The sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey has become the newest bright, shiny object distracting everybody in Washington. Predictably, reaction falls sharply down the usual lines of division.
For Trump supporters, Comey’s dismissal is a needed step in «draining the Washington Swamp», as he promised during the campaign. Given that Comey is someone so detested by Democrats, who blame him (and Vladimir Putin) for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, perhaps choosing that particular scalp to nail to the wall was calculated to confuse and split the opposition.
If so, it didn’t work very well. Barely had the news of Comey’s dismissal been reported than Democrats shrieked it was for the purpose of crippling investigation into baseless allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. On the mainstream American media, that’s all you hear: Russia, Russia, Russia, cover-up, cover-up, cover-up. Unsurprisingly, Congressional Republicans, many of them Trump-haters anyway, are intimidated. Those calling for a Special Counsel to conduct the investigation may finally get their way.
In short, what may be the first decisive counterattack from President Trump against the permanent government in Washington may have the effect of turning up the heat on him from the same forces that are determined to destroy him. Most of all, they hope they can forestall any opening to Moscow by beating the drum on Russian interference with the US election and accusing Trump of removing Comey to hide his misdeeds.
The Comey firing comes just as we may now are beginning to see some small signs that Washington and Moscow are finally making a start in a common effort against the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Throughout the 2016 campaign then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly voiced the need to get along with Russia.
For Trump’s opponents, such thoughts confirmed their accusations that he was Vladimir Putin’s puppet, the «Siberian Candidate». Many of his supporters saw it as part of his America First policy, the end of foreign nation-building and unnecessary wars.
Unfortunately, the direction Trump had signaled in 2016 didn’t materialize in 2017. Perhaps daunted by critics determined to block any possible US-Russia rapprochement, the first three months of the current administration were framed by the same anti-Russian rhetoric that characterized that of Barack Obama and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Things got even worse with the April chemical weapons attack in Syria, which the US immediately and without evidence blamed on Syrian government forces supported by Russia. Prospects increased for American and Russian direct military confrontation.
During his trip to Moscow last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Putin that the «relationship between our two nations was the lowest it’s been since the Cold War and it’s spiraling down, it’s getting worse.... the two greatest nuclear powers in the world cannot have this kind of relationship. We have to change it». According to Tillerson, the Russian president nodded in agreement.
Change seems to be happening, however slowly. The dismissal of Comey came on the eve of a meeting between Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Washington to discuss Syria. Responding the Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer’s accusation that removing Comey was related to Russia, Trump tweeted: «Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp.’» In a last-minute announcement calculated to enrage his enemies, Trump also met with Lavrov. Seemingly joining in the taunts, when asked by media whether the Comey firing would cast a shadow over his talks, Lavrov quipped, «Was he fired? You are kidding. You are kidding».
More importantly, Lavrov commented following the meeting:
«Our dialogue as of now is free from ideology that was very typical for Obama’s administration... «Both Trump and Secretary of State and his administration as I realized today once again are business-like people and they want to reach agreements not for the sake of demonstrating their achievements to anyone in terms of their ideological preferences».
On substance, the United States now seems to be prepared to cooperate, on some level, with an arrangement for safe zones jointly guaranteed by Russia, Turkey, and Iran. While fraught with difficulties and potential for renewed conflict, the arrangement may finally set the stage for progress towards a political settlement to the Syrian war and common action against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and their allies. In a decision sure to aggravate relations with NATO ally Turkey, Trump also has announced providing advanced weapons to Kurdish forces in preparation for an offensive against Raqqa.
Such moves are bound to provoke furious attempts at disruptions. Topping the list of immediate concerns is the danger of a replay of the April false flag chemical attack in Idlib. There are reports that General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s National Security Adviser and the rumored force behind the strike against a Syrian air base, is in the president’s disfavor and may also get the sack.
More dangerous in the long run are the many domestic US special interest groups who place their narrow goals and ambitions above the interests of American people. These groups, aided by the mainstream/fake news media, do not care about the misery and destruction around the world or the cost to America in blood and treasure caused by our misguided foreign policy since collapse of USSR. For them Russia is more useful as an enemy than as a friend.
It remains to be seen if Trump can beat back his domestic foes sufficiently to escape the straitjacket on his policy options. That is the real battle, and it’s beginning to get serious.