Trump, Russia and How U.S. Provoked a New Cold War

Posted Jan. 18, 2017

MP3 Interview with Mel Goodman, former CIA analyst and author who currently serves as a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, conducted by Scott Harris

russia

Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, with the lowest approval rating of any president in recent American history. Questions about Trump’s legitimacy have been fueled by U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia had launched cyber-attacks targeting the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in order to hurt the Democratic candidate and boost Trump. Dozens of embarrassing Clinton emails were passed on to WikiLeaks in the closing weeks of the election campaign, which were then published across the U.S. and the world. More than 50 Democratic lawmakers say they won’t attend Trump’s inauguration to protest Russia’s alleged role in his victory as well as recent insults hurled by the president-elect at civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

Trump also enters office under a cloud of suspicion generated by a leaked dossier compiled on the reality TV star turned politician, by a former British MI6 intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who investigated Trump on behalf of Trump’s GOP rivals and later, by Democrats. The dossier, which has been challenged as fiction by Trump and the Russians, claims that the Kremlin possesses material on Trump’s relationship with prostitutes and illicit money deals that could be used in a future blackmail scheme.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst and author who currently serves as a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Here, Goodman examines the allegations regarding Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the contradictory signals sent by Trump about how he’ll steer America’s foreign policy. [Rush transcript.]

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think there was no question that Russia had committed itself to the defeat of Hillary Clinton. This was a personal matter for Vladimir Putin. He blamed Hillary Clinton for interfering in the parliamentary elections in Russia in 2011 and 2012 and he felt that Hillary Clinton's people were responsible for some of the chaotic situation in Ukraine that came on the heels of that.

So in terms of Putin's personal involvement, I think he had to give the order to allow this activity to take place because he must have realized at some point there could have been huge consequences in terms of policy and political response from a policy standpoint and a practical standpoint, Putin probably saw a lot to gain with the election of Donald Trump.

I think there's been some exaggeration of the relationship between Putin and Trump. They've never met. I don't think Trump knows a lot about Russia or Russian politics. He probably knows very little of the history of Russian-American relations. He has no institutional memory. But he is someone who has turned aside intelligence briefings. I can't think of a president-elect who needed intelligence briefings more than Donald Trump, but I don't know what context Trump could bring to these briefings to make them comprehensible to him. This is someone with no background in international relations, no great curiosity about international relations. He's not someone who reads; he's not someone who studies. He is not someone who has spoken in any geopolitical or strategic manner, so I don't know what an intelligence briefing could mean for him. So we're starting off as tabula rasa, really, this is going to be a whole new day in relationship toward the Kremlin, which is even more curious by the fact that if you look at the people he's appointed to key positions, particularly the secretary of state, who needs to be confirmed; the secretary of defense who needs to be confirmed. They've taken positions that are much different with regard to Putin and with regard to bilateral relations.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mel, I wondered if you would comment on the documents that emerged that purport to be political dossier compiled on Donald Trump by a former British intelligence officer from the MI6 that charges that the Russians have material regarding Trump's relationship with prostitutes, and some money deals that could be used in a blackmail scheme somewhere down the line. What kind of credibility do you think this dossier carries with it?

MELVIN GOODMAN: The dossier does not seem credible to me. There's some outlandish charges in there. There's a lot of salacious material in the report. There are misspellings. Individuals have been charged with certain kinds of travel, who have then denied that such travel took place, particularly Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, who was not in the Czech Republic, as claimed. So I don't put a lot of weight into this report. I am much more concerned about the attitudes that Trump and his national security adviser, (Lt. General Michael) Flynn have toward Russia. Their lack of understanding of key issues that deal with arms control, Syria, the problem of eastern Europe, and what never gets discussed is the mistakes the United States has made in dealing with Russia – mistakes made by both George W. Bush, and unfortunately, Barack Obama that has created this terrible situation that exists between Moscow and Washington. By that I mean the expansion of NATO, the deployment of an anti-missile defense in Poland and Romania, the deployment that continues to this day of NATO forces along the Russian border. All of this is a tremendous act of betrayal because when we were trying to get the Soviet Union out of East Germany in 1990, right before German reunification, the one thing that Secretary of State James Baker and President George H.W. Bush said to (Soviet Union President Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard) Shevardnadze, their counterparts, is they would not leapfrog over East Germany to go into eastern Europe.

And of course, that's exactly what (Presidents) Bill Clinton did and then George W. Bush did. And even though Barack Obama has not considered expanding NATO further, Montenegro has now applied for membership with some encouragement from the West. And as I mentioned, we built up this anti-missile defense, saying it's against possible targeting of eastern Europe by Iran. Of course, that never made any sense, but in the wake of the Iranian Nuclear Accord, it makes no sense whatsoever.

So there were a lot of reasons for Putin to say Ukraine is a red line. And given the fact that we were manipulating the Ukraine situation and we have the conversations of the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in Ukraine talking to the American ambassador on her cell phone, not exactly protected communications – that confirmed for Putin that we were manipulating the situation. And given his own KGB background, he knew that's what we were doing in the early 1980s in Poland with our support for Solidarność (the independent trade union "Solidarity" movement). So there's a lot of reason for Putin to say, "Enough was enough!" in terms of Western involvement on Russia's border.

Why in the world we wanted to take a military alliance such as NATO in the wake of the Soviet collapse and bring it closer to the Russian border in a time of tremendous Russian weakness is something I will never understand. I think that was a huge strategic mistake.

For more information, visit Mel Goodman’s website at melvingoodman.com.

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