US foreign policy for Europe and Asia since the Second World War can be captured in one sentence: Keep Europe from Russia and Russia from China.
Trump and the Republicans damaged the first part; Biden, Clinton, and the Democrats damaged the second. In so doing, the two parties have inadvertently collaborated in accomplishing the very thing they set out to prevent.
Trump, Europe, and Russia
Trump was a truly destabilizing president. That was felt nowhere more than Europe where he shocked European leaders and threatened the Atlantic alliance between the US and the EU.
Trump was contemptuous and critical of NATO and dismissive and hostile to the EU. When coupled with practical acts like pulling out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, which Europe saw as contributing to its protection, that moved European leaders like German chancellor Angela Merkel to identify Europe’s “task of the future” as taking “its destiny in its own hands.” That is, uncoupling Europe from America. "It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us," Merkel explained.
French President Emmanuel Macron would come to the same conclusion, saying that Europe has to be able to "better defend itself by itself, without depending solely on the United States," and, sometimes even more dramatically, declaring that Europe needs to protect itself against "even the United States."
In uncoupling Europe from America, Trump corroded the first link of US foreign policy: never separate Europe from the US and drive it to Russia. But Trump was never able to fully understand America’s full geopolitical purpose for NATO. He seemed incapable of seeing the relationship with Europe, not as a business man, but as a president. Trump never fully grasped that NATO is not just a defense organization whose value to the US is measured transactionally in terms of whether your partners are contributing enough to make it profitable, but that, at a deeper, unstated strategic level, NATO is a key US cold war weapon for pulling Europe west, tying it to America and keeping it from integrating Russia.
As Richard Sakwa clarified it in a personal correspondence, NATO "firmly anchors Western Europe into the Atlantic power system." NATO, Sakwa says, "is the cornerstone of cold war-style US-led bloc-building." NATO cynically prevents European integration, including with Russia. You can keep Europe from Russia by keeping Europe in NATO. In failing to comprehend that deeper, self-serving, cold war preserving role of NATO, when Trump contemptuously challenged NATO, he damaged the first link of the US foreign policy establishment’s strategy for Europe, keeping Europe from Russia.
Again seemingly seeing the world as a businessman and not a president, Trump failed to consider or consult Europe when he opposed Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline to Germany. His opposition may have been partly political, but it was, in large part, self-servingly financial. Russian gas piped to Germany means less European need of American liquefied natural gas. Prioritizing America First and failing to consider the interests of Europe further drove Europe from America to Russia. "If we got Russian gas already in the Cold War," Angela Merkel asked, "then I don’t know why times today should be so much worse that we cannot say: Russia remains a partner."
Russia was a partner for Europe again when Trump illegally and unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran. In acting alone without Europe, the US action was seen in Europe as an action "which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal." Europe found itself in the position of opposing the US and the reimposition of sanctions against Iran and allying with Russia and China in an attempt to evade American sanctions. As with his contempt for NATO, Trump’s contempt for Europe frayed their ties with the US and nudged them toward Russia.
Trump never understood the more manipulative role of NATO, and in his careless contempt of NATO and Europe, he threatened the first link in the chain of the US foreign policy establishment’s self-serving but world detrimental policy for Europe and Asia. He frayed the tie between Europe and the US and failed to restrain Europe from Russia.
The damaging of the second link, keeping Russia from China, was left first to Clinton and then to Biden.
The Democrats, Russia, and China
Trump may not have been clear on many policies, but he was clear that he wanted to improve relations with Russia. Here his thinking was again partially that of the businessman: he had always, even before he was president, seen Russia as a potential business partner. But this time, there was a foreign policy angle too. Trump also saw Russia as a potential ally in the emerging competition with China.
Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia was in the tradition of Henry Kissinger’s cold war strategy of triangular diplomacy. Triangular diplomacy was a key to maintaining American hegemony during the cold war. Kissinger explained the strategy as the necessity for America to achieve and maintain better relations with both China and Russia than either of them have with each other. That is the second link in the chain of US foreign policy for Europe and Asia: keep Russia from China.
Trump’s following in the tradition of Kissinger is no coincidence, and the idea was not his. In his new book, Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War, Sakwa says that early on, Trump was advised by Kissinger. "Kissinger encouraged Trump in his ambition to ‘get on’ with Putin, to temper Russia’s drive to create an anti-hegemonic alignment with China. . . . Kissinger encouraged Trump to have closer relations with Russia to contain a rising China."
Triangulation diplomacy is the second self-serving link in US foreign policy with Europe and Asia: keep Russia from China. In the first cold war, Russia was the greatest threat, so Kissinger opened the door to China; in the new cold war, China is the biggest threat, so Kissinger encouraged Trump to open the door to Russia. He did. And a world of trouble walked through. But the trouble didn’t come from Russia.
The trouble came from Clinton, the democrats and the intelligence community in the form of Russiagate. Clinton wanted to deliver an excuse for her unexpected and embarrassing defeat to Trump, the Democratic National Committee wanted to distract attention from their own wrongdoing and corruption in helping Clinton win the nomination over Bernie Sanders and the intelligence community wanted to keep the cold war alive. Russiagate was the answer for all of them.
Russiagate was the instrument to prevent Trump from improving relations with Russia and herd him back into the cold war. Where Trump failed to keep Europe from Russia, the Democrats would now push Russia from the US and fail in the hegemonic ambition to keep Russia from China.
Russiagate ended all chances of improved relations with Russia. Any improvement in relations with Russia was seen as proof that Trump had colluded with Russia and was a puppet of Putin. Trump was forced, not to improve relations with Russia, but to increase American hostility to Russia so as not to add fuel to the Russiagate fire that was burning under him. He increased sanctions and expelled diplomats. He upped the Obama administration’s confrontation over Ukraine by sending lethal arms to Ukraine. He sold missiles to Poland and conducted military exercises right on Russia’s borders. Sakwa reports that he even withdrew from nuclear treaties while deploying "low-yield weapons that were explicitly directed against Moscow."
Prime minister and former president Dmitry Medvedev would complain with surprise that "back in 2016, it seemed that relations between the two countries could not be any worse than those under B. Obama. However, the following years have dispelled this illusion. The Trump administration consistently strengthened the systemic confrontation between Washington and Moscow."
The effect of the Democrats pursuing Trump over Russiagate was to push him to act in a manner that began the new cold war. "Russiagate," Sakwa argues, "prevented a new détente." It "turned Russia from an adversary into an enemy and changed a confrontation into a new cold war." It not only prevented détente with Russia, the hostile actions Trump took in order to prevent suspicion, especially the historically high sanctions, drove Russia into tighter alignment with China, creating a situation that was now Kissinger’s nightmare, not Kissinger’s dream of triangular diplomacy. The result was the new cold war.
The Clinton democrats used Russiagate to create the new cold war. It was now left to the Biden administration to nurture it to maturity.
And that they have done. Both Russia and China have now reluctantly changed their perspective of international relations and accepted that they have been forced into the new cold war that they never wanted.
Biden persuaded them with his rhetoric. He has consistently characterized the relationship as "competition" not "cooperation." He has defined the conflict as a generational struggle, as “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.” Our “children or grandchildren," he said, "are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded, autocracy or democracy.” He has forcefully molded the world back into blocks with the Quad partnership, AUKUS and the Democracy Summit. His CIA has established The China Mission Center to facilitate effective CIA coordination on China. And he has turned up the heat on provocative aggression in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, the Black Sea and the airspace around Russia’s and China’s borders.
All of these hostile actions, coupled with maximum pressure sanction regimes have finished what Russiagate started: they have driven Russia to China and welded the relationship.
Russia and China have now formed a comprehensive strategic partnership in which they have pledged never to go against each other. They are partnered in organizations like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to counterbalance American hegemony and foster a multipolar world. Military cooperation between the two countries has reached an all-time high level with joint naval exercises, joint bomber patrols and joint military exercises that fully integrated their militaries with joint command and control systems. And recently, on November 23, Russia and China committed to even greater military ties.
Biden has completed what Clinton started: they have forced Russia to China. Trump frayed ties with Europe and nudged them toward Russia. Together, the Trump Republicans and the Clinton and Biden Democrats have undone the US establishment’s cold war preserving and hegemonic striving foreign policy toward Europe and Asia since the end of the Second World War. They have pushed Europe to Russia and Russia to China.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.