A conversation on the new US presidency with Ian Bremmer, Eurasia Group founder and president

Q.: Dr. Bremmer, a few days after Trump’s inauguration as US president, the world is wondering what kind of America will come out. Which one among the options you defined in “Superpower” is likely to be Trump’s choice?

A.: In all likelihood, it will be closest to “independent America.” Trump wants an America that acts unilaterally and transactionally, and he’s willing to shed multilateral responsibilities and rethink long-standing alliances to do it. However, he diverges from the way I lay out “independent America” in my book in one key way — he does not care about leading by example even though he does pay lip-service to the idea. That’s a crucial caveat. But truth be told, his ability to execute on his vision for America remains an open question given his (and his core White House team’s) lack of international relations experience, not to mention the different foreign policy inclinations among his cabinet members.

Q.: A lot of attention is focused on Trump “special relation” with Vladimir Putin. Do you think that the Trump arrival to the Oval Office will lead to a new era of rapprochement between US and Russia? Is the Congress (and Republican Party) ready for this to happen? What kind of reaction is expected by Washington establishment?

A.: Well I wouldn’t call it an “era” because it’s not based on long-standing values, so it isn’t likely to last long. But yes, and it’s a big change indeed, a 180-degree shift in relations near term. Trump has been very consistent about his admiration for and willingness to work with Putin — this despite the fact that the Russian hacks have backed Trump into a corner. Sure, the Washington foreign policy establishment will strongly oppose any rapprochement with Russia, but realistically-speaking, holding a hard line against Russia is only a top priority for a small number of people in Congress. So Trump will have plenty of room to maneuver and will peel back sanctions; the real question is if there will be leaks from the intelligence community given their ongoing fight with Trump. These leaks could be merely embarrassing to Trump, but they also could be much more than that.

Q.: The nominations of Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence and Michael Pompeo as Director of Central Intelligence Agency have been announced in a very turbulent phase of the relation between Trump and US intelligence community. The intelligence reports about Russian inteference in the presidential campaign have created a lot of tension with the president elect. Should we expect a turnabout by the US intelligence community or should we expect new possible investigations about Russian hacking actions?

A.: We should expect new investigations, this time driven by Congress. The bigger question is how far Trump will go towards politicizing the entire intelligence community — Trump is well-known for not liking information that goes against his views. As Trump tries to push politics into intelligence, some analysts will quit outright. Other analysts will leak info to the press — which is a serious potential danger for Trump, especially if not everything about his relationship with Russia is above-board. If there’s something out there to find out, I expect we will eventually.

Q.: Given Putin’s activism in Syria and the new commitment in Libya, will the new administration successfully find a strategy to balance powers in the Mediterranean? Will President Obama foreign policy be totally put aside?

A.: On Syria, Obama’s policy was to try and stay out. “Assad must go” was a slogan, not an actual policy. Trump will embrace cooperation with Putin on Syria, but otherwise it’s mostly about prioritizing the fight against terror in the region and more broadly.

Q.: How President Trump will deal with European Union weakness? Do you think that the new administration will prefer bilateralism to multilateralism in transatlantic relations?

A.: I absolutely do believe the Trump administration prefers bilateralism to multilateralism, not just with Europe but with the world in general. It’s much easier to get deals done that way, especially ones that disproportionately benefit the US. America’s relationship with Germany is of particular interest here; in part because Trump doesn’t seem interested in doing what’s necessary to uphold historic alliances with strategically important Countries, and in part because his politics (his support of populism, Brexit and Russia in particular) fly directly in the face of Angela Merkel’s top priorities.

Q.: The former Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, had strong personal affinities with Barack Obama. Now both US and Italy have a new executive and there is a lot of attention in Rome about who is going to be the next US ambassador to Italy. Do you have any prediction about Trump politics on US – Italy relationships?

A.: Italy’s focus on doing more on defense (given Europe’s security weaknesses) and Rome’s desire to work with Russia are both very much aligned with the Trump administration. But Trump will also give more legitimacy to eurosceptic parties in Italy, at least indirectly. Italy is a close ally of the US, but this is bound to hurt the bilateral relationship to some degree. Then there are plenty of outstanding questions from the Italian side: how weak will the next Italian government be? How long will that new government last? How much is the potential for a banking crisis going to distract from a burgeoning US – Italy relationship?

Q.: Italian political scenario is currently focused on the next national elections and a new force, the Five Star Movement, will challange Rome establishment, just like Donald Trump did in US elections. Do you think that Luigi Di Maio, probable Five Star Movement candidate to the Prime Minister chair, will have a real chance to win the elections? How do you consider this generalized and diffuse tendency in western Countries to vote new forces, preferring outsiders to the establishment representatives?

A.: Ironically enough, I think the Five Star Movement would’ve had a much better shot at the prime minister’s chair had the referendum (which they opposed vociferously) passed given the new rules and political reforms it would have instituted. It’s much less likely now that they will be able to get to power, even if they come first in the next election (which is a very real possibility). still, It’s far from impossible if they manage to strike an agreement with other populist/eurosceptic forces in the Country.

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