S P Seth
Considering Donald Trump’s impromptu twitter pronouncements during and after the presidential election in the US, it is not surprising that people living both inside and outside the US are in a state of shock. And amongst those most shocked are the country’s intelligence agencies that he has been previously contemptuous of, notwithstanding the fact that he is now changing his tune after his inauguration as the US President. At one time, he had reportedly said, “I won’t use them, because they’ve made such bad decisions.” And their conclusion that Russian hackers might have helped Trump get elected is casting his election as unsavory, if not downright illegitimate. This is going to haunt Trump through his time as the president and is going to cast a doubt on his competence.
Even without the findings of the intelligence community about Russia’s cyber hacking role in Trump’s election, he hasn’t been comfortable with his rival, Hillary Clinton, getting nearly 3 million votes more than him. Though his election as the president through the country’s electoral college system, which finally decides the winner, is legal, losing by the way of popular votes still diminishes his standing. On top of that, being told that he had won due to Putin’s involvement makes Trump look like Putin’s agent in the US. Trump’s response to this has been two-fold. As previously pointed out, he sought to rubbish the country’s intelligence agencies. For which, he often highlighted their comprehensive failure on Saddam Hussein’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction “WMD), which had formed the basis of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion in 2003. As we know that Hussein did not have any such arsenal, the US invasion of Iraq is regarded by many as one of the worst foreign policy disasters in the country’s history.
Secondly, he is seeking to change the perception that Putin and Russia are somehow natural enemies of the US; even after reluctantly conceding that Russia had, indeed, interfered in the electoral process by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) emails, as based on intelligence presented to him. However, he had blamed the DNC for failing to protect their system. In any case, according to Trump’s interpretation, it was not a bad thing that Putin and the new US President would able to chart a new course for US-Russia relations. At the same time, he has viciously criticised the US intelligence agencies for ‘leaking’ unverified intelligence, likening it to Nazi Germany, which suggested that Trump might be prone to Russian blackmail on the grounds of his salacious footage during his romp in a Moscow hotel in 2013. The US intelligence agencies have denied the leakage but not certified that it is fake and/or planted. Therefore, there is going to be a standoff, of sorts, between Trump and much of the intelligence community, which would require his administration to either overhaul the system or to subvert it. Hence ensued his initial overtures to the CIA that reportedly said, “I love you, I respect you, and there’s nobody I respect more.” The argument that Russia could even be a natural ally in some ways will be difficult to sell especially when many people in the US have grown up believing the worst about it during the long Cold War period. Such views have since been reinforced by the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine is being seen as a serious threat.
Indeed, the Obama administration, just before the transition to power with Trump as the new president, saw fit to send troops and heavy armor to Poland as a deterrence to the perceived Russian threat. However, Trump is keen to change that perception and not dwell on the negative. His advice to reporters at one point was, “I think we ought to get on with our lives.” He also approvingly quoted Julian Assange’s denial that the material WikiLeaks had earlier put up on the Internet was sourced from Russian sources. It might be worth noting that Assange has been regarded by the US establishment as one of their most hated foreign traitor from an allied country — him being an Australian citizen who is now sheltering in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. While seeking to fend off charges against Russian involvement in his election victory, Trump, at times, finds himself in circular arguments. For instance, he once praised Putin for not reacting to the US expulsion of Russian intelligence operatives following the accusation of cyber hacking. He tweeted, “Great move on delay [by Putin]. I always knew he was very smart!” He was, thus, suggesting that Putin had cleverly helped Trump administration from having to react to any Russian expulsion, if carried out, of US operatives from that country. In this way, he further reinforced his favorable view of Putin, having told the reporters in December 2015 that, “He [Putin] is a really brilliant and talented person.”
He has said that the US and Russia do not need to be on opposite sides as they have common interests, like defeating the IS. While Trump has been rubbishing the US intelligence, highlighting its classical failure about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, some Russian commentators have mocked its findings that accuse their country of hacking its computer systems. One commentator pointed to the lack of any concrete evidence, comparing it with the intelligence about Iraq, which had set out the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Alexey Pushkov, a member of the defence and security of the Russian parliament’s upper house, tweeted, “Mountain gave birth to a mouse: all accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and assumptions. US was [also] sure about Hussein possessing WMD in the same way.”
It is amazing that despite Trump’s open embrace of Putin as well as reports suggesting Russian interference in the US presidential elections, he doesn’t seem to be suffering any serious popular backlash. This brings us again to the factors that had contributed to the Trump phenomenon. He wrote (as quoted in The New Yorker), “The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots…”
He further predicted, “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion… All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.” Rorty might not have had Trump in mind, but his prescient analysis of a storm brewing could not have been more right as seen now. What remains to be seen now is how this wrecking ball, called Trump, will go about doing the demolition job.