Suggestions That Trump Has Been Tough on Russia Are Based on Ignorance

Lately I’ve been following what conservative columnist Byron York has been writing about the Mueller investigation and the various conspiracy theories that are being peddled by Trump and his supporters in the right-wing media. He seems to have a direct line to what Rep. Devin Nunes is thinking and tends to play the role of what an uninformed person might assume a smart Sean Hannity would sound like.

York’s latest take is on the Trump assertion that he has been tougher on Russia than Obama. In a text exchange with a GOP lawmaker (read: Nunes) he asks for the best evidence that Trump has been tougher. Here’s the reply:

  1. Bombing Syria, Russia’s main client, and generally unleashing the U.S. military in Syria, including against Russians when necessary.
  2. Arming Ukraine.
  3. Browbeating NATO allies to increase defense spending.
  4. Adding low-yield nukes to our arsenal.
  5. Starting research and development on an INF noncompliant missile.
  6. Shutting Russia’s San Francisco consulate.

On #1, I would remind York that when Trump bombed Syria almost a year ago in response to their use of chemical weapons, he warned Russia ahead of time to prevent them from experiencing any casualties. For all we know, that could have established a pattern.

What is even more interesting about that list is that, other than #6, they all involve flexing our military muscles. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that for a lot of people, that is the only way to define “tough.”

York also attempts to summarize what Obama did with regards to Russia.

…some journalists cite the measures the lame-duck Obama took in December 2016 in retaliation for Russian attempts to influence the presidential election as a case-closed argument that Obama was tougher. “Thirty-five diplomats were expelled,” explained CNN’s Tom Foreman. “They imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and agencies that were involved, and they closed two Russian compounds here in the United States.”

When it comes to the Obama administration, York limits himself to actions in response to Russia’s attempt to interfere with the 2016 election. If that standard were applied to Trump, he would have pretty much been left with nothing. For example, here is the testimony of NSA Chief Mike Rogers in the Senate today:

Nowhere does York mention that Obama rallied most of the globe around economic sanctions against Russia following their invasion of Ukraine. Given that so many countries, especially in Europe, depend on Russian oil imports, that was no small feat. However, to those who play from what Obama called the “Washington playbook,” nothing but military superiority matters.

While Vladimir Putin has relied on his military to defend Russia’s interests in Ukraine and Syria, it has been public knowledge for a long time that Russia’s flailing economy and relatively small military have been abandoned as tools for advancing their global agenda. For example, Max Fisher quoted from a 2013 Russian military journal article in which their strategy was outlined.

“The very rules of war have changed,” Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, wrote in the Military-Industrial Courier.

The Arab Spring, according to General Gerasimov, had shown that “nonmilitary means” had overtaken the “force of weapons in their effectiveness.” Deception and disinformation, not tanks and planes, were the new tools of power. And they would be used not in formally declared conflicts but within a vast gray between peace and war.

Putin already knows that his military is no match for ours, and that’s before we spend billions of dollars on things like low-yield nukes. As the general wrote, “deception and disinformation” spread through cyber warfare have taken the place of military dominance when it comes to the threat posed by Russia.

I suspect that Trump has his own reasons for not addressing the actual threat we face, not the least of which is that his election and presidency have all been about deception and disinformation, perhaps in collusion with Russia. Added to that is the illusion that foreign policy is all about military dominance—much as he sees “more guns” as the answer to mass shootings. But contrary to what York suggests, none of that represents toughness. Instead, it’s all based on ignorance.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .