What does Trump’s team actually believe about Russia?
A Guide to the West Wing’s true feelings about their counterparts in the Kremlin.
During the current period of hyper partisanship in Washington DC, it can be difficult for Americans and Non-Americans alike to understand what the Trump Administration actually believes regarding Russia.
Did the Trump Administration ever have a chance to become a Russian partner or was it always doomed to be a thorn in the side of Russia’s best interests?
Below is a brief guide to the political views of the main members of Trump’s White House regarding Russia.
Quote: “America is stronger than Russia. The whole economy is 16 times larger than the Russian economy. America's political system is superior to the crony, corrupt, capitalist system in Russia in every way…Donald Trump and I observe that, as I've said, in Syria, in Iran, in Ukraine, that the small and bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this (Obama) administration.”
Mike Pence has generally been seen as a balancing actor in the Trump Administration. However, like almost every Republican politician before the Trump era, the conventional view of Pence has been that he is not likely to be ‘soft’ on Russia. Keep in mind that the Republican party, when led by Mitt Romney, fought extensively with the Democrats when Romney said that Russia was the US’s number one ‘geopolitical foe.’ In a presidential debate in 2012, Obama even lampooned Romney saying that, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” The above quote shows that Pence feels saddened not by the deteriorating relations with Russia but by the humiliation of US power during the Obama years.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Quote: “Right now they’re (Russia) clearly in the unfriendly adversary category”
Tillerson has called for Russia to return Crimea and his department has openly criticized the Russian police’s handling of anti-government protests last week. During his confirmation hearing Tillerson claimed that he would place Russia in the ‘unfriendly adversary category.’ However, and this is a very important point, he also made it clear that he believes that it is necessary to work with Russia when the US’s interests with them coalesce.
Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
Quote: “"The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine."
“I am beating up on Russia. [The president] has got a lot of things he's doing, but he is not stopping me from beating up on Russia…There's no love or anything going on with Russia right now”
The above comments mostly speak for themselves. Nikki Haley mainly hails from the Graham/Rubio side of the Republican Party. Suffice to say that no matter how much money is pulled from the UN budget, with Nikki Haley at the UN, the ‘unipolar word’ will not drift quietly off into the night. That being said, Nikki Haley has also made it clear that Trump has given her leeway to work with Russia in Syria to defeat ISIS. The recent missile attacks most likely put a nail in the coffin of whatever that cooperation might have looked like.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis
Quote: “Right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with with Mr. Putin. And that we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps, the integrated steps…to defend ourselves where we must.”
A hero in the military community and believed by many to be the personification of the term ‘Bad@$$,’ James Mattis is known as a man not to be messed with (See Mattis Quotes). His statement above is incredibly important. To claim that it is the explicit goal of the Russian Government to “break” NATO is no small charge. Mattis is often praised for being a strategic thinker. We now know what strategy he wants to defeat.
Likely Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman
Quote: “Кандидатура посла США в Москве говорит о многом. Хантсман - глава Атлантич.совета, где нормой стала жесткая критика России. Точно не голубь.” –Алексей Пушков
“The candidacy of the US ambassador in Moscow speaks volumes. Huntsman - head of the Atlantic Council, where the norm became a harsh criticism of Russia. Certainly not a dove.” –Alexei Pushkov
See my last blog post for a more detailed examination of what Huntsman means for US-Russian relations. Huntsman’s true views on Russia are widely unknown but he does have a history of gently pushing back against perceived anti-democratic states.
National Security Advisor HR McMaster
Quote: “Russia’s actions are meant "to collapse the post-World War II --certainly the post-Cold War -- security and economic order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests,”
While his predecessor, Michael Flynn, was seen as more accommodating towards Russia, HR McMaster has been seen as far more hawkish towards the country. McMaster has also called Crimean Annexation as a ‘land grab’ and warned of ‘plausible’ future actions by Russia in the Arctic. It is possible that following Flynn’s ‘questionable’ relations with Russia, Trump wanted to pick an NSA who could not reasonably be accused of softness towards Russia.
While most members of Trump’s White House are open to working with Russia on certain issues, the vast majority of those with power speak far more harshly of Russia now than did their Democratic predecessors in 2008. If Russia ‘hacked the election’ as so many Democrats claim (IMPORTANT NOTE: they didn’t)…they certainly didn’t do a very good job of creating a favorable outcome for themselves.