Thursday, December 29, 2016
A Manchurian Candidate?
President-elect Donald Trump has championed expanding and upgrading America’s military as one of his basic campaign pledges. This is very consistent with a general GOP platform to cut spending on everything except the military… which includes serious Republican skepticism on The Donald’s pledge to build an expensive wall (even if Mexico would ever really “pay for it”) and commit a massive amount of fresh cash to build and enhance American infrastructure. So far, we get it.
But there remains an undercurrent of connectivity to Vladimir Putin and Russia, a troublesome cozying up to a foreign power that, according to the CIA and the FBI (the same FBI who cast enough 11th hour doubt on Hillary Clinton to shift what may well have been enough votes to propel Trump to the White House), has covertly but massively used its hackers and its disinformation capacity to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump. The orders, they say, came from the top. Trump is calling for an end to investigation (by our intelligence agencies and even the U.S. Congress!!!) and innuendo over this Russian effort even as members of his own party voice concern over this terrifying foreign effort to control the American election process.
Trump repeated, “Get over it” and “Move on!” as he characterized the excuse of a purported Russian hack (which he still denied occurred) as a left wing conspiracy to diminish his victory. But as GOP House Speaker, Paul Ryan – whose had the same intelligence briefings as has Trump – declared such retaliatory steps (against the hacks) to be “too little, too late,” on December 29th, President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats (read: spy-masters), shutting down several Russian entities American operations and implementing covert attacks against Russia’s Internet infrastructure. Trump was not pleased that his Bro-Putie was being chastised across the board.
These were the most impactful political sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Russia (actually, then the USSR) since the 1980s. Infuriated, the Russians promised their own retaliation (which will include expelling a comparable number of American diplomats plus a lot more). Trump can only reverse such sanctions upon a clear determination that the Russians have ceased the very activities he still claims never happened. Since most in his own party believe the Russian assault on our Web actually occurred, that is a tough burden to overcome.
Bully-Putin – who is still facing global sanctions for his wrongful annexation of Crimea and his assaults on Ukraine – has become Tehran’s and Damascus’ new best friend in Middle Eastern politics and suppression of ISIS and anti-Assad Syrian rebels. Most of the forces liberating Aleppo were Iranian troops or surrogates (on their payroll) plus their controlled-Iraqi soldiers, with heavy Russian support (primarily air power). Until recently, both the Iranian government and the Assad regime in Damascus were clear enemies of the United States. Trump has even questioned the UN nuclear accord with Iran, but his bromance – a constant exchange of compliments between him and Putin – will of necessity put him in the same camp as Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. Strange?
Putin and Turkey brokered a ceasefire between Assad and his domestic rebels (but not ISIS or the Al Nusra faction), pretty much having Russia replace the last real vestiges of American influence in that region. Trump will likely follow Putin’s directions for policy in that combat zone.
It gets more interesting as Trump has nominated ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, as our Secretary of State. Tillerson even negotiated a major agreement with Russian oil giant, Rosneft (over Arctic oil) for which Putin awarded Tillerson Russia's prestigious Order of Friendship in 2013. You couldn’t find a major America power-player with closer personal ties to Putin. But wait, there’s more.
Putin expressed a need, on December 22nd, for Russia to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. On that same day, Donald Trump – resorting to his policy-by-Tweet habit – told the world that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” But what did that mean? An upgrade of outdated and aging nukes? A bigger nuclear strike force? Was this un-Trumplike challenge/response to his bro, Vladdy? The answer was not long in coming. “MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski spoke with Trump on the phone and asked him to expand on his tweet. She said he responded: ‘Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.’
“Shares of uranium producers and a nuclear fuel technology company have jumped on Trump's comments with Uranium Resources Inc, Uranium Energy Corp, Cameco Corp and Lightbridge Corp all trading higher on [December 23rd].” AOL.com, December 23rd. A new arms race?! Politicians around the world were aghast. Trump’s new press secretary, Sean Spicer, awkwardly explained that Trump expected the world simply to come to its senses, something that the “world” has seldom done.
Spicer focused on China and Russia, but here’s the really bizarre part: For most of Russia’s recent history, you would expect it to mount a furious and angry denunciation of such American militaristic statements. But not here. It does not seem that Trump and Russia were remotely at odds. What? “In his year-end news conference in Moscow on Friday [12/23], Putin said Trump's comment … was not out of line and that he did not consider the United States to be a potential aggressor.” AOL.com. Were these almost-simultaneous nuclear expansion announcements a mutually agreed effort between Vladdy and Donald?
Vladdy did feign a rather understated reaction: “‘I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world,’ Putin said, referring to State Department comments from Thursday… ‘Nobody is arguing with that.’… Putin said he saw nothing new or remarkable about Trump's own statement about wanting to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities anyway.” AOL.com. Doesn’t sound like the Putin we have come to expect, does it? Think he really was surprised? Russia may rail at the U.S. government under Barack Obama over the hacking scandal, but their candidate-of-choice assumes power on January 20th. And Mr. Trump seems to be doing precisely what Bro-Putie wants him to do.
What’s going on here? A realignment of the United States and Russia, clearly at the expense of the only other major military power in the world, China? And where does this lead? Is this a very clever way for Trump – deploying the infamous “Madman Theory” from the Nixon era – to create sufficient destabilization to throw China back on its heels, “forcing” them to the diplomatic bargaining table for trade concessions? But then, strongman PRC President Xi Jinping could just double down himself. Brinkmanship for its own sake?
Or is it the uncontrolled response of America’s own “strongman” that he doesn’t care about international sentiments and will deploy whatever it takes to make “America Great again,” even at the expense of increasing the likelihood of a nuclear strike somewhere? That doesn’t completely explain the unexpectedly complacent Russian reaction. When you put all of the above facts together – and look at how close Putin and Trump have become – there is a deeply more sinister view: has Russia achieved planting its own Manchurian Candidate (did you see the movie?) as the President of the United States of America?
I’m Peter Dekom, and whatever the interpretation of the above events, it does seem as if both Republicans and Democrats are justifiably squirming in their seats.