One of Donald Trump’s biggest failings as President has been the total lack of seriousness when it comes to Russia’s aggressive nature in global affairs.
His philosophy was simple, though misguided. Come to the table with Russia as a friendly force and negotiate. However, the optics were atrocious, and Russia has acted in bad faith at nearly every turn. Yet Trump was never forceful in condemning Russia for their actions.
It mirrored Barack Obama’s famous (and, in retrospect, hilariously misinformed) reply to Mitt Romney in 2012: “The 1980s called, and they want their foreign policy back.”
However, Syria has (probably) used a gas or nerve agent against its own people yet again. And, while Obama drew a red line and then erased it when he thought no one was looking, Trump appears to be more firmly set in taking action in Syria. For better or worse, his red line seems real.
And he does not just label Syria a threat here. He is acknowledging, in his strongest rhetoric yet, the role that Russia plays in backing the Assad regime versus the rebel groups they are trying to eliminate. Over the weekend, Trump blasted Russia, Iran, and in particular Russian president Vladimir Putin as military patrons of the Assad regime.
That’s a pretty big step for Trump, and a pretty positive one. If he is willing to take seriously the humanitarian threat Russia represents, then he could be prepared to move on from there and acknowledge Russia’s role in other matters – including his own election.
To be clear, I don’t believe Trump was assisted by the Russians in getting elected, but it is very clear Russia meddled through misinformation campaigns and generating false buzz around candidates in 2016. Trump picking up on Russia’s misdeeds in the Middle East could lead to his acknowledgment of their 2016 behavior in American politics, which might actually show some growth and maturity (something his administration could definitely use right now).
Taking Putin seriously is a very good thing, but Trump has to follow through in a couple ways. The first is expanding his condemnation of Putin to other areas (including the 2016 election meddling). The second would be to take action and actually back up his rhetoric. If Trump has a red line and sticks to it, then he might be on his way to truly bringing America back to the forefront in global politics.