The Santa Clara
November 16, 2017
Vladimir Putin served as a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years. During the fall of the Berlin Wall, he burnt KGB intelligence files to prevent demonstrators from obtaining them. In 2013, a report from Reporters Without Borders ranked Russia 148 out of 179 countries in terms of freedom of the press. Putin has a demonstrated history of forcefully silencing dissent and propagating lies on a massive scale. He is a dangerous man with little regard for any truth that does not suit him personally. And yet, Donald Trump took his word over that of the entire U.S. intelligence community—setting a dangerous standard for American foreign policy.
After privately meeting with Putin during the Asia Pacific Cooperation Summit in Vietnam this past Saturday, Trump spoke on Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election. “[Putin] said he did not meddle,” Trump told reporters. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” Trump went on to say that he “really [believes] that when [Putin] tells me that, he means it.”
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s comments drew ire from members of the U.S. intelligence community, many media outlets and several politicians. Senator John McCain even suggested that trusting Putin, “places our national security at risk.” In the midst of that criticism, Trump distanced himself from his original words. He swore his allegiance to the United States’ intelligence community and its leaders: the same men he had referred to as “political hacks” in his original statement on his conversation with Putin. The President’s decision not to double-down on his anti-intelligence community rhetoric was the correct choice, but the fact that he even had to do it in the first place is unsettling.
Trump’s soft approach with Putin is both out of character and out of touch. The President would not press Putin on election meddling because he thought it might insult Putin. He took the Russian President’s words at face value until he realized the ramifications of that stance. In doing all that, he effectively conceded that the nation responsible for compromising our democracy should get a pass and a pat on the back. Donald Trump bills himself as a strong-willed, rogue master of negotiation, but he is more than willing to let Vladimir Putin bat him around.
Trump has deflected any and all criticism about his dealings with Putin by suggesting a friendly relationship with Russia is absolutely necessary. He even took to Twitter to denounce the “haters and fools” who could not see the merit in cooperation with the Russian government.
He is actually not the first U.S. President to express that sentiment. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, every President of the United States has recognized the significance of improving relations with Russia. They have all made an effort to mend the divide. Unfortunately, those efforts have consistently fallen short due to conflicting interests. And considering the fundamental differences in current American and Russian policies on issues like the Syrian Civil War and violence in Ukraine, those conflicts of interests are as real as ever.
Donald Trump is not the first president to see the value of finding mutually beneficial outcomes with Russia. The difference between Trump and the four Presidents that have served since the end of Cold War is in how much Trump is willing to forgive.
A solid relationship with Russia sounds great in theory, but letting another world power get away with interfering with our election scot-free is a dangerous prospect. It sets a standard and begs some difficult, alarming questions.
How valuable is Russia’s cooperation? How much are we willing to let them get away with? What other nations have the resources and leverage to pull off something similar? And what else can an autocratic, former KGB officer capable of killing dissenters convince our President is true?
Jay Fuchs is a senior communication major.