Once upon a time, Trump mused about how well he and Russian President Vladimir Putin would get along. Then-candidate Trump said Putin had declared him a “genius,” criticized the Obama administration’s tensions with Moscow and said it would be better “if we got along.”
China, on the other hand, was a currency manipulator, a thief of US jobs that should no longer be allowed to “rape our country.” If elected, Trump promised to impose heavy tariffs on Beijing and take it to court for shady trade practices.
It turns out that wielding power — as opposed to criticizing it — can change your outlook.
This month, during which his administration has stepped up US military action in Syria and Afghanistan as he looks to reassert US power, Trump said that “we’re not getting along with Russia at all, we may be at an all-time low.” He and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the other hand, have “a very good chemistry,” Trump declared.
The President’s reversal on Russia and China is part of a series of policy flip-flops that have seen Trump abandon campaign positions on NATO, Israel, the Iran nuclear agreement and US alliances in Asia.
The shifts, which bring Trump’s White House in line with many Obama and George W. Bush administration policies, may not last under this mercurial president, but they reflect some hard facts about America’s interests.
“Whatever the aspirations on the campaign trail, they have given way to the realities of what it takes to conduct American foreign policy in a cruel and unforgiving world,” said Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“The way this administration does business is highly unorthodox in so many respects,” Miller said, “but the ultimate outcome on so many issues seems now to come around to a pretty conventional approach.”
And so it is — these days — with Russia and China.
Trump had been eager to improve relations with Moscow and often expressed confidence that his ability to bond with Putin would ease friction between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s role in Syria and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged April 4 chemical weapons attack on his own civilians triggered Trump’s outrage, leading him to strike a Syrian airfield with Tomahawk missiles and seeming to mark a change in Trump’s outlook on Russia — which has supported Assad throughout Syria’s bloody civil war. The US missile strike was an exclamation mark establishing that Trump, for the time being at least, has come to see Russia in more conventional US foreign policy terms. “You have a much more consolidated policy toward Russia now,” Stent said.
Putin told Russian TV in an interview Wednesday that under Trump, the relationship between Washington and Moscow had “worsened.”
Even as he took a harsher tone on the longtime US adversary, Trump still seemed to offer some reassurance in a Wednesday appearance with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, saying that, “It would be wonderful … if NATO and our country could get along with Russia.” On Thursday, Trump tweeted that, “things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!”