Will Putin and Trump Stop Kissing Now? How Syria blew up this bromance and what YOU can make of it

Putin and Trump

This was bound to happen. This romantic bond holding Putin and Trump in a perfect marriage was due to explode. Do you see how I cleverly used the word ‘explode’ here?

But what happened between Putin and Trump is actually serious. After the American attack on a Syrian air base, the relations between Putin and Trump are bound to cool down. This post will explain:

  • What happened exactly?
  • What does it mean for the relations between Putin and Trump?
  • How is it similar to what happened between Poland and Hungary?
  • Why and how to theorize what happened?
  • How can YOU understand this problem and explain it to others?

What happened exactly?

On 7 April 2017, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian air base. More specifically,

On the orders of President Donald Trump, Navy destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross fired dozens of cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield in western Homs province at about 04:40 Syrian time (01:40 GMT).BBC News

This was the first action of this kind by a US government. Of course, Washington has been carrying out air strikes against jihadists in Syria.

This is part of the US fight against the so-called Islamic State. Many countries are involved in this fight, including rebel groups in Syria.

Here is what’s different now. What’s different is the target of the US military action. For the first time, the target is the forces of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Why did Trump attack Syria?

Strong evidence suggests that Syrian government used chemical weapons against rebel forces. The attack took place on 4 April 2017 and at least 80 people died.

Also, hundreds suffered reaction suggesting the government used a nerve agent. This was not the first time al-Assad likely used chemical weapons against enemies.

This is how a 14-year-old Mariam Abu Khalil reported what happened:

(…) she saw an aircraft drop a bomb on a one-story building a few dozen yards away. (…) she described an explosion like a yellow mushroom cloud that stung her eyes. “It was like a winter fog,” she said. Sheltering in her home nearby, she saw several residents arrive by car to help the wounded. “When they got out, they inhaled the gas and died,” she said. New York Times

In reaction this attack, Trump administration signaled the reversal of its policy. This is interesting because Trump called for limiting US military engagement abroad.

He criticized previous administrations for committing US resources abroad. Instead, he called for a greater focus on American domestic interests.

What does it mean for the relations between Putin and Trump?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a consistent ally of the Syrian President al-Assad. Putin has been protecting his ally against enemies through diplomatic and military actions.

Moscow used its veto power 7 times to block UN Security Council resolutions critical of al-Assad.

At the same time, Putin and Trump have enjoyed a close relationship. During the US presidential campaign, Putin worked hard to help his favorite candidate.

Putin and Trump: on the phone with Putin

President Obama was a difficult partner for Putin. Former US President condemned Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria.

In contrast, political friends of Trump have maintained close relations with Russian authorities. Some of those relations have started to come to light recently.

Trump himself was always fond of Putin. He praised Russian President for being very smart. He always had something nice to say about Putin.

Trump promised that American – Russian relations will improve when he becomes president. He claimed he knew how to talk to Putin.

But now this bromance is in danger of collapse. Russian authorities called an American attack

an act of aggression against a sovereign nationBBC News

Is this an innocent marital quarrel or are Putin and Trump signing divorce papers? The time will tell. But we have seen something very similar happening recently.

What do Poland and Hungary have to do with Putin and Trump (and why you should care)?

To many, this sudden near-divorce experience between Putin and Trump will be surprising.

But in fact, something similar has happened recently between two other countries. A similar story. And both stories tell you something fundamental about alliances in international relations.

Poland’s love affair with Hungary

You may have heard (or not) that Poland, since 2015, is governed by the right-wing government. It’s not central-right, it’s more like nationalistic right.

This government has reversed Poland’s long-standing commitment to the European Union. It is, in fact, anti-EU. I would say it hates the EU.

Can you guess which another country in the EU hates the EU? OK, I know, many countries are not fond of the EU. One of them is, in fact, leaving the European Club as we speak.

Putin and Trump: Putin with Orban

But there is one country where the antipathy has been mutual. Viktor Orban’s Hungary does not like the EU and the values it represents.

And the EU does not like what Orban is doing in Hungary. He’s done so many unpopular things I won’t list them here. They all amount to turning Hungary into an illiberal state.

His recent move to get rid of prestigious Central European University is one example.

Can you guess which country in Europe Poland found as the best hope for a close ally? It’s not Germany or France.

Poland worked hard to maintain good relations with those states. Until 2015, that is. This is when the new government decided Germany wants to dominate Poland.

And Poland must defend itself against this unhealthy German influence. How? Well, by cooperating with Hungary, for example.

Poland’s political leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, had been admiring Orban for a long time. He had great hopes for the relationship.

Does it ring any bells?

The betrayal

Here is Orban broke Kaczynski’s heart. Now, I warn you this is a story for people with strong nerves. There are all kinds of drama here.

In March the EU’s European Council was due to elect its President.

Since 2014, the President of the European Council was Donald Tusk. He is a former Poland’s Prime Minister. He is also a long-time rival of Kaczynski.

Now, when I say rival, I don’t think you get what I mean here. What I mean is Kaczynski HATES the guy. It’s personal. VERY personal.

Why? Reasons are many. For one, Kaczynski lost to Tusk on many occasions, in so many elections. And then there is Smolensk.

Who killed my brother?!

Have you heard of the Smolensk plain crash? In 2010, Polish air-plane crashed near the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board.

It carried Poland’s President, his wife, and a solid part of Poland’s political establishment.

A tragic day for Poland. But even more so for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. His twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, was the President at that time.

Jaroslaw with his party was the parliamentary opposition. Who was the Prime Minister at the time, you ask?

Putin and Trump: Donald Tusk

It was Donald Tusk.

Tusk’s government did not get along well with either Kaczynski. The opposition was very critical of the government. And the President was in a permanent conflict with the government.

Long story short, Kaczynski became obsessed with Smolensk. He rejected the outcomes of the official investigation into the tragedy.

Instead, he’s been blaming Tusk. Kaczynski’s allies even accused Tusk of planning this crash together with Putin!

Poland’s ‘no’, Hungary’s ‘yes’

Going back to European Council elections. Kaczynski refused to support Donald Tusk for re-election.

But Tusk was re-elected anyway, with the support of 27 states. Can you guess which country was among Tusk’s supporters?

Bravo. Hungary also supported Tusk, defying Poland. Why? Who knows. Orban likely values Western states more than he values his relations with Poland.

Poland’s government was furious. Hungary betrayed Poland. Orban betrayed Kaczynski. The bromance was put to the test.

How do you make sense of all this? Let’s theorize!

You can tell I love theorizing all matters related to international politics. I have explained why in my previous post.

What happened today, between Putin and Trump, is no exception. To get the best understanding of what’s going on, we need to take a step back.

How do you take a step back from the events? You create an abstraction from the reality you want to understand.

And how you do that? Here is my favorite way. You follow the advice by James Rosenau, who urged us to ask about every event:

Of what is this an instance?Rosenau (2003)

So, those two events. The looming divorce between Trump and Putin, and the betrayal of Kaczynski by Orban. Of what are these events an instance?

This is interesting, isn’t it. Most simply these events are an instance of a disagreement between political leaders. This is common in international politics.

But let’s dig deeper. What do those leaders have in common?

Well, regardless of your political sympathies, it’s not too controversial to find commonalities.

All four of them share a disdain of liberal democracy. They just don’t believe in the values represented by liberal democracies.

All four of them share a disdain of liberal democracy. They just don’t believe in the values represented by liberal democracies.

This means neither of them is committed to the values like the rule of law, freedom of the press, or minority rights.

This is just stating a fact, I am not judging them (OK, I am a bit).

Both Orban and Trump are fond of Putin. Kaczynski and his supporters don’t admire Putin publicly. But their actions suggest they share his views on governing a country.

This is how YOU can explain what happened to others

Let’s return to our question. Of what are those two events an instance?

Here is the answer. They are an instance of a fundamental dilemma faced by political leaders of a certain kind.

Political leaders who reject the ideas associated with liberal democracy. Leaders who encourage nationalist sentiments in their own countries.

What is this dilemma? The dilemma is that the very values which unite them, also drive them apart.

After world war II, western European states renounced nationalism. Only then were they able to overcome grievances and begin cooperation.

And when I say nationalism, I don’t mean patriotism. The two are different, although the line between them can sometimes be thin.

Nationalism drives states away from integration and cooperation.

Nationalism drives states away from integration and cooperation. To make cooperation more stable and long-term, states have to overcome nationalism.

Do you see where I am going with this? People like Kaczynski, Trump, Orban and Trump reject liberal democracy.

And this is the basis on which they want to build ties. But you need the exact opposite to build long-term cooperation.

You need positive values which are associated with liberal democracies. You also need rules and predictability. Transparency is important. You need a commitment to International institutions and laws.

Stable international cooperation goes hand in hand with liberal democracy. Building cooperation on the rejection of liberal democracy must be unstable.

Stable international cooperation goes hand in hand with liberal democracy.

Kaczynski has discovered it recently. Trump and Putin are just learning the lesson.

So this is it. I encourage you to always ask this question: of what is this an instance?

This will help you to make sense of the world beyond what’s covered in the news.

Plus, you can then go ahead and explain the problem to others. That’s how you become an expert on the topic.

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