Almost anybody with a cursory familiarity with politics understands the value of optics. When something looks bad, people are going to think it’s bad. The same goes for something that looks good.
In that sense, the Trump administration returning compounds seized by the Obama administration following confirmation from the intelligence community the Russians attempted to interfere in the 2016 election is poor optics.
From The Washington Post:
The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, from which its officials were ejected in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Then-President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes,” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”
Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.
Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington, that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges.
One ray of light is the agreement is not final:
Before making a final decision on allowing the Russians to reoccupy the compounds, the administration is examining possible restrictions on Russian activities there, including removing the diplomatic immunity the properties previously enjoyed. Without immunity, the facilities would be treated as any other buildings in the United States and would not be barred to entry by U.S. law enforcement, according to people who spoke on the condition anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.
Still, who over there thought it was a good idea even to discuss this? President Trump is out tweeting about health care and then a story like this drops which will remove plenty of attention away from legislative efforts.
No wonder Trump can’t find anybody willing to be his communications director. Who wants to be in charge of that circus?
I am certain there will be a contingent of people out there yammering on how this is a middle finger to Obama and how great it is because the Russian interference story is a “conspiracy.” They’re the same people who cannot understand (and don’t believe) Trump’s job approval rating hovers at 40 percent.
Maybe, just perhaps, it is because a move like this is not “great.”