Trump says Clinton will Start WW III with Russia, but Moscow Disagrees

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump alleged on Tuesday that if elected, Hillary Clinton would start World War III with Russia over Syria. He wondered how Clinton would be able to negotiate with Putin, whom she has demonized, and said that her plan for a no-fly zone over Syria would bring her into military conflict with the Russian Aerospace Forces flying missions over that country. To be fair, as the BBC points out, the US generals do share Trump’s concerns in this regard.

Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine General Joseph Dunford, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Right now, senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria it would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.”

Trump pointed out that Russia has a nuclear arsenal, making brinkmanship with it extremely risky.

Trump is not reckoning, however, with Clinton’s extensive experience as Secretary of State, a job that is all about negotiation and horse trading and compromise. In fact, the position has pragmatism so baked into it that its incumbent often offends ideologues in Congress. It is no wonder that the office has not been a springboard to the presidency since the early decades of the republic.

Superpowers don’t fight one another in the nuclear age. If Russia brandishes enough threats and weaponry, it will simply dissuade Clinton from her proposed no-fly zone. Ike Eisenhower backed down over Hungary in 1956, and Johnson did nothing about the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Russia is claiming Syria as a sphere of influence, and while the US is contesting that claim, it is unlikely to go mano a mano with Moscow over it.

Superpowers fight proxy wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan. So is it possible that Clinton will give Syrian rebels shoulder-held missile launchers to use against Russian fighter jets? Sure. Although one reason that hasn’t been done is that they could end up being used against the Israelis. In any case, that Clinton will engage in a proxy war with Russia over Syria with far more vigor than President Obama is fairly obvious. That it will spiral out of hand is actually fairly unlikely, though it can’t be ruled out.

Interestingly, many high Russian officials and commentators in the Russian press, according to BBC Monitoring, do not agree with Mr. Trump, and indeed see Clinton as the pragmatist:

“Moskovsky Komsomolets (popular Moscow daily) – “The Russian leadership hopes that pragmatism will prevail in US foreign policy after the presidential election… And Hillary Clinton is the one whom the Kremlin sees in the role of this main foreign policy pragmatist… Trump would, of course, be a more convenient partner than Clinton but the Kremlin has realised: no matter what its wishes and preferences are, Trump will not become president…”

The article continues that it is the Kremlin that is playing brinkmanship, not Clinton, saying that Moscow has deliberately made relations so tense that Clinton may be forced to back down rather than risk a hot war. Editorial writer Mikhail Rostovsky does admit that if Clinton instead ratchets up tensions, “things could get out of hand.”

Russian journalists and officialdom seem largely to have written off Trump. Victoria Zhuravleva, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Relations and World Economy, wrote in Lyubov Glazunova that “the campaign for Trump is most likely to be over.”

Stanislav Ivanov, “Carte blanche. Storming Mosul: what is next?”; in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (centrist daily) , says that Washington’s policy is to turn the Middle East into an arena of conflict between the Gulf monarchies and Iran. He expects the Mosul campaign to be prolonged, but for the Baghdad government to win in the end: “Under this scenario, Iraq and Syria may remain hostages to this confrontation for years to come and turn into a ground of permanent armed conflicts. The overseas puppet masters will try to take advantage of the existing ethnic and religious conflicts in the region.”

The Russian press is also not concerned that Russia will be sanctioned over its air campaign against fundamentalist rebel forces in East Aleppo.

So, rather than the chicken little hysteria of Trump about a world war and nuclear exchanges, many in the Kremlin see him as less pragmatic than Clinton and are expecting to work with her. They have already discounted the possibility of a Trump presidency, and so are readying themselves for a Clinton administration. The Russians met with Clinton a lot when she was Secretary of State and so know her well. They think she will blink rather than take US-Russian relations to the boiling point, and they admit that the Kremlin as the one playing brinksmanship. Trump can’t even get support for his wild charges from the the Kremlin itself, which sounds positively even-handed and practical in comparison.


Related video:

Wochit News: “NATO Diplomat Says Russia is Preparing Naval Fleet for Syria”

16 Responses

  1. World war means everyone, and these speculations really call for consideration of the role China, and to a somewhat lesser extent Europe, would likely play in any build up to an outright war.

  2. Surely, professor it all depends on whether Clinton decides to institute a no fly zone doesn’t it? I can’t see Assad or the Russians obeying some edict from America to ground their planes unless of course, the UN supported a no fly zone which is not going to happen as Russia and China won’t agree to it. If the Americans bomb Assad’s air force he will surely retaliate with the Russian air defense missiles he has and if Russian planes are shot down or their bases bombed, they are not just going to sit there and do nothing. I suggest the solution is as its been all along and is for America, Assad and the Russians to put aside their ideologies for a while and work fully together to rid Syria of the scourge of terrorism. While they are at it they should tell the so called fantasy free Syrian army to lay down their weapons or be regarded as terrorists. You should not imagine that world war three is just the ravings of Trump. I suggest there are plenty of hawks and lunatics in the pentagon and elsewhere in America who would think nothing of starting a war if their egos were thwarted.

  3. Leonard Haggstrom

    Hillary broke international law twice in Libya alone (droned the palace and bombed the water supply) – that’s why she is so in love with Kissinger. Seriously, that’s not “experience” at least not a good experience for US credibility. That’s called being a tool for think tank row. Call it brinksmanship, but not “experience”. Hillary is failing upwards.

  4. Very true. Clinton’s a pragmatist and we should expect her foreign policy to reflect that. Meanwhile, the real hysterics are coming out of Moscow, where the Kremlin has been ratcheting up war fever. Great piece by Loyola’s Michael Khodorovsky in today’s NYT. Here’s the link: link to

    • I wouldn’t trust a word out of Michael Khodorovsky’s mouth. He isn’t an unbiased individual, and that piece in the New York Times was a lot of drivel. It took real facts, and twists them into something far different than the truth.

      People in Russia are growing concerned about war. NATO is stationing troops on the border, and the numbers keep increasing. The US has placed the ability to better control missile strikes in Romania and is constructing a site in Poland. The US supported a coup in Ukraine, and is pushing for it to be made part of NATO.
      We are inching towards war, and I’m afraid Hillary has shown very little pragmatism in her career when it comes to the use of the military.

  5. When Donald Trump, that “military analyst extrordinaire,” pronounces on the likelihood of World War III over Syria, he reminds me of those who invoke “Hitler” or “Nazi” to describe someone they don’t like. Those who invoke “World War III,” “Hitler,” “Nazi” and other assorted bogeymen and epithets demonstrate such a lack of analytical ability and imagination as to be useless as commentators.

    Both Russia and the United States are rational actors on the world stage. Both pursue their interests, but both know enough to consult and negotiate in order to avoid any dispute that could escalate into anything resembling war. And the idea that China would fan the flames between the two on one side or the other is nonsense.

  6. Editorial writer Mikhail Rostovsky does admit that if Clinton instead ratchets up tensions, “things could get out of hand.”

    Aye, and with Victoria Nuland in Ukraine and in bed with Robert Kagan, there lies the rub.

  7. David T. Beito

    “They think she will blink rather than take US-Russian relations to the boiling point, and they admit that the Kremlin as the one playing brinksmanship.”

    So the unrelenting saber rattling from the Goldwater Girl is all a lie?

  8. I really wonder why Clinton ever latched onto her stupid no fly zone idea. Once the Russians entered the conflict it certainly became totally unfeasible and the idea has been overtaken by events. Despite her shortsightedness on the Middle East, Clinton is so far superior to the totally ignorant and bellicose Trump, that the choice is obvious. We really need a lot more liberals in Congress that will put the kabosh on any foolish adventurism that Clinton might engage in. If it were Trump in the White House and a Republican Congress that would surely accompany that, the future certainly looks bleak (attack another country for obscene gestures, anyone?).

  9. Victor Ostapchuk

    a pity that the ultimate bad guys have so far outplayed the other bad guys (I don’t know which are the baddest in the ME) who don’t engage in that kind of brinkmanship. who knows if/when the rusky chickens come home to roost. link to

  10. One significant point the article leaves out is that in her term as Secretary of State, just like her term as Senator and First Lady, neither Hillary, nor her supporters, can point to a single positive accomplishment , other than the fact that she used those offices to get filthy rich.

  11. You took my words, George. She is unhinged sometime, like her elation at the gruesome death of Qaddafi. Yes, she knows how to compromise, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I know Zhirinovski isn’t speaking for Putin, but he thinks we’re talking WWlll with HRC. As we speak we’re tightening the grip on Russia with an increase in NATO forces on its border. Putin won’t flinch, so it’ll be up to Hillary! She’ll escalate somewhere, Whether it’s in Syria or somewhere else is anyone’s guess. The US won’t accept a back seat to anyone. The empire can’t brook such a humiliating defeat! And right now we’re like a counter puncher who’s run out of steam.

  12. So the upshot is, instead of a nuclear war we should expect more proxy success stories? Those have side effects, remember? Iraq spawned a wave of global terrorism. Tacitly encouraging the “regional powers” to overthrow Assad resulted in a refugee wave that torpedoed the EU project. The next side effect might come this way.

    You talk about the great negotiating experience that comes with being Sec of State. I’m trying to find it in her record in Libya… I must say, it is very well hidden.

    Much respect for most of your work but aside from debunking Trump’s exaggeration, this piece strikes me as intentionally avoiding some very deep unpleasantness about Clinton and the NeoCon way of internatoinal relations.

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