THO Interview with Dr. Stephen Walt

THO: Do you believe that the US foreign policy has a grand strategy? 

Stephen Walt: I think the US has had different grand strategies at different points in its history. But certainly for the last 25 years or so, American strategy has been the liberal hegemony. This is strategy we adopted not back in the Cold War, this is after the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the US found itself as the unipolar power. The US decided it could use this unique position to spread around the world its values. Encouraging and promoting open economies to global markets around the world, promoting democracy, and letting them join various institutions that the US leads. The policy of NATO to expand in Eastern Europe, the policies for regional transformation in the Middle East, the promotion of the globalization through WTO and other institutions. These were all American efforts to shape local politics around the world. These goals as the main pillars of grand strategy was somewhat pursued by all three presidents before Trump. Clinton, Bush, Obama they all somewhat agreed on these. The consensus view in foreign policy establishment in Washington had been on these for the last 25 years. The key to this is its liberal (because it is trying to spread liberal values) rule of law, democracy, open markets. Its hegemony because it sees the US as the indispensable power that has to lead that process and use its capabilities to push other countries in that direction wherever it can and now, is not going through well. 

THO: Where do you put Trump’s anti-EU, anti-NATO, pro-Brexit policy in the US grand strategy? 

Stephen Walt: Trump ran for president in 2016 and he was very critical for many aspects of American foreign policy. He was very critical of nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, he opposed a lot of things, according to him we were over-committed in Europe, etc. Not only that, but as a businessman he criticized certain aspects of globalization. He said American foreign policy is complete disaster. He said the US needs to get out of the nation building business. However, as president he has not changed American foreign policy a lot at all. He said a lot of things, he tweeted a lot of things but in fact the US is still in the NATO and WTO. The US  still has the same allies in Asia- Pacific and the Middle East, the US is still confronting Iran,etc. The US still has the bad relations with Russia as it did under Obama. The US still has a bad (actually even worse) relations with China today. He has changed the US foreign policy a little bit given what he said in 2016. The foreign policy elite resisted the changes and Trump himself doesn’t understand these things very well so he is not able to make a significant change in directions of US foreign policy. 

THO: How do you see Trump views on EU?

Stephen Walt: His view of the EU is he sees the EU as an economic rival to the US. He thinks the US would be better off if the EU broke up and the US deals with UK one on one, Germany one on one, France one on one…The EU altogether has the economic size of the US, when we bargain with them they are as strong as us on the table. Trump thinks it would be much better if we deal with them all individually. It doesn’t have very much to do with Russia or China at all.  

THO: How do you see the Turkish-American relations?

Stephen Walt: I think we still think of Turkey as a potentially reliable partner but the relationship with Turkey has become more delicate for a number of reasons. The first thing is the Cold War is over and we no longer see Turkey as absolutely the indispensable partner helping contain the Soviet Union. And Turkey’s relations with Russia has somewhat more ups and downs but the US and Turkey don’t have that uniting force powerfully anymore. The geopolitics has changed a lot.    

Turkey and the US have agreed that ISIS is a great problem, but we disagreed on some other issues such as Turkey’s relations with Israel and Turkey’s involvement in Syria. Americans also are concerned about the anti-Democratic direction that Turkey has taken recently. There are various frictions in relation. Turkey hasn’t allowed the US to invade Iraq by using Turkish territories that kept the relations for some time quite cold. So, these all hadn’t started with the Trump administration. But both sides did not want to make relations more bitter and acrimonious. Turkey understands its relations with Russia are extremely delicate. I don’t think the relations are leading to a bitter divorce. The S-400 deal is important and it could lead to another and deeper friction. 

THO: Do you see more of a Russian arrival or US departure from the Middle East?

Stephen Walt: Russians never left the Middle East. They have a long relation with Syria. People are exaggerating. Syria is not a great strategic move for Russia’s part. What Russia has done skillfully is try to maintain good relations with as many countries in the region as possible. That is something the US should emulate. We should also reach out to countries that are not allies. Russians talk to Syrians, Israelis, Turks, Iranians, Egyptians, Saudis… 

Russia is in fact a declining power, its population is aging and shrinking, its economy completely depend on oil and gas, its economy is smaller than Italy. Russian looming threat to take over the Middle East is just fanciful. For a while, the Middle East will keep its importance not only just because of oil but geo-strategically.  And when I saw while I mean in the next 20-30 years. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still very important. But I think the two state solution is a missed opportunity in the 1990s. The size of the settlement in the West Bank and direction of Israeli politics make impossible. I don’t think we will see a two state solution in my life time. The Palestinians are victim of everyone. They are ignored by everyone.