Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agenda

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Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agenda
Published 2-12-2016, 19:00
In the end, the 2016 US presidential campaign did what democracies are supposed to do: it gave the electorate a clear choice between two different visions of the country’s future and the policies each party proposed to take us there. And the electorate did what it is supposed to do in a democracy when faced with the prospect of "more of the same,” meaning more impoverishment of the middle and lower classes, more risk of a world war: it ‘threw the bums out.”

In the end, the 2016 US presidential campaign did what democracies are supposed to do: it gave the electorate a clear choice between two different visions of the country’s future and the policies each party proposed to take us there. And the electorate did what it is supposed to do in a democracy when faced with the prospect of "more of the same,” meaning more impoverishment of the middle and lower classes, more risk of a world war: it ‘threw the bums out.”

Unfortunately, on the way to this happy outcome the level of political culture on display by the presidential candidates and their campaign staffs sank to unprecedented lows and vicious personal attacks on each other often obscured the policy differences between the candidates.

Now that the outgoing President Obama and the incoming President Trump have shaken hands at their first transition meeting in the White House, it is time for the rest of us to make our peace with one another. Making peace, however, should not mean ending our differences of opinion on policies. On the contrary, what the country needs now is a good dose of debate and in particular partisan, as opposed to nonpartisan discussion of our foreign policy issues, since we have for the past 4 years at least been stumbling into a very dangerous confrontation with both Russia and China without the benefit of free public discussion of our options.

What concretely can we all do to force the media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now rather than sulk and spit venom at the victorious Trump team

The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Gilbert Doctorow,

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.



Expert Panel Contributions

Words alone can't force the media and foreign policy establishment to change anything.

By William Dunkerley

William Dunkerley is author of Ukraine in the Crosshairs and Litvinenko Murder Case Solved. He is a media business analyst, principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, and a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.

I don't think it is realistic to expect official Washington to respond to reason about Russia. Reasoning hasn't worked so far.

Trump has certainly set a softer tone toward Putin and Russia compared to the American political mainstream. But who will be the allies in his administration? Google what Mike Pence has said about Putin in the past. Do the same for Jeff Sessions. There's little reason for much optimism there. I'm not saying that the Trump presidency won't be more open to policy change. But it doesn't seem like it will be a cakewalk.

Many analysts, historians, and writers have written multitudes of reasonable articles and reports with an eye to correcting blatant misinformation. I truly respect the intelligence, knowledge, and dedication that all have shown. I've written my share of stories too. Our targets have been the fabrications about Russia that have appeared in the Western press and have been espoused by political leaders.

But, I just can't identify any concrete change that has resulted. I don't mean to say that we haven't changed any minds at all. But we haven't brought about change in the fundamental problem: a counterfactual and highly negative view of Russia and its leaders. Isn't it time that we admit that rational explanation has failed and look for another solution?

In all candor I personally admit to having failed to effectuate change regarding the many issues I've addressed. There are only two exceptions. The first is the legal framework for Russia's media sector. Early in Putin's original presidency I led an effort that successfully advocated for the Yeltsin-era draconian laws to be changed. The second is the coronial witch hunt for Russian state responsibility in the Alexander Litvinenko affair. The efforts of my colleagues and I succeeded in taking that witch hunt off the table.

However these were not causes about which we merely wrote articles. These were efforts directed at effectuating concrete change, not simply debunking fabrications. We actually interacted with key players to gain their accession to making the changes for which we advocated. In my book Litvinenko Murder Case Solved I described this as a strategy-agile methodology, and gave it the name "Surgical Solution of Practical Problems," (SSOPP).

Just writing articles and speaking out to correct misconceptions has become a standard operating procedure (SOP). Methinks we need to move into something more like SSOPP.

The Trump presidency may or may not provide greater opportunity for making changes. But frankly I don't believe that Trump was ushered in by an enlightened American electorate. This was a campaign by two highly unpopular candidates, each seeking to make the other seem more unpopular. To me the choice seems to have been made more at a gut level rather than cerebrally.

I don't think his election evinces popular support for rethinking Russia. We're not looking at the power of an idea whose time has come.

This is not a time for more debate and discussion. Such activities might be psychotherapeutic for those of us who fret over all the fake news. But it's not a modality for real change. Now is the time for concrete action like SSOPP to bring about real change, not just promote more talk.

Can we engage with the anti-détente Establishment? And is this essential for Trump’s pro-détente policy to succeed?

By Stephen Cohen

Prof. Stephen Frand Cohen is an American scholar of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University. His academic work concentrates on modern Russian history since the Bolshevik Revolution and the country’s relationship with the United States.

Powerful bipartisan opponents of any cooperation with ‘Putin’s Russia’ virtually monopolize the American political-media establishment and seem unrelenting. This means that pro-détente leadership both in Washington and Moscow sides is crucial, as suggested by the past.

Détente had a long 20th-century history. This history teaches that at least four prerequisites are required: a determined American president who is willing to fight for détente against fierce mainstream political opposition, including in his own party; one who can rally at least some public support by prominent American figures who did not support his candidacy for the presidency; who has a few like-minded appointees and aides at his side; and who has a pro-détente partner in the Kremlin, as Reagan had with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Trump seems determined. During his primary and presidential campaigns, he alone repeatedly called for cooperation with Russia for the sake of US national security and he alone refused to indulge in the rampant fact-free vilification of Russian President Putin. Trump also seems little impressed by the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment, even contemptuous of its policies and record during the preceding two decades. Its continuing opposition may not deter him.

Less clear is whether or not many of his previous opponents in either party will support détente under Trump or whether or not he will find in his inner circle—particularly a secretary of state and ambassador to Moscow—who will wisely advise and assist him in this vital pursuit, as Reagan did. As for a partner in Kremlin, Putin is certainly ready for détente, as he has said and demonstrated many times, contrary to what is said about him as an inveterate "aggressor” in the mainstream American media.

In many respects, the new Cold War is more dangerous than was the preceding 40-year Cold War. Three of its current fronts—Ukraine, the Baltic region, and Syria—are fraught with the possibility of hot war. Détente succeeds when mutual national interests are agreed upon and negotiated. The Ukrainian civil and proxy war has become a disaster for Washington, Moscow, and the Ukrainian people themselves. Ending it is therefore a common interest, but perhaps the most difficult to negotiate. NATO’s ongoing buildup up in the Baltic region and in Poland, and Russia’s counter-buildup on its Western borders, is fraught with accidental or intentional war.

Avoiding war, as Reagan and Gorbachev resolved, is an existential common interest. If Trump is determined, he will have the power to end the buildup and even undo it, though the new eastern-most members of NATO will loudly protest. On the other hand, despite claims to the contrary, Putin’s Russia represents no threat whatsoever to these countries, as wise Trump advisers will assure him. Agreement on Syria should be the easiest. Both Trump and Putin have insisted that the real threat there is not Syrian President Assad but the Islamic State and other terrorists. The first major step of a new détente may well be the US-Russian military alliance against terrorist forces in Syria that even President Obama once proposed and abandoned.

There are, of course, many other new Cold War conflicts, large and smaller ones, but some could be easily and quickly negotiated in order to build elite and popular support for détente in the US. This could begin with the "banomania” both sides have enacted since 2014. Putin, for example, could end the ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans, which wrecked the hopes of scores of U.S. families and Russian children. This would humanize détente and soften American opposition.

The largest example of bans is, of course, Western economic sanctions on Russia, which Putin wants ended. A more complex issue, this is likely to come to the fore only if or when détente progresses. On the other hand, a number of European countries, which have suffered from Russia’s counter-sanctions, also want them ended, so Trump will not be without allies if he moves in this direction.

Whether or not Trump vigorously pursues détente with Russia may tell us much about his presidency more generally if only because an American president has more freedom of action and less constraints on him in foreign policy than in any other policy realm. And no issue is now more important than the state of US-Russian relations.

By Patrick Armstrong

Patrick Armstrong is former political counsellor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow

The encouraging truth is that reality eventually triumphs; the discouraging truth is that it only does so over a long and painful time. Trump's victory is, in its way, a victory for reality but a mighty effort remains.

What can we do in forums like this one? Keep talking about reality I suppose: the reality that the neocon domination of Washington has failed in every way possible; the reality that Washington's endless wars have been failures; the reality that every failed war has planted the seeds of the next; the reality that a extraordinary opportunity was squandered in the 1990s; the reality that making Russia into an enemy is stupid, unnecessary and extremely dangerous; the reality that "exceptionalism" is exceptionally dangerous, destructive and stupid; the reality that the MSM is lying about Syria, about Russia, about Ukraine and about almost everything else; the reality that Putin is not a "thug" determined to re-create the USSR; the reality that Russia is not "isolated", in "economic freefall" or on the edge of "regime change"; the reality that "The West" has been on the wrong course for two decades. The reality that the neocon/liberal interventionist route leads to destruction.

We may eventually hope that our little drops of water wear away the stone. Perhaps some of us have had an effect on Trump's thinking, or Flynn's thinking, or Bannon's thinking. But we will probably never know and, in truth, it's almost impossible to work out the influence.

But if Trump can get the Russia relationship right, then a great number of Washington's international entanglements will be easier to remedy. And he does seem to be interested in getting that right.

But I think, in the last analysis, we have to agree with the great physicist Max Planck:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

In short, a new foreign policy for the USA will have to advance, to paraphrase Planck again, "one political funeral at a time".

But it's encouraging that Trump's election has produced so many political funerals.

What concretely can we all do to force the media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now rather than sulk and spit venom at the victorious Trump team?

By Andrew Korybko

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst and radio host at Sputnik News

There isn’t much that regular folks can do to force the foreign policy establishment to change its course. This is an internal battle that the Trump Administration will have to wage in rearranging the "deep state” (the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies) and replacing counter-productive elements to the best and most realistic extent that the present situation allows. I wrote about this more in-depth for my Sputnik article titled "Here’s What Trump’s Foreign Policy Will Look Like” and cautioned everyone to temper their expectations for a full-on foreign policy pivot across every domain, though nevertheless highlighting the most likely fields in which Obama’s disastrous legacy could conceivably be reversed so long as Trump is able to place the right people in the right places (an important conditional which I expand upon in the article).

The media, however, is a whole other matter altogether, and that’s where the average person can make a tangibly substantial difference. The Mainstream Media’s venom will continue unabated, intensified even more than ever before by the Clintonian Counter-Revolution riots that aim to produce a plethora of governing crisis for Trump before he even enters into office. Many of them are tied in one way or another to billionaire Color Revolution financier and high-level behind-the-scenes Democratic Party strategist and kingmaker George Soros. Raising awareness about him and sharing The Duran’s republication of a 1998 60 Minutes interview with this shadowy figure can go a long way in further delegitimizing the already discredited Mainstream Media narrative against Trump. However, disbelieving in it isn’t enough, since it must be countered, and therein lies the opportunity for New Media.

The most feverish psychological warfare operation ever conducted on the minds of Americans was the War On The People, whereby The Establishment ordered its Mainstream Media, "academia”, and pop culture shills to try as hard as they could to convince Americans that Trump was a "misogynist”, "racist”, "fascist”, "white supremacist” pig so that that the masses wouldn’t vote in support of his game-changing foreign policies. This epically failed and it proved that many Americans no longer believe in or trust any of The Establishment’s co-opted influencers, and are actually more inclined to reject what they hear from them nowadays then to even pay them any attention. What Americans should now do is explore all of the other New Media sites that are out there and also seriously consider contributing to them if they have the time, inclination, and ability to do so (whether under their own name or a pseudonym).

Middle America won in this election, but making its voice heard just once every four years isn’t enough and won’t help to sustain the progress that is poised to be made, especially in the face of the relentless Clintonian Counter-Revolution’s Soros-linked street destabilizations and media war. The most optimal way for Americans to protect their democracy and remind The Establishment of their existence is to embrace New Media as much as possible, since it was due to this platform that The Establishment was defeated in the first place. Ultimately, it will be because of New Media that the failed status quo which has plagued the US on all fronts ever since the end of the Cold War stands its most realistic chance at finally being reversed, which is why it’s so important for Americans to continually engage with this medium in keeping the pressure up on The Establishment’s lackeys.

By Vladimir Golstein

Vladimir Golstein is Associate Professor of Slavic Studies at Brown University

The failures of recent anti-Putin and anti-Trump hysteria in mass media had revealed that the simplistic approach to the politicians who challenge "Washington consensus” does not really work. Demonizing campaigns had surely enjoyed their day (cf. campaigns against Kaddafi or Milosevic), but the audiences are no longer ready to buy such propaganda wholesale.

The caricature approach to the foreign policy that consists in designating certain countries as "evil empires,” and others as "indispensable nations,” is bound to result in military confrontations, proliferation of extremism, refugee crises, and all the way to potential nuclear annihilation. The pending global issues call for analysis, and not for simplistic and xenophobic messages that border on jingoism in content and anti-Semitism in form. It is outrageous that in 2016 The Economist feels comfortable to apply to Russia the imagery which Nazis applied to Jews in 1942, presenting the whole ethnic group as an evil puppeteer operating behind the scenes. Why this venomous rhetoric continues to be part of the mainstream, while smaller publications flaunting similar images are designated as "fake news,” is not clear.

This heavy handed approach to the news needs revision not only because it is not working and is potentially dangerous, but because the world as a whole faces fundamental problems that can be solved only through international cooperation and communal effort. I refer to overpopulation, mass migration, failing economics, or climate changes.

The current policy of insisting that the two largest countries in the world (one in terms of size, another in terms of population) dance to the American tune, which in fact, is performed glaringly out of tune by the ideologues from White House, Pentagon, and State Department, is borderline insane.

It is the duty of any concerned citizen of any country to insist that its mass media lives up to its role of speaking truth to power, of supervising rather than facilitating and disseminating dubious policies that military or financial corporations want to implement. Press can no longer afford to serve as a bullhorn for various corporations and their myopic policies. And they are myopic indeed; there is no other way of characterizing the pursuit of today’s profits at the expense of future that should belong to our children, our countrymen, and our planet.

President-elect Donald Trump has consistently accused the media of peddling lies and "called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar [asserting that] CNN was [a] network of liars.” There should be a synergy of government and citizen’s efforts in keeping the pressure on various corporations, including the media corporations.

The history of American journalism knows the period of "muckraking,” the period when courageous investigative reporters, encouraged by the President Roosevelt, went after corrupt and distractive business practices and helped, in the words of Donald Trump, "to drain the swamp.” This swamp now engulfs the mass media itself. It is high time to resurrect this glorious tradition of muckraking, and Donald Trump is in the ideal position to do so.

Teddy Roosevelt’s policies of breaking up the monopolies that stifled economic life should be renewed: the ideological monopolies that dominate the thinking on foreign and domestic policy, on the economy and on numerous other issues, should be broken. The usual practice of allowing and facilitating politicians who use the rhetoric of "human rights,” liberal intervention, or external threats in order to secure "economic” gains for a small group of shareholders should be held in check.

Expensive as it is to cover the foreign affairs, the alternative – with China and Russia on the rise – is unimaginable. News outlets should treat their audience in a serious manner, reporting on the views, positions and arguments of both sides, rather than cheerleading for one.

It is also the duty of journalists to resist, what J.A. Hobson in his study, The Psychology of Jingoism (1901), called "the control of the press by businessmen for business purposes,” which for him "lies at the very root of Jingoism.” In other words, already in 1901, Hobson exposed the connection between Jingoism in media and self-serving business practices. And if the media proves too dependent on such practices, it is the task of a reader to avoid such journalism, as it is the task of any person to remain vigilant about the activity of pickpocket thieves, one of whom diverts the victim’s attention by screaming "Russian threat,” "Nazi threat,” "Trump threat,” while another helps himself to the victim’s wallet.

Thanks to the activism and Internet, people are getting more aware of what various demagogues are accomplishing in their name. It is the public, after all, that pays taxes and delivers its children as the cannon fodder to the wars that are rarely executed for the benefit of population. Why should the select group of industrialists, mostly from Military-Industrial complex, utilize the mass media in order to promote its agenda camouflaged as national security, is not clear to anyone except for those who benefits from it. It is ultimately, the task of citizens to demand a better press and a better government for themselves.

Coming together to generate ideas for a new foreign policy agendaBy Vlad Ivanenko

Vlad Ivanenko is a PhD economist working for the largest employer in Ottawa

Ten years ago, when the popular belief was that the outgoing Russian president, Mr. Putin, sought to choose a successor, I set an objective to define an optimal program for the next leader. The approach that I had developed was the following.

I reasoned that to succeed in gaining the nomination, the successor needs to satisfy two conditions: to define a policy, first, aligned with the direction determined by Mr. Putin and, second, consistent with the expectations of the elite. I modeled the first condition on the basis of the so-called "Putin’s Plan”, a loosely defined set of policy targets proclaimed by the president. The second condition was determined using the results of sociological surveys.

The result of my analysis turned out to be somewhat perplexing. The officially stated national goal "to get rich within the established global order” went strongly against the inconspicuous public desire "to preserve the Russian national identity”. As a result, any policy that the successor could come up with was inherently inconsistent. The contradiction had to be resolved one way or another: either the contender abandoned Russian attempts on what was seen as "the restoration of the empire” or abandoned the dream of getting rich going the export-driven development path, which the "Asian tigers” trod before. In doing so, the contender had to set either against the elite or against Mr. Putin.

How this apparent contradiction was successfully resolved is irrelevant to the question at hand – "what can we all do to force the (US) media, the foreign policy establishment to ‘come out and play’ now” – but the presented approach is applicable to the analysis of defining the debate around an optimal national policy. The process consists of three steps: identify the real goal, define the binding constraints, and figure out the approach that will push the key obstacle as far away as possible. Let apply it to the US case.

The objective that the oncoming American president, Mr. Trump, has put at the center of his victorious campaign – make America great again – is as vague as was the Putin’s Plan. It needs to be substantiated. I do not follow closely the US sociological surveys, but my amateurish opinion is that the American public understands the "greatness” as the improvement of its welfare through greater emphasis on local production and lesser globalization that is blamed for sucking the US jobs out of the country. If this observation is right, free trade agreements signed by the US and the commitments that the US made to the supporting global organizations (IMF, World Bank, WTO) become the binding constraints to be pushed out. Then, the countries that run major trade imbalance against the US (trade data for 2015 draw attention to China, Germany, Japan, and Mexico) stand on the way of bring jobs back to the US.

On this front, Russia is not a problem. Where it is a threat lies in the area of global dominance, which the US elite considers important to maintain. But pursuing this objective does not appear to contribute to the task of improving domestic welfare. The policy that lets America to see its global clout to slip may irritate the elite; however, it is not critical for Mr. Trump who represents the counter-elite. His main goal – make America great again – has not been popular inside the Beltway in the first place.

The argument above points out the homework that the US media may consider before discussing whether to confront Russia or to cooperate with that country: identify what the US public wants and to impose this internally set objective to define the US policy abroad. In the reversed sequence, the role of media changes from being the source of information to setting insidiously policy agenda. The latter activity can be named simpler – propaganda.

By Jim Jatras

Jim Jatras, a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram. Tweet him at @JimJatras.

Foreign policy professionals usually view "foreign policy continuity” between administrations to be a desirable thing. In particular, the fact that change of party control seldom means a significant change in policy is taken by "experts” as a reassuring sign that the ship of state is maintaining a predictably stabile course.

However valid that notion may be in general, it is not applicable when the so-called "experts” in the bipartisan establishment are heading us towards the rocks. The policies of the past three administrations – which Hillary Clinton would have continued and even intensified – could only have led to catastrophe.

Thankfully, the mere fact that Donald Trump won and Hillary lost in itself reduces chance of a major war in the next four years from about 75 percent probability to under five percent. Still, Trump already is finding himself surrounded by the usual "experts” eager to drag him back to the failed policies of his predecessors. It is imperative that he not allow his administration to be captured by people who not only cannot implement change but who in many cases will deliberately undermine the principles he laid out in the campaign.

Here are my suggestions for top items on his "to do” list:

Following through with improving relations with Russia and China. The former is absolutely essential, the latter highly desirable.

The first agenda item with Moscow should be a joint effort to end the war in Syria. No regime change – Assad stays. No more support for radical Islamic terrorists (including a forceful "come to Jesus talk” with Riyadh and Doha to tell them they must cut off aid to any forces in Syria). Cooperate with Damascus and Baghdad (and implicitly, Tehran) to destroy Daesh, Nusra, al-Zenki, Ahrar al-Sham and the rest of that lot. The US should play mainly a supportive role: no ground forces, minimal air power and only with agreement of sovereign, legitimate governments.

Demonstrate end of "free-loadersim” in Europe: reject ratification of the NATO accession of tiny, corrupt Montenegro, currently before the Senate. Other stand-downs should occur in the Baltic and Black seas. Drop Russia sanctions. Be ready to hammer out a deal on a neutral Ukraine.

Trump should police the Iran nuclear deal in cooperation with Moscow and Beijing, but he shouldn’t reject it. He must resist the Iran hawks and their mantra: "Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism!” (Nonsense! Saudi Arabia is, by far.) If Trump allows himself to be seduced into a regime change operation in Iran (contrary to his campaign pledge that "regime change” was no longer American policy), his presidency will be ruined the way that of George W. Bush – who promised a "more humble foreign policy” – was ruined in Iraq.)

It needs to be kept in mind that Trump is neither a dogmatic neoconservative nor a consistent non-interventionist. His impulses are mainly nationalism (consistent with his views on immigration and trade) and realism. His guiding principles as a practical matter should be: (a) To distinguish where our vital interests are (Mexican border) and are not (Ukraine, Syria, South China Sea, etc.); and (b) To keep asking: "What’s in it for us? – Let’s make a deal.” He needs to avoid the GOP/neocon apparat like the plague, appoint realists to his administration.

If he follows roughly these contours, and delivers on the jobs front in "Brexit states” like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, he will be a great success and be resoundingly reelected in 2020. If, however, he allows the GOP establishment to drag him back to party orthodoxy on free trade, uncontrolled borders, and endless wars, he will be a one-term failed president. Worse, America will have missed our one chance to jump off the downward slope where for the first time in the lives of middle aged people we are convinced our children and grandchildren will have fewer and worse prospects than we had.

Trump's Foreign Policy

By Daniel Lazare

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

Imagine a business tycoon entering an operating room and telling the surgeons that they’re idiots who don't know what they’re doing. "Give me that scalpel,” he shouts. "I’ll show you how to remove a brain tumor!” Sixty seconds later, the patient is dead.

If you can conceive of such a scenario, then you can imagine Donald Trump as he prepares to take the reins of US foreign policy. Sure, the Obama administration has been both vicious and incompetent when it came to Russia and the Middle East. But based on what we know so far, Trump is shaping up to be even worse – a blowhard who barks orders right and left yet plainly has no idea what he’s doing.

Take Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s pick as national security adviser. Flynn is a tough-talking soldier who cut his teeth in the 1980s helping right-wing Nicaraguan Contras, the direct equivalent of today’s US-backed "takfiri” terrorists in Syria, overthrow the Sandinista regime. As an information specialist, he then took part in Ronald Reagan’s ridiculous invasion of Grenada in 1983, served in Afghanistan, and then moved to Iraq in 2004 to take part in the US occupation. In 2012, he landed a plum job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. But then, just two years later, he got the ax.

Administration sources say Flynn was fired because of his chaotic managing style. But Flynn says that the real reason is that he dared to tell the truth about Obama’s disastrous policies in the Middle East while others kept their heads low. Obama critics may be inclined to believe him since it was on his watch that the DIA released an astonishing August 2012 report stating that Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and assorted Salafists dominated the Syrian rebel movement, that their goal was to establish a "Salafist principality in eastern Syria,” and that their US, Turkish, and Saudi backers concurred because the effort would serve "to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion.”

This was remarkably frank by Washington standards and 100-percent borne out by subsequent events. But then Flynn tossed good sense out the window by publishing a book regurgitating every fantastic lie put out by Washington’s vast pro-war establishment.

Co-written with Michael Ledeen, a senior neo-conservative, The Field of Fight (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) charged that radical Islamists are part of a grand alliance involving Russia, North Korea, China, Cuba, and Venezuela, that Iran is the "linchpin” of this vast anti-western conspiracy, and that international drug traffickers and organized crime are tied up as well (see pp. 3, 77, and 141). It described the Syrian government as "Islamist” (90) and said that Russia and Iran "are certainly not ‘fighting terrorists’ in the Middle East,” but are merely seeking "to rescue an embattled ally in Damascus” (174).

Just in case anyone thought he was less than a full-blown nut case, it then added apropos of the 2004 Beslan massacre: "President Putin’s determination to crush the Chechen resistance at all costs is a form of moral suicide that will destroy what is left of Russian democracy and could threaten the whole world” (171). Evidently, the way to insure peace is by allowing Wahhabi terrorists to carry out as much murder and mayhem as they please.

This is the man who will provide the new president with his daily intelligence briefings. One could counter that Trump is his own man and that he will disregard whatever nonsense Flynn sends his way. But the fact is that he hired Flynn in the first place and that he never loses an opportunity to bash Iran and the P5+1 nuclear agreement, all of which suggests that his reasoning in this regard is just as inchoate as it is in any other. Apparently, Trump doesn’t understand that Iran, for all its faults, has a direct interest in defeating Wahhabi terrorism and that its views cannot be disregarded if the campaign against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and their supporters is to succeed. Trump is more open to neocon ideology than he would like us to believe.

So anyone who thinks that Trump's foreign policy will be more sensible than Obama's is likely to be disappointed. In view of Francois Fillon’s triumph in the French presidential primaries and Trump’s better-than-expected performance in the US -- even if he lost to Clinton by better than 2.3 million popular votes -- indicates that resistance to NATO’s anti-Russian policies may be growing. This would be more encouraging if pacifism had not taken on a semi-fascist tinge just as it did during the interwar period. If so, the outlook could be for more war rather than less.

Plenty of Reasons to Still Worry about Trump’s Foreign Policy Team

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

As I write, President-elect Donald Trump appears to be turning towards picking General David Petraeus as his secretary of state rather than former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Both men are likely to be very hawkish on Russia.

Petraeus has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to recreate a gigantic Russian Empire across Eurasia. He has supported a no fly zone in Syria despite the risks of conflict that would inevitably generate between the United States and Russia.

Petraeus has also repeatedly made clear he sees US competition with Russia across the Middle East as a zero-sum game. No working together with Moscow to combat ISIS and al-Qaeda for him.

Romney had the entire Bill Kristol-Charles Krauthammer- Podhoretz and Kagan clans of neocon intriguers all lined up quietly and confidently behind him, ready to sweep in and take over the organs of power had he won in 2012.

Had Romney won in 2012, or John McCain in 2008, the entire Northern Hemisphere of the Earth might be nothing more than radioactive dust today.

Any pick of Petraeus – or of Romney – would be a potentially mortal wound to hopes of winding the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists back from the Three Minutes to Midnight it currently displays as a warning of the imminent possibility of thermonuclear Armageddon.

Of the likely available choices for secretary of state, I would far prefer Newt Gingrich or Rudy Giuliani – both strong American nationalists with an intellectual independent ability to weight up evidence and trust the conclusions of their own minds.

It was Giuliani’s independence of mind that made him anathema for the power brokers of the Republican Party and their neocon court of armchair warriors back in 2000. They all far preferred the unlimited stupidity and malleability of George W. Bush.

Easily the best and most qualified candidate as secretary of state – both to fight Islamist terror around the world and build a new era of security and cooperation with Russia would be Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California. But he does not appear to be on Trump’s radar screen for any top level national security or foreign policy appointment.

In his keynote foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in April 2016, Trump showed an admirable awareness of the need to defuse nuclear tensions with the superpowers.

His post-election victory phone conversations with President Putin and with President Xi Jinping in Beijing were further welcome confirmations of the adult, serious perspective he brings to these most fundamental issues.

However, all this vision and wisdom could still be lost if Trump casually hands off control of foreign policy to an uncontrollable firebrand like Romney or Petraeus. John Bolton would be unimaginably worse.

The paucity of politically presentable picks for secretary of state available to Trump reflects the degree to which the Republican Party, since the accession of the awful George W. Bush, has fallen into the hands of simplistic ideological idiots and insanely reckless warmongers who pose a risk to the entire human race.

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