Home/Daniel Larison/The Ridiculous Proposal to Label Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism

The Ridiculous Proposal to Label Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism

Sen. Cory Gardner made a bizarre proposal last week:

The State Department should consider adding the country to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside its close allies Iran and Syria.

The moral case for such a designation is sound. Russia has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine, it supports the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad and our enemies in Afghanistan, and it is engaged in active information warfare against Western democracies, including meddling in the 2016 United States elections.

While applying this label to Russia might make some hawks feel better, it is just as erroneous as Trump’s decision to relabel North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Unless a government is arming or funding or otherwise lending aid to a group that is engaged in international terrorism, it should not be labeled a state sponsor and should not be sanctioned as one. None of the things Gardner lists here makes Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, unless we are redefining terrorism to include all policies and actions that Washington doesn’t like.

As if to call attention to how weak his argument is, Gardner credulously asserts that Russia is supposedly supporting ISIS in Syria based on some uncorroborated news reports:

There is also evidence that Russia is playing both sides of the conflict in Syria — defending the murderous Assad regime, but also fueling the radical insurgency against it. Reporting by Ukrainian news outlets has shown that Russia has provided material support to the Islamic State, including assistance in recruitment.

I’m not sure what is more absurd here: that Gardner thinks that the Russian government would actually want to encourage jihadist recruitment inside Russia, or that he is basing this assertion on the reporting of Ukrainian news outlets that have every incentive to make outlandish claims about Russian behavior. Considering how many U.S.-supplied weapons have ended up falling into the hands of ISIS in the past, these are not accusations that the U.S. wants to be throwing around against other governments without solid evidence.

Gardner’s proposal has no merit, and if it were adopted it would further poison relations with Moscow for no reason.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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