Yeah, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Trump’s spent months questioning Russia’s involvement in the DNC and Podesta hackings even though the entirety of U.S. intelligence seems to have little doubt about it. (Russia’s motives are a separate question.) He doesn’t want the truth made public if the truth points to Russia because that’ll limit his political capital in repairing relations with a longtime enemy. It’s eerily similar to Obama’s see-no-evil approach to Iran cheating on the nuclear deal. He’s going to make this relationship work, damn it, even if he has to cover his eyes, and yours, to do it.
Democrats want a select committee to investigate the Russia hackings, as that’ll raise the issue’s visibility and make it more likely that the findings will be made public. Mitch McConnell wants existing committees to tackle the subject, as that’ll keep the ball in the GOP’s court and maybe allow them to bury the results by making the outcome classified if need be. Any bets on how Trump would prefer to play it? (Besides refusing to investigate the issue at all, I mean.)
How the public feels about this depends on which poll you read. A Morning Consult survey released a few days ago found that 46 percent overall agree with Trump that we can’t be certain who’s behind the hackings versus 29 percent who say there’s a “near certainty” that Russia did it. As you’d guess, that split follows partisan lines: 63 percent of Republicans are in the uncertain camp compared to just 28 percent of Democrats who agree. On the other hand, this surprising new poll out today from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs suggests deep dislike for Russia among the wider American public. The poll doesn’t ask about the hackings specifically, but you can detect reaction to that in the sharp decline in Democratic opinion since June:
The current numbers are about as bad as they were in 1986, during the Cold War(!). The surprising part is that Republican opinions of Russia not only remain sour, they’ve actually declined too since the summer despite the CIA accusations lately that Putin hacked the Democrats in hopes of helping the Republican nominee win. Last week’s blockbuster YouGov poll on GOP views of Russia and Putin found right-wingers increasingly viewed Putin favorably (even though their views of him remained negative on balance). You would expect to see Republican opinion of Russia rising in this poll too lately if that were true, but you don’t. Hmmm.
In lieu of an exit question, read John Hemmings and David Frum on the possibility that Trump is playing 17-dimensional chess in wooing Putin, hoping to pull off a “reverse Nixon” by making nice with Russia while isolating China. I wrote about that myself last weekend. The flaw in the theory, they both note, is that there are no obvious fissures right now between Russia and China that lend themselves to exploitation by the U.S. The Russia/China relationship has never been better, in fact, and it’s not obvious what Moscow could or would do for America if we ended up in a confrontation with Beijing. On the contrary, Frum argues, if anyone here is playing an obvious game of triangulation, it’s Putin:
Imagine for a moment how all this looks from Vladimir Putin’s side of the table. Russia has a GDP about the same size as Italy’s. It is weaker than any of its political competitors: the U.S., China, or a united Europe. Putin’s best strategy is to divide each of those potential competitors from the others—and then to subdivide them against themselves. That strategy has been hugely advanced by the election of Donald Trump. China and the United States have already been set at loggerheads. NATO has been turned against itself, the credibility of its security guarantees already visibly dented. Russia’s prestige is rising: Pro-Russian governments have been elected in the border countries of Estonia and Moldova, a pro-Russian coup was only last month thwarted in the Adriatic country of Montenegro, and pro-Russian anti-EU parties are rising across not only central but also Western Europe.
Russia is the weakest country of the three; the surest way to ensure a balance of power between itself, the U.S., and China is for the two greater powers to preoccupy themselves with conflict between each other. Make nice with Washington and keep good relations with Beijing and then sit back and hope for the worst as the two jockey for influence in the Pacific. If anything, notes Hemmings, Trump’s election is less likely to cause a rift between Russia and China than it is to cause rifts in the west over how accommodating western nations should be towards each country. We’re already seeing this in European nations, in fact, as Trump-style nationalists call for better relations with Russia while left-wing cosmopolitans resist. If America’s not going to defend Europe anymore, or at least not with the same degree of commitment — which is what Trump’s victory portends — then Russia is arguably the dominant power on the continent now. And China, rather than the U.S., will be seen as an attractive counterweight as anti-Russian factions look for a new trade partner that’s not beholden to Putin. The rifts are on our side, by nationalist design and with Russia’s enthusiastic approval.