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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #346

I want to confront the elephant in the room which is the argument often raised by those who care about Ukraine, to the effect that the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States in November 2024 would jeopardise western policy towards Ukraine. Firstly I want to separate this issue from the broader question of whether the re-election of President Trump would be a bad thing for the United States in general. I am not a US citizen and I have no right to participate in the electoral procedures of the United States. That does not mean that I am not entitled to have or express an opinion about US domestic politics; but given that I am a citizen of a country with very close foreign policy relations with the United States, I take the view that I may be obliged to work with the government of the day in the United States whatever composition that government may take. That may include a government the President of which in the future is Donald J. Trump, and therefore it is preferable to spare excoriating criticism of this individual or commentary upon his politics or legal issues because at some point, should he be elected as President and hold office, there may be circumstances in which it is appropriate for me to work with members of his administration. Those are just the simple facts of the matter and therefore it is preferable if I follow the convention in British politics that we do not comment upon the domestic political affairs of our principal allies.

Nevertheless the question remains whether in principle a Trump victory would spell a decrease in financial and military support for Ukraine with the consequence that Russia might increasingly succeed in her territorial conquest of Ukraine and other countries in eastern Europe. In this context I think it is again important to separate out a number of distinct questions.

The first is the current opposition of parts of the Republican Party, which Mr Trump exercises substantial control over, to draft legislation funding American military support for Ukraine. In particular at the time of writing Congressional House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Trump supporter, is refusing to place the relevant bill on the agenda of the US House of Representatives with the result that there can be no vote to enact the funding legislation notwithstanding the fact that there is significant Congressional bipartisan support for continued funding for Ukraine from the US taxpayer, a position supported by the average American voter (if there is such a thing). The manoeuvres of Speaker Johnson are not necessarily indicative of a lack of support on his part for Ukraine or on the part of President Trump. Rather it is part of an exercise in making the Biden White House look bad by being unable to pass legislation supporting a key American ally. In other words, this is an exercise in politicking to try to discredit the current Democratic administration with a view to weakening Biden’s hold upon the White Houser when he stands against Trump as the presumptive Democratic candidate for the US Presidential election in 2024. Although these funding delays are causing widespread dismay around Ukraine, as the necessary funds are required in order to finance the Ukrainian Armed Forces, these tactics are not in and of themselves indicative of a lack of support by the Republican Party in general or Donald Trump in particular for Ukraine. Rather they are an exercise in weakening Trump’s political opponents.

The second distinctive issue to observe and then disregard is the sometimes eccentric electoral rhetoric adopted by Donald Trump in the course of his Presidential campaign. We’ve heard this sort of thing before: dealing with Russia is “so easy”; “we’re going to build a wall” and Mexico’s going to pay for it; and all the rest. Donald Trump has a reputation for outlandish electoral promises and soundbites that mean little and he delivers the diet of clipped phrases to appeal to his electoral base. So when Trump says that he is going to encourage Russia to attack all the NATO member states that do not contribute 2% of their GDP to military expenditure (the NATO baseline), he should not be taken at his literal word; this is just the sort of damned fool thing Trump says in the context of US electoral competitions. Hidden behind this piece of rhetoric of course is a serious point which is that the NATO expenditure baseline is essential precisely to deter Russian imperialist military aggression in Europe which is precisely what NATO was set up to do. In failing to meet their NATO expenditure commitments NATO member states are letting down NATO principles, and Trump is calling them out for it. Notwithstanding the admittedly unusual language in which he prefers to express himself, Donald Trump palpably understands precisely how important NATO is in resisting Russia and that is why he is demanding that fellow NATO member states fund NATO adequately.

Another piece of rhetoric Mr Trump likes to use is to say that he could end the war in Ukraine in a day. This is another piece of hyperbole behind which is hidden an important truth that Mr Trump understands but that many other western leaders seem not to comprehend: that the war in Ukraine could be finished very quickly indeed simply by the insertion of NATO troops into Ukrainian military theatre because there is no way that the Russians would dare fire on NATO member states. Russia is testing NATO and so far NATO is failing the test. What Mr Trump presumably means behind his tendency for ludicrous hyperbole is that he would immediately order US troops, spearheading NATO, to enter Ukraine (presumably on the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with whom Mr Trump has proven to have cordial if again rather idiosyncratic relations in the past) and to line the banks of the Dnipro River and occupy front line positions in the Donbas, thereby silencing the Russian guns immediately because American troops are the only thing Russia is afraid of in the context of this war.

Perhaps most fundamentally, Mr Trump understands Russia and Ukraine and he understands the Russian psyche: not intellectually or analytically; he is not that sort of politician. Rather he understands them instinctively, because he is instinctively a strongman, like Vladimir Putin, who understands respect for force and displays of force and has scant regard for international legal principles. In this sense the two men have a common understanding far more than the Russian President has with any other western political leader; and Mr Trump in office as President might be the individual to draw NATO into Ukraine with the result that the hot war be stopped and the Second Cold War might truly begin. In other words, flawed as he might be, Mr Trump in a second term in office might be more akin to a Nixon or Reagan character in the style of Republican foreign policy.


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