Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Trump’s Muddled Russia Policy

Although the mainstream media narrative about Trump’s Russia ties has been fairly linear, in reality the situation appears to be anything but.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lobelog

Donald Trump has a Russia problem.

Lying about ties to or conversations with Russian officials has dogged the Trump administration from the get go. First, former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn bit the dust after a series of contradictory statements regarding his interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Now, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is under similar fire for ostensibly fibbing about his own interactions with Kislyak during the campaign. A few days later, a New York Times story broke that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had even gotten in on the action.

News of these actions have provided ample fodder for Democrats—and a few Republicans—to justify a bipartisan, independent inquiry into the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest. Although there are three current congressional inquiries—one by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and two others by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, respectively—they mostly focus on Russia’s electoral interference and whether the Trump campaign were aware of such activities.

Yet as disturbing as Trump and his administration’s rhetoric and alleged collusion with the Russian government have been, there have been no obvious compromised policies. At best, the policy proposals coming out of the White House have been muddled. At worst, they’ve been incoherent and contradictory.

The Russians, it seems, are well aware. Dmitry Peskov—Putin’s spokesman, who, according to the unverified Steele dossier, was reportedly the Russian “handler” for the Trump campaign—noted that the Kremlin was waiting with “patience…for some kind of actions” as they had “heard different statements from President Trump.” Others, especially in the Russian media, have been less diplomatic.

Admittedly, Trump’s offer of “better relations” between the two powers worked better as a rhetorical device than it does a policy proposal. Although Trump, at various points throughout his campaign, offered Russia possible sanctions relief and cooperation on “counter-terrorism” efforts in Syria, the administration’s pro-Russian policies are lacking in substance. Rather, what matters is the geopolitical promise that Trump’s administration offers—enough of a retrenchment by key players in the global liberal order to allow Russia to “do its own thing.”

Policy Whiplash

Instead of a calculated ideological shift, that retrenchment boils down to U.S. policy paralysis. Though this inaction has been, in part, the result of pushback from both Democrats and Republicans alike, it’s also hard to overstate how conflicted and contradictory the White House policy has been on anything. 

The past week in particular has been instructive. Last Tuesday, Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s appointed U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, clashed publicly with Russian officials in the U.N. Security Council following a vote on a measure that would have imposed sanctions on any actors using chemical weapons in the war in Syria. In her blunt, frustrated rebuke of Russia’s—and China’s—veto, she emphasized their “outrageous and indefensible choice” to “put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.” Already, some defenders of Trump’s foreign policy have condemned her “astonishing ignorance.”

Trump’s reported choice of two noted Kremlin critics for top posts crafting Russia policy indicated a possible shift from Trump’s campaign rhetoric—possibly in response to recent charges. On Thursday, Foreign Policy’s John Hudson reported that the White House had tapped Fiona Hill, a Brookings scholar and co-author of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, as its senior director for Europe and Russia. The Trump administration is reportedly eyeing Jon Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China and director of the center-right Atlantic Council, as its ambassador to Russia. Though a long-time Trump supporter, Huntsman—who once slammed Obama’s efforts at a “reset” as a “Potemkin village in which we pretend the Kremlin is more of a partner than it is”—is an unlikely supporter of a detente with Russia.

The Sanctions Flashpoint

On February 19—less than a month after Trump took office—The New York Times reported that several Trump associates—including Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, and Felix Sater, a business associate who helped Trump get a foot in the door in Russia—have been nursing a plan to lift Russian sanctions. Spearheaded by Andrey Artemenko, described by the Times as a “a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine,” the plan involves a peace plan friendly to Russian interests, as well as a strategy to help oust Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. To date, Cohen and Sater have “said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal.”

Still, the main sanctions news came as a result of a process put in place by the Obama administration—a “technical fix” that was aimed at easing the strain placed on U.S. tech companies exporting goods to Russia.

Indeed, even if the administration were united in its desire to roll back sanctions, recent legislative proposals could prevent it from doing so. Anti-Trump Democrats and Republicans have latched onto Russia as a key point of resistance. Both houses of Congress have introduced their own protective measures—the Russia Sanctions Review Act (S.341/H.R.1059) and the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 (S.94). Though there are substantive differences between the proposed acts, they limit the executive’s power to roll back sanctions through a variety of channels, whether by requiring congressional reviews or outlining strict guidelines for “a very robust sanctions regime.”

In the end, the question is how much—if anything—did Russia expect from Trump? Whether or not there was a quid pro quo between the campaign and Russian authorities, as has been alleged by some (admittedly unverified) sources, is less important than whether Russia expected Trump to act in its interests. Yes, “Trump and his entire campaign team are precisely the kinds of fringe characters that Russians have traditionally cultivated,” writes Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books. But there’s a crucial disclaimer attached to that point: these efforts often have “no measurable effect.”

Although the mainstream media narrative about Trump’s Russia ties has been fairly linear, in reality the situation appears to be anything but. As Evan Osnos of the New Yorker recently noted on Fresh Air, Russia’s interference—far from having a clear goal, at least at first—“was a little bit like a bank heist that instead of blowing the door off the safe and getting inside, they sort of inadvertently blew up the safe entirely.” Now it’s a matter of picking up the pieces.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and two-time failed presidential candidate, is a foreign policy hawk with neoconservative leanings who appears set to become the next senator from Utah.


Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and longtime “superlobbyist” who has supported numerous neoconservative advocacy campaigns, has become embroiled in the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.


Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share