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Manafort, Villain-Maker

Walter Russell Mead

Paul Manafort’s resignation today makes it official: Russia is a bad guy again.

How do we know? Because while many people in the Acela Corridor do shady things for shady people in foreign lands, doing shady things for Russia-linked interests stands out in a new way. And this is not because of Obama policy, but rather in spite of it—Obama is still fighting against the new tide. The reaction among both leading Democrats and Republicans to the Manafort disclosures demonstrate pretty clearly what official Washington thinks. And the fact that the relationship between Manafort’s client Viktor Yanukovych and Putin was a lot less clear-cut than some of the more superficial media reads might allow only underlines the new political reality: play footsie with Russia and you can’t be on the A Team.

This is not, yet, Cold War II, nor does Russia, yet, have the power to place itself at the center of American strategy as the USSR once did. However, it should be taken as a sign that the Acela Elite now sees Russia in Romneyesque terms. The part of Obama’s foreign policy that ignores repeated provocations, humiliations and Russian geopolitical machinations will not survive Obama’s time in the White House. Team Hillary knows this and supports it. Team Trump has just learned that not even the love of The Boss can protect you from the firestorm if the press catches you in a lip-lock with Moscow.

We can now expect a series of behind-the-scenes adjustments on the part of other lobbying firms, banks, and consultants, as people step away from relationships that once seemed acceptable, but could now end up being career-ending entanglements. It’s likely, too, that the civil servants in Justice and Treasury who monitor these sorts of things will take note that a more aggressive posture against law skirting Russians will be welcomed by the public and their bosses.

Big changes often come to the American policy system in this way: some high profile news developments cause a spontaneous, quiet realignment.

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