The populist movement sweeping Western nations has turned left wing politics on its head and paved the way for a new age of strongmen.
President-elect Trump won a landslide electoral victory on the simple campaign promise: “America First.” On the other side of the coin, Pres. Vladimir Putin, long regarded as a no-nonsense populist, has unapologetically placed Russian interests first and foremost.
In recent years, Putin and the Russians have endured the worst U.S. relations since the Cold War. Pres. Obama and former Secretary Clinton have advanced anti-Russian policies and sanctions that did not appear to further American interests. It looked more personal than political at times.
And while one would think Trump and Putin’s brand of nationalism could only lead to head butting, so far, it’s been a love fest. That may be because these pragmatic world leaders know they need each other.
The eradication of ISIS is in the best interest of all Western nations. The radical Muslims are the most dominant and feared terrorist organization in the world. Their caliphate overtook huge tracts of the Middle East and threatens to disperse fighters globally. Unfortunately, Obama’s support of rebels in an uprising against Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad was a monstrous regional policy error. The so-called “moderate rebels” Obama backed had ties to ISIS and many of the weapons America provided ended up in the hands of our enemies. Putin, in a well-informed foreign policy move, supported Pres. Bashar’s efforts to maintain control of Syria and destroy ISIS. America has been in a policy sand trap ever since Obama called ISIS a “JV team.” Even though he’s done some recent backpedaling, Syria has been lost as a strategic ally.
A change in policy to align with the Syrian Army and Russian forces would help unify military efforts against ISIS. Trump and Putin need each other to combat global terrorism, smash ISIS, and suppress the growth of future radical Islamists. As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Roads and Bridges
The War on Terror has been the largest drain on the U.S. economy in history. To put it in perspective, America spent $341 billion fighting the Nazis and Japanese on multiple fronts during World War II. Since, 9/11, the country has spent $5 trillion with no clear end in sight. Even taking inflation into account, that’s still a substantial difference.
The U.S. allots more than 50 percent of its total budgetary spending to the military. Russia spends more than one-third. The eventual defeat of ISIS will scroll a portion of that spending back for both nations. In the meantime, Trump and Putin have an opportunity to de-escalate U.S.-Russian hostilities and begin to scale back the huge outlay of resources associated with NATO. Neither country can continue its deficit spending in the face of declining infrastructures. Frankly, Trump was right to call NATO “obsolete.”
Our antiquated roads, bridges and transportation hubs are in serious need of modernization. Every presidential candidate touts “rebuilding our roads and bridges,” but there hasn’t been money to make good on that promise since the Clinton Administration. Trump has proposed a $1 trillion makeover. In Russia, Putin is committed to an infrastructure revamp in order to compete as a raw materials exporter. It’s all about roads and bridges.
Unraveling the Ukraine Mess
A necessary step toward normalizing relations would mean eliminating the sanctions Pres. Obama leveled against Russia for its involvement in the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 and the annexation of the Crimea Peninsula. History will someday be the judge of who held the moral high ground there. For all practical purposes, Russia saw it as a coup that ousted an elected government, but the Obama Administration rejected Putin’s intervention. After a referendum, the Crimea stayed pro-Russian and the Ukraine aligned with the EU.
The U.S. response was to target Putin’s inner circle with financial sanctions. It was personal and it was ugly.
It would seem both sides eventually got what they wanted out of the Ukraine mess. Going forward, Trump has agreed to look at the Crimea situation. In billionaire business talk, that means it’s a negotiable asset.
Now, Trump needs to piece together global partners as he prepares for a potential trade war with China. Beijing has already started rattling its consumer goods sword. Russia could be one of Trump’s white knights. It has vast, untapped natural resources and is already a major player with the EU.
The populist movement backing these strongmen prefers meat and potatoes to liberal ideals. They want national security, good paying jobs, and a positive future for their children. To deliver on their mandates, Trump and Putin can each have an easier time of it if they get into bed together.