The current Russia “debate” is counter-productive. Yes, Russia meddled in our elections, but Russia did not determine the result. Hillary Clinton’s loss is on her, not Putin. This level of concern from the world’s sole superpower only inflates Putin’s power, and — as the citizens of Aleppo can attest — that power will not be a force for good.
Let’s get a few things straight about Russia. First, it is a mafia basket case in precipitous decline economically, culturally, and demographically. Most of it resembles the Third World. After the Cold War, American military personnel returning from Russia were typically incredulous that such a backward place had caused such fear in the West. It has only gone downhill since.
In 1985, the Soviet Union had 275 million people, a $2.2 trillion economy, and 13 treaty allies. Today, the Russian Federation has 144 million citizens. Even though it is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, it’s economy has shrunk to just $1.3 trillion, putting it on par with Spain (a country with 46 million people and no oil). Last year, Russian poverty reached 15.7 percent. And most of its former allies are now part of NATO, and Russia makes its bed with powerhouses Belarus and Armenia.
But Putin wants you to imagine Russia in the big, bad boy of 1980s Cold War USSR. Think “Red Dawn” or “The Hunt for Red October.” In reality, putting today’s Russia in those movies would be like Jack Ryan hunting rogue Uruguayan submarines — Russia’s nearest rival on the U.N.’s Human Development Index.
Sure, Russia is an existential threat to Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine, not us. But Russia has nuclear weapons, you say? Two words: North Korea.
Second, put into perspective the meme that Trump is pro-Russian. I am sure Russians cheered his election, not because they succeeded in installing a Manchurian Candidate in the White House, but because they think they have Trump’s number. That’s on Trump to disprove.
Clinton would have had difficulty making that case after cashing all those Clinton Foundation checks from Russia.
President Obama proudly conjured the “reset button.” And who can forget President Bush peering into Putin’s soul? Both look like fools because of it.
As an aside, Vice President-elect Pence might want to take notes if he wants to succeed Trump. Putin always prefers the party out of power. Always. He offers the illusion of good relations after the White House changes parties. If the Trump administration foolishly makes the same Faustian Bargain as Obama and Bush, Putin’s shenanigans will target him. Ask Clinton.
Third, be honest about what Russia did. Yes, Russia hacked the DNC and the personal emails of Clinton, Inc. cronies. Russia released it through their agent Julian Assange. But the idea that John Podesta’s leaked emails trumped the will of 300+ million people is ludicrous.
The irony of the situation is that Putin was reacting to polls just like everyone else. He likely saw Clinton as inevitable. As such, the leaks were about damaging her before she entered office, not electing Trump. They were to ensure U.S. policy toward Russia remained feather-pillow soft in the event Russia investments in the Clinton Foundation did not pan out.
In the near term, the most practical thing is to be honest about Russia. Putin spent hundreds of millions of dollars to discredit a losing presidential candidate — all while Russian babushkas must save pennies to buy food.
Insufficient though Putin’s effort may have been, he still messed with America. That comes with a price, but determining that price should not distract us from the important stuff.
Virtually the entire Democratic Party seems obsessed with Russia, forgetting its pride in Obama’s Seinfeldian snark to Mitt Romney about Russia in 2012. “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Indeed.
The medium-term solution is to support regional allies like Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine, so they can handle Russia for us. They’re more than capable if we back them properly. Look at alliances through the prism of leverage. You will find them quite useful, especially if we want to clear our docket of nettlesome bullies like Putin and deal with the threats that matter.
The long-term solution is to atomize and reorganize our dysfunctional national security structure, but that is another discussion.
The new administration needs to focus on advancing a conservative foreign policy agenda that tackles the threats facing this country, chief among them radical Islam. An administration consumed with Russia will not have the time.
By all means, point out that Russia meddled. Punish them. Better yet, help our allies do it. But be honest about it, and quit obsessing about Russia. It just encourages Putin’s sad grasp for unearned relevance. We have more important things to be doing. (For more from the author of “Russia Derangement Syndrome. Let’s Focus on REAL Threats to American Security” please click HERE)