The conclusion of the US presidential race was unexpected for many.
Most experts were sure of a victory for Hillary Clinton. However, billionaire Donald Trump became the 45
president of the USA. So far, one can only guess what his victory will mean for Europe, the Middle East and the world as a whole.
Trump changed his slogans and plans many times during his election campaign. But what’s clear is that he significantly diverges with the Obama administration in many ways. In addition to a priority of strengthening the economy and developing trade, his plans include energy sector reform, allocating over 500 billion dollars for infrastructure projects, increasing budget expenditures and reducing taxes, which led to a sharp jump in the profitability of US bonds.
But this means that by all appearances the epoch of cheap financing in dollars for developing countries has come to an end. In foreign policy, Trump intends to negotiate with Russia and reconsider NATO’s role and the UN from his point of view. It’s possible that, as his opponents say, he has a fairly vague understanding of international politics, preferring to focus on the internal situation in the US. But Trump the businessman and Trump the candidate are part of the past. Trump the president is the reality, and the question is, to what extent will he fulfill his promises?
A presidential campaign is one thing, whereas actually managing a government, aspiring to the role of a world leader, is quite another. One way or another, the new president will need to deal with the key questions of international politics, including the South Caucasus.
By examining their congratulatory messages to Trump, we can understand the general outlines of what the leaders of the South Caucasus states expect from the USA. For the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, the most important thing is support in relations with Russia, integration in EU structures and entry into NATO.
This means a request that America maintain its former policy with regards to Georgia. In Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s letter of addrses, emphasis is placed on the USA’s role as a moderator in the Karabakh conflict and support for the Southern Gas Corridor project.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s message reflects the particular nature of Armenia’s position, with an influential diaspora that plays the role of a bridge between the two governments, and which supported Hillary Clinton in the hopes that she would encourage recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Donald Trump didn’t comment on this issue, which concerned American Armenians, as did Trump’s business relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
On the whole, Trump’s victory will change nothing for Armenia.
However, the key point is US interests in the South Caucasus, which are determined by three, primary issues: democratization and human rights, energy and security.
Their priority has changed in accordance with different administrations’ positions. Under Clinton, the priority was energy and the transport of Caspian energy resources to Western markets, which is still important today. Under Bush, security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were emphasized. Under Obama, the USA maintained a liberal foreign policy in the Caucasus. The Iran Nuclear Deal was signed and several sanctions removed. But during his second presidential term the policy changed because of the crises in Ukraine and Syria.
Judging by Trump’s performance during the elections, the Caucasus will not be a priority for him if lobbyists of the military-industrial complex and Republican Party functionaries can’t convince him that it’s not possible to ‘make American great again’ without strengthening influence, including in such a strategic region as the South Caucasus.
On the whole, the US’s strategic priorities in the South Caucasus will be preserved. But it’s unlikely that Trump will support Azerbaijan because he has had numerous dealings with Azerbaijani businessmen, which may be perceived of as a conflict of interest. His anti-Muslim rhetoric may also affect relations between Baku and Washington.
And it’s even more ridiculous to assume that Trump will support Mikheil Saakashvili and his supporters in Tbilisi based on his trip to Georgia in 2012 and his being awarded the Presidential Order of Excellence.
Trump’s policy in the South Caucasus will largely depend on his relations with Russia. His attempts to come to terms with Moscow are causing anxiety in Washington. In the press’s opinion, Donald Trump sees Vladimir Putin as strong and is sure of his respect. Whether or not Putin truly respects Trump will become clear later on. But it’s clear that Putin sees great potential in Trump.
We can gain further clarity by analyzing Trump’s candidates for key posts in the new administration.
James Mattis, a 66 year-old general and one of the most outstanding intellectuals of America’s armed forces, has been proposed leadership of the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense.
After marine school, marine command college, and the National War College, Mattis graduated Central Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Having spent 41 years of his life as a marine general, he owns a 7,000-book library on the military arts of various peoples and has experience from the Gulf War in 1991 and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
In Iraq, Mattis commanded the 1
Marine Division, which, over 17 days of sustained combat covered 808 kilometers into the heart of the country, the deepest penetrating ground operation in Marine Corps history. Mattis headed the U.S. Central Command, which directed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Pentagon he is considered excessively intolerant and blunt in his statements, which is acceptable among servicemen, but not permissible for a member of the government. Especially when he criticizes Russia saying that the USA has
“a Russia problem, not just a Putin problem”
Jeff Sessions, candidate to the post of Attorney General, has a similar attitude, believing that the USA ought to oppose Russia’s aggressive behavior. True, after Sessions joined the Trump team he corrected his point of view, stating the two countries must find a way out of the
“cycle of hostility”
The proposed candidate for head of the CIA is Mike Pompeo, who, after a visit to Kyiv, made a call to
“demonstrate support for the Ukrainian government”
Perhaps in order to somehow neutralize the anti-Russia rhetoric, Trump put forward Rex Tillerson for the post of Secretary of State – Tillerson is the former chairman of the board of directors for the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, and has spent forty years on a path from being an engineer to the head of the corporation.
In the list of candidates, Tillerson surpassed former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Bob Corker, former UN ambassador John Bolton, and former head of the CIA and commander in Afghanistan and Iraq – General Petraeus.
Those who know Tillerson insist that his understanding of Russia exceeds that of any career diplomat, researcher or intelligence officer, since his experience is founded on practical interaction with Putin’s close circle. He is closely acquainted with Vladimir Putin and the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, and was even awarded the highest Russian distinction for foreigners, the Order of Friendship, for reviving the Sakhalin-1 project and for active cooperation with Rosneft in the Arctic.
This has also raised concern in Washington, where his opponents are worried that Tillerson will be concerned not so much with values, as with prices, as a result of which he might put America’s interests on the backburner. The Crimea sanctions froze ExxonMobil’s activities and naturally Tillerson is opposed to them. He owns Exxon shares to the tune of 218 million dollars. This means he has a personal interest in the company’s success; this is a conflict of interests, and Washington politicians believe that Tillerson cannot critique Putin, since he depends on their friendly relations.
If Tillerson is confirmed for this post, his moves towards Russia will be under particular scrutiny. All the more so because he has not worked a day in government service, but will decide complex questions of US diplomacy, relations between Israel and Palestine, NATO policies, the actions of international trade deals, protection of human rights, the struggle with climate change, the complexity of Russia-China relations, the Syria problem and many other issues.
The cherry on top is the appointment of retired lieutenant-general Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, an appointment which does not require congressional approval. Flynn was the 18
Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and is a former member of the Military Intelligence Board.
He has experience as director of intelligence in Afghanistan, director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command, director of intelligence for the United States Central Command, director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, and director of intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force. A better service record could not be found. But Flynn was noted at the celebration for the anniversary of
, where he sat next to Putin and even became the first American officer to be allowed in the Main Intelligence Director (GRU) headquarters for a briefing.
He admitted that he receives monetary compensation as a consultant for
, noting that he had also appeared on
, though, for free. Michael Flynn believes that the ideology of Islamic terrorist organizations long ago outgrew “little Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria”, and proposes cooperation with Russia to fight this threat. It’s possible that Trump needs Michael Flynn for contacts with Vladimir Putin on Syria.
By the way, in this context we might also note action film star Steven Segal. He wasn’t a member of Trump’s team, though he supported his candidacy and Trump might find his Russian passport and personal acquaintance with the Russian president useful for shuttle diplomacy.
Oil was added to the fire by CNN’s statement that the Russian leadership has compromising materials on Trump, which it received from Christopher Steele, who was formerly an MI6 officer in Moscow and is now a businessman in London providing analytical services on Russia. Trump personally characterized these rumors to be a ‘witch hunt’.
After all this, there are few in the USA who are concerned by the appointment as senior advisor of his daughter Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, son of a Belorussian partisan from a Chabad-Lubavitch orthodox community, who fought with the Bielski partisans. Jared Kushner owns the newspaper
New York Observer
and actively took part in the election campaign. In this light, accusations that Trump is an anti-Semite seem strange if we consider that his daughter converted to Judaism in order to get married according to orthodox Jewish customs.
It’s unclear how Trump plans to reconcile the diametrically-opposed views of members of his administration. But he is clearly striving to strengthen the USA’s positions and simultaneously improve relations with Russia.
But all these intricacies leave an important question in the shadows. How did it come to be that Donald Trump, who was denied help from many significant figures in his own party, managed to beat Hillary Clinton, who had much more support, including that of President Obama? Why didn’t the Democrats’ political machinery, proven by decades of practical application, have the desired effect? It’s likely that there took place some sort of serious shift which changed public opinion so much that the usual methods ceased to have an effect on the American people.
They didn’t elect Trump for his outrageous behavior – they elected the path to changes. Perhaps this is what the 93 year-old patriarch of American politics, Henry Kissinger, had in mind when he called Trump’s victory a “revolution”.
And if Trump really does want to change something, he will have to pay attention to these changes.
Editor’s Note: This article reflects the opinion of the author and as such may not reflect the opinion of Meydan TV