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Did Trump in Moscow give away the store?

Jul 19,2018 - Last updated at Jul 19,2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in a benign mood after a perfectly organised World Cup, which gave Russians and foreigners the rare freedom to mass in the street. In response, the world TV audience has looked at Russia with new eyes. Maybe there is a new Russia coming to the boil, which, if the West could seize the chance, could help the two countries make a pot of very tasty and good tea! Maybe.

The Donald Trump/Vladimir Putin encounter is as convoluted as they come.

There seems to be two American policies towards Russia, one led by the president, the second led by his advisers. On nearly every issue, bar two, Trump appears to be more dovish than his administration. He never criticises Putin publically. Trump has not made a great fuss about the Russian presence in Syria, nor its coziness with Iran and China. He has not criticised the crackdown on some leaders of the opposition in Russia. He has congratulated Putin on winning reelection. He has taken the word of Putin that his government has had nothing to do with the hacking of the election that partly helped bring Trump to power. He regularly says NATO is obsolete, which implies he does not believe NATO expansion up to Russian borders was a good move since it has provoked Russia more than any other single issue. Only on Ukraine and Germany has he taken an anti-Russian line. He has sent in sophisticated weapons to be used by the Ukrainian army against Russian-supported militias. He has criticised Germany for depending on Russian gas. But could these latter two moves be smokescreens to provide cover for his overall pro-Russian direction?

Trump, to the dismay of his advisers, the leadership in Congress, the intelligence services and significant parts of the press and academia, has taken his own path. They have raised the alarm about Trump’s unilateral behaviour in insisting on meeting Putin one to one with no one else in the room, apart from two interpreters.

Was Putin dangling Trump like a marionette? Has Putin got the goods on Trump from the days long ago when, while organising the Miss World beauty contest in Moscow, Trump hired prostitutes and was filmed in bed with them? Has Putin also got inside knowledge of the shady part of Trump’s property dealing in Russia?

Maybe he has, maybe he has not. The fact is, as I have argued long before either Obama or Trump came to power, the supposed unilateral policies by Trump are the right ones.

It is all rather bazaar. Trump is the elected president of America. Isn’t he the boss in foreign affairs, as is customary? Can’t he impose his will? Can’t he fire the advisers who try to fashion an alternative, neo-conservative, hardline, foreign policy and replace them with those who are sympathetic with his policies, like the Harvard professor of international affairs, Stephen Walt, who is about to publish a scathing attack on the “Blob” in his new book, “The Hell of Good Intentions?” Is Trump intimidated by this “Blob”, the marvelous word dreamt up by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s chief speechwriter, to describe the foreign policy establishment? Is he held back by knowing that the FBI and the special counsel have got the goods on him on his under-the-counter business ties with Russia too? After all during his campaign he did make a speech advocating that Russia should break into his opponent, Hilary Clinton’s e-mail.

We do not yet know the answer to these questions. But we do know from the well-informed Walt that there is a strong case for supporting Trump’s foreign policy while scorning his erratic behaviour, his lies, as recently in London, his misogynistic and racist behaviour, his treatment of the arrested migrant children and his policies on climate change and the environment etc.

Walt argues that since the end of the Cold War successive Administrations have embraced a policy of “liberal hegemony” and that it has been a costly failure. The populace has not supported it but the “Blob” has. Foreign policy types, if they admit it and some have, have felt pressured to conform for fear of losing status and authority. It has cost the US a lot, not least in unnecessary foreign wars. Walt and we, the people, wait to see what Trump will do to defeat their influence.

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