Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Republican presidential candidates have yet to demonstrate a grasp of foreign policy that's required of a president and commander-in-chief. Their statements on how to deal with Russia's ambitious president, Vladimir Putin, show diverging views on their approach to him.

In CNN's September l6 debate, Carly Fiorina declared she would not talk to Putin, and would instead build up the Sixth Fleet and the Amy to impress the Russian leader. That didn't sound presidential; even hardliners Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan met with their Chinese and Soviet counterparts in an effort to reduce tensions and avoid war.

During the debate, Donald Trump assured the audience that he could "get along" with the leaders of other countries, even with Putin: "I would talk to him, and I would get along with him." Presidential candidates don't usually predict the outcome their relations with other leaders until after their first meeting. Following the debate, a top Trump aide, Michael Cohen, hinted that Putin and Trump might meet during the Russian leader's visit to New York next week.

Marco Rubio, who showed a firm grasp of international affairs during the debate, characterized Trump's rosy view of his relations with Putin as "a reset" in US relations which, he said, didn't work for President Obama. Although a hardliner in his view of Putin, Rubio didn't decline to meet with him.

Jeb Bush, during a visit to Berlin in June, told an audience that he viewed Putin as "a bully" who's waging a covert war in Ukraine. He urged the U.S. and NATO to "respond resolutely" from a position of strength." But calling the leader of another power a bully is not a good way eventually to open a dialogue.

Although it's far too early to speculate on how the world will look in January 2017, it's not too soon to ask candidates to state their views on how to deal with a Vladimir Putin who is now sending Russian fighter jets and preparing to dispatch ground personnel to Syria to bolster a brutal ally, Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has driven four million people out of the country. Tens of thousands of them fled to Europe seeking refugee status. Last week the EU agreed on a modest quota for its members, with Germany accepting the largest number.

It's now time for Donald Trump and other Republican candidates to give us their views on how they would respond to Vladimir Putin's military buildup in Syria and his coordination of policy with Tehran. Does Russia pose a serious threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East? Does "getting along" with Putin include giving him an opening to expand Russia's influence in the Arab world?

Or, does "getting tough" with Putin, as Fiorina and Rubio propose, include sending more US airpower and perhaps ground troops to counter Russia's and Iran's suspected plans to turn Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon into anti-American client states? How do they propose to deal with Israel's government, which is deeply disenchanted with Washington because of its support for the Iran nuclear deal?

Jeb Bush, in my view the best qualified candidate to deal with foreign policy, needs to spell out how he would restrain Vladimir Putin's ambitions in Ukraine and the Baltic, as well as his foray into the Middle East,. Does Bush believe, as Barack Obama apparently does, that it's possible to work with Iran's leaders to improve security in Iraq by jointly fighting the ISIS threat?

America is at a point in post-Cold War history where it must decide how important the Middle East region is to US security and economic well-being, and also ask what price we are prepared to pay to retain our dominant role there.

After the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the recent failure of a training program for Syrian fighters, we need to ask whether the burden of policing the entire Middle East must now be shared with others, ;even with Russia and Iran, or gradually be abandoned. Republican as well as Democratic candidates should address this serious question during the coming presidential campaign.

File last modified on Thursday, 10-SEP-2015 10:54 AM EST

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