The USA Can’t Pretend It May Start From Zero

Mr. David J. Kramer was the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia in 2005-08, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in 2008-09, he leaded the Freedom House from 2010 to 2014, and currently he’s the Director of McCain Institute. We are much thankful to him for the opportunity of this interview.

- Mr. Kramer, I suspect you were not among those Americans who anticipated much or wished Trump’s victory at Presidential elections. However he won most of Electoral college, and his popular vote was less than Clinton’s but still close to some 46%. What about does it speak? Was it kind of revelation, revolt of masses, when people wish to see ceased everything that made long standing reality and don’t care much what will come next, even will it be better or worse?

  • Donald Trump tapped into a large segment of the American electorate that felt left out of the political process and economic recovery. He was a master at using technology and received lots of free media coverage. He also benefitted by running against a candidate who was the personification of the establishment in Hillary Clinton at a time when there was a very strong anti-establishment sentiment in the country. Clinton also ran a really bad campaign and was not helped by the comments of the FBI director. It was a very unusual campaign and election, and the result did surprise a lot of people.

- After first week in office Trump caused such chaos from Mexico to Middle East with his executive orders and generated such civil opposition inside the US from Women's March to demonstrations in airports, that one wonders where all this may lead? So how right are those, who call to keep calm, wait and look for a while, and how just may be the others who initiated and already gathered some half a million signatures under the petition for President Trump’s impeachment?

  • The first two-plus weeks of the administration have caused considerable concern. His tweets in which he responds to the slightest criticism, his contentious phone calls with allied leaders, his continued admiration for Vladimir Putin, and the rush of executive orders that didn’t run through the normal process are giving his critics plenty of reason to raise questions. We have seen massive protests the day after his inauguration and then when his executive order suspending immigration and refugee admittance from seven countries. For his supporters, he is doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign and pursuing the agenda that he promised his supporters he would pursue.

He continues to represent anti-establishment sentiment, but the dilemma he faces is that he now is part of the establishment given that he occupies the Oval Office. He needs Congress to help him get things done. He needs to build popular support beyond the base that voted for him. He entered office with the lowest approval rating of any president in many years and his numbers have not gone up. It’s too early to conclude where this might go, especially since many positions in the government remain unfilled, but the early signs are disturbing.

- I don’t know which actions and statements of President Trump are more troubling – those that deal with inner policies or the others impacting the international relations? However the fact that most of Trump’s nominees- including Secretary Mattis, Tillerson, Pompeo, etc, stated clear differences and discord with certain Trump approaches during the Senate hearings, may this calm down the anxiety around the world caused by Trumps controversial views and stances?

  • There is no question that during their confirmation hearings, a number of nominees to head various departments offered views very different from the president’s. The biggest differences were over Russia and torture. Several Cabinet secretaries voiced strong support for maintaining sanctions on Russia, voiced support for Ukraine, and cited Russia as a major threat to US interests. Those views clash with the things President Trump said as a candidate and even more recently since his inauguration. It is too soon to say whose views will prevail.

- May President Trump’s foreign policy really jeopardize the NATO unity and mightiness, aren’t those assumptions rather exaggeration than perspective? Still on the other hand isn’t Mr. Trump right in some sense when he demands the NATO members to increase or at least put efforts to increase their military budgets to 2% of GDP, if they are that eager to be protected by NATO?

  • President Trump is absolutely right to insist that NATO allies contribute the 2% of their GDP to defense spending. He is not the first American leader to raise this issue, but he has made it a much bigger issue than his predecessors. His comments describing NATO as obsolete, I hope, are a thing of the past. They caused understandable nervousness among countries along Russia’s borders who are NATO allies. He has indicated he plans to attend the NATO summit in May in Brussels. That is encouraging, though everyone will pay close attention to what he says there and how he conducts himself. It may be one of his first international gatherings.

- Some NATO members are pretty vocal and demanding when it comes to their protection, but they didn’t wish to provide shelter even to several thousand Syrian refugees, when Germany was sheltering almost million of them or UK spent billions on Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan? Hardly these East European countries and peoples are more valuable than the Syrians, so why not to think that Mr. Trump’s indifference towards their fate is as justified as their attitude towards the Syrians?

  • I think it is the responsibility of all of us to help those in need, and refugees fleeing war and the very definition of those in need. Security issues are the top responsibility of any government, but we also have to provide shelter, if not a new place to live, for those who have been forced to flee their country because of acts of war. It’s important to differentiate between refugees and immigrants. Refugees don’t have a choice to leave their country – they are forced to do so. I think every country, including the United States, needs to do more in providing a home for refugees.

- Mr. Kramer, what do you think about Putin-Trump bromance? After Trump’s first week in office and talk with Putin it’s difficult to make suggestions, but what kind of opposition Trump may face from Capitol Hill if he tries to backtrack from Obama’s policy, sanctions, etc? Also may happen so that Trump displays even harsher attitude towards Russia given what Rex Tillerson suggested about the expedience of arming the Ukrainians in response of Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

  • I am worried about the Putin-Trump relationship, even though the two leaders have yet to meet in person. President Trump has been consistent throughout the campaign and since his election on his admiration for Putin, his desire better relations with Russia, and his hope for cooperation on fighting ISIS. Many people are worried about a possible grand deal that would essentially grant Putin a sphere of influence in exchange for promises in fighting terrorism or reducing nuclear weapons. Should he move to lift sanctions on Russia without Russia’s full withdrawal from Ukraine, I do think the Congress will react by passing legislation codifying the sanctions.

We must stand by Ukraine and recognize that it is the victim of Russia’s aggression. Close to 10,000 people have died in the fighting there, and Russia bears responsibility for that. We cannot sweep Putin’s aggression under the rug and pretend that we can start from zero. Russia’s military intervention in Syria also came at great cost, and Russia’s hacking and interference in our election also needs a strong response. Putin exploits weakness and an overeagerness to get along. Let’s not make that mistake again.

- Thanks a lot for the interview, Mr. Kramer. And my last question – to my knowledge you haven’t been in Armenia, but I believe you’ve been in Turkey, where there’s endless Armenian heritage or in Jerusalem, where there’s entire Armenian Quarter in Holy City. So what comes to your mind first when you hear the name of Armenia?

  • I actually have been to Armenia twice, the first time in 2000 and the second time in 2008, when I was the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. It’s a beautiful country, with amazing people, and I hope to return soon.

Lusine Petrosyan