Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Trump: Actually a Russia Hawk? - Jack Carson and N.M. Guar

by Jack Carson and N.M. Guar

Say what you will, but 45 is the toughest on Moscow since 40.

President Trump's critics can cite any number of reasons to hurl abuse at the man. He is called immature, inconsistent, and fickle with his friends and appointees, and now, most frustratingly, he can't even play the role of the Russian stooge convincingly anymore. The allegations against Trump – of collusion with Russia to compromise the integrity of the election, of cronyism and inappropriate relationships with foreign diplomats – are damning to be sure, if they are true. But the facts of the matter paint a radically different picture of Russo-Trump relations. Since he entered office, Donald Trump has been the toughest president on Russia since Ronald Reagan and shows little sign of softening his line.

The recent bombing campaign in Syria – the second of such retaliatory measures – was meant to punish the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons. However, it also represents the latest in a series of decidedly anti-Russian foreign policy ventures undertaken by the Trump administration (almost all of which are overlooked by the legacy corporate press). 

Two months ago, the U.S. military killed between 100 and 300 Russian forces in Syria. In what could be the most downplayed story in U.S.-Russian history, in early February, scores of Russian "mercenaries" – that is to say, Moscow-controlled soldiers – attacked an American-held oil refinery in Deir Ezzor, Syria. The Americans responded with overwhelming aerial bombardment and brought nearly an entire Russian company to its demise. Everyone should listen to the audio clip of Russian military brass recounting this humbling event. This national humiliation for Russia at the hands of American forces marks the largest confrontation between the two nations since the Korean War. The evisceration of a battalion of his soldiers could hardly have pleased Vladimir Putin, and these are certainly not the orders of a Russian pawn. (It is noteworthy that neither Trump nor Putin has publicly discussed this incident.)

The Syrian War itself provides a broader context for Trump's decidedly bellicose relationship with Russia. Trump has taken a strong stance against the use of chemical weapons across the theater. President Obama famously threatened military action should Assad employ his chemical arsenal – the 2013 "red line" embarrassment – but then backed down when push came to shove. Barack Obama was persuaded by the sweet nothings of deep thinkers like John Kerry, Susan Rice, and Ben Rhodes, who believed Putin's empty promise to disarm Assad of all chemical weapons. Of course, this didn't happen. Conversely, Trump's use of force against Assad (twice) has successfully gathered the attention of the Kremlin. To be sure, throughout 2017, the Trump administration prioritized defeat of ISIS (98% of ISIS-held territory is now in U.S. or allied hands). With the specter of the caliphate gone, Trump now has the U.S. standing firm against Russian malfeasance in Syria.

Syria's Bashar Assad is not the only Putin proxy under the squeeze by this administration. The Islamic Republic of Iran is another Russian ally that Trump has in his geopolitical crosshairs. Trump's Cabinet is staffed with Russia and Iran hawks – the likes of Jim Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton. Putin is aware of this. Putin is also aware that it is only a matter of time before Trump pulls out of Obama's so-called "Iran deal." All indications are that Trump would support democratic revolutionaries in Iran were they to overthrow the Putin-propped mullahs. Further indications suggest that Trump will side with Israel in any hypothetical regional war between Tel Aviv and Iran, Assad, and Hezb'allah (all of which are backed by Putin). Do American liberals and progressives not think Putin anticipates these possibilities?

In Ukraine, Trump has sent arms and munitions to local forces militarily engaged with Russian units. The battered Ukrainians – gallant in conduct but, until recently, indifferently armed – now have the means with which to stop the rape and partition of their county. Obama never dared to support them so openly. Trump has also reinstituted missile defense systems in Poland and Eastern Europe, which Obama withdrew from as a pre-emptive olive branch to Putin in 2009 (an olive branch that then beat Obama over the head for seven years). 

In Europe as a whole, Trump has shamed NATO members into financing their share of their own defense budgets. By upholding the standards and intent of the original charter, Trump has strengthened the NATO alliance in a way that Putin most certainly does not want. A strong and re-armed Europe is no longer ripe for the kind of exploitation and naked aggression through which Georgia and Ukraine have already suffered. There could hardly be anything more provocative to Russia than measurably strengthening NATO. More recently, Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats from U.S. soil and ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle in a show of solidarity with Britain, on whose soil Russian agents attempted to perform an extrajudicial killing. This, too, got Putin's attention.

Domestically, Trump appears to be poised to continue this hard line well into the future. His open taunting of Russia over the prospect of another arms race is more than just bluster. It's an overt threat grounded in the reality that, in the wake of Trump's latest military buildup, the U.S. now spends over 15 times as much on defense as does Russia. Trump's bravado even includes a hypothetical "space force." Not only is Trump willing to militarily outspend Russia in spectacular (and humbling) fashion, but he's willing to open an entirely new front in any future arms race. Again, this hardly seems like the behavior of someone under Russian influence. Russia would lose a second Cold War, as it lost the first, and Trump's rhetoric and actions continue to drive home that point.

Trump can reasonably be accused of dragging his feet on the latest round of economic sanctions on Russia. Nevertheless, despite prognostications to the contrary, Trump went through with them. The sanctions targeted 189 power-players, some of Russia's wealthiest and most influential oligarchs – the kind of men Putin wants to keep happy – and even Elizabeth Rosenberg, Obama's former sanctions expert, described them as "fairly muscular." Unlike Obama, who refused to retaliate against the 2016 Russian cyber-attack, Trump has retaliated and thereby restored American cyber-deterrence.

Yet, despite his overlooked Reaganite policy on Russia, Donald Trump seems to eventually desire a Nixonian détente with Russia. After all, why should America and Russia be adversaries? Our nations share many mutual interests and commonalities. If America could work with Stalin to defeat Hitler, the thinking goes, certainly, we can work with Putin to defeat the global Islamic jihad. A far greater (and long-term) 21st-century victory for the U.S. would be to convince Mother Russia that her future lies in an alliance with the West, not an ascendant and autocratic China. If such a tectonic geopolitical shift were to ever occur, and Russia were to truly and at long last come into the fold of civilization, it would come only after the kind of Trumpian toughness on display in 2017-18.

Jack Carson and N.M. Guar

Source: https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2018/04/trump_actually_a_russia_hawk.html

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