Trump to Put Russia on the Backburner

American press ascribes almost mythical powers to the unnamed Russian hackers and the Kremlin's rumored army of Internet trolls. This storyline is likely coming to an end. The Trump administration will work fast to re-focus the attention on China.

Trump is unlikely to win new fans. He will have to work hard to maintain his base of supporters. The key to this is to keep his election promises where they really matter. And I am not talking about building the wall. China will be Trump's primary focus. In this game Russia can be a useful and influential ally.

Russia will never turn against China. Not for lifting the sanctions and not for the promise to recognize the annexation of Crimea. But Russia can be immensely helpful in bringing to life Trump's ambitious goals of revamping trade relations with China.

In the near-term persepctive, Russia doesn't need Washington's recognition of Crimea. It doesn't even need official lifting of the sanctions (an unofficial failure to enforce will suffice). The current Russia narrative in the US press will fall apart along with the country's numerous and disorganized intelligence agencies. "Right-sizing" the CIA and Co will be the initial focus of the Trump administration.

What's in the Cards for the US Intelligence Agencies

America's bloated intelligence apparatus consisting of at least fifteen agencies and countless commercial contractors is draining as much as $75 billion annually from the country's budget. Most of these organizations excel at post-factum analysis, proving that hind sight is always 20/20. However, epic failure is their main product when it comes to threat forecasting and defense. Few of these organizations will survive the Trump administration. Chances are, many of these fifteen intelligence agencies will not outlive Obamacare.

Why Obama Can't Hack Russia

For some weeks now Obama has been "weighing the options" of retaliating against the suspected Russian hacking. However, Obama is not to be blamed for his lack of action. This is not due to his usual indecisiveness, but primarily because of his limited options.

Obama has a couple of very good reasons for dragging his feet. The first reason is obvious: a more computerized America is vulnerable to hacking. Given equivalent expertise on both sides, a hacking war will be far more damaging to the US.

The second reason is implied: the expertise is not equivalent. The US has fallen behind. Years of IT outsourcing depleted the US workforce of experienced programmers (the hackers). Rising unemployment and dropping salaries reduced demand for computer-related degrees.

While most big business supported Trump's candidacy, the IT sector was a notable exception Why? Trump's stance on immigration and outsourcing threatens the H1-B visa program: the primary tool used by large US-based IT companies to acquire moderately-qualified and, more importantly, inexpensive labor from abroad.

Most of these guys can't hack their way out of a paper bag. Many of them come from countries with some of the lowest computer-per-capita rates. Their contribution to the world of IT is the endless security holes in our software.

What's different in Russia? No outsourcing. Programmers make decent money. Good IT education curricula. Steadily rising graduation rates. Russia is a hacker-making machine, while the US is importing their hacks from abroad.

Russians in Rio

With Beslan Murdanov's spectacular judo gold win, a realization sets in that Russia's gutted Olympic team is still a top contender. Only two weeks ago few expected any miracles, but now US News & World Report writes:

"The victory showed that Russia is set to remain a serious contender for medals in Rio, even though it lost some of its top athletes to a widespread doping scandal... [Russia] has been extremely successful in minimizing the damage elsewhere and escaping a blanket ban, with a mixture of a savvy public relations campaign and old-fashioned backroom lobbying."

One should also add Russia's unexpectedly effective legal action causing CAS to reverse IOC's rule on the basis of earlier "Osaka rule" supposedly dropped in 2011. Russian lawyers decided to revisit the issue anyway and got their first Olympic victory re-admitting Russian swimmers to the Games:

One hastily imposed IOC rule was overturned, allowing several athletes caught in doping tests back on the Russian team, while even some implicated in the McLaren report as having benefited from a cover-up were reinstated.

I recall some years ago Putin's critics complained that Russia undervalued the concept of "soft power", preferring heavy-handed power tactics. This does not seem to be the case anymore. It would appear the Kremlin brought all guns to bear and even the good old Gorby pitched in:

"Meanwhile, an international public relations campaign spread Russia's soft power worldwide and undermined McLaren's report. The U.S. firm Burson-Marsteller distributed a speech by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urging the IOC to keep Russia in the games."

Regardless the final medals standing, the Rio situation confirms my previous assertion that the idea of "isolating" Russia is little more than an Obama fantasy. The more Washington sticks with this failed policy, the further it will fall behind in world politics. And Washington's notoriously-amateurish diplomatic corps is only adding to the problem.

Truth be told, this is a time for a major shakeup in US foreign politics. And, as much as it pains me to say this, Trump is America's best hope to regain its position of respect as a credible player on the international arena. When Trump announced his presidential candidacy a few months ago, I (and probably you) thought it was a pure PR move. Now he's the official GOP candidate. And for the first time in modern history, much of the GOP establishment is not behind their own guy.

I find myself in a singularly strange position: I want change and the only candidate left who can deliver it is a GOP billionaire. This is why I find politics interesting. If I vote for Hillary, I'll get at least four more years of the same thing. If I vote for Trump, I just don't know what I will get: options ranging form a nuclear war to a strategic partnership with Russia and China seem to be on the table.

If it rains or is too cold, I will not vote. But, if I decide to leave my house and stand in line at the local voting center, I will give my vote to the only candidate who will guarantee the end to "more of the same".