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A moment of sadness

  • Published at 05:54 pm February 19th, 2020
US  President Donald Trump
Donald Trump is one of two US presidents elected in the past five elections despite losing the popular vote Reuters

The Senate did not condemn Trump, but history will

The impeachment of Donald Trump has failed, and the Senate found the president not guilty.  

The case was simple enough: Trump attempted to manipulate the national security policy of the US for his own personal political advantage. The second charge was that he improperly withheld information relevant to the case by preventing witnesses from appearing and refusing to turn over relevant documents to the House of Representatives.

The House believes that, when there is an impeachment, the Congress should have access to all relevant documents.

Sadder for an American citizen, the Republican senators showed a lack of courage, frightened that they would lose their jobs or be damaged by Trump’s attacks on them if they did the right thing. Only one senator stood on principle, Romney. 

Romney is a Mormon, one of the most disciplined of the different Christian groups. Senator Romney explained that his faith required him to tell the truth and to do the right thing regardless of the cost to him personally.

This is no surprise among politicians whose lust for money and power has no limit. The president of the United States misusing his powers and the Republican senators demonstrating their limited mortality are two signs of the crisis of the American political system.

It is a moment of sadness.

Ironically, there are two really important issues here that should have been considered but were neglected: First, is the validity of the current approach of the US to Eastern Europe, and to the Ukraine in particular. The second is the posture of the US towards the development of democratic systems in other countries. These are two central issues of American foreign policy but their direct relevance to the impeachment was not recognized.

President George HW Bush was clear on Eastern Europe. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, it was important to leave something to Russia. Bush wanted Russians to accept the most difficult choice, to allow Germany to reunite and continue as a member of NATO. In return, the US would not disturb the hegemony of Russia over its neighbours. The ultimate prize here was the emergence of a democratic, capitalistic Russia.

Presidents Clinton and George Bush pushed aggressively to expand the realm of freedom right up to the borders of Russia. This policy violated the understanding reached at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union. As a consequence the movement inside Russia to develop a true democracy and a market economy was weakened. 

Russia was captured by Putin and his fake democracy. But Putin also represented a resurgence of Russia as an opponent of the US fighting in Europe over the future of the boundary states.

The most dramatic example is the battle during the 25 years over the Ukraine. This nation has long been an integral part of the Russian political reach. To remove it and shift it towards membership in the American-European alliance was a direct threat to Russia. The US and the EU have been busy doing exactly this. Putin acted aggressively to counter, and we now have a military confrontation plus the seizure of part the Ukraine. The US pursuing this had begun under the Trump administration to supply lethal military equipment to Ukraine; a further escalation of the conflict.

Putin was surely disappointed. He had worked diligently and successfully to get Trump elected; unlike Hilary Clinton, Trump gave every indication of being more flexible. Who knows what was discussed privately between representatives of Trump and Putin.

Trump probably felt, during the period before the Mueller report was issued, that it was better to be tough on Russia. But Trump has consistently questioned the growing bad relations between Russia and the US and seems to want to improve this tense stand-off on issue after issue. The right view on this is surely George HW Bush’s, that is of giving Russia continued influence over its traditional neighbours and work towards a democratic Russia.

This approach is lost.  

The second point is the role of the US in active promotion of democracy. In the case of the Ukraine, the issue was easily drawn -- after 1990 the Ukraine fell into a long period of growing corruption. Yet, the EU and the US were making significant transfers of foreign aid for both development and military support. Ukraine abandoned its nuclear weapons and missiles. The corruption became a serious issue for Western democracies and their financial organizations, the World Bank and the IMF.

The US sought to encourage a democratic government in Ukraine, to ensure that the lines for trade and development were with the West, not with Russia. Putin believes Ukraine is linked to Russia and the effort by the West to encourage as westward-looking democracy is a threat to Russia. The conflict is well-defined and underlies the issues which emerged in the impeachment of Trump.

The encouragement towards Ukraine to become a democratic system led to interventions by the West against individuals who were deeply corrupt or who were supporters of a Ukraine linked to Russia.

Despite the nationalistic pretensions of the American president, his focus on trade deficit links in many cases to the human rights focus of the EU.

Trump survived the impeachment as was expected -- the events showed that the Republican Party in the Senate has lost its moral compass. Any attempt at systematic policy is of no interest to Trump, he is always motivated by his narrow, naive view. If one makes no attempt at objective analysis to understand the world, and to believe that one is always right, the consequence is disaster.

It may take time for the consequences of selfish ill-informed policies, coupled with a complete lack of humility, to bring down cosmic retribution; but reality asserts itself. While the Senate refused to condemn Trump, the grinding reality of history will. 

Forrest Cookson is an American economist.

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