Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria
Until recently I was inclined to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt. After all, anyone should have been a better defender of the free world than Hilary Clinton, one of the chief architects of the disastrous US retrenchment of the Obama years! Plus, in contrast to Obama’s predictable passivity, Trump’s unpredictability and impulsiveness should have acted as a break on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea in their drive to overturn international norms and peace and stability. I had also hoped that Trump’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin and Russia was an aberration that would quickly pass.
Now I’m beginning to have my doubts.
The final straw was Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office last week. Photos of a smiling Trump greeting Lavrov and the jovial Ambassador Sergey Kislyak turned my stomach. Heads of government are not customarily obliged to meet visiting foreign ministers although this does occur; this time apparently on Putin’s personal request. But given the aggressive behaviour and blatant deceitfulness of Putin and his chief envoy such an honour should not have been bestowed on Lavrov, let alone Kislyak a key figure in the on-going investigations of the Trump team’s alleged collusion with the Russians. That Trump warmly greeted these men is evidence of not only huge naiveté but of total disregard for his own political reputation and the international reputation of the United States and of its president, nominally the most powerful man in the world.
The fact that President Trump, intentionally or otherwise, revealed sensitive intelligence information to his Russian guests only compounds the debacle. It’s further confirmation that Trump ignores the cautions of his advisors in the belief that he can ride above the normal constraints of security and diplomacy. In fact, he is bringing not only himself but his office and the security of the United States and the rest of us into disrepute and danger.
Trump seems to have an affinity for autocrats. He’s already hosted Chinese president Xi with whom he declared that he was developing an “outstanding” relationship. He’s met with Palestinian President Abbas who was elected in 2005 for a 4-year term which ended in 2009. Trump greeted Egyptian President Sisi as a man who has done “fantastic job” for his country and most recently he hosted Turkish President Erdogan and remarked on that the common fight against ISIS as “one of the beautiful things that are happening with Turkey.” This on a day when more Turkish officials and others were thrown into prison in the wake of the thousands already languishing in Turkish jails. Recently, despite the North Korean dictator brazenly ignoring his (now forgotten?) warning on missile tests, Trump said that he would be “honoured” to meet Kim Jong Un whom he described as a “smart cookie.”
Now there may be good reasons to meet with leaders, like Saudi King Salman, with whom you have a common interest despite their poor democratic credentials but how do you justify kowtowing to clear and dangerous enemies of your country like the Russians? Only Donald Trump can answer that question.
Whatever his reason, Trump is in danger of putting his country and the free world in a precarious position as an aggressive and resurgent Russia struts around the world stage to the discomfort, and more, of his friends and allies. Now may be time for his more sensible and well-respected senior advisors and cabinet members to express their strong displeasure and disagreement with the President’s antics and at least, privately, threaten to resign.
One can only hope that the very clearly opposing interests of the United States and Russia, in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere, finally persuade President Trump to abandon his flirtation with the Russians. Unless he has a sudden change of heart, we should brace ourselves for a rough ride over the next 4 years!
Richard Cohen is a former Senior Defence Advisor to the Minister of National Defence and a member of the CDA Institute Council of Advisors.