Russia cautiously welcomed the presidency of Donald Trump, but Moscow is still wisely keeping a wait-and-see position on whether it can work with the new White House occupant to improve international relations. Trump’s oft-stated desire to restore friendlier relations with Russia and his comment last week that he’d trust Russian leader V V Putin as much as he would Germany’s Angela Merkel are all to be welcomed as apparent steps toward a more sane US policy. However, there remain big questions about Trump’s reliability in following through.
Trump’s apparent aspirations for normalising relations with Russia are certainly more promising than the aggressive Russophobia that was the staple of Washington’s policy under his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W Bush, but can the former business mogul deliver? There’s more than a sneaking feeling that the billionaire property magnate turned politician says a lot of things which he later flatly contradicts. It’s not clear if this trait is due to wilful deception, or less maliciously, due to a feckless short attention span. Either way, the upshot is a character of questionable integrity. Over the weekend, following Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, we got more of a flavour of his vacillating brand.
On Saturday, the first full day as president, Trump’s first official duty was to visit the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley VA, just across the Potomac River from his White House residence in Washington DC. There, he lavished the agency with praise and gratitude, saying he was “1,000 percent” in support of its intelligence work. Trump also scoffed at media reports that he had a feud with the CIA. Trump said to cheering agency staffers:
No one supports you as much as I do
Now, hold on a moment. Indeed, Trump had a very public running battle with the CIA and other US intelligence agencies before and after the election in November. Initially, he denounced their claims that Russia had hacked the elections as “ridiculous”. Later, he sort of retracted that, agreeing with their allegations against Russia. Only weeks before his inauguration, Trump slammed the CIA for “Nazi” practices over leaks to media outlets that the agency briefed him about allegations of Russian blackmail. Some observers noted approvingly that this abrasive attitude from Trump towards the CIA indicated a bold independence from the shadowy unelected power centres of the USA… the so-called Deep State. However, what we saw over the weekend was President Trump making it a priority to coddle the spooks who act as the muscle behind the Deep State. Just remember the phrase:
I’m 1,000 percent behind you.
Rather different from John F Kennedy’s vow to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces”. The CIA is one of the most criminal murderous secret agencies ever in the history of the world… an agency essential for projecting American power. It’s involved in everything from assassinating foreign leaders to overthrowing democratic governments in place of murderous regimes to covertly arming terrorist proxies. For Trump to rush over to Langley as his first order of business on his first day in office and to exalt an agency known informally but more accurately as “Murder Inc”, is a disturbing sign of where his priorities lie. The following instances aren’t meant as a comprehensive list of other Trump U-turns, but there’s enough contained here for serious doubts about his character.
On Friday, straight after his presidential swearing-in on Capitol Hill, Trump hosted at a Congressional luncheon. In after-dinner toasts, he singled out Hillary Clinton and her husband, ex-president Bill, as “fine people” and requested they both stand up to receive applause from the hundreds of guests. Say what? During the election campaign against Democrat rival Hillary Clinton, Trump ferociously labelled her “Crooked Hillary” owing to sleazy Wall Street connections. Trump also vowed to launch criminal investigations against Clinton and he encouraged his supporters at rallies to chant, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Another one of Trump’s rallying calls was a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington of big business interests, lobbyists, and political place-men. However, so far he stuffed his incoming cabinet with nominees who are billionaire personifications of the Washington swamp, appointing Wall Street financiers to positions overseeing government finance and the economy. On a lighter note, but equally enlightening, was Trump’s Twitter rage at Hollywood actress Meryl Streep. After blasting Trump at the Golden Globes awards ceremony earlier this month, he hit back by describing the screen star as “over-rated”. Hmm… only a couple of years ago, Trump named Meryl Streep as one his favourite artists.
Getting back to a more serious vein, last week, Donald Trump gave a wide-ranging interview to British and German media in which he pilloried Russia for its military intervention in Syria and blamed Moscow for unleashing a “humanitarian crisis”. That marked quite a change from Trump’s earlier stated views on Russia’s actions in Syria, when he praised them for wiping out Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) and other terror groups. In his weekend fawning over the CIA, Trump was following on from the pathetic prostrations of his cabinet picks during Congressional confirmation hearings over the past two weeks. Nominee after nominee, including his pick for Defence Secretary General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, and his chosen new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, cravenly adopted the Establishment line that Russia represents a dire threat to US national security. All this (and more besides) raises the question… can one trust Trump? When Trump says the US-led NATO military alliance is “obsolete”, what does that really mean? That we should decommission the 28-nation war machine? Or rather, does “obsolete” in Trump’s inscrutable thinking mean that we need to revamp and reinvigorate the war machine?
There seems little doubt that Trump’s election was preferable to that of Hillary Clinton. Her open hostility towards Russia and willingness for military confrontation would’ve been disastrous. By contrast, Trump’s stated willingness to engage positively with Russia is a welcome departure from the belligerent policy extant in Washington. Nevertheless, there are more than a few signs that Trump is just a maverick big-mouth who says things with gusto only to flatly contradict himself later. Perhaps, Trump does personally want to restore relations with Russia. Perhaps, he’ll go ahead and meet Putin in person soon. So far, Moscow cautiously welcomes Trump’s presidency. Nevertheless, Russian leaders know that the systematic causes of US belligerence run deeper than one man can possibly contest. Moreover, given Trump’s erratic thinking, there are grounds for suspicion that the deeper system of US power… the Deep State… will be able to manipulate him into adopting its agenda. With regard to Russia and other perceived global rivals, that agenda is one of hostility and conflict… not partnership. That’s how US capitalist power operates. In which case, Russia is prudent to be wary of the Trump administration. Hope for the best, but expect a Trump U-turn at any time.
22 January 2017