Mar 12, 2017

Your Move, Mr. Trump

by John McLaughlin

Why you should care?
Because we could be on the precipice of another Cold War. Or not.

Forget winding down at the end of the year. The last days of 2016 were filled with enough geopolitical drama for a couple seasons of The Americans.

Last week, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama announced a series of sanctions against Russia over its meddling in the presidential election, booting out dozens of Russian diplomats. President Vladimir Putin declined to retaliate. U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has pooh-poohed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s involvement in the election, took to Twitter to praise the Russian strongman.

So: Is Putin playing Trump or the other way around, or neither? How serious are these sanctions anyway? And what kind of relationship should we expect between Russia and the United States under a Trump presidency? To get a handle on it, we turned to senior contributor John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA. A condensed and edited version of our interview follows.
What should we take away from all of this?

Well, commentators and experts will chatter about this for days, but the key point is that we are in uncharted territory. To be sure, we’ve had spats with the Russians for years and with the Soviets before that. But this is the first time we’ve been in a public brawl over cyber issues, with few precedents about how to behave.

How should we interpret Putin’s decision not to retaliate?

Russian president Putin’s decision not to retaliate at this time — at least not overtly — is typically clever. He is playing a shrewd game of chess with incoming President-elect Donald Trump. On the one hand, he’s done Trump a favor by limiting the mess he inherits. On the other hand, if Trump just continues to applaud Putin for this, he risks seeming indifferent to Moscow’s clear interference with our democratic process — and sowing dissension within the Republican Party, where many senior leaders share the alarm over Russia’s intrusion. Your move, Mr. Trump. –Ozy

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