Based on the outcome of the first presidential debate, it appears that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is willing to discuss any substantive changes to America’s Russia policy.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands during the presidential debate on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Photo: AP
It should have surprised no one that little was said about Russia during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and billionaire businessman Donald Trump. While there was a brief exchange over cybersecurity and an even briefer exchange over Russia’s role in the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, it appears that neither candidate wanted to tackle the difficult issue of future U.S.-Russia relations.
Two more live televised presidential debates are scheduled before Americans go to the polls on Nov. 8 to decide who will replace U.S. President Barack Obama. But anyone expecting something substantive or new about U.S.-Russian relations over the next five weeks should expect to be disappointed.
Clinton is likely to push a familiar narrative that, at best, Donald Trump’s business relationships with Russia put his judgment in question or, at worst, make him a pawn of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump is likely to say little more than he admires the no-nonsense style Vladimir Putin has embraced.
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Debate moderators or journalists on the campaign trail might use the recent spat between the U.S. and Russia about no-fly zones in Syria to get the candidates to discuss how the former Cold War adversaries must come together to find a lasting solution to the crisis in that Middle East nation. Their answers will most likely be predictable, however. Clinton almost certainly will list both nations, the other states in the area and the U.N. as vital to solving the problem, while Trump’s reply would hint at strong military action, whatever the consequences.
Polling data also will become an important factor in what the candidates say before Election Day. The electorate appears to favor Clinton, though her advantage often depends upon the polling agency, the type of voter surveyed and the precise wording of the questions they are asked. If her lead were to increase in October, she could turn down the intensity of any attacks on Trump and instead begin to speak as if she were the next president. Should that happen, more precise policy plans could be articulated.
However, recognizing that Americans remain more concerned with the economy at home and terrorism anywhere, Russia (except in the context of ISIS and Syria) could be an afterthought.
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One of Clinton’s first acts as Secretary of State was a meeting with Russian officials, in which the now famous “reset” button was presented. Considering how President Obama has moved from wanting to engage Russia to talking about it in mostly negative terms, one of her first actions as president might be to determine whether another “reset” is needed. No gimmicky button would be included in any overture in 2017 and that’s because the stakes are higher.
A President Clinton would want firm answers to the suggestions that the Russian government is engaged in state-sponsored hacking, including targeting U.S. political and economic interests, and demand to know how Russia will work alongside the U.S. as a real partner in addressing the Syria crisis.
Both Americans and Russians will be interested in the responses she gets.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.