By Paul McHale
Try this one on for size. Donald Trump, Nobel Laureate.
Although the very thought of Donald Trump receiving the Nobel Peace Prize may seem far-fetched, until Nov. 8 I felt much the same way about the likelihood of his election to the presidency. And then they counted the votes. If he brings back water boarding and other "much, much worse" forms of torture, an indictment by the International Criminal Court might seem more likely.
I didn't vote for Trump. His campaign reflected demagoguery, ethnic bigotry, and implicit threats of violence. Nonetheless, if he now moderates his rhetoric and acts with appropriate maturity, I will wish him every success in his presidency. In fact, I'd like to see him be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, like St. Augustine's prayer for chastity, I would simply caution, "Not yet."
The Nobel awards committee has already tried what might be called "anticipatory recognition," but that didn't work out so well. No, Trump is going to have to actually earn his Nobel Peace Prize. Quite a concept.
Although my mind may yet be numb from election night news coverage, I can almost hear Wolf Blitzer's raspy voice in my ear piece asking:
Do you see a viable pathway? Does Trump really have a route to the awards platform in Stockholm?
To which I reply,
Yes, it will be tough, but doable. His nomination will need a clean sweep of the rust belt states of Germany, France, and the Netherlands. But if he cracks the blue wall of liberal democracies, he'll have both the popular momentum and the support of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Remember, it's still early and an awful lot can change. Back to you, Wolf.
So let's start with an assessment of the current European security environment. In a word, it's a mess. After losing the Crimea to Russian expansionism in 2014 - and now just eight years after the Russian armored invasion of Georgia - Ukraine remains embroiled in a Russian-sponsored civil war. The nations of Eastern Europe are left wondering, who's next?
In response, NATO is trying to ratchet up its military capabilities and shorten its troop deployment timeline - without, of course, spending any more money. Good luck on that one. Brexit fundamentally threatens European cohesion - and the EU is contemplating a whole new level of military cooperation among its members, independent of U.S. participation in NATO.
Meanwhile, the collective EU defense of Western Europe is literally being planned by a former communist politician from Italy. Nothing to worry about there.
This past year President Obama quietly walked away from "Tell Vladimir I'll have more flexibility after the election" and instead crafted, funded, and implemented the early phases of his European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). Obama also increased the proposed FY 2017 ERI budget by over 400 percent ($789 million to $3.4 billion) and ordered the deployment of an additional Army armored brigade into theater, joining two other Army brigades already there. There's serious talk of yet another armored brigade deploying next year. U.S. Marines are once again rotating into Norway, falling in on their prepositioned equipment, including tanks, stored in Norway's caves - enough equipment to support 15,000 Marines during 30 days of combat against the Russians, according to published reports.
After eight years of lost time fiddling with the Russian Reset Button, the president has grudgingly accepted that Putin requires a firm hand. What's been missing from Obama's ERI strategy is any serious element of diplomacy - or as Trump might call it, the art of the deal.
Winston Churchill once said that "Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war." The man knew what he was talking about.
So here's a pathway to peace that our new president might follow.
During a Rose Garden press conference after his first meeting of the National Security Council, President Trump should affirm his support of Obama's ERI, while calling for a greater emphasis on multinational negotiation. A little further down the road he should propose a Russian supported ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, and simultaneously recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea (a bitter pill). The ceasefire should be modeled on the core elements of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to Ireland: a soft border; an autonomous government in eastern Ukraine; combined with provisions for reunification with the Ukraine if objective conditions warrant a local plebiscite - in short, a reunification by local majority vote. This diplomatic outcome isn't just. Far from it. But successful peace negotiations rarely are.
The Ukrainian Peace Agreement should be accompanied by Russian sanctions relief, the precondition of increased defense spending (2.2 percent of GDP) by Western European nations, a pullback of U.S. forces already deployed under ERI, and an unequivocal Trump affirmation of NATO's mutual aid commitment under Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty.
If Trump can end the bloodshed in the Ukraine, ease Russian sanctions, decrease the number of U.S. forces stationed in Europe, facilitate greater cost sharing by our allies, strengthen NATO, affirm the U.S. commitment to mutual aid under Article 5, avoid the unnecessary creation of an EU army, and deter Russian cross-border aggression, he'll bring a generation of stability and peace to Europe.
And if that gets Trump the Nobel Peace Prize, fine with me.