Muftic: Did Trump’s associates with Russian connections shape his foreign policy?
Revelations from Congressional hearings into Russian use of social media to influence the 2016 elections, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates, and the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos have been eye opening.
Aside from the implications for the integrity of future elections or charges of collusion is whether the Russian connections permeating Donald Trump’s campaign and his White House administration shaped Trump’s US foreign policy toward Russia. The case could be made that Trump was a willing dupe of Russian influence. The timing of campaign pronouncements that became foreign policy specific coincided with Russian connected staff and volunteers joining the campaign in the Spring of 2016.
Before Manafort and Mike Flynn became key players in Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump was focused on admiration of Putin’s strong man management style. Many were calling this a “bromance.” Trump has never uttered one word of criticism of President Vladimir Putin. This has been an eyebrow raiser, to say the least.
In the early months of 2016, when Manafort and company and Mike Flynn came on board the campaign, Trump’s bromance with Putin’s autocratic style of governing morphed into policy specifics which were similar to Russia’s policy goals. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was named campaign chair in April, resigning in August because his Russian ties had become more public. Beginning in March 2016 Trump on the stump began his anti-NATO crusade. Putin saw the NATO mutual defense treaty as a barrier to expansion into NATO member countries such as the Baltics and Poland. Lifting United States sanctions against Russia and Putin’s oligarch friends enacted in retaliation to Russian takeover of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and interference in 2016 elections is believed to be Putin’s goal. Flynn resigned as White House adviser when he was caught fibbing about conversations with Russians about sanctions.
Gen. Mike Flynn, who had appeared seated near Putin in a Russian Television (RT) anniversary celebration, became famous in Trump rallies for his attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character with his “lock her up” chant. There is plenty of evidence that Putin also wanted Clinton to lose and had blamed her for drumming up anti Putin sentiment in his prior reelection campaign while she was secretary of state.
In other policy pronouncements from spring 2016 through inauguration, Trump supported foreign policies that dovetailed neatly with Russia’s, considering recognizing as legitimate the Russian grab of the Crimea, lifting sanctions against Russia, calling NATO obsolete as a military defense alliance, demanding members pay more, and being fuzzy about whether Russia’s ally Assad in Syria must go. None of those policies are in America’s or our allies’ interests since it weakens United States allies’ ability to check Russian land grabs in the Baltics and Balkans and increased Russian involvement in Syria on behalf of Assad. Later as President, Trump refused to back NATO’s stated purpose to come to the defense when NATO member nations were attacked. He was forced to backtrack that as President. Likewise, his policy evolved again to stronger support of the pro west Ukraine government. Nonetheless, so alarmed was Congress that President Trump would lift sanctions against Russia, this summer, 2017, Congress enacted legislation to prevent the lifting of sanctions and expanding them. Trump signed the bill, it but he has ignored and missed the implementation deadline.
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