Imagine, if you will, a scenario that happened many years ago. Some may actually remember it vividly. President John F. Kennedy had been presented with irrefutable evidence that the Soviet Union was placing nuclear missiles in Cuba that could reach and annihilate most major cities on the East coast of the United States. They had the proof; they showed us the pictures. Imagine if John Kennedy, the rightfully elected President by an electoral vote margin smaller than that of Donald Trump, had been accused of being a Kremlin agent, or puppet of Khrushchev. Kennedy would have been crippled and at that time the only way to prove he wasn’t a puppet or agent would be the unthinkable: nuclear war.
The situation is less dramatic today as very few believe that a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States is a likely outcome in the many areas where the two countries disagree. And make no mistake, there are differences- in Syria, the Ukraine, China, North Korea and election meddling.
Yet today, based on considerably less evidence than what we saw in the Cuban missile crisis- in fact, lots of conspiracy theory, conjecture, and hope on the part of the Trump haters- we have created essentially a crippled president when it comes to dealing with Russia. This scenario is another one of those good-for-Russia by-products of their meddling in the 2016 election. Every meeting, every Tweet, every comment as concerns Russia from this President is parsed, analyzed, critiqued and criticized to the point of nausea.
It is certainly true that Trump does not help his own cause in this area, and he is certainly no smooth talker like Obama, nor does he possess the great communicator characteristics of Ronald Reagan. While calling those who may disagree with him “haters,” he does himself a disservice. Instead of saying such things, perhaps a “We had a fruitful talk and look forward to better relations” would have sufficed.
There are those of us, many here at RedState, who seem to think that any dealing with Russia is some form of treasonous action given their meddling in our election. If so, then every President who has ever engaged Russia or the Soviet Union is a treasonous bastard and that would include FDR through Reagan. Of course, the counter-argument is that Russia, or the Soviet Union, did not try to influence a presidential outcome to the degree they did in 2016. You would he a historical dolt to hold that view. Think: KGB recruitment of Ted Kennedy in 1984; I think that rates as a worse transgression than 2016.
The fact is that Russia today has very little to lose. They are not an economic or military powerhouse. Without taking extreme risks, they can damage US interests and values nevertheless. They have been fomenting anti-Western sentiment in Europe for at least a decade now. Despite the sanctions against them, their annexation of the Crimea is still a fact, they still have troops in Georgia and they continue to fight a proxy war in eastern Ukraine. The decry-and-sanction route has had very little practical results on Russia’s behavior. Likewise, the Baltic states live in constant fear of the inevitable Russian move against their autonomy and sovereignty.
There are many obstacles to America actually engaging Russia on a positive basis. Some of these are quirks of geopolitics, but it seems rather counterproductive for things which this country does have control over to effectively hamstring efforts. Specifically, I am referring to our own Congress and mainstream media which portray Putin as the second coming of Saddam Hussein, if not Hitler. Hamstringing American foreign policy towards Russia in general, and Putin in particular, is a net negative for the United States.
The most obvious concern is nuclear war. While we downplay nuclear threats here in the US and Obama essentially considered them so terrible that he discounted their utility, Russian military doctrine describes tactical nuclear weapons as a more than viable option. Granted, this is not the 1950’s, but ignoring a nuclear power like Russia is akin to accepting nuclear weapons in Iran.
If we swear off any diplomacy with Russia because to do so would legitimize an unsavory government in Moscow, or that it would reward their bad behavior would simply convince Putin that he had nothing to lose. His reaction would be to further his resolve in weakening the United States and our values and make meddling in the 2016 election look like child’s play. What if Russia decided to attack other items like financial institutions, infrastructure or other things vulnerable to cyberattacks?
Russia could double down on its ties with China. Those two countries share one very important dynamic: a deep suspicion of US motives and actions. That bond runs deeper than any complex economic ties between the US and China. Russia could serve as a backdoor means to circumvent sanctions against North Korea. For those of you who like the idea of UN sanctions and condemnations, Russia sits on the Security Council and any measures would have to necessarily clear that hurdle. Does shunning Russia serve any purpose there?
Simply, as US-Russian relations deteriorate, the greater one will see cooperation between China and Russia on a host of topics, especially any disagreement with the United States. Both Russia and China fear encirclement by the United States, and both see US anti-ballistic missiles as a threat to their retaliatory capability.
Today, there is an anti-Russian fervor in some quarters that borders on or exceeds anything this country witnessed during any Red Scare. John McCain has described Russia as a greater risk to our national security than ISIS. Yet, Putin is not encouraging lone wolf terrorist attacks in this country and many of those European candidates like Marine Le Pen and others who were “pro-Russian” went down to resounding defeats.
Not a defense of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but one is a fool to believe that foreign governments do not try to influence election outcomes the world over. Even friendly countries do it. Obama himself urged British voters to reject Brexit, the NSA bugged Angela Merkel’s cell phone, Israeli spies are all over DC and New York, Netanyahu tried to scuttle Obama’s reelection in 2012, and Obama repaid the favor against Netanyahu in 2015.
Furthermore, let’s assess what the last “reset” in relations with Russia achieved. In short order, the Obama-Clinton duo decided to (1) agree to a new START treaty that delivered a 10-1 tactical nuclear advantage to Russia, (2) divulged British intelligence secrets, (3) scuttled an ABM agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic, and (4) decreased overseas deployment of the military. And for what? Tough talk and sanctions while Russian troops are in Georgia, they annex the Crimea and violate the airspace of the Baltic states on a regular basis.
This appeasement achieved nothing. Neither will ignorance. Neither will hamstringing American efforts at better relations through feel-good sanctions and tough talk or disallowing a legitimate administration to carry out its constitutional duties in the area of foreign relations.
We can all agree on two very important facts. The first is that Russia meddled or interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. But, we can respectfully disagree on their motives for doing so. And, yes… it is not productive for Trump to undercut the conclusions of the intelligence community and Congressional investigations in this area. It is also kind of childish and immature to believe Putin’s face-to-face denials.
The second agreement is that Russia in general, and Putin in particular, is not our friend. But except in extreme cases of mutual cooperation (like World War II), when was Russia ever our “friend?” In the present case, wouldn’t the Machiavellian dictate of “Keeping you friends close and your enemies closer” make greater geopolitical sense?