There is absolutely no way to explain much of what President Trump does nationally or internationally, largely because he changes his mind so often on so many things. What can be said is that his actions are almost invariably consistent with the goals of Russia. Equally, up until this moment, there is absolutely no way to know what the motivation for his policies truly is.
Some have speculated he is motivated by his own personal economic goals. He would like to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Others have speculated his past dalliances in Moscow have compromised him and he has been blackmailed into his current behaviors. It is further speculated, given his clear admiration of, and support for, today’s worst world dictators, that his goal is to become one of their colleagues, changing this country forever. He has, after all, spoken (jokingly?) of serving for an additional 16 years.
To be fair about this, let’s look at Trump without partisan political speculation. What policies has he followed that have favored the Russians? In order to fully understand this, we have to have a reasonable assessment of Russian motivation in the world. It is clear that Putin, a former committed KGB colonel, deeply mourns the death of the Soviet Union. He has said a number of times it was one of the greatest tragedies in history and it is his wish that the USSR return to Russia.
So, what has Putin done that would support that goal? Recognizing the ongoing power and influence of the United States in the world, he has done everything humanly possible to weaken the U.S. both internally and internationally.
Internally, he has interfered in our 2016 elections and continues to do so today. Whether it was his doing or not, Putin has an American president who has attempted and often succeeded in overturning just about everything his predecessor did to try to make this country a fairer, safer place. One of the results of this policy is that it has further exacerbated the deep political divisions that exist in our country. He has basically destroyed the effectiveness of much of the federal government. The State Department, the intelligence community and the regulatory agencies (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency) have all been denigrated and humiliated. Critical substantive jobs requiring real expertise have been purposely left unoccupied, or occupied by Trump sycophants. Top management jobs are often left “acting,” leaving true power to the president.
Internationally, he has treated European heads of state with disdain and occasional rudeness. He has spoken against the European Union, NATO and just about every other western-originated international agreement. He has shown his distrust for our involvement with international agreements by withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris Climate Accord, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear agreement. None of these moves have strengthened the United States, and in the process of acting out his disdain for international cooperation, he has gone a long way toward removing us from our decades-long preeminence in international affairs and limiting our ability to positively influence world affairs.
One further clue to his motivation could be Trump’s admiration for, and support of, some of the world’s most conservative, autocratic leaders, starting with Russia’s Putin, who clearly occupies a special place in Trump’s heart. From there we go on to Kim Jung Un, the North Korean dictator; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines; Xi Jinping of China; Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt; Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey; the Saudi Royal family and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. In the past, Trump has even had kind words for Saddam Hussein.
Trump’s current crusade on behalf of his Russian friends appears to be the reinstatement of Russia in the G7. Russia was expelled from that organization when it annexed the Crimea in 2014. It is fascinating that just this week, Trump announced that he would not sign off on the $250 million in U.S. military aid to the Ukraine, already approved by Congress, which was designed to help the Ukraine confront the Russian occupation.
Trump appears to be the only elected leader in the United States who thinks Russia can do no harm, and who believes Russia is a friend rather than the often hostile rival she has traditionally been. Even without knowing why he takes that position, it can be said without equivocation, that is no position for any president of the United States to take, particularly a Republican. He is not making the world a safer place in which to live, but he is certainly helping the Russians.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East, as chief of the counterterrorism staff and as executive assistant in the director’s office.