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Weissman writes: "No matter how terrible we expect the coming years to be, let me predict against all conventional wisdom that Trump will make them worse by pulling back from his bromance with Putin and joining whole hog in an intensified nuclear arms race, more proxy wars, and even direct confrontation with Russia."

Donald Trump (left) and Vladimir Putin (right). (photo: Mike Segar)
Donald Trump (left) and Vladimir Putin (right). (photo: Mike Segar)

When Trump Falls Out of Love With Putin

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

04 January 17


o matter how terrible we expect the coming years to be, let me predict against all conventional wisdom that Trump will make them worse by pulling back from his bromance with Putin and joining whole hog in an intensified nuclear arms race, more proxy wars, and even direct confrontation with Russia.

I offer this in the face of Putin’s refusal to retaliate tit for tat to Obama’s booting out 35 of Russia’s accredited diplomats and imposing other sanctions over Putin’s alleged hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief. In a gesture of goodwill that Trump called “very smart,” Putin brilliantly laughed off Obama’s attempt to create problems for the incoming president.

Please join me in the heresy. Remind everyone you know of the obvious. Neither Obama nor the joint report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nor the 17 US intelligence agencies offer even a sliver of evidence that Putin made Trump our president.

What they provide are details on hacking and on why Washington believes that Russia did it. Some details are convincing. Few are conclusive. But none of them get to what Obama claims he is giving us. However much hacking Russia did or did not do, hacking alone could not have had any impact on how Americans voted.

In effect and perhaps with intent, Obama is pulling a classic bait-and-switch. He promises a tale of Russian interference in our electoral choice. But he only delivers allegations of Russia’s electronic snooping, much like the American spying all over the world that Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, and others have documented in far greater detail.

To give us what he promises, Obama and his people would have to prove Russian links to the emails WikiLeaks published from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief. In voting as tight as the electoral college race, almost anything could have made the difference, from Hillary’s failure to spend enough time and money in the rust belt to her failing to convince left-leaning voters that she would deliver on her promises to the embarrassment that the content of the WikiLeaks emails caused her.

But Obama’s bait-and-switch offers no evidence at all about any Russia link to those emails. He and his spooks and secret police say nothing at all about it. Nada. Niente. WikiLeaks denies that what they published came from Russian sources, most recently in an interview with Fox News. Their denials should not be the last word on the subject, but they gain considerable weight from Obama’s failure even to address the issue.

So, Mr. Obama: either provide some evidence – not on hacking but on any Russian link to the WikiLeaks emails. Or, if you can’t do that, quit hawking Cold War hysteria over an unsubstantiated spy story.

Which brings us back to Trump. Whatever his undoubted ignorance and self-interest, he somehow grasps an element of geopolitical reality that writers at RSN have been documenting for years. Washington and its allies have systematically provoked Russia by expanding NATO and the European Union (EU) and staging “color revolutions” right up to the country’s current borders. Carl Gershman, the head of the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has even called for Washington to oust Putin from power, much as NED helped remove the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in the American-made coup in Kiev.

Despite himself, the bumptious Trump pushes us to ask tough questions. Why continue these provocations against Russia? Why create unnecessary conflict by dragging Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs and their neo-Nazi storm troopers ever deeper into NATO and the EU? Why not acknowledge that Crimea is far more historically, culturally, and militarily important to Russia than to the West. No matter how much Putin’s supporters deny it, taking Crimea violated international law and treaty obligations. But wouldn’t the US, Europe, and Russia all be better off treating his annexation as a fait accompli?

Obama, the Clintons, and America’s foreign policy elite like to avoid such debates. They prefer to bear-bait Trump as some kind of Russian agent.

Unfazed by the name-calling, on December 22 Trump offered a revealing tweet. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he wrote.

Let it be an arms race,” he told Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski the following day. “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” What a Russian agent!

Responding, Putin vowed to stay “neck-and-neck” with the United States in any nuclear arms race. He also called for strengthening “the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” Putin was, in fact, responding less to Trump than to decisions by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to place antiballistic missiles and radar systems in Eastern Europe that could give the US the capability to launch a nuclear first-strike against Russia.

These were just the first steps in what will become an increasingly strained relationship between Putin and Trump. The next will come quickly.

“We’re all over the place fighting in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in,” Trump declared in a recent speech in North Carolina. “This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally come to an end.”

An obvious jab at George W. Bush and the obsession with regime change that defined his neo-con subordinates, Trump gave voice to the war weariness that most Americans share. But he quickly revealed one of his many fatal flaws.

“We will stop racing to topple … foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn't be involved with,” he said. “Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS.”

Destroy the Islamic State, defeat the terrorist threat ― these were to be the foundation stones of Trump’s grand alliance with Putin. But Putin’s vicious carpet-bombing in Aleppo shows the limits of unlimited destruction. The war grinds on, and the killing of the Russian ambassador in Ankara proves once again that military action promotes terrorist attacks, as Europeans and Americans have repeatedly learned.

Putin and Trump will find further difficulties squaring diverse approaches to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. But the biggest pressure on Trump comes from the support Congressional Republicans gave Obama’s Cold War-mongering. Trump’s “softness” on Russia can only lead to open warfare in the Republican Party, and potentially to his impeachment if he does not back down.

Predicting is difficult, especially about the future, said the philosopher Yogi Berra. But Trump hardly cares enough about anything other than himself to let Republican Cold Warriors and their Democratic fellow-travelers gain personal traction against him going into the Congressional elections of 2018.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.

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