It is becoming increasingly obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing Donald Trump like a master violinist, a development that does not bode well for foreign affairs under the new administration.
For reasons that aren’t clear, Trump has become a real fan of the former KGB official, praising him for being a “strong leader,” ignoring policies and actions that push opposition parties to the sidelines and throttle critical media outlets. He even encouraged Russian intelligence to try to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
Putin has returned the favor by calling Trump a “colorful and talented person,” and more recently, taking his side in the debate over whether Russia tried to influence the outcome of the presidential election, labeling the Democrats “sore losers” who are inventing excuses. Naturally, Russia denies any such intentions.
Trump immediately rejected any notion that the Russians may have influenced the outcome of the election without ever having been briefed by any of the intelligence agencies. His massive but very fragile ego won’t permit him to even entertain such a thought–it’s bad enough he lost the popular vote.
He has disparaged the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and has essentially challenged them to prove the allegation. Clearly, Trump is somebody who isn’t willing to listen to anything he doesn’t already believe. He has even embraced Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has done severe damage to American interests and been labeled a “cyber terrorist” by Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans have more common sense than the president-elect, and Thursday’s hearing featuring the heads of our intelligence agencies served to create an anchor to reality for this whole debate. As Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell put it: “Russia is not our friend.”
Russia’s glory days as a world power are behind it, and it is currently a regional nuisance more than anything else. But you can bet China and our other adversaries are watching these developments with great interest, and are noticing Trump’s inability to tether himself to reality.
To paraphrase an old Chinese saying, we will be living in interesting times for the next four years.