What was once mission difficult is now mission impossible - at least for the foreseeable future...
Donald Trump has yet again stated that he seeks to have good or even “great” relations with Russia. Speaking beside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Trump stated,
“I hope that we do have good relations with Russia. I say it loud and clear, I’ve been saying it for years: I think it’s a good thing if we have great relationships, or at least good relationships with Russia.
It’s a big country, it’s a nuclear country, it’s a country that we should get along with, and I think we will eventually get along with Russia”.
In spite of Trump’s stated wishes, the policies of his administration, irrespective of who is actually authoring them, are in total opposition to Russia’s stated geo-political goals and Russia’s geo-strategic interests.
The Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela, Afghanistan (and South Asia as a whole) and North Korea (and East Asia as a whole) and beyond is totally antithetical to the interests and stated desires of Russia and Russia’s closest partners.
Here are the key places where US policy under Trump and Russia’s geo-political positions are in total opposition
In Venezuela Trump has threatened war and implemented sanctions against the government of Nicolas Maduro. Russia by contrast vehemently opposes sanctions and war.
Trump’s flagship policy of a troop surge in Afghanistan is opposed by Russia as is his policy to effectively bomb the Taliban to the peace table.
Russia favours a process which would see moderate rebel elements of the Taliban invited to a peace table in conjunction with a cease-fire in order to develop a lasting peace based on reconciliation between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, something which in reality means a reconciliation between Pashtun Afghans and the ethnic minorities who are in the current government.
Russia also takes exception to Trump’s threats and criticisms against Pakistan, a country which is rapidly becoming an important Russian partner in South Asia.
3. North Korea
Just this morning, Donald Trump once again threatened war on North Korea. By contrast, Russia has said multiple times that war can never be considered an option on the Korean peninsula and has called for the US to cease its delivery of THADD missile systems to South Korea and has also called for a cessation of US-South Korea military drills. In each of these cases, the US has totally ignored Russia and China’s requests, in spite of the fact that both states border the Korean peninsula.
Russia like China also calls for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, something the Trump administration is apparently not considering seriously at this time.
4. South China Sea
While Russia is not directly involved with the South China Sea dispute, America’s provocative stance on the region has infuriated Russia’s most important partner, China. America’s imperial actions in the region, confusingly called ‘freedom of navigation’ by Washington, do not bode well for Moscow which wants to see cooperation rather than confrontation in Asia.
While Russia is fast becoming an important partner of Ankara, the US seems to be throwing out its nearly century long alliance with Turkey.
The US has blatantly disregarded Turkish concerns about America’s arming and funding of Kurdish militants in Syria while Russia continues to show courtesy and countenance for Turkey’s position which is shared by Iran.
Russia has constantly called for NATO to de-escalate its presence in Europe, but under the Trump administration, Obama’s own European ‘troop surge’ has continued with no signs of stopping. Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland where he quoted deeply Russophobic propaganda does not bode well for reconciliation between America’s EU allies and Russia.
While the US approach to the conflict in the Levant is completely one-sided, Russia maintains uniquely good relations with both Palestinian leaders and Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv. While Russia’s approach is clearly a conflict aversion tactic, if the US supported Israel in any aggression against Syria, this would clearly end any attempts at fledgling cooperation between the US and Russia in a Syrian conflict which is in any case, drawing to a close. Russia is carefully balancing the interests of its Syrian partner with trying to contain the aggressive military posturing of the Israeli regime with which Russia continues to do business.
Any US support of an Israeli strike against any Middle Eastern country would throw theSyrian de-escalation zone which is jointly policed by America, Russia and Jordan, into disarray. To this end, the south western Syrian de-escalation zone is thus far the only area where the Trump administration has made any progress in respect of improving relations with Russia. Currently, it hangs by a thread for more reasons than one.
8. Iran and the Persian Gulf
While Donald Trump’s Tweets indicate a policy that is fully pro-Saudi, even as his own state department emphases a US position of neutrality, as Qatar works to re-normalise relations with Iran, the US could find itself increasingly at odds with its technical ally in Doha.
In respect of Iran itself, Donald Trump continues to advocate hostile policies against Tehran which include threats to tear up the so-called Iran Nuclear Deal as well as false accusations of Iran sponsoring terrorism.
Russia by contrast is an economic partner of Iran and is working with Iran to combat Salafist terrorists in Syria. In the Persian Gulf, Russia has won respect from Qatar for adopting a genuine and unambiguous position of neutrality. This has also allowed Russia to maintain healthy relations with Saudi through out the conflict.
The US and the west more broadly seems to have no coherent strategy to deal with the Libyan failed state, beyond propping up the fledgling Government of National Accord, which is competing with the National Salvation Government as well as assorted militant groups for control of Tripoli.
By contrast, Russia continues to engage with Khalifa Haftar, the leader of Libya’s only successful and well organised military, the Libyan National Army. The LNA is also the only force in Libya that has successfully liberated important cities from terrorist control, namely the eastern city of Benghazi.
Egypt continues to support Haftar and the Libyan House of Representatives from which he derives political legitimacy. As Russia becomes ever closer to the government in Cairo, it would appear that Russia’s plan to help reconcile Haftar’s forces with what’s left of the UN backed government in Tripoli, is the closest thing any non-Arab power has to a plan for Libya.
The US appears to have no plans at all, but one can count on the US opposing Russian involvement in Libya, even though there is now little the US could conceivably do to stop Moscow and Cairo from cooperating in a country the US first destroyed and later abandoned.
As I warned prior to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s first meeting,
“With all the fuss over Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meeting later this week at the G20 summit, many have conspicuously failed to grasp that the monumental task ahead of both leaders has little to do with their own period in government and even less to do with their personalities. These things of course do matter, but their importance is dwarfed by larger historical and present economic and geo-strategic concerns.
With that in mind, here are the giant obstacles that both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will be faced with when they meet”.
In the month and three quarters since the Trump-Putin meeting, this situation has merely intensified. Differences in American and Russian geo-political interests have become ever more pronounced and the Trump administration shows no signs of even attempting to meet Russia half way, let alone approach the situation in a pragmatic manner. The ideological dogmas of the US continue as if Donald Trump is the mere figurehead in foreign affairs that many believe him to literally be.
Donald Trump’s personal respect for Russia seems genuine beyond any lingering doubts. He has no reason to say he wants warm relations with Russia any longer but he still says he does.
The policies of his administration however, belie the supreme difficulty of implementing such policies or even attempting to do so.
Dr. Samuel Johnson said that “the road to hell is good intentions”. Donald Trump’s good intentions in respect of Russia have led not to a new kind of hell but to the status quo becoming more entrenched.
When Donald Trump took office, he bravely embarked on what could rightly be called ‘mission difficult’. Now, the American deep state/military industrial complex has revealed that in reality, it was always going to be mission impossible due to geo-strategic realities, uniquely American arrogance which is embedded into the thinking of even many Washington moderates and finally, because we have learnt beyond a reasonable doubt, that the President of the United States is only as powerful as those around him, allow him to be.