Expect More Establishment Infighting After Trump Takes Office
The dangerous and unprecedented conflict at the top of the American political system can be expected to intensify after now that Trump has taken office, writes Valdai Club expert Alan Cafruny, Professor of International Affairs on the faculty of Government, Hamilton College.
As a presidential candidate Donald Trump repudiated the most sacred principles of Atlanticism. Rejecting the expansive policies and idealist rhetoric of the post-Cold War era, he declared his intention to re-cast U.S.-Russia relations on the basis of cooperation in the war against terror, to abandon debilitating policies of regime change (“Our goal is stability, not chaos”), and to consider lifting sanctions in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia.
Not surprisingly, Trump has come under withering assault from key power centers, spearheaded by the intelligence agencies and media. Departing CIA Director John Brennan has notified him that “absolving Russia of various actions it has taken… is a road that he needs to be very, very careful about moving down.” Senate minority leader Charles Schumer has warned that “…you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Trump appears to have begun to moderate his positions. Key foreign policy appointees have explicitly embraced Atlanticism. Trump himself has declared that his trust in Vladimir Putin “may not last long.” He has qualified his statement that NATO was “obsolete” with the observation that NATO is “very important” to him.
Donald Trump: A Professional Profile of the New U.S. President
The United States is entering a new stage in its development. Although the U.S. remains the leading world power, recent events indicate that it is not immune to instability and change. More importantly, those changes caught the U.S. elite by surprise.
The dangerous and unprecedented conflict at the top of the American political system can be expected to intensify after now that Trump has taken office. The American constitution vests substantial executive powers, especially in the realm of foreign policy. President Trump will now wield these powers with a vengeance. His bid for détente with Russia could attract at least some establishment support. The limitations and internal contradictions of NATO—and hence the need for a new European security architecture—were recognized even during the Obama administration.
However, notwithstanding his own wealth and that of his presumptive cabinet, Trump does not represent the interests of any powerful faction within the American elite, an obstacle that that he overcame in the Republican primaries and general election through popular mobilization, but will prove more constraining as president. Congressional Republicans will fight him to the bitter end over Russia policy. In part as a result of allegations of complicity with Russia, Trump’s popularity has declined significantly since November 8. He enters the White House with the least favorable ratings of any president in American history. Trump undoubtedly favors a detente with Russia, but he may lack the political support and popular mandate needed to make a dramatic break with Washington orthodoxy a reality.