While he’s clearly trying to inject some anti-Trump snark into the conversation, there’s something to be said for David Sanger’s headline which reads, “Putin’s Bet on a Trump Presidency Backfires Spectacularly.” No matter how much the Democrats may have wanted to make it look like Trump had some evil genius plot to hand the country over to the Russians, Russo-American relations are once again at a low point. Both parties are blaming them for at least attempting some “meddling” in the last election and new rounds of sanctions are a done deal.
So now what? If the Democrats only wanted to force Republicans to admit that Vladimir Putin was up to no good and that he needs to be punished, mission accomplished I guess. But do we need to go even further so everyone can one-up each other on who hates Putin more? Or do we start looking for a path toward normalization? In this morning’s Morning Jolt at National Review, Jim Geraghty wonders whether there’s an end in sight and if the current round of trips to the woodshed will actually sway Putin toward better behavior.
[I]t’s time for lawmakers, particularly Democrats still enraged about the presidential election, to decide just how much they’re willing to escalate in their responses to Moscow. Do we want to push them further, or do we think they’ve gotten the message? The Russians have shrewdly gotten themselves involved in several corners of the world where we have ongoing interests: Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan, putting themselves in a position to play a helpful role or a hindering one.
It’s possible that the imposition of new sanctions by overwhelming majorities — 419-3 in the House of Representatives, 98-2 in the Senate — will teach Russia that interfering in American politics is not worth the risk. The irony was that up until recently, the Democrats were seen as the more Russia-friendly party – “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back! The Cold War’s been over for 20 years!” – and now both parties are fairly hostile to Russia – if not for the election, than for aggression in Ukraine, taking over Crimea, shooting down airliners, etcetera.
Allow me to repeat the question: Do we think [the Russians have] gotten the message? Pardon my usual skeptical nature, but I don’t think there was ever a time when they didn’t get the message. The real question is whether or not Putin cares or is worried about any of our retaliatory actions. He and his cronies are already fabulously wealthy (rumors persist that Putin is actually worth more than Gates and Bezos combined) and sanctions my not hurt him as much as some may think. He has no desire for all-out war with us, but at the same time he’s clearly not afraid to push us to the edge of our tolerance from time to time, knowing it would take a serious, sweeping Luftwaffe style run into his neighbors’ lands before a real war would commence. (The lack of any significant price being paid for Georgia and Ukraine should solidify Putin’s belief along these lines.)
I suppose we can up the ante further, laying down more sanctions, freezing more assets, kicking out additional diplomats and closing more of their facilities here. That will, as we’ve already seen, lead to Putin doing the same to our people until we finally empty out the diplomatic resources on both sides. Where does that leave us? (Gee.. maybe we should have let Don Jr. set up that secret hotline after all…)
The other option is to do what’s traditionally happened and have an unspoken agreement that this is just Russia being Russia and slowly glide back to normalized relations. (Or as normal as they get in the post Reagan era.) We spy on the Russians and they spy on us. We’ve certainly encouraged their pro-democracy movement at times, though I don’t know how much of that we’ve done subversively, and they would like to influence ours. They’re probably hacking into whatever systems of ours they can manage and if we’re not doing the same thing to them under the covers we’re fools.
Maybe the only viable answer, at least in the short term, is to largely ignore them for a while. Allow lower level folks to handle the diplomatic channels we can’t do without and go after some of the rest of the fish in the foreign policy pond. Does that sound defeatist? So be it. If you’ve got a better plan that doesn’t involve mushroom clouds over Moscow and Washington be sure to let us know.