Saturday, March 4, 2017

The US-Russia relationship is a hostage to Trump-bashing

Arguably one of the two most important international strategic relationship, between the US and Russia, has become a hostage to US domestic politics. 

Even liberals, who otherwise would have supported efforts to improve relations, are now blinded by their hostility to the President and are likely to see red in anything that is conciliatory and aimed at improving relations. Egged on by the media, all sides in the debate have boxed themselves into corners from where compromise looks very difficult. As President Trump has himself said, it is now virtually impossible for his administration to make any effort to improve relations. Or as Edward Luce writes, "Donald Trump is never likely to emerge from the Russian shadow". 

The debate has now degenerated into one where even the mere contact with designated Russian diplomats, a normal course of activity, has come to be viewed with extreme suspicion. The travails of Sergey I Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador in Washington, is symptomatic,
He has told associates that he will leave Washington soon, likely to be replaced by a hard-line general... For Mr. Kislyak, Washington is no longer the place it once was. It has become lonely, and he has told associates that he is surprised how people who once sought his company were now trying to stay away.
This is really unfortunate. It is difficult to not get the impression that Kislyak is a victim of his own success. He has done exceptionally well what every diplomat ought to be doing, expand your country's influence by cultivating important contacts in your host country. 

I am certain that Russia tried to influence the elections. But is there anything odd about that? Russia must have tried to influence every US election and vice-versa. It is no secret that US has supported the likes of Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar and theirs and other dissident political formations for years. Just recently, President Obama lent his weight behind the No campaigners in the Brexit vote in UK. The CIA has a very long history of trying to influence elections across the world from Philippines to Iran to Panama. Other countries do the same in countries with strategic interests. Real politik dictates that there is nothing unusual about this. 

Where the story can become poisonous is if the influence was used to campaign for their preferred candidate, the attempt succeeded, and the successful candidate is now willing to do Russia's bidding. In other words, Russia used its influence to instal their proxy in the White House. 

This means that despite candidate Trump's low electoral prospects, the Russians had enough conviction and backed him to pull it off. And that Trump is effectively a Russian stooge, at the least willing to compromise US interests in return for personal factors or succumb to blackmail. Even with Buzzfeed and other salacious stuff going around, I am not yet willing to buy this story.

I am inclined to believe that only a small proportion of people go this far, in suspecting their President of being a stooge. The vast majority feel indignant at Russian attempt to influence the elections. These two are qualitatively different positions, though lumped together and conflated by media characterisation. This is unfortunate since the latter, indignation, while understandable is ill-informed, and ought not to be a cause for holding the Russia-US relationship hostage.

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