The US liberal media onslaught on Donald Trump’s claimed absolute unsuitability for the US presidency continues. In every possibly way, Trump is being dissected forensically and brutally.
This hostile media campaign continues to focus heavily on allegations that Putin tilted the election in Trump’s favour by hacking and releasing through Wikileaks material from the Democratic Party Convention that fatally damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign, not to mention alleged sexually compromising material about Trump in Putin’s possession: and claiming that Trump as President is therefore now ‘Putin’s puppet’ which would be an impeachable offence, if enough members of both Houses of Congress could be persuaded of the truth and national security importance of it.
Some more Republican-leaning US commentators say this is unlikely now, given the rivalry and mistrust between Democratic and Republican Party members of Congress, and the Republican self-interest in avoiding the political trauma and shame of their President’s impeachment.
This has not halted the intense liberal media onslaught, but Trump’s team would be advising him to sit tight and weather the storm. The forced resignation of Michael Flynn certainly invigorated the anti-Trump campaign, but it could start to run out of oxygen soon unless more dramatic US intelligence agency leaks give it a fresh burst of energy.
Meanwhile, Trump’s initial hopes for detente with Moscow are stalled, seen by some as dead in the water. Every favourable move by Trump towards Putin will be seen and judged adversely in the frame of Putin’ alleged control over Trump. So Trump has had to reverse his hoped-for setting aside of Ukraine as the prime reason for sanctions: he has had to reaffirm US Government condemnation of Russian annexation of Crimea and assistance to the Eastern Ukrainian rebels. Not much hope for detente there. Trump has made soothing noises towards NATO’s substantial military forward deployment in countries adjacent to Russia. No joy for Putin there either.
Thus, Cold War Mark 2 is set to continue for a while yet. Hopefully, not as dangerously as it would have been under Hillary. Trump’s heart is not in these policies and he will look for opportunities to moderate them.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Russia has consolidated diplomatic wins in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Crimea and East Ukraine, and even with China. Under Trump, preoccupied and distracted by his own survival, the US may not have the will or quality of leadership to try to recover these strategic setbacks as judged by the old Bush-Obama-Clinton Washington consensus. So Russia has at least gained something out of all the recent pain of the transition from Obama to Trump.
Nevertheless, I would think Putin must be privately disappointed. But, ever the cool professional, he is publicly taking the long view. Official spokespersons Dmitry Peskov (President’s Office) and Maria Zakharova (Foreign Ministry) advise patience and warn this will be a long game to come.
There is talk of a proposed Putin-Trump summit in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, before the next G20 Summit in July. Slovenia- born Melania Trump went to university here. So it could be a fine venue for pan-Slav sentiments of East-West nostalgia and friendship.
However, around the Moscow media world (Russia has in some respects a free press, and there does seem to be a diversity of Russian elite opinion on this), there is openly expressed disappointment that Trump caved in to the anti-Russian US establishment view so early in his presidency.
The forced resignation of Flynn is seen by these critics as a particular sign of weakness in Trump. Russians expect and respect strong leadership, but they have seen little of it on display yet in President Trump. There a sad realisation that he may be ‘a weak tsar’: not tough enough, as Nixon was tough, to take US-Soviet detente forward in a hostile domestic environment in Washington.
Maxim Trudolyubov, Editor-in-Chief of the Kennan Institute Russia File blog, but also an Editor-at-Large of the well-regarded Moscow ‘Vedomosti’ daily elite newspaper, writes on this for his Kennan blog:
‘But the euphoria is gone. Little remains of the early dreams that the two former opponents, Russia and the United States, would sweep the ground clean of the legacies of the past and build a new relationship. There is a feeling in Moscow that the moment for a quick turnaround, if it ever existed, has passed.
‘The backdrop for a possible summit is growing more and more cluttered. What was supposed to be a “Trump advantage” for Russia has now turned into an increasingly acute Russia problem for Trump. Monday night’s resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn took this affliction to a new level.’
As one informed Australian commentator said to me, ‘a more constructive relationship with Russia makes sense – but problems arise when we allow advocacy of such a new direction to become entangled with such a disreputable and frivolous leader as Trump’.
Much will depend on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in weeks ahead. Can he be Trump’s Kissinger, quietly laying foundations for a new US-Russia detente in Ljubljana, while Trump weathers the domestic storms at home, with both men hoping that they die down by summertime?
One expert American observer, with academic skin in the game – Professor Stephen Cohen of the respected American Committee for East-West Accord – still hopes that the Trump administration can progress detente. On the John Batchelor Radio Show on 15 February, Cohen argued passionately (See https://www.thenation.com/article/kremlin-baiting-president-trump-without-facts-must-stop/ ) that ‘bipartisan allegations that Trump is a “puppet” of or “compromised” by the Kremlin have grown into latter-day McCarthyism, with grave threats to America and the world’.
I cite him in full here because of the importance of what he says. He continues that the bipartisan, nearly full-political-spectrum tsunami of allegations that President Trump has been seditiously ‘compromised’ by the Kremlin (e.g., Thomas Friedman, New York Times, February 15), with scarcely any non-partisan pushback at any influential political or media levels—and without any yet verified facts—is deeply alarming to him. Begun by the Clinton campaign in mid-2016, the practice is growing into a kind of latter-day McCarthyite red-baiting and hysteria. Such politically malignant practices are to be deplored anywhere they appear, without exception, whether on the part of conservatives or liberals or progressives. They are driven, Cohen continues, by political forces with various agendas: the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party that wants to maintain its grip on the party in its internal struggle ahead by insisting she did not lose the election but it was stolen by Russian President Putin for Trump; by enemies of Trump’s proposed détente with Russia, who want to discredit both him and Putin; by Republicans and Democrats outraged that Trump essentially ran and won without either party, thereby threatening the established two-party system, etc. Whatever the motivating factors, the ensuing slurring of Trump, which is already producing calls for his impeachment, poses grave threats to US and international security and to American democracy itself.
Cohen concludes his Nation article powerfully that:
‘It is less Putin who is threatening American democracy than is the Kremlin-baiting of President Trump —unless facts can be produced for its allegations. Less Putin who is endangering US and international security than the American enemies of détente who resort to such tactics. Less Putin who is degrading US media with “fake news”—unless facts are presented to support the mainstream media allegations against Trump regarding Russia. And less the “former KGB thug Putin” who is poisoning American politics, than the US intelligence leakers who are at war against their new president.’.
Interesting weeks ahead. But i would venture my arm and say – the prospects of Trump’s impeachment may have peaked already. What should Australia do? Stand back, keep shhtum, and await developments.
See also Tony Kevin, in P&I, 6 February, ‘Trump, Putin and the priming of the impeachment trigger‘.
Tony Kevin‘s latest book Return to Moscow, a literary-historical travel memoir, published by University of Western Australia Press, will have its first Canberra public outing on Thursday 23 February at 6 pm at Paperchain Bookstore Manuka, with Jon Stanhope former Chief Minister of the ACT. All welcome. See uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/return-to-moscow .