Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Did Manafort's participation in the Trump campaign shape Donald Trump's views on foreign policy?

Today the Manafort trial begins. Whether or not he is found guilty of money laundering and tax evasion may not directly lead to Donald Trump. However, Manafort when he joined the campaign in 2016, there was a marked change in Donald Trump's Russian policy, from just a bromance and love of strong men changed to specific policies regarding NATO and and other issues which began to echo Russian foreign policy. For tracking that change, see a prior posting which was also published in the Sky Hi News in October 2017:

"Back in scrutiny is whether Manafort caused the GOP platform to be changed regarding Ukraine and arming the opposition to Russian backed rebels. http://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/11/03/investigation-trump-campaigns-russia-collusion-may-focus-ukraine-connection/829702001/

Revelations from  Congressional hearings  into  Russian use of social media to influence the 2016 elections , Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and  associate  Rick  Gates,  and the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos  have been eye opening. Aside from the  implications for  the integrity of future elections  or charges of collusion is whether  the Russian connections  permeating Donald Trump’s campaign and his White House administration shaped Trump’s US foreign policy toward Russia.   The case could be made that Trump  was a willing dupe of Russian influence. The timing of campaign pronouncements that became foreign policy specific coincided with Russian connected staff and volunteers  joining the campaign  in the Spring of 2016.

Before Manafort and  Mike Flynn became key players in Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump was focused on admiration of Putin’s strong man management style. Many were calling this a “bromance”.  Trump has never  uttered one word  of criticism of  President Vladimir Putin. This has been an eyebrow raiser, to say the least.
In  the early months  of 2016,   when  Manafort and company and Mike Flynn came on board the campaign, Trump’s bromance with Putin’s autocratic style  of governing morphed into policy specifics which were similar to  Russia’s policy goals.   Manafort  joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was named campaign chair in April, resigning in August because his Russian ties had become more public.  Beginning in March 2016  Trump  on the stump began his anti-NATO crusade.  Putin saw the NATO mutual defense treaty as a barrier to expansion into NATO member countries such as the Baltics and Poland.  Lifting US sanctions against Russia and Putin’s  oligarch friends enacted  in retaliation to Russian takeover of  Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and interference in 2016 elections is believed to be Putin’s  goal.  Flynn resigned as White House adviser  when he was caught fibbing about  conversations with Russians about  sanctions.

Gen. Mike  Flynn , who had appeared  seated near Putin in a Russian Television  (RT) anniversary celebration,  became famous in Trump rallies for his  attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character  with his “lock her up” chant.  There is plenty of evidence that Putin also wanted Clinton to lose and  had blamed her for drumming up anti Putin sentiment in his  prior reelection campaign while she was Secretary of State.

In other policy pronouncements from spring 2016 through inauguration, Trump  supported  foreign policies that dovetailed neatly with Russia's, considering recognizing as legitimate the Russian grab of the Crimea, lifting sanctions against Russia,  calling NATO obsolete as a military defense alliance, demanding members pay more,  and  being fuzzy about whether Russia's ally Assad in Syria must go. None of those policies are in America's or our allies' interests since it weakens US allies’ ability to check Russian land grabs  in the Baltics and Balkans and increased Russian involvement in Syria on behalf of Assad. Later as President , Trump refused to back NATO’s stated purpose  to come to the defense when  NATO  member nations were attacked . He was forced to backtrack that as President. Likewise, his policy evolved  to stronger support of the pro west Ukraine government. Nonetheless, so alarmed was Congress that  President Trump would  lift  sanctions against Russia ,  this summer , 2017, Congress enacted legislation to prevent the lifting of sanctions and increasing them. .Trump signed the bill,  it but he  has ignored and  missed the  implementation deadline."

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