Scandalous charges have abounded recently in connection with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s support for recasting U.S.-Russia relations into a more cooperative mold. Trump has been accused to seeking rapport with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in return for promoting his business interests in the former Soviet Union. Some of his top aides have been identified as lobbyists for Russian interests. (As with China, even those that are called “private” are subject to state control.) And suspected Russian cyber-hacks that have revealed politically damaging material about the Democratic Party have fueled speculation that Moscow is working actively to put him in the White House.
Plenty of evidence shows significant business ties between Trump and his aides, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other. An especially thorough job of reporting on Trump himself can be found at this link. Of course, though it’s gone almost completely unreported, there are years’ worth of much more evidence of extensive relationships between the offshoring businesses that have lobbied very effectively for China in recent decades, and Trump’s rivals and critics. These include many of this year’s Republican presidential candidates, the so-called conservative intellectuals who work at think tanks funded heavily by these multinational companies, and Democratic Party leaders (chiefly from the Clinton wing) who have dependably backed Beijing-friendly policies. (See this Congressional testimony of mine on how the corporate funded think tanks have served as highly effective “idea launderers” for offshoring-happy business interests.)
In other words, there are few virgins in America’s political and policy establishment when it comes to serving unfriendly foreign interests, whether directly or indirectly.
All the while, however, an even more important scandal has been enveloping U.S.-Russia relations. It entails the way all these accusations are preventing an urgently needed national substantive debate – over whether the course of American policy has been boosting the odds of an East-West military clash that could be as completely unnecessary as it would be dangerous.
Specifically, the insinuation that only Putin toadies would oppose efforts to raise the military ante to prevent further Russia’s expansionism in European areas around its border has obscured a crucial reality: how Washington’s bipartisan decision to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance to Russia’s doorstep has created deadly risks to the U.S. homeland. Both Democratic and Republican presidents enthusiastically supported a policy that has saddled the nation with commitments to risk nuclear war over countries that (a) have never been considered important U.S. interests, largely because (b) they are located so close to Russia that they are completely indefensible with conventional forces.
Even worse, in recent years, the bipartisan Washington establishment has doubled down on this policy. In the face of Putin’s efforts to reestablish Russian hegemony in its so-called “near abroad,” American leaders have insisted not only that Washington reaffirm its intent to abide by its NATO commitment to view any attack on new members like the Baltic countries as a casus belli with Russia. Both Democratic and Republican establishmentarians have also called for admitting into NATO – and thereby extending American security guarantees over – countries like Ukraine and Moldova, which are even less defensible. (Indeed, during the 2008 presidential campaign, the Ukraine champions included major party nominees Barack Obama and John McCain.)
And because Western forces have no hope of defeating the Russian military in its own neighborhood, if Moscow did move in those circumstances, the United States and the rest of NATO would be placed in the position of threatening nuclear weapons use (and possibly following through, as per U.S. military doctrine) or suffering a humiliation that could dwarf that experienced in Vietnam (with all of its domestic and international repercussions).
To his credit, President Obama hasn’t accused Trump of pushing his Russia views for self-seeking reasons. But he’s played his own part in trying to ostracize Trump-like views by attributing them to the Republican nominee’s supposed ignorance about foreign policy matters generally, and about the ostensibly indisputable value of alliances like NATO.
Weirdly, however, although he has repeatedly endorsed the decades-long American commitment to risk nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland to protect any and all NATO members – however new and vulnerably located – as well as treaty allies in Asia, Mr. Obama also recently argued, in a lengthy interview with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, that forcibly attempting to resist Russia’s moves around its littoral would be foolhardy at best:
“‘The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,’” he said.
“I asked Obama whether his position on Ukraine was realistic or fatalistic.
“‘It’s realistic,’ he said. ‘But this is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.’”
And the president stated even more emphatically:
“[I]f there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it. The idea that talking tough or engaging in some military action that is tangential to that particular area is somehow going to influence the decision making of Russia or China is contrary to all the evidence we have seen over the last 50 years.”
What the president doesn’t seem to understand, though, is that these sensible arguments and cautions also apply to the Baltics – which Putin has frequently targeted. Yes, they’ve been admitted into NATO. But they have never been viewed as “core interests” of the United States. And for good reason. In fact, they were actually occupied by Moscow in 1944, as the Soviet military was fighting its way to Berlin during World War II, and turned into Soviet “republics” until the USSR disintegrated. Do any Americans genuinely believe that the tragedy unmistakably suffered by Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania ever affected America’s security or prosperity in the slightest?
My good friend, journalist and foreign policy analyst Leon Hadar, has just written compellingly in The National Interest that Trump’s Russia and overall foreign policy positions – however crudely and vaguely expressed – overlap with President Obama’s to a vastly underappreciated degree:
“[B]oth the liberal internationalist Obama and the conservative nationalist Trump are pragmatists and not ideologues by nature when it comes to foreign-policy issues. They both eventually gravitate towards choices based on cost-effectiveness calculations. The two have rejected the grand Wilsonian designs of promoting democracy and nation building pursued by George W. Bush under the influence of his neoconservative advisors, and believe that Washington needs to readjust its global strategy to the changing international balance of power and under the pressure of diminishing economic and military resources.”
The only problem with this theory is that precisely he is a liberal internationalist at heart, the president not only backs the basic structures of post-World War II U.S. foreign policy – the security alliances in Europe and Asia. He has both supported the aforementioned dangerous post-Cold War expansion of the former, and has ordered concrete measures to buttress them militarily.
But because, as Mr. Obama himself admits, America’s stake in the security of NATO’s newest members is anything but vital, it’s all too likely that the increased U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe could leave the nation in the worst of all possible circumstances – more deeply tied than ever to a military mission almost certain to fail,, and in all likelihood disastrously. (For somewhat different reasons, as I’ve contended most recently in this post, a similar argument can be made for America’s Asia policy under Mr. Obama.)
Trump, by contrast, is both spotlighting the risks created by U.S. alliances and similar policies and questioning the worth of these alliances and policies themselves. There’s a perfectly respectable argument to be made that Trump is wrong because the continuing nuclear commitments – and the U.S. forces deployed in harm’s way precisely in order to narrow America’s choices and ostensibly cow U.S. rivals – are protecting the allies at a risk to American territory that’s completely acceptable. But that’s not the argument being made by supporters of the foreign policy status quo – who also, perhaps not so coincidentally, never mention in public the nuclear dangers.
Instead, both the Democratic and Republican mainstays of the foreign policy establishment, and the Mainstream Media journalists who faithfully parrot their views, prefer to demonize Trump. And all of course in the name of “responsibility.”