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Foreign policy experts struggle to explain Trump’s devotion to Vladimir Putin

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US President Donald Trump (right) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017 (AFP Photo/JORGE SILVA)

Americans who are old enough to remember the Cold War find it ironic that President Donald Trump has such a favorable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s relationship with Putin is the focus of an op-ed that Jim Sciutto, CNN’s chief national security correspondent, wrote for its website — and according to Sciutto, their relationship is one that foreign policy experts and former members of Trump’s administration have a hard time explaining.

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“When interviewing current and former Trump administration officials for my upcoming book, ‘The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World,’ I found that explaining Trump’s deference to Russia was one of the most difficult questions for them to answer,” Sciutto explains. “And even they acknowledged the record fails to back up the president.”

Sciutto asked Susan Gordon, former principal deputy director of national intelligence, what Trump believes he needs Putin for — and she responded, “To not be an adversary. To not drive up (Trump’s) need to respond militarily. To not force (him) to spend money in places (he doesn’t) want to. To not have someone who (he) won’t deal with. To not create another front where (he has) to engage militarily. (Russia) are so powerful that to have them as an enemy is not in (the) best interest of what he’s trying to achieve globally, and from a U.S. perspective.”

Gordon also told Sciutto, “If Russia is an active adversary, you have to spend resources against it. And I’m not sure that this president wants to spend resources against it.”

H.R. McMaster, who served as national security adviser under Trump in 2017 and 2018, told Sciutto that Trump “is the latest American leader to believe that he is going to get Putin to have a change of heart, which is utterly unrealistic when you look at Putin’s background and the ideology that drives him.”

Sciutto notes, “A less innocent explanation among aides is that Trump is simply envious of Putin’s power and that his admiration for him is genuine. In fact, Trump, they told me, found numerous things to like about the Russian president. He is a strong leader, as Trump envisions himself to be. Putin is a zero-sum player on the international stage, to which Trump sees similarities to his own ‘America first’ approach. And Putin has an unromantic, nihilistic view of nations and their place in the world — a view Trump, unlike any U.S. president in recent memory, appears to share in many respects.”

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