US President on Shaky Ground, Foreign Policy in Doldrums

With all the scandals, attacks and investigations going on, President Trump is risking to lose three key figures in the administration pretty soon. The president is evidently trying to bait his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, into resigning. The public standoff between the president and the top law enforcement official is getting exacerbated. «I’m disappointed in the attorney general», Trump said at a White House press conference angered at the attorney general’s decision to stay away from the «Russia investigation» conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions fired or forced to resign would alienate top Republicans from the president and seriously hinder the attempts to push through immigration reforms. A handful of Republican senators are already speaking out in support of the attorney general.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reported to be increasingly disillusioned with President Donald Trump and could leave his administration at a time the nation faces multiple foreign policy challenges. The resignation may take place before the end of the year or sooner. The differences between the president and state secretary have gone public. The Qatar crisis is a good example.

In a leaked internal State Department memo, Tillerson opposed the drastic slash of State Department funding being «deeply concerned about the timing and the size of the reductions».The Secretary does not approve the president’s public reprimand of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is also frustrated with the State Department sidelined on the Iran issue. Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump clashed on the Paris climate accord.

According to the American Conservative, the diplomat is discontented with the influence of president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on foreign policy. «He can’t get any of his appointments approved and is running around the world cleaning up after a president whose primary foreign policy adviser is a 36-year-old amateur», the source said. In February, Trump overruled Tillerson, rejecting Elliott Abrams for Deputy Secretary of State.

Now, the person falling out of president’s favor is National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster. President Donald Trump refused to sign off on McMaster’s plan to send more US troops to Afghanistan. The administration has apparently been split on what to do in Afghanistan for a number of months. According to The New York Times, McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis both favor deploying additional troops, while Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are opposed to doing so.

There are other signs of turmoil in the administration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stepped down on July 21, after the president appointed Anthony Scaramucci to run his communications team. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is also reportedly on rocky footing with the President.

The rivalries and divisions affect the policy on Russia. According to AP, «Deep divisions are increasingly apparent within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of US investigations into Russian meddling in the American presidential election».

Donald Trump’s position is looking shakier by the day. With the bill containing a package of sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea approved by the House on July 25, the president’s foreign policy prerogatives are encroached on and there is nothing the administration can do about it. It appears to surrender. It’s not about going back to George Kennan’s policy of «containment». And it’s not deterrence. It’s much worse. The legislation will make the US adopt the policy of strangling Russia for decades to come.

The list of problems in the relations with Moscow is too long, including alleged interference in the elections, information wars, propaganda, corruption, human rights, the INF Treaty violations, human rights, energy policy, Ukraine and Syria. It’s unrealistic to achieve compromise on all these issues. Diplomats have not magic wands to wave. The economic sanctions can be imposed on any country doing business with Russia, making the governments make a choice. This is the language of ultimatum to divide the countries into those who bow to pressure and those who resist it.

Under the circumstances, no tangible improvement of Russia-US ties is possible. The pressure is exerted on Moscow by the Congress, and the president is powerless to change that. It’s unrealistic to expect that the US joining the peace efforts in Ukraine will really facilitate progress because the newly appointed United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker is known as a Russia hawk. The hopes for arms control dialogue are vanishing because this process presupposes a clearly defined policy of the administration. Key arms control policy positions at the State Department and the Pentagon are still vacant. Arms control does not top the foreign policy priorities’ list.

The US defense budget is on the rise. The modernization program is to be launched. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 includes the development of a ground-based intermediate range missile to breach the INF Treaty. There are no talks on what to do after the New START expires. The future of arms control is more than dim. The Pentagon views Russia as a major threat to the United States. US lawmakers are rushing to make the «Russia sanctions bill» a law but they appear to be not bothered by the fact that the arms control regime is in doldrums to undermine US security.

There is no agreement on coordination in Syria, despite the fact that both parties need it badly, especially against the background of Al Qaeda affiliate’s recent victory in Idlib.

The US foreign policy has become unpredictable. It defies logic and its own national interests. Emotions, not well-calculated decision, prevail. Russia has no choice but to view America as a threat to its security and prepare appropriate measures to keep the threat at bay. This is an impasse. «Wait and see» is the only policy to stick to. It’s very frustrating, but that’s the reality created by the United States.

By Alex Gorka
Source: Strategic Culture

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