Guest Opinion: Trump should rethink Russian policy
One of Donald Trump’s most important, dramatic and concrete promises is to build a partnership with Russia.
Under president Obama, relations with Moscow plummeted to depths lower than those that brought on his administration’s attempt at a so-called “reset.” Now, Trump hopes to capitalize on the increasingly vocal sentiments of Americans on the unorthodox right and left who worried that Hillary Clinton and other “globalists” wanted continued conflict or outright war with the former superpower. As well-intentioned as the push for a better relationship may be, however, it ignores one huge obstacle: the fate of Europe.
Russian and American interests in Europe do not align. Although both powers do share the general goal of preventing Islamic terror networks from spiraling out of control, Russia’s tacit support for some acts of terrorism, through its close relationship with state sponsors of militant jihad, is well known. The truth is that Putin’s regime wants instability in Europe, by hook or by crook, so as to replace U.S. dominance on the continent.
And the reality is that Putin is well on his way to getting it. NATO allies like Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary have joined in a clear pendulum swing away from Western liberalism. At the same time, reactionary parties on the ascent aim to shake off the political bonds economically forged by the international institutions that give the U.S. its influential stake in European affairs. Few in Europe wish to become satellites of Moscow. But few realize that, absent a robust American role in Europe, there is no European force powerful enough to keep its patchwork of small states from slipping into Russia’s shadow.
Making matters even more unfavorable to the U.S., longstanding pro-Russian sentiments that long predate the modern far-right have returned to the fore. Francois Fillon, the nominee of France’s mainstream center-right party, has campaigned on a promise to use an allegiance with Russia to beat back what he sees as the two main threats to his country — Islamic jihad and “American imperialism.” It’s an approach reminiscent of centuries past, when French leaders looked to Russia to balance against British or German pressure.
Were the U.S. capable of defending a persuasive liberal agenda abroad, friendlier European relations toward Russia wouldn’t necessarily be cause for such profound alarm. But today, America’s leadership — like public opinion — is divided and unsure about just how much support free trade and international agreements deserve. Without clarity and confidence on these and related matters, even a little resurgence in traditionally pro-Russian sentiment in Europe could trigger a stampede away from the kind of American influence that has helped build and maintain security and order on the continent for generations.
Is that a price America’s pro-Russian right and left are willing to bear? Even if they are unwilling to think through their answer to that question, the American people at large need to take the opportunity to do so before it’s too late. Whatever Trump’s actual preference around Russian relations may be, he is well advised to take that into account. Nothing can ruin a presidential legacy like losing Europe.