Opinion

[Opinion] Trump Weak on Russia? Narrative Falls Apart

djtPresident Donald Trump. Photo: Associated Press/David Goldman 

The Trump-Russia narrative alleging collusion between the President and the Russian government or leverage that the Russians supposedly have on him has continued its long and dramatic plunge into lunacy. Most recently, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russian cyber-criminals for election hacking days before the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, the media largely cried foul, demanded that Trump cancel the summit, and erupted in anger when he instead proceeded to pursue diplomacy with the Russian president. However, most outlets neglected to mention that Trump specifically approved of releasing the indictments before the summit, reasoning that they would be a warning shot across Putin’s bow. Seen in this light, the hysteria of the media and national security establishment, epitomized by serial liar and former CIA Director John Brennan’s cry of “high crimes and misdemeanors” appear less credible.

In addition, an aggregation and analysis of the documents released over the past year regarding the Russia investigation suggest that the original FISA warrants issued to spy on Trump aide Carter Page were justified by the widely-discredited Steele dossier that even former FBI Director James Comey declared “salacious and unverified.” The latter of those terms, “unverified,” has an official meaning that should have disqualified the dossier from being used by the FBI or Department of Justice to pursue a FISA warrant and should have been rejected by the FISA judge if it had been presented. The apparently illegitimate start of this whole saga greatly diminishes the validity of the subsequent investigations.

Moreover, Trump’s actions that supposedly weaken the NATO alliance that has contained Russia for over seven decades instead provide a basis for strengthening it. When Trump Tweeted on July 12 that “Germany and other rich NATO Nations… pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe,” he betrayed either ignorance or a willful misrepresentation of NATO’s structure. However, he correctly identified a pattern of inadequate military spending by many of NATO’s members, including some of the wealthiest countries in the world. Germany, for example, spends a paltry 1.2% of GDP on its military, far less than the 2% target set in 2014, and maintains no battle-ready submarines, only twelve combat-ready planes, and 144 functioning tanks; it even infamously had to use brooms in a drill for lack of guns. In the 29-nation alliance, only eight countries meet the 2% goal; even some of those, such the UK, have been declared unready for battle by independent analysts. Some small nations, like Belgium and Luxembourg, and even larger ones like Spain, spend less than 1% of GDP on defense. On the other hand, the United States spends 3.6% of GDP on its defense, amounting to over three quarters of NATO spending. Far from helping Russia by gutting the value of the alliance with his valid criticisms of low defense commitments from allies, Trump is actually awakening European allies to the growing defense challenges of the twenty-first century. Unlike any other American president since at least the end of the Cold War, he may be able to coax our NATO compatriots into preparing militarily for what appears to be a turbulent period marred by the Russian invasion into Ukraine and Russian energy hegemony in Europe, which Trump has also criticized.djt w vladPresident Donald Trump meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top Kremlin officials. Photo: Associated Press/ Mikhail Klimentyev

Finally, Trump’s actions regarding Russia have largely been tougher than those under Obama or even Bush. For example, he reversed Obama’s ban on selling lethal arms to the Ukrainians so that they could more effectively defend themselves against the Russian invasion. He also bombed Syrian air bases, which weakened a key Russian security interest,  in response to accusations of continued use of chemical weapons after Obama’s infamously ineffective and unenforced “red line.” Finally, he has been increasingly tough on Iran, one of Russia’s favorite partners to manipulate against the West, by withdrawing from the infamous Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or “Iran deal”) and re-imposing sanctions, resulting in a historic low in the Iranian rial-to-dollar exchange rate. None of these actions would have happened if Trump were compromised with regard to Putin or Russia.

To be sure, some of Trump’s words, both foreign and domestic, haven’t helped his case regarding Russia: undermining the intelligence community’s well-founded claims of Russian election interference is neither credible nor supportive of America, and his rhetoric surrounding his summit with Putin wasn’t always clear. That said, the evidence clearly points away from any sort of Trump-Russia collusion or an attempt to weaken the NATO alliance to Russia’s benefit, and the entire biased exercise of the Mueller probe is losing its little remaining credibility with each passing day.

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