President-elect Donald J. Trump is holding out an olive branch to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, even as President Barack Obama imposes sanctions on the former superpower over hacking allegations.
It’s noteworthy that prominent Republican members of Congress endorsed Democrat Obama’s move last week, but not Trump, who will be sworn in Jan. 20.
Indeed, the president-to-be praised Putin when the Russian leader announced that he would not immediately retaliate after Obama ordered sanctions against Russian spy agencies, closed two Russian compounds and expelled 35 diplomats. The U.S. said the diplomats were really spies.
Nonetheless, Trump, who has never held elected office but has business interests around the world, had this to say Friday on Twitter:
“Great move on delay [by V. Putin]. I always knew he was very smart.”
In response, the Russian leader made it clear that a Trump presidency would mark the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
This seeming bromance brings to mind the comments made in June of 2001 by then Republican President George W. Bush after he first met Putin at the Slovenian Summit.
During a press conference at the conclusion of the summit, a reporter asked Bush, who had been in office for six months, if he could trust Putin. Bush’s answer was so unexpected, it triggered the same kind of negative response from long-time critics of Russia that Trump’s vision is now receiving.
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy – I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush said.
Given that Putin is a former spy chief who harbors thoughts of restoring the old Soviet Union, Bush’s comments were viewed as na Øve and a reflection of his foreign policy inexperience.
Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s top security aide, wrote after the administration departed the White House and having served eight years: “We were never able to escape the perception that the president had naively trusted Putin and then been betrayed.”
The betrayal has taken many forms over the years, but the most telling is Putin’s goal of expanding Russia’s global reach.
Indeed, the annexation of Crimea, which President Obama refused to recognize and which resulted in U.N. economic sanctions, is a reminder that Russia is not to be trusted.
Yet, President-elect Trump continues to fantasize about a new U.S.-Russia relationship built on trust and a personal bond between him and Putin.
The president-to-be has dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that in an attempt to help Trump win the presidency, Moscow orchestrated cyber breaches in which tens of thousands of Democrats’ emails were stolen and later made public.
Trump has insisted that the country should just move on. He has agreed to meet this week with intelligence leaders to learn more.
Last week, the U.S. issued a report it said exposed Russia’s cyber tactics. Putin’s aides did not offer any specific rebuttal, although the Russian president has rejected any suggestions that his government was behind the attack.
However, the report included detailed technical information, such as IP addresses and samples of malware code used by the U.S. and Russia.
To their credit, some prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill have scheduled a special hearing this week on “foreign cyber threats” in an attempt to further spotlight Russia’s actions.
“We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia,” said Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will conduct this week’s hearing.
We would hope that as the day of his inaugural draws near, Trump would seek the advice of senior members of Congress who have long warned of Russia’s global intentions and Putin’s goal of re-creating the Soviet Union.
It’s one thing for businessman Trump to turn a blind eye to corrupt leaders around the world in order to further his business interests. It’s another for President Trump to throw caution to the wind when dealing with Vladimir Putin and others of his ilk.