President Donald Trump has signed the sanctions bill against Russia, North Korea, and Iran. With the near-unanimous, veto-proof margin by which the so-called «Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act» was passed by both the House and the Senate, Trump was in a lose-lose position.
In the signing statement issued by the White House, Trump and his advisers tried to put a brave face on what can only be seen as a humiliating defeat. Despite some cosmetic changes –
«– the bill remains seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking. By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together. The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.
«Yet despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary». [Emphasis added]
To suggest this absurd, dangerous, and unconstitutional law can be characterized as representing a desire «to see Russia take steps to improve relations» with the US is the opposite of the truth.
The conscious purpose of this law is to make sure that no steps to improve ties can be taken for decades to come. In that, it will be a success. The US Deep State has boxed Trump in, there’s nothing he or anyone else can do about it. Cold War 2 will almost certainly be a fact of life – for many, many years.
Unless we stumble into a Hot War between the US and Russia, which could be of considerably shorter duration…
Trump’s ubiquitous critics slammed his disparagement of the bill even as he signed it. «I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars», Trump jabbed. «That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress». True of course. But this is less defiance than helpless flailing at the air. Trump is alone. He knows it, and so does everyone else.
Not only is Congress almost totally united against his foreign policy campaign positions, almost everyone in his own administration is too. Personnel selections in foreign and national security policy are overwhelmingly from the neoconservative and Republican «Never Trump» camp informally led by former losing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Trump loyalists and people who might actually agree with his campaign positions are systematically blackballed. Those getting jobs in the administration are sometimes, to the extent humanly possible, even worse than the Obama appointees they are slowly supplanting. On Russia, anyway, it seems about the only Trumper in his administration is the president himself. Even his cutoff of CIA weapons to al-Qaeda linked jihadists cannot be secure as the «al-Assad has no role in the future governing of Syria» meme returns.
In the end, Moscow has accepted the reality that «US politics have been captured by the Russophobic forces that have been pushing Washington toward the path of confrontation». While pro forma Russia continues to hold out the principle that it still «stands ready to normalize bilateral relations with the United States and cooperate on major international issues… on the basis of equality, mutual respect and a balance of interests», they know the real score. The new law signed by Trump is tantamount to a «full-scale trade war», conceded Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. «The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished». Finished.
No one can take seriously the spin from Vice President Mike Pence that the US continues «to believe that if Russia will change its behavior, our relationship can change for the good and improve for the interests in both of our countries and the interest of peace and stability in this region and around the world». Putting aside the air of lecturing an unruly child, «behavior» has nothing to do with it. Moscow could hand Crimea back to Ukraine, escort Kiev’s troops into the Donbass on a red carpet, and hang Bashar al-Assad from a Damascus lamp post, but the sanctions would remain and be progressively tightened. Look how long it took to get rid of Jackson-Vanik far after its ostensible purpose was long since moot.
Note that the Vice President’s comments took place on a tour of Estonia, Montenegro, and Georgia, three countries (one really can’t call Montenegro a «nation») that are totally useless for defending America against Russia or anyone else but constitute part of a «C»-shaped loop around Russia’s western perimeter. Also note that Macedonia may soon also get pulled in, stepping up the pressure for Serbia’s and Bosnia-and-Herzegovina’s absorption. Even the mafia-ruled, terror-rife pseudo-state of Kosovo it getting come-hither looks.
The more the merrier! Tighten that noose! When all’s said and done, the Russophobic impulse controlling US policy is not about what the Russians have done but who they are: Russia delenda est. Hostility toward Russia is not a means to an end – it is the end.
Meanwhile, American prestige media post literally irrational headlines like «Russia's Military Drills Near NATO Border Raise Fears of Aggression». This refers to circumstances where (1) we pull in «allies» that are useless in defending us but are ideal forward offensive platforms, (2) we string our military bases around Russia, and (3) make a big show of provocative troop, air, and naval movements right on the Russians’ borders and on the edge of their territorial waters, but (4) they’re the provocative and «aggressive» ones for moving troops around on their own territory.
With this bill now signed into law, we presumably will see some Russian response, without the delay of the ill-founded delusion that restraint will be rewarded. But the fact is, when it comes to sanctions ping-pong, Russia is in an inherently weaker position. While western observers often overestimate the damage sanctions do to the Russian economy, there’s very little Russia can do to the US economy. The volume of bilateral trade is too low, the disparity in economic and financial power is just too great, the US role in the world financial system is too pervasive, as is our hold over our subservient satellites, who will likely suffer more damage than Russia.
Perhaps the Europeans will begin to see that the people making policy in Washington are not really their friends, though that would require both courage and wisdom from the likes of Merkel, Macron, and May – not a good bet. So far, it’s just noise:
«European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned of potential collateral damage to Europe’s energy market, as the sanctions could inadvertently hit European companies involved with Russia’s energy-export pipelines. One such pipeline, the Nord Stream 2 [JGJ: The EU Commission didn’t worry about their policies’ «collateral damage» to South Stream, when the beneficiaries would have been southern Europe and the Balkans], which aims to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, involves several European companies. ‘«America First» cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last,’ Juncker said, adding that the Commission would be ready to act ‘within a matter of days’ if their concerns were not addressed».
The irony of course is that it’s not Trump’s «America First» that is responsible but exactly the opposite: the efforts of the US establishment – which the EU loves, and vice versa – to torpedo Trump! But if Trump’s unpopularity in Europe can be used as a means to rally opposition to the US sanctions, it may have some value. Hypocrisy has its uses.
As we move forward into an increasingly dangerous world perhaps Moscow will focus less on striking back against the US than on self-protection: breaking off reliance on the US dollar, refocusing their energy and other vital sectors toward Asia and Eurasian economic integration. If the Europeans are smart (big «if») they will think in that direction themselves.
If so, that would lead to another, supreme irony. An article of faith of western Russophobes is that Moscow’s top goal is to «decouple» the US from Europe. If that ends up happening, to whatever extent, Trump’s enemies may end up accomplishing it for them. Perhaps Trump isn’t the Russian plant – perhaps his domestic opponents are.