Russia has long been hostile to the values of democracy.
Monday night was about Donald Trump’s beclowning, not policy. During the 90 minute debate, Trump missed an opportunity to discuss our relationship with Russia. But as the 2016 campaign presses on, we need to recognize that both Trump and Clinton share pretty much the same decades-long failed policy towards Russia. Should not Clinton and Trump be asked to justify their soft policy on Russia — the country that likely hacked Clinton’s (illegal) email server, is suspected of meddling in our elections, is thought to have placed its influence agents on the Trump campaign or is close to Trump via his shady Russia business ties?
Instead, we got this.
Clinton: There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country …
Trump: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia. I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds, ok?”
That enlightening exchange rivaled only the one about ISIS, the most prominent threat facing our country:
Clinton: “Well, at least I have a plan to fight ISIS.”
Trump: “No, no, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do.”
Clinton: “No, we’re not. No, we’re not.”
Trump: “See, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”
Since the end of the Cold War, every single president has had the same, ineffective Russia policy. It is governed by the notion that because the Cold War is over, Moscow must want to live in a world order organized by the West under U.S. leadership. Kumbaya, etc. Twenty-five years later, we have not figured out that a new flag flying over the Kremlin does not mean Russia will be our friend.
Take a wild guess which president said this: “Putin has enormous potential…I think he is a guy with a lot of ability and ambitions for the Russians. His intentions are generally honorable and straightforward.” If you guessed President Bush after looking into Putin’s eyes or President Obama justifying the reset policy you are wrong. The quote came from Bill Clinton in 1997.
The post-Cold War dreams of a democratic Russia have failed. Time to move on. Since time immemorial, Moscow has invaded its neighbors, lost pieces of its empire as it declined, re-invaded, etc. Seen through that lens, Putin’s behavior fits nicely with Russian history. The notion that Russia’s Soviet past was an aberration, and a “liberated” Russia would be different is ahistorical.
Our Russia policy begs for a complete rewrite.
Making clear the obvious —that Putin’s Russia is uncooperative — does not place the country in the enemy category. Telling the truth about Russia does not mean we are on the brink of thermonuclear war. Russia invaded Ukraine, just like it did Georgia. Putin seeks to undermine NATO. He harbors virulently anti-American feelings. His attacks on the U.S are meant to undermine our democracy. He hopes that bad behavior will elevate Russia’s standing beyond backwater status. Did the candidates have nothing to say about any of that?
This could have been the election that interrupted the foolish cycle of showering hope on Putin, only to be disappointed when he bites the hand feeding him. Monday night confirmed that the country faces at least four more years of this insanity.
Trump has a soft spot for Putin and, while Clinton’s calculated statements can give the patina of toughness, this is what she said. “We’re going to have to make it clear that we don’t want to use the kinds of tools that we have.” In other words, “Don’t make me use stern language.” John Kerry could not have said it better himself.
Our Russia policy begs for a complete rewrite. Rather than tweaking the previous twenty-five-year-old failed policy, we need to start over. But, first we need a sober evaluation of the Russia we face, and that is the travesty from Monday night.
Truthfully, we need the iconoclast that Trump pretends to be. Wipe the slate clean. Twenty-five years is a long time, and people have built their entire careers flaunting this failed policy. But we’re not going to get it. Instead of being upset that they missed the opportunity Monday to highlight Clinton’s contribution to that failure, the Trump campaign is upset that we discussed birtherism and not Clinton’s email server. They may have a point, but mull that over.
The debate taught us to expect no policy iconoclasm, as if that point needed reinforcement. Trump’s creepy narcissism seeks the genocidal Putin’s approval, and, of course, Clinton’s corruption has given Putin a lifetime of leverage. But still, how could Trump not bother to press Clinton on the “reset policy,” or Clinton stay silent on Trump’s Kremlin dalliances? Maybe Trump will prepare for the second debate, and in doing so, someone will impress upon him the irony that his policy merely seeks to double down on what Clinton’s careerists wrote over two decades ago.
More likely, we are destined for more establishment foreign policy. Clinton will pack her administration with the usual establishment careerists, or Trump will silence any change agents lurking in his administration because he remains determined to be Putin’s friend (or, more likely, he will just employ the same careerists).