After President Trump met last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his apparent strategy for Russian engagement is coming into focus. While it’s baffling that Trump continues to hedge on Russia’s meddling in our election (despite unanimity among U.S. intelligence agencies), it’s equally confusing to understand why Trump sees a friend where everyone else sees a foe. Is Trump, like a brilliant entrepreneur, seeing opportunity where others see a dead end? Not likely. Here are three reasons Trump is wrong on Russia:
- Russia wants a weak U.S. and a weak NATO: According to a consensus of intelligence analysts, Russia’s economic power is so stunted it can regain its role as a major superpower mostly by diminishing and undermining the power of other countries. Putin has aggressively worked to interfere in elections in the U.S. and NATO countries to help elect leaders who are less likely to stand up to his invasion of Crimea and his intentions with regard to the Ukraine. When other countries are in disarray and focusing on their own political agendas, Russia can more easily consolidate its power and influence.
- There are relatively few economic interests that Russia can help the United States advance: Russia’s GDP ranks 12th in the world and is ten times smaller than the European Union and a third of Germany’s. While it makes sense to foster stronger economic ties with all countries around the world, Trump is placing a disproportionate emphasis on a country that has less to offer. He is also deliberately snubbing countries and alliances that have been key to U.S. prosperity.
- It is unlikely Russia will help the U.S. advance any geopolitical initiatives: Trump’s idea of creating a cyber-security alliance with Russia has been met with widespread disbelief (and even scorn) from intelligence officials around the world and by members of both parties here in the United States. Trump believes that working more closely with Russia – and developing a stronger personal relationship with Putin – can help end the civil war in Syria and thwart future terrorist attacks. Similarly, he also incorretly believed that his warm, personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping would help reign in North Korea’s growing nuclear missile threat. There is little evidence that Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping will advance U.S. interests in any kind of significant way. They will compliment and flatter him and then simply do what they want to do if there are no other consequences.
While candidate Trump hinted repeatedly that warmer relations with Russia could benefit the United States, his emerging Russia “strategy” seems a loose and disorganized collection of objectives and ideas that run contrary to the views of most of our elected representatives, intelligence officials, and our closest allies. Donald Trump owes it to the American people to articulate in greater detail how working more closely with Russia will advance U.S. interests.
The legislation on Russian sanctions that the Senate passed 98-2 earlier this month (which is now in the House) needs to be passed with a veto-proof margin. It does not look like Donald Trump is putting America or Americans first.
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