At one point during the third 2012 presidential debate, then-President Barack Obama, and Republican candidate, Gov. Mitt Romney, fiercely exchanged arguments regarding U.S. security threats, an exchange that ended in a memorable one-liner. Upon hearing Romney’s position to treat Russia adversarially, with plans to challenge its strong military presence in Eastern Europe, Obama quipped that Romney would “import the foreign policies of the 1980s.” He elaborated that such a viewpoint was not only outdated, but also indicative of poor judgement. Today, with the blessing of hindsight, it is now apparent Obama displayed extremely poor judgement in that final debate, which underscores the irony of his pointed attack at Romney for a supposed lack of understanding of U.S. foreign policy.
Since the 2012 U.S. presidential election, Russia has proceeded to illegally annex Crimea, invade eastern Ukraine, threaten NATO, protect the Assad regime in Syria and meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The irony may be more severe, in that Obama’s failure to detect or acknowledge Russia as a significant threat might have permitted the partial destruction of his own legacy, considering that President Donald Trump’s election could have been assisted by the Kremlin. In fact, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has suggested President Vladimir Putin’s directed meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was likely retribution for alleged U.S. tampering with Russian elections in 2011 and 2012. Nevertheless, Russia poses a significant threat to the U.S. and Europe, despite what some U.S. leaders would have us believe. Truthfully, it can no longer be said or believed that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It is startling and distressing to recount the escalation of events in the last two years. First, there was the malicious undertaking of the Kremlin to instill distrust in American democracy, done through the dissemination of toxic propaganda and coordinated cyber attacks. Then, there’s the continuing proxy war in Syria, where American values are being challenged on the world stage as Assad gases, bombs and murders his own civilians. And recently, there’s the political conflict in Venezuela, where Russia has solidified its sphere of influence in supporting a power-driven leader in Murduro, who is similar in nature to Putin, Erdogan and other strongmen though far less competent administratively.
These acts of Russian aggression are telling of its aim. Putin rose to power because of his promise to the Russian people to restore their country to the great geopolitical and military presence it once was. Now, Putin is testing his limits to see to what degree he can tilt global control and the balance of power in Russia’s direction to achieve this aim. His political maneuver in Venezuela is alarming in its absolute, callous disregard for U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, it flies in the face of the traditional U.S. policy of the Monroe Doctrine, which is not perfectly fitting in the context of modern Russian aggression, but nevertheless represents an essential aspect of U.S. diplomatic involvement in the Western hemisphere. And as Putin continues to deftly apply his power in entrenching Maduro, Trump stands idly by in modest support of the opposition, when he should be vociferously lamenting Russian interference in America’s sphere of influence. Unfortunately, this political conflict further illuminates the recurring theme of Trump’s utter weakness, as he continues to accept the undermining behavior of Putin.
In addition to encouraging the political conflict in Venezuela, Russia has broken off commitments to nonproliferation agreements with the U.S. In complete negation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Agreement, Russia has begun to implement land-based cruise missiles. Such a maneuver is either a ploy by Putin to bait the U.S. into another arms race or to see whether Trump will even bother to question the transgression.
The uninterrupted actions of the Kremlin are going to embolden Putin in his quest for power, as well as build a growing lack of faith in the U.S. by its allies as the disturbing silence continues. If the U.S. does not recognize and treat Russia as a dangerous menace, assuredly they will continue to threaten our democratic institutions, and even possibly dare to install a Russian agent in our own government — unless, of course, they already have.