Trump’s soft-pedalling on Russia could be his undoing
The latest storm is over reports that the US president revealed classified counterterrorism intelligence to a Russian delegation. The appointment of a special prosecutor can paralyse governanceeditorials Updated: May 17, 2017 17:19 IST
Nowhere is the gap between the worldviews of Donald Trump and the United States establishment wider than in their respective attitudes towards Russia. President Trump is arguably the friendliest Oval Office occupant that Moscow has had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. However, almost every other element of the US system is hostile to Russia. The result is a schizophrenic US attitude to the Kremlin, but one that could be potentially fatal to the Trump presidency.
The latest storm is over reports that the US president revealed classified counterterrorism intelligence to a Russian delegation. This is in addition to existing concerns in the US that Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was behind a hacking of the US Democratic Party campaign and may have helped influence the elections. Mr Trump’s unusual sacking of the Federal Bureau of Investigation director was partly a fallout of the FBI’s own Russia inquiry. At last count, there are three official US investigations into the degree of Russian interference in US politics.
He takes a benign view of Russia’s annexation of part of the Ukraine and, like a true businessman, deeply disapproves of the use of sanctions. Mr Trump also believes a US-Russia military alliance would be the best means to destroy the Islamic State. Some of this is not without merit, but he lacks the patience or charm to sell this policy to his own government and the US Congress. Mr Putin’s own actions – whether his suspected cyber activities or his repressive behaviour at home – have not been helpful to his cause. The US president’s own whimsical behaviour is only making things worse. The recent intelligence gaffe, where Mr Trump broke protocols that would have ended the career of a normal official, only added to a sense of a US president overly under the influence of an unfriendly foreign power.
The steady deterioration of the US-Russia relationship, despite Mr Trump’s best efforts, is unfortunate for the world at large. The more Moscow feels isolated, the more it becomes dependent on Beijing and the more willing it is to undermine US interests in Afghanistan or elsewhere. All these developments are also inimical to India’s interests. They are also a growing threat to the Trump presidency. The US president’s antics are feeding momentum in Washington in favour of appointing a special prosecutor to settle what Mr Trump has dubbed “the Russia thing.” Special prosecutors, as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton know well, are legal entities whose investigations alone can paralyse a government. With polls showing 80% of Americans supporting a special prosecutor, it will be curious to see how long his Republican Party colleagues continue to shield him.