On his trip to Brussels at the end of May to meet the European leaders for the first time, President Donald Trump did not commit his country explicitly to Article 5 of the NATO Charter under which the United States would have the same obligation to defend an attack upon any of the NATO members as an attack upon itself. He expressed more interest about their financial responsibilities towards NATO than on Article 5. That had annoyed and upset the European allies, France and Germany in particular.
This time with his political fortunes between the hard rock and the sea -- as the investigations on Russian interference in the 2016 election and a host of other issues are on -- President Trump did a somersault. Before joining the G20 Summit in Germany on July 6-7, he was in Poland. There he committed his country fully to article 5 of the NATO Charter and said nothing about the financial obligations of USA's allies. He also made a 360 degree turn in his speech in Warsaw on Islam and the Muslims from what he had said in Riyadh in May.
The G20 Summit, a major yearly event of 20 of the world's most powerful nations, was rendered to secondary importance as the world focused on new realities that are emerging in the world order as a consequence of the way President Donald Trump is leading or failing to lead his country. That a US President would change his country's stance on Article 5, the heart and soul of the NATO alliance, within a month and a half is in itself something that neither adds to his or to his country's credibility.
President Trump's turnabout on Article 5 of NATO charter is not an exception to the style of changing his stance on major issues. This is the rule he has established. The exception is when he is consistent on important issues. His view on Islam and Muslims in his address to the Polish people was thus another case in point. On his first overseas visit as president that was to Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump did not make even a single reference to Islamic radicalism or Islamic terrorism. He carefully isolated ISIS as despicable criminals sparing Islam and Muslims of owning their terrorist activities.
Radical Islam was a major theme of his Warsaw speech. The tenor was one of contempt for Islam -- aware that in the Polish capital the crowd was like his own racist, anti-Islam base in America. His speech would have made the controversial Professor Samuel Huntington happy because he urged the West to unite to save the western civilisation from the so-called Islamic civilisation like the late Professor had prescribed. He cheered the Warsaw crowd with the speech written by Steve Miller, the architect of the thus far failed Muslim Ban when he said, "in the fight against 'Radical Islam', the West will prevail." His speech reflected the same man who had "seen" thousands of Muslims celebrating on the streets of Jersey City on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The United States is still the most powerful nation on earth. It will remain so for quite some time no doubt although China is catching up fast as an economic power and on track militarily to overtake it eventually. The powers that the Soviet Union enjoyed during the Cold War era as USA's rival Super Power ended in 1991 in which successful diplomatic manoeuvres of the western powers led by the United States had an important role. Russia as the successor state of the USSR has been trying ever since the end of the Cold War to step into USSR's shoes and regain its Super Power status. And President Putin's major focus in international politics in the last 2 decades has been to take Russia there.
The United States under President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama had fought to deny Russia the space. And they had reasons to do so. Russia under President Putin has treated the United States and its European allies as enemies. It has violated the norms of international law and politics by the seizure of Crimea, invasion of Ukraine and has made for itself a major place in the most conflict-ridden region of international politics, namely the Middle East. Russia is hand in glove with Iran, the US' nemesis in the Middle East.
And it is now no longer a secret that the Russians had meddled in the last US elections in a manner that has been described by many as tantamount to the most serious aggression by Russia and it's predecessor entity the USSR taken together, upon the United States. A joint report by a number of US intelligence agencies expressed 98 per cent possibility of Russian interference. A Special Counsel is looking into this possibility.
Yet President Trump is mostly in self-denial about Russian interference. A day before he met President Putin, he said there was the possibility of Russian interference as well as of "others" and "individuals" thus diluting the bipartisan concern in the United States. He ridiculed the US intelligence organisations' competence when a US journalist drew his attention to their report to the Congress on Russian interference. At the Putin-Trump meeting, the two sides gave different versions on Russian interference. The Russia Foreign Minister said after the meeting that President Trump had accepted the Russian President's denial of interference.
President Trump complicated the issue of Russian interference further in his eagerness to blame President Obama. He said that his predecessor knew that Russia was interfering in the US election as early as in August 2016 but did not do anything about it!
By contradicting his own stances publicly, President Trump has underlined that on the international stage he is untrustworthy. Only the foolhardy international leader or country would now accept him on his words because he has not left any doubt that he is quite capable of changing his stand on critical international issues sometimes even inadvertently and often wilfully, as was the case with the Article 5 of NATO Charter and Islam and so-called Islamic terrorism.
This brings to the way the Muslims countries and their leaders were lured by Saudi Arabia to be lectured by President Trump in May in Riyadh. These Muslim countries and their leaders should now read and re-read his speech in Warsaw to understand that he is still the determined anti-Muslim, anti-Islam leader representing the dark forces of the extreme white right, the champion of the forces that Professor Samuel Huntington had addressed to fight Islam and Muslims.
The Muslim countries would also now need to focus on the changes that are taking place in international politics. A US President is taking up the case of Russia and President Putin and has no concern in insulting and humiliating his country's intelligence organisations and his predecessor on foreign soil with the world listening and watching. By any stretch of the imagination, this is not normal. For the first time in history, Moscow has appeared on the world stage looking like a dominant force in international politics and a US president is more than willing to give it that place.
That raises a huge question. Russia is a major power but by no means either economically or militarily powerful enough to challenge the United States-- economically only 12th in the world. Its credibility to become a dominant international power is also questionable. Nevertheless, President Putin is determined to establish his country to such a position and to do so, he would need to contain the United States that has been its main enemy since the Second Great War. And in the G20 Summit, following his meeting with President Trump, he came out clearly as the dominant leader with President Trump helping him achieve that position.
President Putin now has an American President who eulogises him and humiliates his own country and its intelligence institutions to show Russia in a better light! President Trump, in reality, is thus assisting President Putin to achieve Russian interests that even a victory in a war with the USA would not have brought.
President Donald Trump appears to be playing the same role that President Mikhail Gorbachev had played in negotiations with the USA that ended both the Cold War and the USSR. And one desire has long been embedded deep in President Putin's mind, to make USA pay for the destruction of the USSR and raise Russia to the Super Power status to challenge the USA.
The writer is a former Ambassador.