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Donald Trump Wasn’t Soft on Russia

1945 logo 1945 3/29/2023 Harrison Kass
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With the Russo-Ukraine War passing the one-year mark, pundits are still wondering who is to blame, still wondering what role American leadership played in the crisis. Would this have happened under Trump’s watch? Did this happen because of Trump’s watch? How people answer often falls along partisan lines.

According to The Hill: “A new Harvard Center for American Political Studies (CAPS)-Harris Poll survey released Friday found that 62 percent of those polled believed Putin would not be moving against Ukraine if Trump had been president. When looking strictly at the answers of Democrats and Republicans, 85 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats answered this way.”

Another poll, from Harris X, holds similarly that “58 percent of voters blame Biden’s policies for the Russian invasion, while 42 percent blame Trump’s policies. Among independents, the people who ultimately decide many elections, 66 percent blame Biden while just 34 percent blame Trump.”

Did Trump accommodate Russia?

Associate Professor Jessica Pisano wrote in POLITICO last year arguing that Putin had no reason to invade Ukraine while Trump was in office. If you look at policy alignment between Russia and America,” Pisano wrote, “with Trump in office, Putin was already getting what he wanted.”

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The crux of Pisano’s argument was that “on three key issue areas the Kremlin cares deeply about: NATO, political leadership in Ukraine, and undermining democracy,” Trump and Putin were fully aligned. “Under Trump, there was little daylight between Russia and the United States on these issues,” Pisano wrote.

Pisano, echoing the general left-wing sentiment, argues that because Trump was critical of NATO, withheld military aid from Ukraine, and cast doubt on the legitimacy of American elections, Trump “advanced the aims of Russia’s political elites, who could imagine that the United States was on their side.”

It’s a silly argument, giving more weight to rhetoric than actual enacted policies. It’s wishful thinking, really, a cousin of the ‘Trump is a Russian Puppet’ conspiracy that has become so fashionable on the left. Now, I’m happy to criticize Trump on his stance towards Russia – but Pisano is just regurgitating the left-wing stuff that comes from a place that assumes Trump was “soft” on Russia, or that Putin had blackmail on Trump because of some prostitute or some hotel deal or whatever.

You can definitely blame Trump for Russia if you want to – but citing Trump’s tendency to criticize US elections is a ridiculous way to go about it.

Trump was “hard” on Russia

The idea that Trump accommodated Russia doesn’t hold water.

“The Trump administration aggressively balanced against Russia,” I wrote in 2021, “to the detriment of US interests.”

“Trump consistently strengthened sanctions against Russia. He opposed Nord Stream 2…He approved the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine…Trump increased troop levels in Eastern Europe. He pulled the US out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). He did not extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). He launched missile strikes against Syria (Russia’s Middle Eastern satellite). Trump then left a US troop presence in Northeastern Syria despite Russia’s protests.”

Trump was not “soft” on Russia,” I wrote. “Not at all. Rather, the Trump administration acted as if Russia (with its Italy-sized GDP) posed an existential threat to Europe.” The result: an antagonized Russia, increasingly sensitive to NATO courtship of Ukraine.

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If Pisano and the left want to blame Trump for Ukraine, there’s an avenue – but it runs through concrete policy choices, not conspiracy or flippant rhetoric.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.


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