US PRESIDENT Donald Trump is flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Defense Secretary James Mattis at the White House.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the election of President Donald Trump, relations between the US and Russia have seemingly taken a turn for the better. Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, although metered, is a vast improvement over the bellicose, and practically insane, stance of Hillary Clinton. But the sobering fact is that Trump has a big hill to climb: he still has to convince a group of old and nascent neo-cons not to return to a Cold War mentality.
One of the curious developments during the election was the ramping up of anti-Russian rhetoric among the Democrats.
Clearly, Clinton did a “180” when it came to relations with Russia.
What happened to the “reboot” she was so proud of? The answer may be pure political expediency.
If Trump had a positive view of Putin, both Clinton and her Democrat wonks would have to take an opposite view. The thinking, one might guess, would be to show conservatives that Democrats “really care” about the security of the US.
The more curious situation is the rancor coming from Trump’s own party. Republicans, too, need a Bogey Man to bolster their reelection chances at home and show a strong defense posture.
Listening to a John McCain one might think we have traveled time back to the 1950s and that Russian tanks were rumbling through the streets of Manhattan.
When Democrats and Republicans start to agree on something, it usually means trouble ahead.
So what is at the root of this political enigma? A possible answer is the absolute failure of American foreign policy under Obama – and the giant mistake of the Iraq war in the previous administration. The Obama administration was either too timid or too reckless in mapping out a cogent foreign policy plan. On the one hand we recall the so-called “red line” against the Assad government in Syria, and on the other the turnabout in American relations with Israel.
The Iraq war, rather than bringing stability to the Middle East, only served to destabilize it and to make American foreign policy seem both rudderless and confused.
Neo-cons were quick to want to take aggressive action in Syria, but against whom: Islamic State (ISIS), Syrian President Bashar Assad – or both? The fear was that if the US did not do “something” the Russians would fill the void. Indeed they did: they hammered away at ISIS strongholds and practically neutered the ability of these radical forces, getting the upper hand. American neocons were at the same time crying about “regime change” and the best way to depose Assad. The apparent upshot of all of this was that US foreign policy came out on the wrong side – again.
Apparently, the “get Assad out” forces forgot that while Assad is far from benign, he did protect Christian believers and allowed a degree of religious tolerance in general. And the rebel forces the US was supporting? Well, we’re not so sure.
To his credit, Trump seems to be handling the anti-Russian voices with astute agility. Trump is a pragmatist, and he sees a good relationship with a major world power as a good thing. He knows that he and Putin will not see eye to eye on all issues; every country seeks to advance its own interests.
His thinking on the subject, however, is sound: he will work with Putin as best as possible, and if differences arise, well, he’ll deal with it as it comes.
To the ears of professional politicians, this seems incredibly naïve. But to those old enough to remember the Cold War era, it is a refreshing blast of cool air.
More to the point, Russia is emerging as a robust military power to be reckoned with, emerging from its 1990s economic and power void. America would do well to have a good working relationship with Russia, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of international peace and stability.
Trump brings a new style of governing to the world stage.
His up-front and blunt ways may trouble the career politicians, but as time passes, it will be seen that the old order, and the old paranoia, will be put aside and replaced with common-sense solutions – and common-sense relationships.
One can only hope this will be the case with Russia.The writer is a journalist and author based in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a frequent op-ed contributor to the Gannet news chain. His books include Common Faith Common Culture, and the novel Unnecessary Noises.