In his column, talkRADIO presenter Michael Graham gives the US conservative viewpoint on current issues.
Let’s start with what the establishment press will say about President Donald Trump’s Helsinki sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin: It was a disaster. Here in the US, this message has essentially been on a cable-news loop tape since Tuesday. The coverage has converged with self-parody as talking heads accused Trump of being guilty of treason for his performance in a press conference.
My personal favorite: A Boston Globe column with the title “Things Get Stinky In Helsinki.”
What the working men and women of the political media are extremely reluctant to tell you, however, is Trump’s actual record on Russian policy. As mealy-mouthed and meandering as he is when he talks about Russia and Putin, Trump’s administration has been—by any measure—far tougher on the former Soviet Union than President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Infamous "Reset"
Before we cover the current policy, remember what happened during the Obama years. The new president sent his (allegedly brilliant) Secretary of State to launch a “Russia Reset” policy.
Obama’s desire for friendlier relations with Putin was so overt, he had Hillary literally create a “reset button” as a prop to present to the Russian Foreign Minister. Like so many of Obama’s foreign-policy initiatives, it was a flop from the beginning:
Hillary had the wrong Russian word on the button.
“It should be ‘perezagruzka,’ laughed FM Sergey Lavrov when she presented it. "This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.’”
The reset went downhill from there. President Obama was caught on a hot mic promising Russian “President” Dmitry Medvedev (a stand-in for the term-limited Putin) that he would have “more flexibility” to give in on missile defense after the 2012 election.
“I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” was Medvedev’s reply.
Russia responded with a surge of steady aggression, culminating in the illegal annexation of Crimea and a military invasion of Ukraine. Only then did the Obama administration finally change its policies.
And, as Donald Trump is fond of reminding anyone who will listen, all of the Russian interference into the 2016 election happened on Obama’s watch and under Obama’s Department of Justice. If Russia had sway of America’s electoral process, it’s because Barack Obama’s team failed to stop them.
Fast forward to today.
Trump's "Get tough and stay tough" approach to Russia
One of the first actions the newly-elected President Trump could have taken would have been to drop sanctions put in place against Russia by President Obama on his way out of the White House door in December 2016. He didn’t.
In fact, not only has Trump kept Obama-era sanctions in place, he has added significantly more. Trump’s critics point out that some of the sanctions were in fact voted into place by Congress and he’s merely enacting them, and that’s true. However, he could easily have vetoed them if he chose, and it’s unlikely that a GOP-controlled Congress would have overridden their president.
More significant, however, is the fact that his Treasury Department has also imposed sanctions on its own. These sanctions target people very close to Putin and his gang of oligarchs.
And it was Trump who ordered what US Ambassador Jon Huntsman called “the largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in United States history” in response to Moscow’s unleashing nerve agent in the U.K.
But the obsession with sanctions misses the real action, which is putting true geo-political pressure on Putin’s regime.
Trump made a deal with Poland to provide them with missile-defense technology—a deal Obama shot down (embarrassingly) on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.
Trump agreed to sell offensive weaponry to Ukraine to help them fend off the current Russian invasion—something else Obama wouldn’t do.
Don't knock Trump on NATO
And then there’s the most glaring example of Trump’s anti-Putin policymaking: NATO.
Trump’s cavalier talk about possibly the US ignoring its NATO commitments at a time of war or even abandoning the alliance is absolutely embarrassing. It sounds like the uninformed ramblings of a socialist college student.
But his pressure on the NATO nations to increase their defense spending is terrible news for Russia. The more NATO nations arm themselves, the less leverage Putin has to punish his enemies in the region.
And if Germany begins re-thinking its cynical gas pipeline deal with Putin and his thugs, that would be a true disaster for the oligarchs in charge. Russia’s economy is already shaky (and it’s also very small, with a GDP lower than California or Texas). Russia needs petro-dollars, and it needs a way to pressure the Ukraine.
Merkel’s money-grabbing pipeline deal is exactly what Putin wants from the weak and cynical EU elites—and it’s also the prime target of President Trump’s.
So ask yourself: Trump’s embarrassing bloviating aside, who’s doing more to empower Vladimir Putin? Donald Trump? Or the virtue-signaling Eurocrats who hate him?