Until quite recently, cold warriors within the Trump administration and the American foreign-policy establishment had the wind at their backs. President Trump’s appointment of hard-liners such as former generals James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, along with the selection of neocon Russia hawk Nikki Haley to be ambassador to the UN, were early signs that the president was simply not serious about improving US-Russian relations. Trump’s decision to bomb Russia’s ally Syria last month seemed to put the prospects for détente out of reach.
Yet something funny happened on the way to Cold War II. Trump, in what initially seemed like a wondrously tone-deaf move given the timing, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office the day after he unceremoniously fired FBI director James Comey.
The Oval Office audience was enough to alarm hard-liners both inside and outside the administration. The meeting, combined with reports currently circulating that the fortunes of administration members like Haley, Mattis, and McMaster have fallen (while those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have risen), was enough to cause the new cold warriors of the US foreign-policy establishment to spring into action.
To see that this is so, one need only consult Monday’s evening’s Washington Post story, which claimed that “President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.”
According to the report, these unnamed US officials were alarmed that Trump discussed “aspects” of a threat “that the United States only learned through the espionage capabilities of a key partner.” While Trump “did not reveal the specific intelligence gathering method,” he allegedly “described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances.”
By now, it should be relatively uncontroversial to observe that Trump is a loose cannon and an embarrassment. Yet the idea that these leaks to the Post by “current and former U.S. officials” are in the service of US national-security interests strains credulity. They manifestly are not. What they actually do is to serve the narrow agenda of the new cold warriors, undermining cooperation with Russia, thereby making diplomatic solutions more, not less, difficult to achieve in an ever-growing number of theaters (the Baltics, Ukraine, Syria, and perhaps soon Iran) in which the United States and Russia are currently eyeball to eyeball.