The mainstream American media, along with parts of the leadership of the Democratic Party and some factions of the US intelligence community, are collaborating in an effort to cripple the Donald Trump Presidency and possibly remove him from office.
Despite the political storm in Washington around Russia’s role in the US elections, the Trump Administration has moved forward, in the first two months in office, on several important international policy fronts, including a serious move to reach a strategic understanding with China.
Ever since the Summer of 2016, when Donald Trump secured the Republican Party nomination for President, there have been attempts to discredit a Trump’s presidency. The President’s foreign policy was hit as well be the rising complications in Washington, and this included his campaign promise to rebuild cooperative relations with Russia. The FBI and several intelligence agencies intensified an already ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and sought to unearth ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian intelligence services, and the Trump campaign.
Last week, the House Intelligence Committee began what promises to be lengthy hearings and investigations into the allegations of Russian election tampering and whether Moscow explicitly sought to assist the Trump campaign. President Trump, in return, has accused the Obama Administration of conducting illegal “wiretapping” of his campaign offices at Trump Towers in New York City, an allegation that was not substantiated by the President and was denied by President Obama, FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Admiral Mike Rogers.
During the House hearing last week, FBI Director Comey said in his testimony, that the Bureau had opened an investigation into the Russian meddling in the US elections, back in July 2016, but he denied that communications lines in Trump Towers had been “wiretapped.”
The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes met with a whistleblower and reviewed classified documents at the National Security Council offices last weekend, and then publicly reported that a probe into Russian activities had included monitoring of telephone conversations and meetings between some Trump transition officials and Russians, including the Russian Ambassador to the United States. While the national security investigations into Russian activities were proper and legal, it was illegal to leak the identities of Trump transition officials, whose conversations were intercepted by the NSA. This included leaks of meetings between former Trump national security adviser General Michael Flynn and the Russian Ambassador in Washington.
Where this investigation will go at this point is anyone’s guess. What is noteworthy, however, is that despite the calls for criminal probes of the President and his closest advisers, and even some calls for his impeachment, the Trump Administration has conducted some serious work.
Some areas of Trump Administration policy are insulated from the partisan fighting, particularly the Pentagon programs that enjoy bipartisan support. In general, the top military officials–Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford–enjoy the respect of Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. There is also a degree of policy continuity from the previous Obama Administration, including in the war against the Islamic State.
But the important US-Russia relationship is very much at the heart of the partisan fighting. Senior US government and intelligence officials insist that there is compelling evidence that the Russians were attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections. But the issue has been blown up to where it is now a serious obstacle to key areas of foreign policy where US-Russian cooperation would be important. The case of the North Korean quest for both a nuclear weapon and long-range ballistic missiles is one such area of mutual interest. The global war on terrorism and stability on the European continent and in the Middle East are other issues that are dangerously close to being held hostage to the anti-Russia climate.
The controversy around allegations of Russian interference in the elections, through cyber spying and leaking of embarrassing documents, while a serious issue, should be treated in and of itself and should not become a blanket excuse for shutting all efforts to debate the issue at cooperation with Moscow. The extreme partisan climate in the US threatens exactly this outcome.
Furthermore, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently completed an Asia trip, that brought him to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing. In addition to conducting serious talks about the threat of a North Korean nuclear weapons and ICBM breakout and what to do about it, Tillerson set up a summit meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, scheduled for early April at the Trump “Florida White House” at Mar-a-Lago. After attending a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on March 31, and attending the Trump-Xi summit, Tillerson will travel to Moscow to meet with top Russian officials. He is likely to make initial arrangements for a summit meeting between President Trump and President Putin.
The Trump Administration is also aggressively attempting to fulfill one of candidate Trump’s most important campaign promises: To bring good-paying jobs back to the United States. This will be an important topic when Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping meet. President Trump, in a phone conversation in late February with Xi and in his face-to-face meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proposed a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the three countries, to coordinate the fluctuations in the value of the dollar, the yuan and the yen. Avoiding currency wars is an essential feature of any effective trade rebalancing, which is an important part of a revival of American manufacturing jobs.
In pursuit of his jobs agenda, President Trump also met last week with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have indicated that they are prepared to invest $600 billion in the US economy, which could create as many as one million jobs. President Trump announced on March 27 that he was naming Jared Kushner to head up a new White House Office of American Innovation, which will draw in leading executives from the information technology sector, including Apple chairman Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Tesla chief Elon Musk.
President Trump is not blind to the fact that his political agenda is jeopardized if the partisan divisions cannot be overcome. He has invited leading Congressional Democrats and labor leaders to the White House to confer on a range of issues. One Democratic Congressman, a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, recently met with the President in the Oval Office and reported to close associates that Trump was cordial, very well-informed and interested in reaching bipartisan consensus. The issue on the table was the need to cut costs of drugs by forcing the big pharmaceutical companies to negotiate fair prices, but it was indicative of the President’s recognition that he cannot succeed if the Congress and the country remain so divided.
30 March, 2017