MARRAKESH, Morocco — President-elect Donald Trump’s kind words and admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin seem painfully naive. Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential elections makes their bromance even more unnerving. Yet Trump’s pro-Russian posture is neither unprecedented nor likely to last very long.
Kurt Volker and I were on one of those night-owl sessions on Thursday at the German Marshall Fund’s “Atlantic Dialogues” conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, where great stuff is said because it is off the record. But the former U.S. ambassador to NATO and current executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University gave such a simple explanation of the relationship between the United States and Russia that I asked him if he would tell me on the record. Volker obliged.
Every president that I’ve had a chance to work with started their administration with some form of a reset. Whether it’s George H.W. Bush and not wanting to be triumphalist over the fall of the Soviet Union. We had Bill Clinton and the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. We had Barack Obama doing the famous reset. George Bush, you remember, looked into [Putin’s] eyes in Slovenia. So, it’s no surprise that Donald Trump wants to start out doing a reset.
The second thing is that every president has done this primarily because they think it was their predecessor that screwed things up. So they think, “Well, I can do a better job. I can handle this. I know these people. I can make this work.” And it turns out that the problem isn’t actually their predecessor. The problem is the Russians.
What will Putin do to make Trump see that not everything that comes from Russia is love? How long will it take for Trump to realize that the bromance is over and was always a one-way affair? Or what happens if Trump channels Missy Elliott, who famously rapped in 1997, “I break up with him before he dump me”? No matter which scenario plays out, we know this much: The breakup will be on Twitter, and Trump will be disappointed and irritated, like every president before him.
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