Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Trump on Russia: Rational vs. Organizational Decisions

How would a Trump presidency play out in the real world? Using different decision-making models leads us to different predictions about the future. Two such decision-making models are the rational choice model and the organizational model. The rational choice model assumes that a state is a unitary actor, has ranked preferences, and can choose the best policy option for the situation at hand. The organizational model recognizes that a state's policy on a given subject is the combination of various institutions’ own policies regarding the subject. These internal agencies represent many different sides of an issue and each has its own set of preferences and end goals.

Assuming the Trump administration aligned with rational choice theory, meaning President Trump’s foreign policy was decided by a rational, unitary actor, we could predict the foreign policy toward Russia to be a reset in relations to wipe the slate clean and start over. The precedent for resetting relations with Russia was established by George H. W. Bush and upheld by all three U.S. presidents since then. Given Trump’s favorable rhetoric toward Putin, there is no reason to conclude he wouldn’t attempt to renew favorable relations with Russia after Obama’s tenure ends on less than favorable terms with Putin.

How would a positive relationship between Trump and Putin affect the situation in Syria? If we place faith in Trump’s self-proclaimed ability to negotiate with Putin, we would expect Russia to stop supporting the Assad regime in Syria and instead assist us in our efforts to support the Syrian rebels, or at least to stop working against us and the Syrian rebels. This, of course, assumes that Trump is a rational actor and that his claims hold weight.

On the other hand, the organizational model’s view of a Trump administration’s policy toward Russia takes into account the various institutions that contribute to ultimately forming foreign policy. These organizational actors include but are not limited to presidential national security advisors, the Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Defense (DOD), each with its own view of the Russia/Syria situation and policy objectives. The national security advisors offer expertise on how to handle situations. The DOS aims to settle disputes through negotiating ceasefires and peace talks. The DOD aims to meet external conflicts with offensive force to prevent the need for defensive force at home. The combination of these policy objectives will likely lead to hesitation to rely on Russian assistance, and continue to focus on supporting the Syrian rebels in their struggle against the Assad regime. 

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