Is a Russian-American Rapprochement Possible?
Major media outlets on both sides of America’s political divide ran denunciations of Russian President Vladimir Putin last weekend. These include a lengthy extract in the Wall Street Journal from the memoirs of Sen. John McCain, calling Putin “an evil man ... intent on evil deeds” who “means to defeat the West.” Meanwhile, Washington Post foreign policy pundit Jackson Diehl praised a delegation of Putin’s opponents, asserting that Russia “is a place where discontent is growing, the desire for civil rights is tangible and the prospect of democratic change is, in the longer term, real.” The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies linked Diehl’s column in its May 14 blast email. The Wall Street Journal devoted its weekend interview to Putin foe Bill Browder, who qualified the Putin government as a “criminal enterprise.”
This sort of unanimity in the American Establishment is rare, and when it appears, it is invariably wrong.
The last time the Republican and Democratic Establishments evinced such agreement was in 2011, when both hailed the so-called Arab Spring as a great leap forward for democracy. The Republican neo-conservatives vied with the Obama Administration in their ardor for the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. For their troubles they got chaos in Libya, civil war and a mass flight of refugees in Syria, and a return of military rule in Egypt.
In this case there is one dissenting voice in the policy arena, and it belongs to President Donald J. Trump. He intervened to block additional sanctions on Russia, as American media reported. Inundated by charges of “collusion” with Moscow in the 2016 elections, the president has been at pains to show that "there's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump,” as he said April 18. Liberal CNN averred: “Trump's reversal once again raises questions about his affinity for Russia despite Moscow's meddling in the 2016 US election, its alleged use of chemical weapons on foreign soil to target a former spy and its backing for the Syrian regime as it conducts possible war crimes against its own people.”
Underneath the cloud of dust thrown up by Washington’s gutter brawls, though, the president continues to pursue what I characterized as the “Trump Doctrine.” This doctrine “reserves the use of American military power for vital American security interests, while seeking compromise with competing powers -- namely Russia and China -- where such compromise is possible.” It is visible in America’s coordination with China over the North Korea problem. It is less visible in the case of the Middle East, where the Administration’s tough stance towards Iran requires some degree of acquiescence from Moscow.
Washington wants to stop Iran from pursuing an imperial policy whose object is a “Shi’ite Crescent” stretching from Lebanon and Syria on the Mediterranean into Afghanistan. It agrees with Israel that Iran intends a de facto occupation of Syria, including the establishment of permanent bases, the importation of 80,000 Shi’ite mercenaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon, and the emplacement and manufacture of weapons that threaten Israel’s northern flank.