The atmosphere in Moscow has been euphoric since Donald Trump’s stunning electoral triumph Tuesday. The prevailing wisdom in the Russian capital is that Mr. Trump will bring peace with Russia for the long term, a goal that most everyone in both countries badly desires.
But that belief rests on a shaky assumption — that Mr. Trump will be more inclined to bow to Russia’s interests, behavior and demands.
That, I think, is a serious miscalculation.
I do believe that Mr. Trump will usher in a new era of cooperation with Russia. There are many areas where we can work together for the good of both nations.
Take the war on terror, where Russia faces at least as much risk from Islamic State as the U.S. and its European allies. The Caucasus are a flaming caldron of jihadism that could spill over into the heart of Russia if Mr. Putin is not careful. The beheading of a 4-year-old girl in Moscow earlier this year was evidence of the danger that lurks under the surface in a country where 30 percent of the population is Muslim.
But what everyone will soon learn is that Mr. Trump is a nationalist first and foremost, just as Mr. Putin is a nationalist. Both leaders have embraced a mission, in Mr. Trump’s campaign mantra, to make their countries “great again.”
Mr. Putin wants to restore the old Russian empire, from Poland to San Francisco, reversing a humiliating post-Cold War decline. Mr. Trump wants to restore American prosperity, pride and influence, all severely damaged during the Obama presidency. In some instances, these agendas will clash, and both sides have to be prepared for this.
Disagreement does not need to turn into conflict. One area where Mr. Trump will be different from President Obama is respecting the Russian nation. There will be no sophomoric public slights belittling the Russian leader or the Russian economy. This will go a long way to forging a good working relationship between the two leaders.
Mr. Trump understands how to make a good deal that works for everyone, and that doesn’t mean appeasement. It means beginning the negotiation process long before you sit down with the opposing party. It means preparing the battlefield before the battle. It means not disarming unilaterally and then expecting the other side to do the same.
Mr. Trump will simply look out for the interests of the United States of America, its people and its national security. And if the president-elect needs to be firm with the Kremlin, I have no doubt that he will do so.
In addition, Mr. Trump will rebuild the ability of the U.S. to negotiate from a position of strength — economically, militarily and psychologically. The coming military buildup should make the Kremlin temper its behavior around the globe. Yes, Russia is well along in its plan to modernize its armed forces, while America is just getting started. For Moscow, pulling out of arms control treaties with the United States may not look like such a good idea in a few years as Mr. Trump takes the self-imposed shackles off.
Rebuilding American power may mean that the U.S. looks inward for a period of time as it focuses on restoring its infrastructure, working down its huge national debt and bulking up its military might. At some point, however, Lady Liberty will raise her head again and look around, and she will be in a much better position to deal with threats to her citizens’ security and way of life.
I spoke to a Muscovite Thursday morning, asking what Russians are saying about the U.S. election. He said there were many jokes about the Putin-Trump “bromance” and a general sense of optimism. But he also cautioned that anyone with any sense would realize Mr. Trump will focus on restoring U.S. economic power, and that will have little effect on Russia as it deals with its own economic malaise.
That sounds like good advice because, at the end of the day, with a Trump presidency, Russia may need to be careful what it wishes for.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.
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