Trump was the gift that kept on giving to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Courtesy of CNN:
This past week, on US President Donald Trump’s watch Russia and China have effectively re-aligned the coming world order. They didn’t do it together, but both took advantage of uncertainty and unpredictability that Trump has helped create.
It’s far from clear that the next US President will be able to roll back the consequences of this week, which leave both Presidents Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Xi Jinping in Beijing more decisively in control of their own countries and more able to act assertively.
In other words, Trump has made an indelible mark on the world — and it may not be for the good.
It is no coincidence that Putin and Xi have cemented their grip on cherished goals, as the clock runs down on Trump’s first, and possibly only, term in office.
This past week, in a referendum on constitutional revisions so predictable that copies were on sale before the vote, Putin has effectively been made President for life, as Xi has moved equally ruthlessly, taking control of Hong Kong through a new national security law, while telling US allies Canada, Australia and the UK to keep out of China’s internal affairs.
Both seem to be of the view the US has neither the will nor the consistency to put up resistance. Indeed, Trump’s White House gave evidence of exactly that this week, floundering for a coherent response to allegations Russia paid the Taliban to kill US forces in Afghanistan.
Whether it’s Putin’s payback or Xi’s decision to violate and chip away at the Hong Kong agreement signed with the UK in 1984, both leaders appear to see opportunities.
Go back three years. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dropped into the Oval Office the day after Trump fired James Comey as FBI director. Comey was overseeing the investigation into allegations of Russian election meddling. An official Russian photographer caught the bonhomie, as Trump told his visitors: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job.”
Two months later, Trump met Putin — alone — on the margins of the G20 summit. The White House trumpeted the encounter as a success, highlighting a new ceasefire deal in Syria. The Russians cynically used the deal to freeze the conflict, allowing the Assad regime backed by Russia to pick off rebel-held areas one-by-one.
Trump could have protested, ripped up the deal, forged a new US policy on Syria that would have crimped Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East. Instead he bought the lie.
It would be a recurring theme. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton recalls in his new book “The Room Where It Happened” Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
“Putin had to be laughing uproariously at what he had gotten away with,” writes Bolton, after Trump accepted Putin’s assurances there had been no Russian interference in the 2016 US campaign.
So fast forward to this year as Putin, in power for 20 years, needed a constitutional fix to hold on for longer. He appears to calculate that despite tightened US sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine, and the poisoning of exiled former agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, Trump won’t push back for what he does at home.
He was right. He is now effectively President for life, hoping to emulate Soviet leaders by stepping down only into his grave.
The debate over how much Russia helped Trump win in 2016, or whether he could have won without them, will likely go on for many years,
But what is inarguable is how much foreign dictators and strongmen have benefited from Trump’s time in the White House.
Trump has proven to be completely impotent when it comes to dealing with hostile countries around the world and has, in many cases, furthered the agenda of America’s foreign adversaries either purposefully or accidentally.
The history books will surely identify Donald Trump as Russia’s favorite president.