Commentary, Politics

The US Establishment’s Dislike of Trump’s Russian Policies

3 min read

The resignation of Flynn was an apparent example of the establishment’s dissatisfaction with Trump’s Russian policies. Yet, U.S.-Russian relations, which have a huge impact on global politics, must not be a topic in U.S. daily politics.

The presidential transition in the United States following the election of Donald Trump in November has been one of the most interesting transition periods in recent years. In part, it has to do with the difficulty in predicting and speculating the names that the president will appoint to the senior positions in the administration — including secretaries of state, defense and the national security advisor.

One of the most debated names during this period was Mike Flynn, who was appointed in the very early stages of the transition as the national security advisor to the White House. Flynn’s resignation from the national security advisor position last week generated similar debates to those that had emerged during his appointment.

The debate on the potential impact of the Russian government and people affiliated with the Russian government on the U.S. elections has been a frequently cited and speculated issue during and in the aftermath of the November election. With the resignation of Mike Flynn, this issue came back to the forefront once again. There are some unanswered questions concerning the details of the ongoing investigation. Last week, the New York Times broke a story that some of Trump’s team members had regularly met with the members of Russian intelligence before the election. This issue became the dominant topic during President Trump’s press conference yesterday.

Trump has reiterated that he has not been in touch with anyone in Russia, and in addition, he has done no business dealings with the country. The question at this point is what will be the future of U.S.-Russia relations following the speculation that already led to the resignation of the shortest-serving national security advisor in recent history.

President Trump’s press conference signaled the potential direction of bilateral relations. He responded to repeated questions about Russia by defending his former national security advisor and criticized the media and the leaks from the intelligence agencies about the investigation. He said: “What he did wasn’t wrong … Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. … I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.” Trump also repeatedly asserted that he has no ties to Russia. There have been varied reactions from different sections of society.

There are calls for launching a broader investigation through the policymakers in Congress and far more curious questions from the media about Russia. Under these circumstances, it will be challenging for foreign policy makers to conduct normal foreign relations with Russia. Whoever launches any initiative with Russia will be under strong scrutiny in regards to its ties with the Russian government. This situation, of course, will impact the foreign policy of the Trump administration in the coming days. Especially if the pressure becomes unavoidable or if the previous policy proposals of the Trump administration in regards to relations with Russia will require updating or modification.There is already a challenging agenda in relations, including: the conflict in Syria, the Ukraine issue, the election-hacking controversy and the fight against Daesh. Over the past few days, President Trump has also tweeted about Crimea and wrote, “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?”


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Kılıç Buğra Kanat is the Research Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC. He is also an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie. Dr. Kanat received his PhD in Political Science from Syracuse University; a Master’s degree in Political Science from Syracuse University; and a Master’s in International Affairs from Marquette University. He was awarded the Outstanding Research Award and Council of Fellows Faculty Research Award at Penn State, Erie in 2015. He previously participated in the Future Leaders program of Foreign Policy Initiative. Dr. Kanat’s writings have appeared in Foreign Policy, Insight Turkey, The Diplomat, Middle East Policy, Arab Studies Quarterly, Mediterranean Quarterly, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, and Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. He is a columnist at Daily Sabah. He is the author of A Tale of Four Augusts: Obama’s Syria Policy. He is also co-editor of edited volumes History, Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey, Change and Adaptation in Turkish Foreign Policy, and Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.