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The Myopic Campaign to Make Russia a Pariah

During the 2016 presidential election cycle, there was a largely partisan effort to portray Donald Trump and his advisors as being under undue Russian influence. Now that campaign has turned into something much broader, uglier, and more dangerous. It has become a crusade to make Russia a pariah and impugn the loyalty and ethics of anyone who advocates even a modestly less confrontational relationship with that country.

The latest salvo in that campaign is a May 15 Washington Post story [1] charging that President Trump revealed highly classified information to two Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, during a meeting at the White House. The clear implication was that this alleged sharing of intelligence data was highly improper, if not treasonous.

National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and other officials [2] flatly denied that any information regarding intelligence sources and methods was given to the Russians. Even if Trump had done so, he violated no laws. It has been well established for decades that the president can instantly declassify any materials and share them with any individual he chooses. Since the information in question apparently involved ISIS terror plans, including using computer laptops to smuggle bombs on board commercial aircraft, it would not be surprising if the administration was willing to share its knowledge with Russian officials. Russia has been the victim of Islamic terrorist attacks on several occasions and is a de facto ally in the war against ISIS.

The underlying message in the Washington Post story—and the subsequent comments by prominent Democrats and their allies in the media—is that close cooperation with Moscow, even on anti-terrorism measures, is illegitimate. That is merely the latest stage in an intensifying anti-Russia hysteria. [3] Russophobes have portrayed not only Trump and his associates, but scholars and journalists who have no affiliation with the administration, as “Putin puppets” if they dare favor anything less than an ultra-hardline policy toward that country. Victims of such smears include Princeton Professor Stephen Cohen, a longtime distinguished scholar on the Soviet Union and Russia, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan, former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, and TAC columnist Daniel Larison.

Such tactics echo the worst excesses of the McCarthy era in the 1950s and threaten to poison the public discourse. They also risk applying to Russia what has been an especially counterproductive feature of U.S. foreign policy over the decades. Often in response to public and congressional pressure, American leaders have attempted to make designated governments diplomatic and economic pariahs. Washington refused to have any direct dealings with Communist China from 1949 until Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon abandoned that strategy in the early 1970s. A similar approach was in effect regarding Cuba from 1960 until President Obama began to normalize ties in 2014. An isolation strategy existed toward Vietnam for more than 20 years following the communist conquest of South Vietnam in 1975. Until a very limited rapprochement occurred over the past two years, the same state of affairs existed with respect to Iran. And there is only the occasional glimmer of a beneficial policy shift regarding the decades-long campaign of isolation against North Korea.

All of those isolation policies had one feature in common: They were miserable failures. In some cases the results were merely frustrating and disappointing—as with Cuba, Iran, and Vietnam. Using that strategy toward China was disastrous, however, leading to a bloody clash during the Korean War, two instances of nearly stumbling into war over Taiwan, and the U.S. pondering an attack to eliminate Beijing’s embryonic nuclear program in the mid-1960s. The current ominous tensions regarding North Korea indicate that the policy could produce equally unfortunate results there, perhaps even triggering a second Korean War.

Given that dismal track record, an attempt to make Russia a pariah would be the essence of folly. Not only is Russian cooperation valuable in addressing a number of mutual problems, including Islamic terrorism and defusing the North Korea crisis, but Russia remains an important player overall in the international system. Being on bad terms with—much less trying to isolate—a power that possesses several thousand nuclear warheads is criminally reckless. The current anti-Russia hysteria is not only extremely damaging to America’s internal political health; it also could produce catastrophic international consequences.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 10 books, the contributing editor of 10 books, and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.

56 Comments (Open | Close)

56 Comments To "The Myopic Campaign to Make Russia a Pariah"

#1 Comment By Mark Thomason On May 18, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

The critics also took offense that Trump would meet with those people. The foreign minister and the nation’s US Ambassador are of course the exact two people the US President would meet with. The critics were off on a flight of outrage spun from their own emotions.

#2 Comment By John Gruskos On May 18, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

FUBAR007,

For the time being, Russian attempts to assert themselves and build a sphere of influence are working to America’s advantage.

Russian support for Assad hampers Al-Qaeda and ISIS while protecting Syrian Christians.

Russian attempts to build influence in Europe involve economic and moral support for V4 and Balkan nations, and Western European nationalist parties, who are resisting the migrant invasion of Europe.

I think we should seek a formal alliance with Russia, for the purpose of defeating ISIS and Al-Qaeda, protecting Middle Eastern Christians, and supporting the nations and parties who are resisting the migrant invasion of Europe.

A meeting between Putin and Trump in Visegrad, with Orban serving as mediator, would be ideal.

#3 Comment By Pepi On May 18, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

Maybe Russia is really not our friend…

[4]

#4 Comment By Fr. Herman Schick On May 18, 2017 @ 4:50 pm

Michael Kenney:
“… until Russia attacked Ukraine, there was no problem with Russia”.

Convenient how you failed to mention the US inspired and abetted violent overthrow of the former democratically elected President of Ukraine. That provocative and ill-advised attempt to draw Ukraine into the US/NATO orbit crossed a red line as far as the Russians were concerned (just as Soviet missiles in Cuba had once done for the US), and brought about a very predictable response.

Sans prior US violent meddling in Ukrainian internal affairs, there would have been no such Russian response. Russia, I’m afraid, is not the only country which is a candidate for “pariah-hood”.

#5 Comment By VikingLS On May 18, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

“From the dissolution of the Soviet Union until Putin attacked Ukraine, there was no problem with Russia. Quite the contrary, in fact. Once Putin began to flout the established rules of international relations (something, by the way, the Soviet leaders never did), he made himself a pariah. ”

Okay this isn’t true. First of all there was US support for the Orange revolution and the Rose revolution, the war in Ossetia and Abkhazia, tacit support in the some of the foreign policy establishment for Chechens (one of the results of which was the Boston bombing) NATO expansion into the Baltics, Clinton’s interference in THEIR presidential elections. It did not begins with the Crimea.

#6 Comment By VikingLS On May 18, 2017 @ 6:05 pm

“The Russian regime hates our guts. They blame us for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they blame us for the chaos and decline of the Yeltsin years. The way they see it, we humiliated them, and they want payback.”

Okay, now please defend this thesis with some actual facts. You can start with explaining why the regime, which has become fabulously wealthy in the post-Soviet period, would resent the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Only to the extent they need to in order to prop up Assad. They couldn’t care less about al-Qaeda or ISIS.”

Again, on what facts are basing this claim? Why would Russia not care about Al-Queda and ISIS when both groups are involved with the Chechens?

“Citation please. Incidental anecdotes don’t count.”

Yeah, you go first.