In the span of just a few months, British and American voters have voted to reject a central pillar of post-World War II Anglo-American foreign policy: the political and economic integration of Europe. “Brexit” and Trump are explicit departures from a foreign policy that viewed closer European relations as necessary to European peace and to the constraint of Russian political aspirations on the continent.
Trump has no foreign policy record, of course. And his few statements on Russia evince, as he said in the final debate, “[He] know[s] nothing about Russia,” and less, I might add, about Russia’s role as a serial disturber of central European peace. Well, Russia knows him, it seems, and it knows as well that current American foreign policy towards Russia is marked by serious confusion and lack of resolve. Every Brexit-Trump gain is a gain for Russia’s historic aspirations to recreate geographic and population buffers around the Russian border. The combination of American provocation and intervention in Ukrainian politics (begun under Bush II and continued while Clinton was Secretary of State) and Obama’s “reset” of US-Russian relations has left a neglected Eastern Europe. A provoked and enabled Russia, and Russian-friendly heads of state in Hungary and Bulgaria, willingly jumped into the void with both jackbooted feet.
As we learned this election year, Russian intervention has been comprehensive. Russians have intervened militarily in Syria, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. They’ve employed electronic intervention in an effort to destabilize democracy in the US, with the mind-boggling endorsement of then-candidate Trump. Trump’s careless humor and even enthusiasm for Russian intervention in American elections was staggeringly irresponsible and jeopardized any claims he might make to being a serious statesman. Further, it emboldened Putin’s strategy (yet again) of undermining European stability by making the new President-elect appear a stooge of Russian manipulation.
Among the first of Trump’s tasks, then, upon his inauguration into office will be reestablishing his own credibility. He will have to seek out our historic partners in Europe and show them he is serious about the American commitment to NATO and Europe’s eastern half. Without somehow rehabilitating his own international credibility as a person of sobriety and wisdom, we can wonder about the dim chances of American foreign policy fixing that fractured pillar at the base of European peace enjoyed, and perhaps even taken for granted, for some seven decades.
Joseph E. Capizzi is Professor of Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America. He teaches in the areas of social and political theology, with special interests in issues in peace and war, citizenship, political authority, and Augustinian theology. His latest book is Politics, Justice, and War: Christian Governance and the Ethics of Warfare (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Photo Credit: Donald Trump at Aston, PA on September 13. By Michael Vadon, via Flickr.