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This commentary is by Haviland Smith, a retired CIA officer who now lives in Vermont. He spent his career focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.
Most past U.S. and Russian governments have focused heavily on the level of America’s growing involvement and influence in world affairs. Of course, the difference between those countries is that U.S. administrations have sought to maintain and enhance those foreign alignments, where the Russians have sought to weaken them on all fronts.
Unbelievably, what happened under the Trump administration was that the U.S. rapidly disengaged from its commitment to international involvement, changing our policy to one that more closely mimicked that of Russia.
We see these changes in our attitudes toward international organizations, general foreign policy, and executive relations with foreign leadership.
These changes were initiated by then-President Trump between 2017 and 2021. The conundrum that faces us today is not what happened. That is a matter of record. The real issue is why? Why did Trump move in this direction?
If he really were a Republican, it can’t be a political party position. His moves have violated just about every goal the Republican Party pursued for decades before his election.
It's possible this is a MAGA issue. He may really believe that the way to make America great again is to retreat from so many of the policies that the U.S. pursued before his presidency. He sounds as if he would support a more autocratic form of governance in America. For anyone who does not understand how the world really works, such an “America first” philosophy could persuade its implementer of its validity and desirability.
Consider the following Trump attitudes and moves in any assessment of the real goals of his foreign and domestic moves.
On the domestic side, consider the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) cutback and, impossible as it may seem, don’t forget his role or lack thereof in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol. Neither of these issues strengthen the United States. Both forwarded Russian goals of creating problems for and weakening the United States.
On international issues, consider his attitudes toward, or his actual withdrawal from, the Comprehensive Plan of Action, his subsequent hostile moves against Iran, his Trans-Pacific Partnership withdrawal, his WHO policy, the Geneva Consensus Declaration, his Jerusalem policy, his NAFTA policy, leaving the Paris agreement on climate issues, his overall Middle East policies, his Cuba policy, his NATO negatives, his implemented sanctions, his withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the Open Skies Treaty, just to mention a few!
Finally, look at Trump’s new “friends” around the world. He has said that Putin is A-OK, refering to him as a “smart, savvy genius,” ditto with the leaders of North Korea, Hungary, Syria, Korea and Turkey — where, incidentally, Recep Erdogan does not permit the passage of foreign military ships through the Bosporus straits, leaving the Black Sea and Ukraine to the tender mercies of the Russian navy.
Basically, Trump would appear to be drawn toward actual dictators, or at least toward leaders who have become as autocratic as circumstances in their countries have allowed.
It has been a rare moment when Trump policy has been hostile to Russia’s international goals. In effect, Trump has essentially removed the United States or, at minimum, alienated the United States from many of the World’s most important organizations.
On the domestic side, although his true intentions and goals for the U.S. future are anything but clear, much of what he has supported in America has weakened the U.S. That is clearly a critical goal of today’s Russia. His preoccupation with the removal or, at least, the cutback of American domestic regulations has not made us stronger.
It does seem strange (and frankly terrifying) that any American president’s policies, irrespective of his true motivation, should be so supportive of the disruptive and hostile goals of our longtime rival and ongoing enemy, Russia.