Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017--Bromance Kaput

The New York Times lead story on Wednesday said it all--"Trump's Sudden Shift on Russia Leaves Heads Spinning."

It referred to the White House's accusation Tuesday that Russia is engaged in a cover-up of the Syrian government's deployment of Sarin gas on its civilian population. This accusation was based on an alleged declassified National Security Council report on the attack which also included a rebuttal of Moscow's assertion that insurgents were responsible for the use of chemical weapons. Trump's people claimed that the Syrians and Russians released "false narratives" to mislead the world community about their own complicitous involvement.

What happened to all the flattering references to Vladimir Putin? What happened to the possibility of a new partnership if Donald Trump were elected? Why does it feel as if the Cold War has been resumed? What are all the accusations and saber rattling about?

As in the past I am looking for the simplest explanation that answers the most seemingly-puzzling questions.

Mainly, what's in it for Putin to allow or encourage its Syrian ally to use poison gas and why is Trump so suddenly accusing Putin of being an international war criminal? What happened to the bromance?

To answer these questions requires us to explore each of their likely motives.

For Trump it is to try once more to deflect and overwhelm the on-going investigations about Russia's hacking the 2016 presidential election to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign in an attempt to help Trump emerge victorious.

Trump's pinprick bombing of a Syrian airfield, his movements on the world stage, especially the recent meeting with the Chinese president Xi and Secretary of State Tillerson's Moscow visit did in fact for a day or two deflect attention from the Trump campaign team's possible collaboration with the Russian hackers.

But Xi is back in China and the focus has shifted again to what did or did not happen during the campaign. Ominous for Trump is the new story that one of his senior foreign policy advisors, Carter Page, with FISA authorization, is being investigated by the F.B.I. to see if he was or is a covert Russian operative. With former NSC director Michael Flynn seeking immunity, the Page investigation is a potential bombshell and it is thus understandable that Trump would want to change the subject. The best way at the moment to change it is to demonologize Putin.

Putin has a much more complex agenda. He is seeking nothing less than the destabilization of the Western world and the resulting return of Russia to its prior Soviet glory. This process is greatly assisted by direct Russian interference in democratic elections from France to Germany to of course the United States.

This process of Sovietization is also facilitated by helping to bring about chaos in Western societies. So it should be no surprise that Putin's Russia would ally itself directly and indirectly with murderous dictators such as Bashar al-Assad, rogue states such as Iran, and terrorist groups including Hezbollah.

Trump wants to survive; Putin wants to dominate. Their tangled relationship serves both of their purposes--Putin having the goods on Trump effectively neutralizes him and Trump as intentional disruptor thrives in a roiled world.

Here, though, is what to worry about--

We do not want to see either of them become desperate. In addition to historical forces we are talking about two very fragile people. Individuals with fragile egos can be particularly dangerous if they have powerful tools or wield catastrophic weapon systems. Obviously, both Putin and Trump do.

Which brings me again to North Korea--

If Trump's survival strategy, his desperate and increasing need to deflect the search for the truth about his possible involvement with the hackers, if that strategy includes looking for opportunities to have the tail wag the dog, the most  fearsome example of that is not more targeted raids on Syria but a nuclear encounter with North Korea. If that were to occur, and I fear we may be headed in that direction, who any longer would be asking what Paul Manafort knew-and-when-did-he-know-it or on which Russia payroll Michael Flynn or Carter Page are to be found.

We would have our eyes on other matters. Mushroom clouds, for example.

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