Trump and Russia: A Bright Spot in an Incoherent Foreign Policy?

June 15, 2017 – By Michael Drohan

One of the most baffling aspects of the present political moment in the US is that President Trump is being grilled and baked over the one thing in his policy platform that deserves credit, if not praise. I speak of détente and rapprochement with the Russian Federation and its leaders. The case built against Trump is that the Russians interfered with the US presidential electoral process and swung it in his favor. It is ironic that the US accuses another country, in this case Russia, of interfering in US elections when it is normal practice for the US to interfere in and determine the outcome of elections, as in more than fifty countries since the end of World War 2.

The principal entity behind the demonization of Trump for cozying up to Russia and President Putin is the “Deep State.” This entity is variously defined but in its most expansive expression it includes the security agencies (CIA, FBI and NSA), congressional parties, major corporations, the universities and the liberal press. Many of these institutions are steeped in a Cold War mindset and a Russo phobia which has not been affected by the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, or the fact that Russia today is a rabidly capitalist country with which they would normally be in cahoots. The fact that Trump has shown an affinity towards Russia and its leaders is not to suggest that this is out of any altruistic or high-principled motivation. Perhaps there are links to mafia-esque elements in the Russian oligarchy and banks. At its face value, however, détente between the former Cold War powers, both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons of mass destruction, has to be deemed a healthy development no matter how one feels about Trump on other matters.

Lest we be carried away by this bright spot of Trump’s foreign policy, it behooves us to put it in the context of his other foreign policy positions. His recent visit to Saudi Arabia tells us much of what is important to know about his policy orientation in general. His very first visit to a foreign country is to the most autocratic, dictatorial and savage nation in the world. There are absolutely no democratic institutions allowed in Saudi Arabia, such as Congresses or voting, and misogyny is the law of the land. It practices a form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, which it has exported to many other Islamic countries and is the inspiration for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia is involved in instigating many conflicts in the region, most especially its brutal assault on Yemen, destroying much of that country. Saudi Arabia is the standard-bearer for Sunni Islam and the demonization of Shia Islam, especially in Iran. When Trump visited Saudi Arabia, he and his hosts declared joint hostility to the Tehran regime. None of this bodes well for the nuclear deal hammered out between the US and Iran in the last year of the Obama regime. At base, it seems that the principal thrust of the Trump visit to Saudi Arabia was to prop up the Saudi princes and deliver to them $110 billion worth of lethal weapons to visit death and mayhem on the region. If one takes Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia as symbolic of the administration’s Middle East policy, one cannot but lament for the afflicted peoples of the Middle East, with their hopes for peace dashed.

Another aspect of the developing foreign policy of the Trump regime that presents some ambiguities is the relationship to Europe and NATO. On his recent visit to Europe, Trump berated the European powers for not paying their fair share of the cost of their defense by NATO and the cost it imposes on US taxpayers. There is much irony in this entire situation. NATO, of course, is an obsolete organization. It was formed during the Cold War as a bulwark of defense against Communism and the Soviet Union. The extension of NATO to include most of the USSR’s former member states was a clear violation of the agreement between President Gorbachev and then President of the US, George H.W. Bush . In a word, its purpose was to encircle and choke the Russian Federation. Little did Trump realize that the Europeans could easily come back at him by abolishing NATO, as they might prefer to ally themselves with the Russian Federation against an unreliable ally, the USA. This might be the unintended positive consequence of Trump’s bashing the Europeans.

And then there is Trump’s Far East foreign policy to consider. It seems bedeviled with contradictions. On the one hand, he has engaged in demonizing the Chinese for inventing the myth of global warming and taking away US jobs. On the other hand, he demands that China rein in North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. He also seems to be challenging China’s claim to artificial islands in the South China Sea in the name of freedom of the seas. All in all, a disturbing foreign policy.

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of the Thomas Merton Center.


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