As the 2020 presidential campaign season begins in full swing this autumn, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump will have another opportunity in the near future to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk about a meaningful rapprochement between Washington and Moscow that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.
There is no doubt that Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponents will continue tying the president’s hands on this matter while reciting the same accusations, including their favorite: “Russian electoral interference.”
For the record, I also believe the Russians did try something of this sort and this is not good. However, according to unbiased experts and observers, this meddling did not play any significant role in the election’s final result. Those who believe otherwise think very little of the intelligence of American voters — that they could be influenced by a couple of dozen Russian hackers or trolls and a small-sized information technology company to beat the Clintons’ and Democratic National Committee’s billion-dollar public relations machine.
As The New York Times and other major media reported, the United States has its own history of meddling in Russia’s and other countries’ elections, “departing from democratic ideas,” overthrowing elected officials, backing violent coups and even plotting foreign assassinations.
Thanks to several congressional investigations and the reporting of journalists such as John Solomon, the true extent of the interference to stop Mr. Trump’s rise in 2016 has been laid bare and includes efforts by not only Clintons and the DNC, but also by the Obama administration and even top U.S. intelligence officials. Almost all of these efforts, starting with the Clinton-funded fake dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, used Russia as a smokescreen to divert the attention from their own misdeeds.
Russiagate is rightfully viewed as the political scandal most damaging to American democratic institutions and national security as it steers Washington and Moscow toward another, more dangerous arms race. Some well-known and respectable analysts even use the words “nuclear catastrophe” to describe the potential result of the dire state of U.S.-Russian relations.
Unfortunately, many Republicans, for political expediency, also continue to pile blame on the Kremlin and needlessly make Mr. Trump’s ability to embrace realpolitik increasingly difficult.
It looks like the only thing Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree on is when they unanimously vote in support of another round of anti-Russia sanctions. It’s no wonder that only 1 out of 5 Americans have approved of the work of the legislative branch for the past decade.
The U.S. media’s role in Russiagate will also leave a dark stain on their reputation for the years to come. As Lee Smith has written: “The press is part of the operation, the indispensable part. None of it would have been possible … had the media not linked arms with spies, cops, and lawyers to relay a story first spun by Clinton operatives.”
Despite all of this, it looks like Mr. Trump remains committed to charting his own course on foreign policy, in line with the pragmatism of his 2016 campaign. Repeating that “we’re going to have a great relationship with Russia” should keep us cautiously optimistic.
However, words are not enough. Mr. Trump has to use the G-20 summit to talk to Mr. Putin and search for some progress in repairing U.S.-Russian relations before the damage is irreparable.
Some positive developments lately could make this job a bit easier. In Ukraine, we have a newly elected president who won in a landslide on a peace agenda. In Moldova, perhaps for the first time in the post-Soviet era, the United States and Russia worked together to get rid of the corrupt oligarch who was running one of Europe’s poorest countries.
In addition, let’s not forget the potential of Washington-Moscow cooperation to work through the nuclear impasses in Iran and North Korea. The most important issues, however, are the arms control and cybersecurity negotiations. They could add an absolute prohibition of election meddling by both sides.
A serious dialogue between the U.S. and Russia is long overdue. Mr. Trump won in 2016 on his promises of peace and economic prosperity to all Americans. He has delivered on the economic front, but one can hardly say the same when it comes to peace and security.
Therefore, all of us who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and plan to do so in 2020 expect him to set aside the noise of Washington politics and realize his potential as a great statesman with the strategic vision at the G-20 meeting in Japan.
⦁ Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.
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