Trump Is Right on Russia
Donald Trump has the right idea about Vladimir Putin and Russia. Trump is a realist and a nationalist.
The Russian Republic is not the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Kremlin described America as the "Main Enemy," and Soviet agents as well as communist sympathizers in America colluded against our nation as part of an ideological jihad against us.
Today that Soviet Empire has lost its satellites in the Warsaw Pact nations as well as the old Marxist states of Yugoslavia and Albania, a loss to the old Soviet Empire of about 125 million people. The disintegration of the Soviet Union itself into twelve nations means that the Russian Republic has 117 million fewer people than the old Soviet Union. The Russian Republic has only 37% of the population of the old communist empire, which stretched from the Elbe River to Sakhalin.
The changes from the old, threatening Soviet Empire into the Russian Republic today involve more than just a dramatic loss of territory and population.
Russia is much freer and more democratic than the old Soviet Union. Four different political parties are represented in the Duma. Putin's party barely has a majority – and it lost seats in the last election. Five different candidates ran for president of Russia in the last election, and although Putin got over 60% of the vote, that result corresponded closely to independent public opinion polls. There is little doubt that Putin won the election, although it is also likely that the voting process was sometimes suspect. Putin is the sort of strongman Russia has historically embraced.
Russia today is much more religious than many of our allies in NATO, and it is overwhelmingly Christian. Putin himself professes a strong Christian faith and wears a cross around his neck, he says, at all times.
Russian aggression against Ukraine and Georgia ought not to be ignored, but the theme of Putin's actions – that Russia is a great nation and ought to have a grand role to play in the world – is not inherently wicked or false. Moreover, as Trump slyly suggests, it is silly for us to be paying much treasure today to protect Europe from Russia, because the capacity for self-defense already exists, and it is the political will of richer European nations that is their security problem vis-à-vis Russia.
Russia really does not threaten us directly at all. Historically, Russia has viewed America as a fellow transcontinental power with vast frontiers and wildernesses. It has never been fully European any more than America has been fully Europeanized. Since the early days of our republic, Russia has viewed America sympathetically, almost as a partner in the greater stage outside the confines of tidier Europe.
What Russia does have is the sort of toughness absent in the politically correct and immigrant-swamped Western Europe. Russia also has as much experience dealing with the Islamic world as any other great power except, perhaps, India. Russians have fought for centuries against different incarnations of Islamic power, and they know how to win these conflicts.
If President Trump could actually create an informal alliance with President Putin, guided by mutual self-interest for both nations, then we might be able to accomplish a lot fairly quickly.
Russia could do much to contain Iran, which has historically been a rival of Russia, and Russia could even prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons (does Moscow really want a nuclear Tehran?). Russia has the power to invade and occupy North Korea, especially if we supported a Russian occupation and took care not to exclude China. Russia has long supported different factions in the Middle East (the Kurds, for example), and a collaborative effort with America and moderate powers in the region could dramatically reduce Islamic terrorism. Russia has also viewed China as much as a rival as an ally. If Russia were accepted by us as a de facto ally in the region, we would gain – and Russia would gain – an important balance against the growing power of China.
The price of all this would be that we would have to grant Russia a high place at the table of great powers and something very much like the old "spheres of influence," which implies the right of a great power to guide events of smaller neighboring nations. This is the old style, rough-and-tumble Realpolitik, guided by self-interest. It also works, as Trump understands.