(Written for US-Russia.org expert panel)
To me, the choice in the US election is utterly simple: the most important thing is stopping the perpetual wars of the New American Century.
President Clinton means more wars. Deeply implicated in the wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria, she is contaminated by the noxious gospel of American Exceptionalism; the arrogant (and profoundly ignorant) assumption that the US is morally justified in doing anything anywhere to anyone at any time because its intentions are pure. “American Exceptionalism” is manifested today chiefly by armed force: military bases around the world, US special forces active in half the countries and war after war since the close of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. It should be clear – even if it isn’t to the Exceptionalists – that the US is losing these wars, that each sets up the conditions for the next and that their consequences, far from the “stability” fantasised by the Exceptionalists, are uniformly disastrous. Clinton will end none of them and will start new ones. Added to which, given her extreme rhetoric, there is the non-zero possibility of bringing us to World War Last against Russia and China.
Trump, on the other hand, boasts of his skills at negotiating The Deal. This deserves more attention than it has received. “American Exceptionalism” never negotiates because there is nothing to negotiate about: there’s the Exceptionalist way, the correct way, and there are all the other ways and they’re all wrong; other countries’ national interests count for nothing against the Exceptional. For the Exceptionalists a “negotiation” is a command to do it our way – the right way – or we bomb you. This is not what Trump is talking about: in a real deal both parties feel that they have achieved a good result; a real negotiator respects the other side’s interests and takes them into account; a real deal doesn’t need to be bombed into place. As US power drains away – and even Zbigniew Brzezinski understands that it is “no longer the globally imperial power” he said it was only twenty years ago – managing the decline will be enormously important for the safety of the world. Far better that we have The Dealmaker for four or eight years than The Exceptionalist.
Can President Trump deliver on his promise to step away from confrontation and wars? There’s a very good reason to expect he can. The years of the so-called “imperial presidency” have shown us that while American presidents have to struggle to achieve anything domestically they can start wars ad libitum – especially now that the secret of disguising neocon aims behind a froth of humanitarian rhetoric has been discovered. So all President Trump has to do is not start them.
Therefore Trump is the obvious candidate to hope for and there are good reasons to think Trump can deliver: his starting approach is to negotiate and all he has to do to prevent a new war is to not start it. The other differences between the two candidates fade into froth and bubbles: no more Exceptionalist wars trumps – if my feeble pun may be accepted – everything else.