Amid today’s news that tensions between the U.S. and Russia are escalating in Syria—with Moscow threatening to attack American aircraft in retaliation for America’s downing of a Syrian jet—it’s worth considering the continuing failure of the “Trump is a Russian puppet!” theories to explain the administration’s approach to the world.
Over the weekend, TAI contributor Jamie Kirchick concisely laid out a description of Moscow’s relationship with the President that is far more likely than the maximalist conspiracy theories that have become mainstream in much of the liberal press. From Kirchick’s Los Angeles Times column:
Here is one scenario that explains Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.
When the Manhattan businessman announced his presidential bid in the summer of 2015, Moscow perked up its ears. Here was a candidate arguing against America’s traditional world leadership role, who attacked American allies as scroungers, who wanted to make “America first” and whose amoral, transactional worldview rendered him an outlier among a crop of Reaganites. Here was a reality television show host whose outbursts made American politics – and, by extension, America – look like a foolish country. And here was a businessman who had dealings with some minor Russian oligarchs, whose understanding of Russia was limited to the glitz and glam on offer for big spenders in Moscow.
Combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal loathing of Hillary Clinton (owing mostly to his paranoid belief that she orchestrated protests against him in 2011), all these factors convinced the Kremlin to intervene on Trump’s behalf through a combination of hacks, leaks and disinformation.
This President is not a democracy-loving Wilsonian. His public remarks for decades show a pattern of admiration for leaders who “show strength” rather than bowing to liberal niceties. As Kirchick says, this is troubling for those who put a premium on America’s moral example and global leadership of democratic countries—but it does not mean that Trump is under Putin’s thumb, or that his foreign policy will be particularly accommodating to Russian interests.
The notion that Trump made a secret deal with Russia in exchange for their help during the election has been a very useful one for Trump’s political opponents—it has driven the President up the wall, causing him to act rashly and generate even more investigations that could bring him down. But it continues to not be supported by any credible intelligence reports or by the administration’s actions so far.