If Russian President Vladimir Putin really did think a Donald Trump presidency would be good for Russia, the first year of that presidency must be quite the disappointment. There has been no indication that the Trump administration’s policies are influenced by Russian preferences.
Perhaps that’s why some found interesting a recent Daily Beast article claiming Trump National Security Council senior staffer Kevin Harrington recommended withdrawing U.S. troops from Eastern Europe to curry favor with Russia. This, the article states, was “something that smelled, to a colleague, like a return on Russia’s election-time investment in President Trump.”
Sure, it’s the speculation of an anonymous source, but it would be bad, if true. Then the article goes on to say a second anonymous former colleague “noted that Harrington’s proposal was largely politely brushed aside, even at the uniquely chaotic early days of the Trump era.” Oh.
Yes, that was a horrible, dangerous, unbelievably stupid idea. It was also rejected. It never approached the possibility that it could become a reality—unlike all the times people in the Obama administration had ideas about capitulating to the Russians and then those ideas becoming reality.
Here are just five times the Obama administration considered then carried out bad policies that helped Russia and hurt the United States.
1. Choked at Russia’s Cyberattacks and Election Meddling
While there is no evidence that anything Russian efforts did affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the intelligence community assesses Russia interfered in the months leading up to it to sow public discord and undermine confidence in the democratic process. The Obama administration knew about this for months. But President Obama opted to not call Russia out on it publicly or inform the American people.
In fact, his administration didn’t even draw public attention to this until October, just weeks before the election. In a hearing on the subject, Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff asked Obama Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson, “Why wasn’t it more important to tell the American people the length and breadth of what the Russians were doing to interfere in an election than any risk that it might be seen as putting your hand on the scale? Didn’t the public have a compelling need to know?”
Indeed. Even Tom Donilon, a former Obama national security advisor, argues Obama should have made “aggressive public attribution” that Russia was responsible, long before the administration did.
Then there was all that Russian hacking that went on throughout the Obama presidency. The Russians pilfered American intellectual property and attacked private companies, Nasdaq, and banks, as well as government agencies, including the Pentagon.
2. Abdicated Leadership on Syria to Russia
The Islamic Republic of Iran funds and exports terrorism that has directly led to the deaths of American soldiers. Syria is a proxy state of Iran, and in 2011 an uprising challenged its brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. In 2015 President Obama drew his infamous red line, threatening a U.S. military response if Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
Later that year, Assad used chemical weapons, killing more than 1,500 people. President Obama failed to enforce the red line, instead choosing to accept a deal with Russia to “remove” all of Syria’s chemical weapons. After some of the chemical weapons were removed, President Obama declared victory, saying, “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.”
Months later, Secretary of State John Kerry boasted, “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.” That was false. Assad continued to use chemical weapons against his own people. According to former Obama administration officials, Obama’s failure to punish Assad and enforce prohibitions on chemical weapons was directly due to his administration’s desire to assuage Russia, Syria’s—and Iran’s—ally.
3. Cancelled U.S. Missile Defenses In Eastern Europe
Russia’s government strongly opposed Bush administration plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. The pretext for their disapproval was that the system would weaken the effect of the Russian offensive force.
This was always nonsense. The defenses’ 10 interceptors and associated radar could not handle the massive offensive Russian force. The plan was to deploy the system to provide additional coverage of the U.S. homeland and European allies from Iranian long-range ballistic missiles. The placement in Poland provided an optimal angle from which to shoot at any incoming missiles. Russians actually opposed this because it would entail placing U.S. forces in Poland.
It took courage from the Polish and Czech governments to stick their necks out and push for these deployments, knowing it would anger the Russian government. This is why the missile defense initiative took on a greater political significance beyond the mere technical protection it would offer. Then in 2009, just as President Obama was kicking off his “Russia reset,” he pulled the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs and cancelled the missile defense plan.
Polish newspapers called the decision a betrayal and some Polish politicians wondered publicly if the United States under President Obama’s leadership was demoting Poland’s allied status. In 2012, still smarting over the cancellation, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said, “Our mistake was that by accepting the American offer of a shield we failed to take into account the political risk associated with a change of president… We paid a high political price.” Jan Vidim, a Czech lawmaker, told the Associated Press, “If the Administration approaches us in the future with any request, I would be strongly against it.”
Obama defenders will dispute this and argue the cancelation was due to the missile defense system’s ineffectiveness or that the administration merely wanted a different kind of missile defense architecture. WikiLeaks released the State Department cables in 2010, revealing that appeasing Russia was a motivator for canceling the plan with Poland.
But President Obama wasn’t done using missile defense as a negotiating chip with the Russians. Three years later the infamous “hot mic” incident occurred when President Obama met then Russian President Medvedev and was caught asking Medvedev to communicate to Putin, then prime minister, that he should give Obama “space” on “all these issues, but particularly missile defense” until after the U.S. presidential election, because once he had the headache of the American peoples’ wishes behind him, he’d have “more flexibility.” You can watch and listen to the exchange here.
4. Allowed Russia to Sell S-300 Air Defenses to Iran
Should the United States or Israel decide it is in their interest to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, the Iranians wouldn’t have a robust air defense system to shoot down the attacking aircraft. Unless, of course, the Russians sold the powerful S-300 air defense system to the Iranians, which they did.
The United States firmly opposed and prevented the Russians from doing this for years, threatening sanctions if they so dared. But in pursuit of the Iran deal, in 2010 the Obama administration opted not to prohibit the Russian sale of the S-300s to Iran. The Russians delivered the systems to Iran and Iran promptly deployed them around its nuclear facility at Fordow. The Obama administration declined to impose sanctions on Russia despite its clear violation of laws that opposed the move.
5. Ignored Russia’s Treaty Violations
U.S. congressmen from both parties grew increasingly frustrated when repeatedly seeking answers from the Obama administration over reports that Russia was violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, that abolished an entire class of missiles. In 2014 the Obama administration finally publicly admitted that Russia had been violating the treaty as early as 2008.
What made this episode especially maddening was that the Obama administration negotiated yet another arms-control treaty with the Russians, the New START Treaty, and rushed it through the Senate, all while Russia was cheating on INF and appearing to keep this violation from Congress. (By the way, Russia is still cheating.)
So far, the Trump administration has been moving forward with a variety of initiatives that would strengthen U.S. security despite Russian objections. This includes its energy policy, arming Ukraine, rolling back Iran’s influence, investing in U.S. military preparedness, and significantly improving the U.S. nuclear deterrent and missile defense system.
The Trump administration should keep this up, and if it starts to do otherwise, it deserves every bit of criticism and condemnation from both ends of the political spectrum that is likely to follow. Thankfully, it certainly seems as though the policy of Russian appeasement ended with Trump’s predecessor’s second term.