Trump’s picks for a new national security advisors and Russia ambassador — Herbert Raymond McMaster and John Huntsman, who cannot be seen as “doves” — indicate that the U.S. president is trying to find common ground with the establishment and legitimize his presidency.
Trump's refusal to mention Russia during his address to Congress indicates that he might be consistent in his attempts to see eye-to-eye with the Kremlin. Photo: Donald Trump's official facebook page
As it could be expected, not a single day of Trump’s presidency has been quiet since his Jan. 20 inauguration. The American political establishment continues to perceive him as a real threat to its power and privileges and thus keeps scrutinizing his policymaking and almost every move, probably, to delegitimize his actions and find a loophole for his impeachment.
The latest example of Trump’s uneasy relations with the establishment is the case of U.S. Attorney General, a former Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions. The current campaign against the government officials and the Kremlin in the media is unprecedented since the times when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy launched the Witch Hunt to eradicate "hostile" foreign agents in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. However, McCarthysm, while being cruel and mean spirited, at least had some real political foundations — the desire to root out the political left and those sympathetic to the Soviet Union in the beginning of the Cold War.
But the problem is that the current attempts to find Russia’s trace in U.S. policymaking are based on allegations and exaggerated claims, created an unrealistic picture of the world, in which Russia, not China, is the main U.S. rival. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen as an almighty and omnipresent politician with God-like powers. Such a narrative seems to target the U.S. President himself.
This might result from Trump’s attempts to introduce a systemic change not only in the U.S. domestic policy, but also in its foreign policy. In contrast to his immediate predecessors in the White House and many of his current opponents, Trump is an advocate of the classical realist approach, emphasizing national interests over ideology.
In addition, he believes that the center of the world power is quickly moving from the North Atlantic, where it was located for the last five centuries, to the North Pacific — the area between the United States and China. Thus Europe and NATO are quickly losing their strategic significance while a new, tripolar configuration is emerging, with Russia becoming a wild card that the U.S. can play now against China — exactly the way former President Richard Nixon played China against the Soviet Union after 1972.
Within this paradigm, there are essentially only two options — either Russia will be with the U.S. against China, or with China — against the U.S. This approach is further reinforced by Trump’s desire to cooperate with Russia in solving the problem of Islamic fundamentalist extremism and the fact that he and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as successful businessmen, are very skeptical in regard to what they see as wasting money on the political regimes in Ukraine and Georgia.
And here come two serious problems for the current administration. First, the lambasting criticism of the Kremlin and Trump’s associates for their alleged contacts with Russia in reality can be seen as the attacks against Trump himself.
Second, there is also a substantive basis for these attacks, which could add up to their opposition to Trump’s intentions to improve relations with Russia and to cooperate with it in a number of important security areas. In fact, the anti-Trump coalition is the widest ever and it includes the absolute majority of the Democrats and a significant number of the right-wing Republicans. These unexpected bedfellows, on the one hand, are united by their antipathy toward Trump.
On the other hand, they have different substantive reasons for their opposition to his Russia policy. The Clinton and Obama-style Democrats, who have recently accepted the neoliberal messianic political approach, believe that the tension between the U.S. and Russia represents a real struggle of good and evil; they claim that the U.S. has to spread democratic and liberal values in the world and the post-Soviet space, specifically.
In their turn, the neocon Republicans, while accepting the realistic approach, do not accept the reality of the ongoing geopolitical changes, and continue to view Russia as the major opponent, threatening the U.S. geopolitical hegemony. For them, time has frozen, and nothing has changed in the world after the end of the Cold War.
The existence of this strange alliance makes Trump especially vulnerable on the Russian policy direction, and creates serious stimuli for him to come up with tactical compromises, including raising the level of criticism of Russia and appointing those figures to key political and diplomatic positions that may satisfy his opponents. For example, Trump’s picks for a new national security advisors and Russia ambassador — Herbert Raymond McMaster and John Huntsman, who cannot be seen as doves — indicate that the U.S. president is trying to find common ground with the establishment and legitimize his presidency.
However, Trump's refusal to mention Russia during his address to Congress indicates that his strategic plans in this regard remain the same — he might be consistent in his attempts to see eye-to-eye with the Kremlin. This seems to have slipped the attention of the Russian media and political elites, who demonstrate skepticism and misunderstanding of his latest moves on the Russian direction, demanding the immediate removal of sanctions and other radical steps on the part of the Trump administration.
This All or Nothing approach could further hamper both Trump’s positions in the White House and U.S.-Russian relations.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.