US Foreign Policy: Are We Enabling Russia's Power Plans?
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
United States foreign policy is facing its greatest crisis, one in which the global system it created is under extreme stress from outside powers. One of its central challenges is the result of its confusing foreign policy toward Russia.
Democrats and Republicans cannot seem to determine whether Russia is a geo-political foe, an adversary or just a nuisance that has to be factored in when forging foreign policy.
Putin Clearly Resents the US
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made his decision abundantly clear. At the prestigious Munich Security Conference in 2005, Putin described the Soviet Union’s collapse as the 20th century’s “greatest geopolitical catastrophe.” Since then, Putin has tried to revive the remnants of the old Soviet Union.
Putin believed that after the demise of the Soviet Union, the West in particular and especially the United States, did not treat Russia with the respect due a great power.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies conducted a year-long study on the recalibration of U.S. strategy toward Russia. In that recalibration, Moscow views its options through the lens of a security dilemma that defines U.S. strength as its own weakness and vice versa.
Russia believes control of its periphery is central to its own security. Putin could be seeking to reap domestic political benefits through foreign escapades.
Russia is testing its tools of coercion, which are increasingly unconstrained by the rule of law because the Kremlin finds this coercion sufficiently effective to meet its objectives. Russia doesn’t want war; it is finding it can get a lot accomplished without one.
The US Fails to Understand Putin and Russia
The United States and policymakers on both sides of the political spectrum need to understand that Putin is playing a weak hand. But considering his country’s dismal economic and political situation, Putin has accomplished his objectives brilliantly.
The West and particularly the United States has failed to understand Putin’s true objective. He seeks to undermine the global international system set up by the U.S. after the Second World War.
Putin is exploiting the crisis of confidence in the international institutions that have been the West’s hallmark, such as NATO and the European Union. These institutions have become victims to a lack of transparency, corruption and economic stagnation that have manifested themselves in Europe’s cutbacks in defense and a lack of a clear strategy and shared goals with the United States.
The World Sees a Retrenching United States
The world is now experiencing crises in the Middle East and Asia. For the first time, there is a prevailing view that the United States has retreated from the global leadership role it has held since 1945. This view has never been more pronounced than it is in Europe, where critics of U.S. policy point to how the United States has dealt with an aggressive Russia.
Former Danish Prime Minister and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated in his recently published book, “The Will to Lead: Indispensable Role in the Global Fight for Freedom,” that “If the United States retrenches and retreats, or even if the world thinks that American restraint reflects a lack of willingness to engage in preventing and resolving conflicts by using military force if need be, it leaves a vacuum that will be filled by the bad guys. Nowhere is this more evident than in Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.”
Obama Changed US Foreign Policy
President Barack Obama ushered in a radically different foreign policy than that of his predecessor. Obama wanted America to have a diminished role and allow other nations to fill the vacuum.
This “lead from behind” strategy allowed Russia to begin its aggression in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Throughout his presidency, Obama allowed Russia and Putin to reassert their influence, either by American acquiescence (removing missile defense systems in Eastern Europe) or by force (Russian annexation of the Crimea and its use of military force in Ukraine).
Obama’s strongest signal to the world and our European allies of this new U.S. strategy was the president’s disastrous Syria policy. This hands-off policy allowed Russia to re-enter the Middle East.
Two events in 2012 illustrate how Obama planned to deal with Russia.
The first event took place in Seoul, South Korea. Speaking with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama inadvertently stated on an open mic that he would have more flexibility in dealing with the issue of missile defense after his re-election.
The second event occurred during one of the 2012 presidential debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Obama recalled a statement Romney had made earlier. “… a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida. You said Russia,” Obama said. The President then added “ … the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and afterword, Donald Trump has given mixed signals about how he would deal with Russia and Putin. He often speaks fondly of the Russian leader’s leadership style, how he would make a deal with Moscow and how he would like to work with Putin on a host of issues.
Trump Fails to Understand Putin’s Motives
President Trump seems to be falling into the same trap that Obama did. Trump thinks he can work with Russia on various issues and believes that Moscow will help the U.S. end the Syrian civil war.
The Trump administration needs to understand that Moscow’s aim is to replace the United States by forcing it out of the Middle East and diminish the global system that Washington has dominated for decades. The Middle East is a prime example of how Russia is cozying up to Iran, one of the principal protagonists in Syria and the region.
The United States must show its allies that recent Russian aggression is now a thing of the past and will not be tolerated. We need to remember that others are watching how we deal with Moscow, most notably China and Iran.