Mainstream, VOL LIV No 49 New Delhi November 26, 2016
Trump signals détente with Russia
Monday 28 November 2016, by
The first definitive signals are appearing that the American foreign policies are destined to undergo a historic shift under the Donald Trump presidency. The Russia Today (RT) confirmed on November 18 citing a ‘close source’ (without mentioning the nationality) the media reports speculating that Trump has named retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as the National Security Advisor in the incoming Administration. Intere-stingly, the first authoritative report originated from Moscow.
The RT report gave a rather friendly account of Flynn, noting his strong advocacy of détente with Russia. (Interestingly, those who called on Trump on November 18 at his transition head-quarters included Henry Kissinger.)
Why is Flynn’s nomination so important? First of all, Trump trusts him and Flynn in his new position will be overseeing the entire US intelligence establishment and Pentagon and coordinating national security and foreign policies. It is an immensely influential position, beyond Congressional scrutiny.
Importantly, therefore, Flynn’s past contacts with Kremlin officials—there is a photograph of him at the dinner table seated next to President Vladimir Putin—and his connections with Gazprom, Russia’s gas leviathan, and his belief that the US and Russia should collaborate instead of rival each other, etc. assume great significance.
Trump unnerves the US foreign and security policy establishment. Conceivably, Trump will use the tough Pentagon General to whip the establishment folks into submission to the new foreign policy trajectory. If anyone can do that, it is Flynn.
The growing disquiet is apparent even at the level of President Barack Obama. On November 18 in an audacious act, Obama rendered some public advice to Trump from a foreign podium, Germany, with Angela Merkel approvingly listening, on the advisability of the President-elect following his footfalls. Some excerpts are in order, if only to highlight the epic battle shaping up over US foreign policies. Obama said:
“With respect to Russia, my principal approach to Russia has been constant since I first came into office. Russia is an important country. It is a military superpower. It has influence in the region and it has influence around the world. And in order for us to solve many big problems around the world, it is in our interest to work with Russia and obtain their cooperation... So I’ve sought a constructive relationship with Russia, but what I have also been is realistic in recognising that there are some significant differences in how Russia views the world and how we (West) view the world.
“And so on issues like Ukraine, on issues like Syria, we’ve had very significant differences. And my hope is that the President-elect coming in takes a similarly constructive approach, finding areas where we can cooperate with Russia where our values and interests align, but that the President-elect also is willing to stand up to Russia where they are deviating from our values and international norms.
“I don’t expect that the President-elect will follow exactly our blueprint or our approach, but my hope is that he does not simply take a realpolitik approach and suggest that if we just cut some deals with Russia, even if it hurts people, or even if it violates international norms, or even if it leaves smaller countries vulnerable or creates long-term problems in regions like Syria — that we just do whatever is convenient at the time. And that will be something that I think we’ll learn more about as the President-elect puts his team together.”
Obama then proceeded to have a tirade against Putin, saying “there have been very clear proof that they have engaged in cyber-attacks” on the US and that he personally “delivered a very clear and forceful message” to the Russian leader to the effect that “we’re monitoring it carefully and we will respond appropriately if and when we see this happening”.
Back in Washington, ironically, Obama’s strongest ally in opposing détente with Russia is none other than Republican Senator John McCain. The visceral dislike toward Russia— and Putin, in particular—within the Washington establish-ment is apparent from McCain’s own statement earlier in the week.
Why such morbid fear? McCain, of course, is the chief spokesman of the military-industrial complex in America. Many top arms manu-facturing companies are based in Arizona, the state which McCain represents in the Senate. ‘Saker’, the US-based military analyst, gives a satisfactory explanation as to why there’s such panic in Washington:
He (Flynn) has connections to Gazprom, is well-liked in Moscow, and will be a link for American energy companies and perhaps some joint ventures in the gas field development and pipeline industry. Several friends of Trump are from the gas and oil industry... The Arctic, the eastern Mediterranean, the South China Sea and other large development zones have enormous new fields to be tapped and exploited.
The primary interest of the Trump foreign policy will be to make America wealthy again. The Eurasian development has already attracted Trump to the OBOR of China and the AIIB infrastructure bank. Probably the entire New Silk Road of China and EAEU of Russia is not going to be without major US participation.
Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).