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Derek H. Burney was Canada's ambassador to Washington from 1989 to 1993. Fen Osler Hampson is a distinguished fellow and director of global security at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chancellor's Professor at Carleton University.

Regardless of who is appointed the next U.S. secretary of state, president-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy may prove as unconventional as his campaign and his current style of appointments to the incoming cabinet. But whoever it is, policy will be made by the White House and by the President himself. The new secretary of state's job will be to do the president's bidding; not the other way around. That has been the pattern of presidential decision making on foreign policy since George Marshall relinquished his post as Harry Truman's secretary of state.

We can also expect a return to Henry Kissinger-style realpolitik in U.S. foreign policy under Mr. Trump; a realpolitik that allows Russia and China to manage their respective spheres of influence, and where great powers, both rising and falling, are conceded a key role by the United States in managing what Mr. Kissinger referred to earlier this year as the "new equilibrium."

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Mr. Kissinger, a long-standing friend of the president-elect, met with Mr. Trump shortly after the Nov. 8 election. This speaks volumes about the new direction U.S. foreign policy will take.

Mr. Kissinger has been a champion of dialogue and accommodation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was part of a joint Russian-American study group of ministers and former diplomatic and military officials who met from 2007-09 to ease tensions between the two countries. Since then, he has quietly stressed the virtues of diplomacy and engagement with Mr. Putin. With Mr. Trump, he now has an eager student who repeatedly said on the election campaign train that he is prepared to negotiate with Russia's leader.

As such, the days of American-led, democratic nation building are now clearly over. That enterprise began under president Bill Clinton after the Cold War ended, during the brief moment of U.S. global hegemony that allowed the United States to transport its democratic values around the world. The Balkans, Cambodia, Mozambique and Central America were just some of the targets of those post-Cold War nation-building efforts.

Although George W. Bush and his then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice wanted to get out of the nation-building enterprise, they were dragged back into it with a vengeance by the subsequent U.S. invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq after the Sept. 11 attacks.

President Barack Obama tried to disengage from nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, but did so half-heartedly and with muddled intentions. In Syria and throughout the Middle East, the United States has been unable to disengage itself from its democracy-building soft-power instincts, at least rhetorically, even as it lets Russia exploit the security vacuum left by indecision and self-erasing "red lines."

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Mr. Trump clearly has no such hang-ups. Democratic nation building is not on his score card. He is ready to do business with Russia just so long as Mr. Putin is allied with the United States in the war against terrorism, which is Mr. Trump's top security priority. The desire to cuddle Mr. Putin may backfire; the Russian leader may not be satisfied with half a loaf in Ukraine, and if his ambitions extend to the Baltic states, more than just the NATO alliance will be dead. If Mr. Trump, as expected, advocates for a relaxing of sanctions against Russia, that will put him on a collision course with many Republicans in Congress and quite possibly with his secretary of defense.

China is another matter. Mr. Trump has already tweaked President Xi's nose by taking a call from Taiwan's leader, a long-standing "no no" in U.S. diplomacy. He is likely to be a lot tougher with the Chinese on trade and on their territorial claims in the South China Sea. What is perplexing is that Mr. Trump plans to shelve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was also intended to bring U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific more into North America's economic orbit, and thus reduce China's regional influence. The death of the TPP will only serve to erode U.S. ties to the region while giving China carte blanche to deepen its economic linkages and spheres of influence. Worst of all for Mr. Trump would be actions that drive China and Russia together against the United States and the West, especially in what is becoming China's century.

Mr. Trump clearly does not understand the importance of calibrating economic diplomacy with the United States' broader strategic and security interests. That same calibration is also important in a North American context if Mr. Trump wants a stronger, more deeply integrated North America to serve as a bulwark against China. Mr. Kissinger's new student clearly still has much to learn about the finer points of realpolitik and the importance of deft, not unconventional, diplomacy.

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