And so the moment of truth finally arrived, in Helsinki of all places. The President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, and his counterpart, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, meet for the first time, one on one, to face off on allegations of elections interference and so many more global issues. Or so many thought. It was however not to be, and the expectations from the hawks and neoconservatives back home were all but dashed. Trump simply continued his path of destruction insofar as Western allies are concerned.
If I had to listen to my gut, I would say Donald Trump’s behaviour is that of an agent provocateur.
First, he makes a mockery of the Nato alliance, in fact questions whether there is any future with the security body. Then he treats all the Head of States like fools at the G7 summit which no doubt infuriated some of them. Then he starts a trade war with the manufacturing giant, China, which in the long run will hurt American consumers. Next, he tells Africa to go and jump, after all, they are shitholes, and then he monumentally embarrasses the leadership of the UK government.
And let’s not forget, he withdraws from the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Now either you have a well thought-through geostrategic plan as to why you are doing all these silly things or you are literally an agent provocateur and doing these things on the behest of others. Whom might those be, I hear you ask.
Could it be that Trump and his economic and some political elites in the US have realised that a major reconfiguration of global power balance is required if they’re to maintain their superpower standing in the world for a little longer? With a declining hegemon and empire, drastic and perhaps illogical steps are required to insulate the US economy, becoming more inward looking and thus more nationalistic and right-wing in its views? Not sure what science informs this.
All of this while there is mounting evidence that the Russians interfered in the last US general election in 2016 which predetermined a particular outcome in that election. That predetermined outcome was the victory of Donald Trump.
Now, here you have a country (Russia) that has undermined the national security of your country. That has engaged in criminal international activities to mislead your voters and this has resulted in the people not expressing the will of the people. This constitutes a direct threat to the democracy of the USA and so a reasonable expectation from certain quarters was that when the two presidents met in Helsinki, Trump would in no uncertain terms explain to Putin that they would have none of it. That the actions of Russia would have consequences and that those responsible would be brought to book regardless of the denials from the Russian government.
Furthermore, with recent events in the Crimea and the sovereignty of the Ukraine, the involvement of Russian forces in the Syrian conflict, the shooting down of a passenger airline, whether accidentally or not, and the poisoning of persons of interest by Russia would not be tolerated by the US or democracies around the world.
In other words, some pundits wanted Trump to school Putin in the art of diplomacy and operating in a rules-based global environment. But alas, it was not to be. Instead, Trump came across as explaining the inexplicable. he EU was hoping for a show of the traditional alliance against Russia, but not today. None of these critical issues were addressed by Trump.
Instead, Trump praised the puppetmaster, Mr Putin, for being a good guy and that Russia wasn’t such a bad place. Trump is beating over the heads of allies, London and Brussels all the while singing Putin’s praises. Some describe it as the death knell of American leadership in global affairs; I could not agree more. Another commentator said we now know why he (Trump) wanted to meet one on one. Why did President Trump insist on there being no prying eyes, I wonder.
Hillary Clinton tweeted, President, do you know which team you are playing for? It’s so clear to me. Trump plays for the Russian team. Come on guys, call it for what it is. The US government is compromised at the highest level of government and you simply don’t know how to deal with it.
Well, if I may be so bold from South Africa. We not so long ago had our own wayward president and we made the mistake of electing him to a second term with devastating consequences. State Capture is what we called it and we had to act before it was completely too late. We finally removed him from office and find ourselves on a road to recovery; it’s slow but there is hope again.
Don’t make the same mistake, guys, deal with this irritation in the White House now, because if you think Watergate was big, I suggest you put on your thinking hats and think very hard about how you get yourself out of the clutches of the Russians.
As one of your Congressmen said on CNN, Russia is an old evil empire and it hasn’t changed it’s stripes. Believe me: we have had our fair share of Russian involvement in our domestic affairs and it’s not only their interests in a nuclear deal.
President Trump capitulated in the presence of Putin. Shame, such a lost opportunity.
I must however caution the American media houses: don’t make the same mistake you made with the run-up to the presidential elections. All the American journalists simply showed the world how embarrassed they were to have a president like Trump. Feeding off each other and encouraging unanimous agreement on all the issues raised, with no circumspection. It reminded me of the election campaign and how they all wrote Trump off, only to be embarrassed in the end with some even having to apologise for their unprofessional outbursts on national and international television.
I’m also flabbergasted as to how the US is so outraged by this interference. The US track record for interference in the sovereignty of other countries over the last century is simply astonishing. Latin America (Nicaragua and Colombia to mention a few), Africa (most countries), the Far East (Vietnam and Cambodia) and so many more.
So, before you cast aspersions on Trump and his reprehensible behaviour, perhaps a more circumspect account of these events would be in order. After all, the United States of America produced Donald Trump, he is one of your own, he is of you. And lest we forget, he also has millions of Americans supporting him and his outdated, prejudiced views.
I agree it was a missed opportunity with Putin but let the focus not be on the botched summit and rather on the more important matter of what you are going to do about Trump.
The world cannot afford a Donald Trump that takes us all so much closer to the brink of war.
Whether trade wars or, God forbid, armed conflict. DM
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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation
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