Donald Trump‘s victory in the US presidential elections left the world shocked. Few believed it and most were disappointed. British and other European media describes this as the greatest mistake of the American electorate in history because the real estate magnate is seen as a liar, bully, populist and has gone bankrupt a number of times. What can we expect after Trump‘s victory? LRT spoke with former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, first post-independence head of state and one of the leaders of the independence movement Prof Vytautas Landsbergis, as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius.
Donald Trump the USA President elect
© AFP/Scanpix

- Mr. Adamkus, while you have a preference for the Republican Party, but this time you probably supported the democrat candidate, correct?

V. Adamkus: Listening to the speeches of the president elect, I was inclined toward the democrats. It is hard to believe his political line, which sounded rather surreal. I wanted a real president, but there was no choice. I have seen at least 5-6 presidential elections in the USA and have seen similar cases, but perhaps not such brutal lashes from one candidate to the other. Today my logic was confirmed.

During the elections you can call one another liars and thieves, all sorts of things. After the elections, however, everything changes. This is part of political culture, when the president elect is acknowledged immediately, opponents shake one another’s hands and start speaking of only one goal – improving the livelihood of the country. Speaking of goals and initial tasks, Donald Trump touched upon domestic social problems – unemployment, the decrease in living standards and such. But foreign policy is seemingly non-existent, as if everything is fine in that regard.

I am making the assumption that American foreign policy will not change much, at least for a time. It is stable, up to now it has adhered to a specific direction, so he, most likely, has no basis to change it. Let me remind that the American president cannot declare war on any state or turn foreign policy upside down without the support of the Congress and Senate. I do not think that some sort of revolutionary shift has occurred, nor that life will change greatly from here onward.

- Improving populist results in Europe, Britain’s choice to leave the EU and now the Trump victory. What do these trends in Western countries suggest?

V. Adamkus: Instability. Speaking of the EU, we once heard of a commitment to keeping to a common position regarding sanctions to Russia, but today we are hearing different things. It is unfortunate, but there are certain fractures, disagreements. Speaking of France, it is very clear – it is the traditional stance of the country since the time of the Czars. I think that a certain warm attitude to Russia remains in France to this day, though by no means am I implying that France is trying to break the unity of the EU.

The British withdrawal is a surprise to me. I thought that the memorandum will never confirm it. The political situation in all of Europe and the world is changing greatly. I am not speaking about Africa because the situation in this continent is greatly destabilising world politics. It is also necessary to stress the continued role of NATO in Europe. While Trump expressed certain doubts about NATO during his campaign, up to now the bloc has shown a strong posture, particularly regarding the Baltics and Poland.

- Prof Landsbergis, do you see a threat after Donald Trump’s victory?

V. Landsbergis: Anything can happen, it will depend on his policies going forward. It will depend on what sort of team he will form, what challenges President Elect Trump will face. For now no-one can predict how he would react to the Kremlin boss’ demand to not do something. For example not uphold what has been said regarding the gas used by Bashar al Assad. The current president said that this is the limit, after which they will take direct action. The other boss told Obama he can’t and he didn’t. This was a humiliation for America.

Donald Trump speaks of American greatness. This should be both pride and honour. Perhaps. I do not know what he is actually thinking. Perhaps he thinks alike Vladimir Putin? That greatness depends on the capacity to intimidate? Supposedly I have the power, I can wave around bombs and that is my greatness. If one such individual waves his bombs around and the other party does so too, perhaps we’ll have a clearer picture?

We still do not know how the American leadership will react and what its policy toward traditional imperialistic Russian expansion will be. These are only tests. <…> You cannot be alone in an island with your welfare, if everything is bad around you.

It is still unclear what hides behind the words “Make America great again”. There is another, who has declared that he is restoring Russia’s greatness. When two such individuals, who seek greatness for their states, face off, what happens then? There were hints of making a deal. But how? Drawing borders? Munich, Yalta or perhaps over the Atlantic, with one side being Eurasia, while the other – the USA with all of Latin America?

- Prof Landsbergis, how would you explain D. Trump’s success? After all there were many scandals, various accusations. What do you think?

V. Landsbergis: Perhaps this did not matter to his voters. Or perhaps something else was more important. Since the time of Benjamin Franklin honest business was the foundation of the United States. Franklin taught Americans – do not be stupid, it is better to be fair, rather than cheat others. Such was the civilisation and this is where the greatness of American business, economy and honesty stems from. Of course much changes. The population changes, many people from other civilizations arrive, that pluralism is already “washed out”. But nevertheless, America still has its foundation.

- Do you see some sort of common trend in Western states? Next year there will be elections in France and Germany. Could similar candidates appear there?


V. Landsbergis: This could be called a deterioration of the mind. It is happening everywhere. Ideas appear that we are better off separately, on our own, while everyone else can go to hell. We know exactly who is waiting for such politics to thrive.

- Mr. Linkevičius, Donald Trump is an aggressive and unpredictable candidate, but during his victory speech he was very different to normal – far more polite, calmer, urging everyone to unite. Is what he said earlier a cause for concern? For example his statements that he will not protect states that are not carrying their weight. Among those we find Lithuania.

L. Linkevičius: There is no point or any big reasons to be worried. We have to give the opportunity for a new administration to form, that hasn’t started. The electoral campaign contained much emotion, much discussion, later – denials. When real responsibility appears and specific tasks have to be accomplished, when specific people are appointed to specific posts. There will be almost a thousand of them, with the blessing of the Congress. Most likely they will be Republicans because their candidate won. We know that camp fairly well.

- The Republican, but not Donald Trump’s camp. Do Lithuanian diplomats have connections in his team?

L. Linkevičius: Definitely. We have interacted with one of his key advisor for foreign policy – Jeff Sessions. We have had warm talks with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was thanked by President Elect Trump.

Our countrymen in the US had varying positions, voted differently. There are those who actively supported Trump. For example our Honorary Consul in Michigan Saulius Anužis. He was recently one of the Republican Party chairmen. Jonas Prunskis, the honorary consul in Colorado provided financial support for the Trump campaign, is acquainted with some members of the Trump family. On the other hand, communication will also depend on us – how we will interest in our activities, our understanding of issues. Earlier we were insulted that we, as all Europeans, were criticised for low defence funding. But let’s admit it – there was a basis for saying so. If Europe pays little attention to its security, then there is an argument for those who say that other have to work for Europe. With passions dying down, we have to focus not on doubt, but specific work and keeping decade’s worth of investment. Continuity is a trait of American policy, I do not think there will be any dramatic revolutionary changes.

Prof. Landsbergis: Our own politics need changes. We need to hear what the new president has to say about his allies’ fairness. He sent a signal, saying that he will think on whether he will defend those who do not defend themselves and leave the issue and expenses to the US. There was one politician in Lithuania who proposed to spend 2% GDP on defence funding from 2017, not from 2018 and at least start speaking that we hear the signals.

L. Linkevičius: I believe that in this regard we will not leave any space for our opponents or sceptics. We are committed to increasing defence spending. Based on the dynamic of defence spending, we are leaders in NATO. But we need to consider not only spending, but also effective use of it.

- Mr. Adamkus, Donald Trump said during his campaign that he will come to terms with V. Putin, while the latter, in his congratulations to Trump, said that it is time to recreate relations based on mutual respect for state interests. Is this “Make America great again” not an isolationist slogan, which promises to leave the issues of the world in second place? Do you not see such a threat?

V. Adamkus: Overall we speak too much of what is related to Lithuania. I do not think that these questions are of primary importance to the American people. Primarily they care about welfare. For a common person highbrow foreign policy – 2% for national defence or 1.8% - means very little.

- Foreign policy has little influence on most American voters.

V. Adamkus: Yes. So I do not think that foreign policy was a major factor in the elections. A clever strategy was employed to attract simple people from the streets, who care first and foremost about making ends meet. Donald Trump has clearly stated that he will fix everything – lay new roads, build new schools, create 25 million new jobs. Just hearing this it is simple to understand that he will never accomplish this even with the best intentions. Such was the campaign strategy and it worked.

Prof Landsbergis: The campaign strategy also included staying silent on foreign policy. Even those who were interested in it, for example expats from Eastern Europe, failed to present this question to Trump. Something like this – “Mr. Trump, we are unsure how to vote. What is your stance on Russian revanchism? Will you obstruct it or will you respect their interests?” Nothing of the kind was heard.

V. Adamkus: The American public already knows and sees what Russia and V. Putin is. But such pandering to Russia would mean a loss of self-respect for the Americans.

- And political suicide for Trump himself?

V. Adamkus: Yes. I honestly believe that he cannot direct the American public into Russia’s embrace and start kissing with it. The United States have clearly expressed that they do not accept aggression. Their primary goal is to defend democracy and freedom. Of course various deviations occur, but I do not think that America will give up its core goals. Any politician who tries to disregard these things risks political suicide.

- Mr. Linkevičius, either way the Republicans are now in charge of both houses of US parliament, this party contains far more predictable, familiar and consistent politicians. This is also among the guarantees that the US will hold to its principles. Especially because the Republicans are not a party that changes its stance?

L. Linkevičius: That can be said not only of the Republicans. The value base we know is one of the traditions of American foreign policy. After the elections we are listening to every word. Perhaps not everyone noticed, but a New York congressman Peter King told one Western European newspaper that “A message to the Baltics – we will be with you, if the need arises.” Take in this message, it is very important.

Prof Landsbergis: American values are dignity, image and honour. How it looks to the world and to itself, when it talks of American greatness. The United States cannot be dictated from the Kremlin. I think that the Kremlin’s leaders should withhold provoking military flights over US warships, with this new opponent in play now because American troops could die due to slight mistakes at any moment or some other foolishness. Perhaps there will be a strict response for this. I understand our countrymen who are disappointed with earlier policies and think that the new president will be tougher, will not be cowed and intimidated. Perhaps bribed, that I do not know. But he does not appear to be a pushover. More like someone who plays poker and puts a colt on the table.

- The world is congratulating the President Elect because such is diplomatic practice. But Russia is publically celebrating. Mr. Adamkus, is this also a signal?

V. Adamkus: of course, Russians will seek their goals. Any change offers Russia hope that it will take the lead. Supposedly the US is now a friend and there is nothing to fear. I am sure, however, that the USA will not change its direction and will uphold its commitments. Doubts rise because we do not know Donald Trump, we do not know what he is like. Everyone says that he is unpredictable, hasty, and capable of mischief. I also feared up until his victory speech, where he was very careful, not committed to isolation. The United States cannot isolate itself just based on economic factors. It does not need territory, it needs markets. On the other hand, Trump will need to reckon with the Republican Party. That is an even firmer basis to believe that the US will uphold its principles.

- Prof Landsbergis, the joy of Trump’s victory is palpable in Russia. Politicians and local news call it a positive event in the US. What do you think about that?

Prof Landsbergis: There is much hope, but it may just burn up. I will return to American self-respect once again. For 10 years now, Moscow has broadcast statements that the US is a monster, which is to blame for all the wrongs in the world, for the poverty of the unfortunate Russians and such. Perhaps the new president will now say “Perhaps end this topic, if you want to talk.” Perhaps he will not tolerate lies?

L. Linkevičius: Intent to decrease tensions are welcome. Many have tried, but few succeeded. It is most important that talks are made on a value basis, no based on interests, which is what Russia hopes for right now. Based on interests, the world can be split, but I do not believe that will be the case. I would hope that in the world and in our continent there would be less tension. If possible we should contribute to that.

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