Sadly, this dream has never come to fruition.
As the events of the 2014 Ukraine Crisis played out, many pundits declared that the Cold War 2.0 had begun. In actuality, the Cold War never really ended. NATO expanded to Russia’s borders and has now assisted in bringing to power an anti-Russian (and nazi glorifying) regime in Kyiv. The American elite has only grown increasingly Russophobic and was never going to treat Russia as anything but a defeated enemy.
Trump parted ways with the top Republican figures in the 2016 election castigating the un-ending wars in the Middle East and declaring an intention to normalize relations with Russia. Throughout his first term, however, the existing bi-partisan consensus has prevailed and U.S.-Russia relations have fallen to new lows despite the unfounded claims that Russia interfered in the presidential elections to the benefit of President Trump.
Today Russia is not in the position she was in in the 90s and is one of the few nations that can defy edicts from the American foreign policy establishment. All right-thinking people can see the need for more U.S.-Russia cooperation and how dangerous the current state of deteriorating relations is.
Russia and America together have an overwhelming amount of existing nuclear weapons. More importantly, Russia occupies a key place geographically in the world, which renders it an important player in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere the United States is involved.
Today there is a diverse range of issues the two nations can work on together to bring about a more secure and prosperous world; from arms control, collective European security and, the war on terror to other issues like space and the Arctic.
If America was able to create arm control agreements with an ideologically hostile Soviet Union, it should be able to have a functioning relationship with the Russian Federation, especially in the face of a rising China, a globally extended military, and increasing instability domestically.
In the midst of the abysmal relations that exist right now, Trump needs to look back to perhaps the only other president to overcome a similar scenario to his own, President Richard M. Nixon.
The Nixon administration’s crowning feats was his foreign policy successes both in China and in the Soviet Union. Known as a “Cold War hawk” who vaulted to national prominence prosecuting communist spies, Nixon would make detente with the Soviet Union one of his top priorities.
Building a personal relationship with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, together they brought an increased peace to the world by significantly decreasing tensions between the two superpowers. Although the journey was not always smooth, they established the framework for all future U.S.-Soviet summits and the two leaders shared many fond moments.
Despite facing opposition from both the left and the right in the American congress, they made agreements on arms control, trade, agriculture, transportation, atomic energy, and more. The primary obstacle in achieving this thaw in relations was bringing the bureaucracy to heel. Nixon remarked to Brezhnev, "If we leave all the decisions to the bureaucrats, we will never achieve any progress."
Nixon’s National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger expanded on this in his essay “Bureaucracy and Policy Making.” There he explained why it's so hard to change direction in foreign policy, "The mechanical reason is that as the bureaucracy becomes large and complex, more time is devoted to running its internal management than in divining the purpose which it is supposed to serve."
In Nixon’s time, American bureaucracy was already a burgeoning phenomenon. The administrative state had grown exponentially during the days of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ's Great Society programs. Much like Trump, when Nixon took office he was surrounded by a bureaucratic establishment that was hostile to his agenda. This created a situation where the president couldn’t follow through on his policy initiatives.
Nixon relied on and empowered Kissinger to push through the bulwark of bureaucrats that made his foreign policy vision possible. Trump on the other hand had his first choice for National Security Advisor removed after a political hit placed Lieutenant General Michael Flynn in a quagmire of legal trouble he is only just emerging from now.
Flynn has been succeeded only by people who have tried to impose their will over the elected president’s agenda, namely John Bolton.
Trump has failed to “drain the swamp” as he has promised, and has been effectively crippled by a faction within his own administration, the so-called “adults in the room.” Despite surviving the attempted “Russiagate” coup we still have a foreign policy controlled by the deep state.
Trump has attained some modest successes in his presidency despite being crippled from the outset by figures within his administration and a two-year-long sham investigation that culminated in a failed impeachment attempt.
He has stayed his hand at times. For example, when he resisted the goading of his advisors to take harsher, war-like measures against Iran. Unconventionally, he also tried to develop a personal relationship with Kim Jong-un and he even fostered a peace agreement with the Taliban. However, this is all short of a major Nixonian foreign policy shift that needs to occur.
Assuming Trump wins in November, he needs to attempt to regain popular sovereignty over foreign policy in the name of American national interests. This will require keeping his promise to drain the swamp by purging the existing bureaucracy so he can reliably follow through with foreign policy initiatives.
There is reason to be hopeful of a radical shift breaking with the last 20 years of foreign policy. Trump’s dismissal of Bolton seems to be a signal of his intention to make this move. Couple this with his recent decision to withdraw twelve thousand troops from Germany and the old guard is in meltdown in fears that Trump will withdraw from NATO.
Much like in 2016, Trump is the only chance for U.S.-Russia relations to improve and for America to return to a realist foreign policy, as he goes up against a geriatric candidate who will be subservient to the mainstream, foreign policy consensus.
Written by Stefan Birdseye, an intern at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).