As readers of my columns know, I have been generally supportive of President Trump’s policies since his election. I agree with him on reducing America’s tax and regulatory burdens, his push for fairer trade, for more effort from our NATO allies, and for stemming the flood of illegal immigration to the U.S. But even when I agree with him, his hard-headedness can make him tough to take. His performance in Helsinki is a case in point. Not since Franklin Roosevelt’s attendance at the post WWII Yalta Conference, which ceded all of Eastern Europe to the dictator Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union, has an American president come home to more vituperation and questioning regarding U.S.-Russia relations.
What the president needed to say to Vladimir Putin is “my intelligence agencies tell me your intelligence agencies tried to meddle in the 2016 election, which has built a wall around my presidency and made it harder to work with you when and where we should. So please, Mr. Putin, tear down this Wall and stop trying to undermine American democracy. Russians have little to fear from a free America, and much to gain from a freer Russia.” Trump says these words and comes home a hero, like JFK and Ronald Reagan from their famous Berlin Wall trips. Instead, he comes home a pariah in his own land, with his enemies crying treason and even his friends crying foul.
Of course Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election. That’s what intelligence services do, just as the U.S. maneuvered in favor of pro-U.S. Boris Yeltsin as the Soviet Union disintegrated, and as we did in Ukraine when we helped push out a pro-Russian president who had actually won an election.
Trump’s mistake was triggered by his outsized ego and fear of admitting Russian meddling in 2016, because he wants to believe he won entirely on his own. Reality is, it was Hilary Clinton’s deep flaws as a candidate and awful campaign that cost her the election, not Russian meddling at the margins. Her campaign couldn’t have been much worse if Putin had run it for her himself.
In the meantime, the Trump campaign figured out how to precisely target the key swing states that shifted the Electoral College vote to Trump. And Trump won those states because the U.S. political establishment had lost touch with the hardships of the American heartland. It wasn’t Russia who eviscerated our industrial economy and left millions of Americans out in the cold. Our clueless leaders did it, and they were roundly rejected in 2016. Trump just deftly caught that wave…
And despite the president’s namby-pamby performance in Helsinki, we should remember that the U.S. has stronger sanctions on Russia today than any previous administration. And let’s also understand that Russia is a second-rate economic power held back by Putin’s authoritarian regime. If Russia ever becomes more democratic, its great people will enjoy greater freedom and prosperity than they do now. Russians must decide to cast off their authoritarian past and their comfortableness with strongmen and embrace freedom.
In the meantime, President Trump should work hard to turn this lemon into lemonade with a new press on Putin. After getting a virtual pass from Trump on U.S. election meddling, Putin owes Trump some help defusing Ukraine and Balkans tensions. Russia could also help with Syria, Iran-sponsored terrorism, Mideast peace with Israel, and North Korea denuclearization. And we should restart talks to reduce the dangers and burdens of America’s and Russia’s sizable nuclear arsenals.
Here at home, there are legitimate concerns about the size and scope of the U.S. own intelligence community. U.S. intelligence is over-bloated, with too many overlapping spying agencies tripping over themselves. Do we really need 16 different spy agencies, with 800,000 government employees and outside contractors holding secret security clearances? When everybody knows the secrets, are there really any secrets? Until recently it was the American left that was complaining loudest about the “dark state.” Is the U.S. intelligence community collecting too much information on Americans? It’s a legitimate question. We should also recognize that U.S. intelligence has had some major failures, including in Iraq, where its misinformation created chaos.
And while we’re at it, it’s worth taking a hard look at the West’s post-Soviet policies that pumped up NATO even as the Russian threat receded, and the turmoil we helped foment in Ukraine that threatened Russia’s only warm water naval base located at Sebastopol. Meddling has consequences both ways…
This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.
Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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