way to ensure that the pernicious and corrosive effect of the neocon "deep state” is neutralized from the US government once and for all, and with a slew of questionable cases surrounding both the Clinton and Soros Foundations, it shouldn’t take too long for an objective criminal investigation to determine that their leaders and cohorts should at the very least be brought to trial. There’s no guarantee that a President Trump would fully succeed in rooting out the warmongering neocons from the American "deep state” and finally liberating its institutions from their occupation, but he’s still the best chance that the US has for completely revamping its foreign policy away from sowing the seeds of pandemonium and towards practicing the virtues of mutually beneficial pragmatism.