The upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is an overdue opportunity for the American president’s next bold peace initiative. It is time for the U.S. to stop its wasteful wars, and Russia can be a constructive partner to this end.
The mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic will howl against any agreement between Trump and Putin—no matter what’s in it. So why not take steps that the American public will instinctively understand and that will provide the support for Trump to end America’s failed interventions? Besides what are his opponents going to do? Vilify him for seeking peace and starting the process of healing the many wounds of the wars? The American people are not fooled by false claims that Trump is soft on terrorism; they are aware that U.S. military interventions oftentimes can—and do—fuel terrorism.
President Trump should propose a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan in exchange for a drawdown of Russian troops in Syria (along with a pledge that America has no interest in reengaging in the Syrian Civil War). This would be consistent with Trump’s oft-stated observation that America’s wars (declared and undeclared) in the Middle East have been a waste.
Trump need not “recognize” the Russian annexation of Crimea but he should assert that a resolution to the situation on the ground in Ukraine is a European matter—to be settled by bilateral negotiations between Russia and Europe.
Understanding of this magnitude would obviate the main pretext for the senseless escalation of pecuniary diplomatic sanctions—the defenestration of embassy and consulate staff—on the parts of both Russia and the United States. The return of the possibility of civilian travel between the two nations would do wonders to lower tensions. (Remember, even at the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower argued that populations denied contact with each other would tend to be suspicious of each other—and prone to minor conflicts that could escalate into larger wars.)
The American public is not interested in diplomatic and media theater. They know two things to be true: the failing “Trump-Russia collusion” hysteria is proving baseless (and distracting from concerns over economic growth and jobs); and whatever America’s international security interests are in the Middle East, we are all better protected with allies that face similar threats.
Russia has more reason to be concerned over Islamic terrorism than America. Their southern border touches on several Islamic countries: Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan. The instability created by America’s misguided military adventures has, for years, been unsettling to Russia. According to a friend who has long studied Russia, America’s post-Cold War military aggression, starting in the Balkans, began the ascension to power of Russian military hardliners who were skeptical of America’s intentions for peace.
Russia has a significantly better understanding of and influence over most of those countries, including Iran. America’s relationship with Iran has long been hostile due to years of interference and mistreatment. The relationship was seriously complicated in 1953 when our CIA and British intelligence overthrew their democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and placed the brutal Shah in power. The Washington keyboard warriors never mention this sad chapter in our history. Imagine how we would feel towards a country that interfered with us to that extent.
How much smarter would it be for Russia to work with its neighbor Iran to limit the civil war in Yemen, than for America to continue to provide military support to Saudi Arabia to perpetuate a colossal human tragedy?
The naysayers ridiculed Trump’s peace initiative with North Korea, and yet his denuclearization and pacification of the Korean Peninsula advances (in contrast to the efforts of four previous American presidential administrations). Given that Trump and Kim could sit together, what stands in the way of progress with Putin?
The past year and a half of Russophobia have been driven by the “bitter clingers” of Hillary’s failed national political ambitions, the military-industrial complex, corporate interests, corporate media, the Washington/New York/Hollywood commentariat, and foreign lobbyists. Too many of them profit from an endless state of war—throughout the world and, in particular, with Russia.
Washington and its clients are terrified that the war gravy train will be slowed or stopped. Our NATO clients are afraid of carrying their own national defense burdens. Washington neocons are perfectly willing to continue to waste the lives of our devoted military to protect both their funding and a world order that the West’s victory in the Cold War has rendered moot.
Again, the American people share no such delusions and are overwhelmingly tired of the wars they cannot explain or even locate on a globe. These wars have damaged and destroyed American families. War proponents’ repeated incantations about “supporting the troops” instead of keeping them home to protect their families and our country has worn thin.
We hear stories about parents being separated from their children at our borders, but not a peep about the American children being separated from their soldier parents and parents being separated from their soldier sons and daughters abroad.
The July 16 Trump-Putin summit is an opportunity for the president to act boldly in the face of near-total establishment opposition and work to bring peace to a war-weary world. If he works to reduce America’s involvement in its wars, the Russo-American disagreements will fade.
George D. O’Neill, Jr., an artist, is the founder of The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy and a board member of The American Ideas Institute, the parent of The American Conservative. He and his wife reside in Florida.