Trump’s soft rhetoric toward Russia masks assertiveness against Putin

by J Michael Waller / Center for Security Policy / February 22, 2020.

President Trump has reversed his predecessor’s weakness toward Russia and developed an impressive track record against the Putin regime’s aggressive behavior.

Putin’s ability to project power is small and his economy is small, but the Russian leader has presided over a massive strategic nuclear weapons modernization aimed at obliterating the United States, full-scale nuclear warfare exercises against the US and its allies, and a Cold War-level campaign of subversion and spying against the US and its interests worldwide.

Meanwhile, Trump has squeezed Putin painfully without provoking a superpower crisis.

Trump’s lack of hostile rhetoric about Putin allowed his political adversaries to paint him as a Kremlin-backed tool – allegations debunked by the Mueller investigation but still repeated.

What his critics and even supporters have missed, though, is that Trump’s uncharacteristically gentle rhetoric has denied Putin what the Kremlin leader needs most: An external enemy.

Let’s take a look at Trump’s Russia policy record that reversed Obama’s appeasement of the Putin regime:

  • Reversed Obama’s weakness with bold new National Security Strategy. Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy incorporated many hard-line initiatives that the Center for Security Policy had long endorsed to reverse US strategic decline.
  • Restored ‘Peace Through Strength.’ Trump explicitly revived the US strategy of “Peace Through Strength” – a Reagan-era slogan that the Center promoted for 30 years, principally to prevent Russia from threatening the United States.
  • Pushed NATO allies to increase defense spending. Trump hammered NATO allies – hard – to devote a full 2 percent of their GDP to defense.
  • Strengthened NATO with tough love. Trump harshly criticized weak NATO allies, waging a “tough love” campaign intended to strengthen the alliance, which was being torn apart over issues of European Union overreach, immigration, cultural shifts, and national sovereignty.
  • Pressed to stop Russia-Germany gas pipeline. Trump pushed Europe to stop Putin’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Once completed, Nord Stream 2 will make Germany and other NATO allies unbreakably dependent on the Kremlin for energy, and will pump the Putin regime with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of hard currency. Trump sanctioned Western companies building the pipeline, and offered energy alternatives for Europe to cut its dependence on Russia.
  • Tanked Putin’s economic recovery. Trump kicked the legs out of Putin’s economic recovery by reversing Obama’s anti-energy policies and promoting massive US exports of oil and natural gas, forcing down world prices and depriving the Kremlin of its most important source of foreign exchange.
  • Helped Ukraine fight back for its sovereignty. Trump aided Ukraine by providing anti-tank missiles and other lethal defensive weaponry to help the country protect its sovereignty, and by pushing back against French and German pressure for Ukraine to sue for peace on terms favorable to Moscow.
  • Deployed new US Naval fleet to hunt Russian subs. Obama abolished the Navy’s Second Fleet in 2011, giving Russia’s next-generation subs freedom to run their doomsday cruises across the Atlantic. Trump restored the Second Fleet to intercept Russian submarines off the US Atlantic coast.
  • Deployed new nuclear warheads to foil Russian strategy. Trump deployed new low-yield nuclear warheads on US ballistic missile submarines to foil Russia’s “first-use” nuclear weapons doctrine.
  • Ordered total US strategic nuclear weapons modernization. Trump reversed Obama’s purposeful decline of the American nuclear arsenal. His 2021 defense budget request includes $28.9 billion for modernized nuclear delivery systems (missiles, aircraft, submarines, and other platforms), and $19.8 billion to modernize the nuclear stockpile.
  • Accelerated, massive deployment US missile defense. Trump called for a “layered missile defense” against incoming ballistic missiles – something the Center for Security Policy has called for since 1988. This year, he announced an accelerated, massive deployment of missile defense systems, and real development of missile defense weapons based in space.
  • Starting to take on a corrupted intelligence community. With his shakeup of the Office of National Intelligence as a start, Trump is finally taking on the monstrous failures of the US intelligence community, among other things, for its poor analytical capabilities concerning Russia and its intentions.
  • Reversed Obama’s Iran policy and the Gulf Arab states’ tilt toward Moscow. Trump’s reversal of Obama’s appeasement policy toward Iran had the dual effect of undermining Moscow’s key ally in Tehran, and reversing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ tilt toward Russia after fearing, under Obama, that they could no longer depend on the United States.

Other Trump policies have had similar negative effects on Putin and his regime, and more appear in the works. We will keep an eye on them.