Most Americans who are old enough to vote are familiar with the Cold War history between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and the threat that modern Russia continues to pose. Is it too much to ask that our next Commander-in-Chief be at least as familiar with world history as the average voter?
Russian aggression against neighboring states and its increasing global hostility is one of the most concerning security challenges of our time. But Donald Trump doesn’t see it that way. He’s a fan of Putin and Russia. Donald Trump attempted to glorify Vladimir Putin and imagine their personal friendship at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Commander in Chief in September, despite his flip-flopping at the October 19 debate in Las Vegas. Add this to recent public revelations about ongoing FBI probing into various Trump personal and professional matters. It is clear that Trump is not fit to be our next President of the United States and the influence of Russia in Trump’s ascension in American politics can not be underestimated.
Russia’s increasing aggression against its Baltic and Black Sea neighbors, along with its threatening activities with U.S. armed forces working with our allies, is a security challenge for which the next U.S. President should be prepared. The rise of Russia’s nuclear capabilities serves as an additional reminder of the historically destabilizing tendencies of Russian leadership.
Moscow’s geopolitical influence as a neighbor to former post-Soviet states also continues to grow, flexing its economic power with trade pressure on Georgia and its influence transporting 1/3rd of Europe’s natural gas. Meanwhile, the Russian government’s efforts to chill free speech demonstrates an increase of domestic unrest. In short, our elected U.S. officials should continue to provide financial, diplomatic, and economic support to Russia’s post-Soviet bordering states.
Russia might have been friendly for a brief period at the end of the Cold War, but times have changed. From 1987 to 1990, I lived in what was then West Germany as an Army Brat. My father was stationed at HQ-EUCOM to support our NATO allies as part of U.S. Army Signal Corps. Although the Berlin Wall officially fell down at 11:59 PM on November 9, 1989, the divide between the West and Russia continued. When I I served as a Columbia University Eesti Fellow to the Parliament of Estonia (a nation that became independent from the USSR in 1991) during the Summer of 1997, Estonians were in the process of applying to be a member of the European Union and NATO. Often, I would see government officials from Latvia or Lithuania meet with Estonian officials speaking English rather than their native tongues or Russian, a language in which all Soviet republics were taught. When I asked, I was told this was another way to assert their independence after 50 years of oppression―political and cultural―by the Russian government.
I have no doubt that as Russian military forces come closer to their borders or tease NATO allies with a too close-for-comfort fly-by, the Baltic States remember. The research institute RAND agrees, highlighting the increasing intensity of the “Cool War” when its Acting Associate Director Terrence Kelly wrote that “The United States needs to seriously consider stationing forces in Eastern Europe to support the nation’s commitment to protect the independence of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — NATO members all — against the specter of Russian aggression.” Republican U.S. Senators are concerned too; Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on the day following the IAVA Commander in Chief forum that there have been multiple times when “Putin has operated in ways profoundly against our national interests.” It appears Putin can’t be trusted, and neither can Trump, no matter how good his poll numbers are.
With such a consensus among scholars, politicians, and Americans who remember Cold War and current Russia, only a charlatan would be unaware of Putin’s leadership and Russia’s ability to influence U.S. national security and foreign policy. Yet Trump complimented Putin’s leadership style during the IAVA forum, calling him a better leader than President Obama, adding that the generals of our Armed Forces “have been reduced to rubble.” This praise complements Trump’s comments in late July, encouraging Russia to hack into U.S. servers to find Hillary Clinton’s “missing emails.” At what point does the similarity between the request and the treasure trove of Wikileaks and DC Leaks emails start to concern the average voter?
At what point are Trump’s “jokes” and faux-crusades against being “politically correct” recognized as something more―namely, praise for an anti-America autocrat who has a clear geostrategic interest in weakening the United States? In our current multipolar world, the United States should be apprehensive of former bad actors who exert their influence in ways that compromise regional and global security. And every U.S. voter should be wary of a leader whose jokes and ego could start World War III. I’d be happy to send my academic publications from the past 20 years about post-soviet states and Russia to Trump and his team of advisors.
As Americans, we must not be complacent. We should not let the Russian bear return to its former position of power any more than we should let a power-hungry man-child take the reins of the U.S. Presidency.