Considering murky intelligence reports concluding Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw hacking to manipulate American voters into electing Donald Trump as our president, don’t underestimate what Putin might do now that Trump is bound for the White House.
Know this, however: Trump will not get tough on Russia. When one evaluates Trump Cabinet nominees, it’s evident Russia will have a freer hand to do whatever it chooses without international consequence.
Russia’s military has become a pivotal tool in Putin’s foreign policy. You don’t have to look far to see what Russia is doing in Syria. So when Trump lifts sanctions on Russia, supports Moscow’s unlawful annexation of Crimea, limits NATO’s expansion eastward and allows Russia to test new firepower in the Syrian theater, the West should expect Russia to be more aggressive. Russia’s impulsive behavior and thirst for conquest (and without challenge) could well play out in the Balkans. Then we can see if Trump is a puppet or power to be reckoned with.
Washington should see the writings on the wall even now in Russian Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov’s plans for war games with the Philippines, a former U.S. colony and once one of the United States’ most important and loyal allies in Asia. Alas, the days of such friendship are gone. Similarly, the admiral has announced the possibility of Russia’s conducting joint military exercises with China and Malaysia in a disputed stretch of South China Sea.
Clearly, Russia is lining up its priorities since it expects no interference from a Russia-friendly Trump administration.
Mind you, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte faced stinging criticism from President Obama over the former’s brutal war on drugs. Now Duterte sees no reason to keep the alliance with the United States as strong as it once was. He’s pivoting toward China and Russia. As a result, Washington will have major decisions to make in its political calculus regarding Asia. Keep an eye on Duterte’s visit to Russia this spring.
Once again, I find myself wondering whether the United States can sustain its global leadership and influence — what’s left of it — over the next decade or decades. Much of the old world order of the past half-century is falling to the side of the proverbial road. Undoubtedly, the only major country we have to be concerned with is China, given the fact it can challenge the United States economically — more so than any other country. Yet China is not ready to take any real responsibility of managing global order. It has shrewdly learned a great deal from U.S. mistakes — and is not willing to make those same mistakes itself.
The U.S. government needs to start thinking about building the next generation of American foreign-policy leaders who will stir our great nation in the right direction. Make no mistake, the Trump ship will sail in the open waters of global affairs, but it might do so with little or no resolute direction or wise objective. When that ship runs aground, we need to accept that while we remain a global force in the 21st century, the absolute supremacy of the United States and the West is fast waning.
Let’s be realistic: Europe is similarly weak and more divided than ever. I do not see how it could replace U.S. leadership. My fear is that in the absence of U.S. international wisdom, the Western world may be on the last stretch of its hegemonic journey. In that case, look for China to fill the vacuum and Russia to start rebuilding its lost empire. Pretending otherwise at this late stage of the game is just shortsightedness.
David Oualaalou is a global affairs analyst, author and professor. A former international security analyst in Washington, D.C., he is a professor of political science at Texas A&M University — Commerce. He is author of “More Than a Handshake: The Ambiguous Foreign Policy of the United States Toward the Muslim World.” He lives in Hewitt.