Fact Checking: Has President Trump Truly Been Soft on Russia?
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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Critics of President Trump place far too much relevance on his rhetoric than on his actual policies. This was never more evident than the fallout after Trump’s press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month.
During his disastrous press conference, Trump failed to back U.S. intelligence agencies’ unanimous assessment that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump also erred in not chastising Putin in that open forum over his insistent denial of election tampering.
With this glaring misstep by the president, many of Trump’s critics went into virtual hysteria, claiming that Trump had given away the store to Putin and sold out America. Even CIA Director John Brennan in the Obama administration tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’”
Trump’s behavior was nothing short of treasonous, according to Brennan and some others. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, but his critics also said they show that the President is wholly in Putin’s pocket.
The criticism of Trump’s Russian summit performance led to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to appear at a contentious hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Pompeo was grilled by the ranking member, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who wanted to know what Trump told Putin in their one-on-one meeting with only the two translators present.
Trump: Are His Attackers Justified?
Are these attacks on President Trump justified? A case could be made that he has been weak and accommodating to Russia.
But Trump is a different kind of president. For him, the conventional norms do not apply and his rhetoric often belies a far different policy aim. Before anyone reacts to Trump’s pronouncements, we must look beyond his rhetoric and judge him solely against his predecessor to see if he has been soft on Russia.
Barack Obama’s election as president ushered in a recalibration of U.S. foreign policy. Obama repudiated the decades-long U.S. foreign policy leadership by presidents both political parties.
According to Obama, the U.S. would “lead from behind” and let other nations take the helm of responsibility. Obama assumed the mantle of foreign policy leadership with the core belief that America had accumulated too much power. He felt that too many global issues were the result of Washington’s misguided belief in its own exceptionalism.
Obama Resets Relations with Russia
One of the first items on Obama’s agenda was resetting relations with Russia. In his first formal meeting with Putin in the summer of 2009, Obama asked Putin, “How did we get into this mess in U.S.-Russian relations?” Answering the question, Putin lectured Obama for one hour without interruption.
Remember the 2012 presidential debate? President Obama chastised Republican nominee Mitt Romney by paraphrasing a well-known exchange by characters on a TV sitcom. “When you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said ‘Russia.’ Not Al-Qaeda; you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
Trump’s Critics Silent on Obama’s Russian Relations
The critics of Trump’s handling of Russia mislabel his approach as being too soft and accommodating. However, those same critics were eerily silent when Obama pulled missile defense systems out of Poland and the Czech Republic during his first year in office.
This pullout was an effort to appease Putin with the naive belief that this act would help in dealing with Iran. But history proved Obama wrong.
In dealing with Moscow, the Obama administration thought it could charm the Russian leader, appealing to his intellect. Unfortunately, Putin perceived Obama’s pious sermonizing as a weakness and that perception would prove fatal in various regions of the world.
Putin Exploited Obama’s Weakness
Putin’s view of Obama as a weak president would prove itself when Russia annexed Crimea and sent military forces into Ukraine in 2014. And the White House responded tepidly, even after Russian-backed separatists shot down a Malaysian airline that same year.
The Ukrainian government begged for military assistance to defend itself against Russian aggression, but Obama sent only non-lethal aid. Putin would also exploit this timidity during the Syrian civil war.
Russian Re-Entry into the Middle East
Trump’s current critics were muted in their criticism of Obama’s handling of the Syrian civil war. Obama made his famous “red line” pronouncement against the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, but he failed to enforce it with military force. As a result, Russia returned to the Middle East for the first time in 40 years.
Now for the first time, a U.S. president must consider Russia’s presence in Syria, as well as when and how to use military force to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State.
Trump has twice launched military action against Putin’s client state of Syria and U.S. forces destroyed Russian mercenaries inside that country earlier this year.
Since the election, Trump has governed under a cloud of suspicion that he and members of his campaign staff colluded with Russia to gain information about Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in the election. Even after the appointment of a special prosecutor to examine the situation, no actual collusion has been found.
Obama Received Numerous Warnings that Russia Wanted to Disrupt Elections
Why did Russia somehow become a threat only after Clinton lost the presidential election? Was the Russian collusion narrative the alleged “insurance policy” that got FBI attorney Peter Strzok fired?
Critics Failed to Condemn Alleged Russian Collusion by Clintons
Trump’s antagonists have also failed to hold Hillary and Bill Clinton accountable for actions that might prove their own potential collusion with Russia. Former president Bill Clinton received a $500,000 honorarium for a single speaking appearance at a Russian investment firm in Moscow.
That speaking engagement occurred just after Moscow acquired a majority stake in Canadian-owned Uranium One, giving Russia potential access to 20% of U.S. uranium. This was a deal greenlighted by the Obama administration.
Later, pro-Putin Russians sent millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, but this largesse of funding was never repeated after 2016. Little has also been said about the Clinton campaign or that the Democratic National Committee having paid former British spy Christopher Steele for a dossier allegedly put together by Russian intelligence officials. The dossier was then given to the FBI and formed the basis for a FISA warrant application, which was presented to a FISA court to conduct surveillance on a Trump campaign official.
Trump’s Perceived Weakness Doesn’t Match His Actions
As much as the narrative paints a picture of Trump as being weak toward Putin, the evidence reveals a far different outcome. Obama refused to arm the Ukrainians; Trump sent weapons.
Just last month, Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to send more liquefied natural gas to Europe. That made Europe less reliant on Russian fuel for its energy needs.
One has to look beyond Trump’s rhetoric to the facts before coming to a conclusion that the president has been weak on Russia. The evidence just doesn’t support the facts.