The Trump administration and the alt-right generally has been pushing for making good with Russia. The argument seems hinged as much on unfounded fears of Russia as on possible benefits that could come out of it (which are few).
Recently we saw two examples of this: one with Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, another with revelations about Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer, which Trump Jr said was about Russian adoptions.
At the G20, Trump had a meeting with Putin that stretched for over two hours. The Trump administration said Trump raised the issue of Russia’s hacking and dissemination of emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the meeting, as one would expect the U.S. president to do, but they were vague as to whether Trump accepted Putin’s denial of such hacking, as Russia’s foreign officials said he did, and as he himself has done in public multiple times, including the day before the meeting.
Still, Trump doesn’t want to be perceived as having done little or nothing, so he tweeted that he “discussed forming” some kind of “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..” (No word on whether Baron Trump will be appointed as the first chief of the unit, since he’s “so good with computers.”)
Besides the fact that a “Cyber Security unit” is an extremely vague term that sounds more like a useless facade with less power than the UN Human Rights Council and the fact that, according to his tweet (even taking it at face value), they merely “discussed” it, and the fact that Trump’s statements are notoriously unreliable anyway, the whole idea that the U.S. should set something up with Russia to protect itself against hacks by Russia is delusional.
Russia hacked the U.S., according to private cyber-security analysts who looked at the DNC server and U.S. intel agencies. Similar hacks related to France’s election have been attributed to Russia. The power grid in Ukraine has been hacked and electricity shut off in cities in hacks that haven’t been authoritatively found to be caused by Russia but that look awfully suspicious. On top of that, Russia is trying to peddle influence through old ways like propaganda and giving loans to foreign politicians who would serve their interests, like the National Front in France. If it is impossible to discern the source of a single hack with 100.0% certainty, the nature of many similar hacks, using the same strategy, against targets that suggest a common motive, and with a massive scale of complexity, suggests only a government with specific motivations is both capable and interested in pulling off such a coordinated campaign.
Putting Russia in charge of a cybersecurity unit to protect America from Russian hacking would be like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission, tasked with protecting investors and the public—or putting Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA.
What the U.S. needs to do is strengthen its cyber-defense capabilities and punish Russia in some way that would have a deterrent effect. It doesn’t need to take false words from Putin or make a sham cooperative unit. If Putin doesn’t even admit responsibility for the hacks (and Trump doesn’t seem to think he did it either), then what good will his promises do? Why would he even talk about making progress on cutting down his interference in foreign elections if he say he isn’t interfering in the first place?
The U.S. needs to take care of its defense and offensive capabilities on its own. It doesn’t need Russia’s permission to strengthen defense or to launch more sanctions or hacks or other measures against Russia. If Russia eventually stops hacking and shows credibility not to do so again, then they can talk about improving relations, but so far Russia hasn’t even as much as admitted to it, let alone shown contrition.
So, too, when it comes to Russia’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children, America doesn’t need to and shouldn’t make any kind of deal with Russia in order to end this ban. Russia imposed this ban itself. America has no control over whether Russia lifts the ban or not.
Yet Donald Trump Jr said that when he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in a meeting he had previously not disclosed, it was the Russian lawyer who wanted to work out lifting the ban. Well, Russia can lift the ban if it wants. Russia is in charge of its own laws.
But that’s not what Russia wants. Russia doesn’t want to help its children get adopted by Americans. What it really wants is for the U.S. to repeal or greatly curtail the use of Magnitsky Act, a law that allows for the imposition of sanctions against Russian elites suspected of human rights abuses, which was adopted after the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who died in prison in 2009, apparently due to medical negligence and mistreatment (assault and torture is alleged by some), after his investigation alleged corruption between Russian tax authorities and the mafia. Russia imposed the ban on adoptions in response to the act.
It goes without saying that the two things are unrelated. That Russia would deny Russian children loving parents in order to try to make life easier for its oligarchs says a lot about modern-day Russia and America. Not only does Putin’s government not care about his country’s children, Americans care so much about them they might even repeal an important law to help them.
However, keeping the structure in place to sanction Russian officials should be considered more important than allowing for the adoption of Russian children. It should be in Russia’s interest, more than in America’s, to find homes for its children. There are many other countries on earth that Americans can adopt from, and there’s no reason to put any special emphasis on Russian children, when America didn’t do anything to warrant a ban in the first place.
Let Russia decide: Do they want to let Americans adopt Russian children or not? America shouldn’t give up its own national interest just to benefit Russia.
Overhyped Threat and Overhyped Benefits
This brings us to one of the reasons it seems Trump and his allies have been calling for having better relations with Russia. Trump has said, “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said, despite the fact that Russia has made no moves recently to seek a relationship with America. Instead, Russia has continuously antagonized America.
Trump warned about the threat of a war with Russia if we aren’t careful and tweeted that “both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”
It’s the other way around; Russia has more to fear from a war than the U.S. does. The United States is stronger militarily, economically, and (for the time being) diplomatically. Russia is a declining power with a corrupt government and an economy based on a commodity with a volatile price.
Where there are particular areas of concern, the U.S. can take precautions as necessary. One area is Syria. The U.S. shouldn’t even be so invested in Syria. The country is chaotically split, and America can’t fix that. If the U.S. just stopped trying—at whatever fraction of a heart they are using—to overthrow Assad, there wouldn’t even be much of a threat of going to war with Russia over Syria. Unfortunately, for all his warning about how Hillary Clinton would cause “World War III” in Syria, Trump has furthered the Obama strategy, continuing to support rebels and even bombing Syria and shooting down a Syrian warplane.
Meanwhile, the benefits of a possible alliance with Russia to fight ISIS that Trump has often cited are non-existent. Russia is already doing what it wants to do in Syria. To the extent that they are fighting ISIS, they are doing that without American alliance. Meanwhile, the U.S. is bombing ISIS in Syria on its own volition. The scope of ISIS’s territory there is dramatically reduced.