The first month of the Donald Trump presidency in the United States has been truly exceptional. A combination of circumstances created headwinds for the new president, unprecedented in recent American political history. At the epicentre lies the question of the US’ Russia policies, but on deeper reflection, it is the Trump presidency that is under attack.
The Democrats are almost in unison in rejecting the prospect of Trump being their president. They cannot get over the bitterness of unexpected defeat. They refuse to accept an orderly transition. The opinion polls almost uniformly highlight that America is a deeply divided house, split right down the middle. Consider the following.
A Gallup poll over the weekend puts Trump's job approval rating at 40 percent while Rasmussen's latest Daily Presidential Tracking Poll marks it up as 55 percent. Just about 8 percent Democrats evaluate his performance positively. At the same time, among Republicans, he wins 87 percent approval rating, which is higher by 4 percent than the historical average approval presidents have got from their party supporters.
Again, the Pew Research Center's latest survey shows that only eight percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents approve Trump's job performance, which is the lowest rating for any new president from the opposing party in more than three decades. But Pew also finds that 84 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners favourably regard Trump’s job performance as president.
Evidently, Trump evokes strong sentiments. Three-fourths of Americans react to him strongly – positively or negatively. A new Fox News poll estimates that 45 percent of American voters trust the White House, while 42 percent prefer to trust the news media.
Such a deep schism is hard to be bridged. In all probability, it may come to define the Trump presidency. The implications are going to be far-reaching for the US foreign policies and diplomacy. America’s influence on the global stage gets seriously eroded.
Trump’s foreign policy agenda still remains unclear but what comes through is that unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, he will not allow himself to be cowed down or co-opted by what passes for the US «establishment».
At two crucial junctures in selecting his foreign policy team – the secretary of state in his cabinet and in finding a replacement for Michael Flynn as national security advisor – Trump simply refused to be swayed by the establishment’s motivated, hyped up projection of the credentials of two candidates it favoured – former CIA chief David Petraeus and former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Petraeus and Bolton would have signified the «return» of the neo-conservatives to the driving seat of US diplomacy and foreign policies. Trump, evidently, did not want that to happen. Doesn’t it mean something significant? It does.
We have here an extraordinary spectacle of a beleaguered president still nurturing his foreign-policy agenda, which is under relentless attack by the corporate media, the Obama holdovers within the intelligence establishment, military industrial complex, and a bipartisan coalition in the US Congress.
Evidently, Trump continues to calculate that while he may need more time than previously to get going with his agenda, he is confident that eventually he will press ahead. At the very minimum, he has made it clear that doesn’t intend to capitulate like Obama did.
Take relations with Russia, for example. A salience that comes through in this past month is that Trump has capped, if not rolled back, the shrill rhetoric of confrontation with Moscow characteristic of the Obama White House. This is despite the Herculean efforts by the Establishment to create friction and animosities in the US-Russia ties – almost on daily basis.
Can Trump pull it off? He has a fighting chance, because not only is he on the right side of history but a drastic reorientation of US foreign policies is also necessitated by his political agenda of «America First».
There is a silent majority in America that has no interest in keeping Cold-War era tensions with Russia alive. Paradoxically, this majority also includes a substantial section of Democrats. Remember the Bernie Sanders speech at Georgetown University in November, Why I’m a Democratic Socialist? It’s useful to recall these excerpts from Sanders’ speech:
- United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime… But we cannot - and should not - do it alone… While individual nations indeed have historic disputes - the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia - the time is now to put aside those differences to work towards a common purpose of destroying ISIS.
- We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century... We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia...
If only the Democratic Party establishment had refrained from conspiring to undermine and derail Sanders’ candidacy, those who today arrogate to themselves the prerogative to speak on behalf of party wouldn’t have been able to ride high on the wings of Russophobia. Period.
That is why it becomes all the more important not to miss the «big picture». The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was prescient, while addressing the Munich Security Conference (MSC) over the weekend, when he spoke about a «post-West world order». Something indeed is changing fundamentally. The alchemy of the US’ trans-Atlantic leadership is no more the same.
The fact of the matter is that Europe is already looking beyond NATO. The genie is out of the bottle. All the Mike Pences in the White House cannot erase the harsh dictum given by the US Defence Secretary James Mattis – «Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do».
The Spiegel commented in an editorial later in the weekend, «Unfortunately, this isn't just a question of money… NATO always aspired to be something more than a defense alliance. It viewed itself as the protective power of liberal democracy… But are we certain that the West is still a community of shared values? If it's not, then what is NATO defending?»
Some of the remarks at the MSC are revealing. In a Thursday speech in Munich, The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker dismissed the US stance on NATO allies paying up: «It has been the American message for many, many years. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this. Europeans must bundle their defense spending better and spend the money more efficiently».
It simply cannot be ignored that European budgetary problems were caused partially by the American subprime mortgage crisis. And Europe suspects that the US is manipulating the security relationship. Certainly, the rhetoric against Russia was rather subdued at the MSC this year.
Notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for «establishing good relations with Russia» despite current differences and for creating «a kind of a union» spreading from Vladivostok to Europe.
These incipient signs suggest that it is going to be a losing battle eventually for the coalition of interest groups in Washington arrayed against Trump to continue to block his plan to improve the relations with Russia.
Of course, the adoption of any concrete pro-Russia policy is going to be difficult for Trump in immediate terms, but on the other hand, overtly hostile policies as was the case with the Obama administration, need not be continued at the official level, either.
Europe is in political transition through this year. Simply put, the West’s narrative is inexorably transforming and if the Trump administration doesn’t superimpose Russophobia on it deliberately and incessantly as a matter of policy, the power dynamic changes in Eurasia.
By the yearend, an overall easing of tensions between Europe and Russia is entirely conceivable, and that can only come handy for the Trump administration to improve the US’ relations with Russia.