A congratulatory message to a counterpart on his re-election may be par for the course so far as diplomatic courtesies go. And yet Donald Trump’s phone call to Vladimir Putin following his electoral triumph has caused a major flutter in the roost within the White House establishment, almost reminiscent of the Cold War animosity that had appeared to have lapsed in the limbo of history.
Little or nothing is known of what transpired. Suffice it to register that the US President is said to have defied a warning from his national security team not to congratulate Putin on his securing a fourth term in power.
It is pretty obvious that his security advisers would rather that elementary courtesies are kept in abeyance not least because of the escalating tension over Russian meddling in the US electoral process, which the two leaders have thus far failed to discuss.
Nor for that matter has there been any mention of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent who was targeted with a nerve agent in the UK. No less a critical factor is the latter-day Concert of Europe and America against Putin’s Russia.
Trump’s game of footsie with the Kremlin is now plainly a cause for alarm. As much is the fineprint of his calibrated defence ~ “I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory. The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing. They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race.”
Theoretically, Trump’s perception can scarcely be faulted in terms of realpolitik in international relations. His comments came amid widespread backlash over the call, which reinforced the perception that his administration has adopted a less aggressive posture towards Russia.
It is the disconnect between the general backlash and the presidential prerogative that is at the core of the kerfuffle over US dealings with Russia, let alone the role that Trump would want the Kremlin to play in the storm-centres of the world.
The stout opposition articulated by his security network to even the faintest expression of diplomatic courtesy reaffirms that Trump’s essay towards mending fences with Russia may have hit the reefs.
There is considerable discord within. America’s Homeland Security is anxious to convey the impression that much in the manner of the Cold War, the flirtation with Moscow under the 45th US President is over, fair and square.
In the wake of the controversy, Trump has denied any collusion or wrongdoing in his links with Russia, indicating instead that he and Putin will “probably get together in the not-too-distant future so that we can discuss the arms race”. There may be hope yet for his occasional bouts of diplomatic adventurism.