US President Donald Trump’s hope that Washington and Moscow could partner in finding solutions for troubling global issues such as terrorism is being dashed by US lawmakers, intelligence services and a hostile media. As a candidate, Trump expressed his wish to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to test the waters. Putin, whose relationship with the Obama administration bordered on glacial, was more than keen to engage.
Trump may not be a savvy politician or foreign-policy expert, but he has sufficient common sense to realize that cementing an alliance with a geopolitical rival is preferable to a stand-off — or in the worst-case scenario, open aggression — in which no side profits.
Clearly in the case of Russia, Trump believed he could catch more flies with honey. He was right because Putin is no ideologue; his foreign policy is purely founded on Russia’s interests and ambitions. Like Trump, he is open to doing deals that could ultimately distance Moscow from Beijing and Tehran, not to mention the Syrian regime, whose longevity is the main sticking point to peace.
Just imagine what could be achieved if the US and Russia were pulling in the same direction instead of pulling apart, as happened during the Obama years to the detriment of the Syrian people and Ukraine?
Trump has since been prodded into a corner by a barrage of hyped-up “scandals” over meetings between senior members of his team prior to their Senate confirmations and Russian officials, including Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who has been demonized by CNN — quoting anonymous US intelligence officials — as a top spy and recruiter of spies.
Unfortunately, the failure of the now-sacked National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to disclose those contacts when questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee were damaging errors of judgment.
Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia and Trump critic, told The Hill: “Kislyak’s job is to meet with government officials and campaign people and I think he’s good at his job. People should meet with the Russian ambassador and it’s wrong to criminalize that or discourage it.”
However, there is little chance of warmer relations as things stand. Indeed, the once-friendly climate has been darkly clouded by what Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both describe as ‘a witch hunt.’
Linda S. Heard
There was no budding “bromance” between Trump and Putin, as characterized by the mainstream media. They have never even met. In January, when rapprochement still looked feasible, Trump went on the defensive, telling Fox News: “I don’t know Putin, but if we can get along with Russia, that’s a great thing. It’s good for Russia, it’s good for us… We go out together and knock the hell out of ISIS (Daesh) because that’s the real sickness.”
There is no doubt that Moscow and the Russian people were rooting for a Trump victory, given the anti-Russian rhetoric of his rival Hillary Clinton. And whereas the idea that Moscow launched a propaganda campaign in Trump’s favor is not so far-fetched, to imagine that American voters were swayed by such alleged Russian activities is nonsense.
Furthermore, there is no proof that Putin ordered Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails to be hacked, and there is no suggestion that the leaks, which may have hurt the Clinton campaign, were faked. Levelling condemnation against Russia is a case of shooting the messenger, whether or not Moscow was in fact the messenger.
There is little chance of warmer relations as things stand. Indeed, the once-friendly climate has been darkly clouded by what Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both describe as “a witch hunt.”
White House hints that the so-called “deep state,” orchestrated by former President Barack Obama, is working to bring him down are unsubstantiated, as are Trump’s claims that his predecessor ordered the wire-tapping of Trump Tower.
But it is incontestable that there are forces using the Russian connection to discredit and hamstring the Trump administration. Sadly, the US is not only sleepwalking into a new Cold War with Russia, but is also at war with itself.
• Linda S. Heard is an author and columnist specializing in Middle East affairs.