Daniel Cohen: Russian aggressiveness a warning to Trump administration
Given statements by President Donald Trump both on the campaign trail and now in office, it appears that one of his primary foreign policy goals will be to seek an accommodation with Russia.
This would be a colossal mistake. Russian foreign policy actions under President Vladimir Putin have been aimed at aggressively trying to return to superpower status, and those actions have often come into conflict with key American foreign policy interests.
Take Syria for example, where Russia has become a key player in the 6 1/2 year-long conflict. In addition to signing extensive leases to expand its naval base at Tartus, the Russians are also building a second runway at their air base in Latakia, which will allow them to maintain a significant military presence in the region for the next half century. Adding to this, the latest round of talks aimed at ending the conflict are set to take place without American participation. The talks will include key regional powers such as Iran and Turkey, with Turkey being of particular concern to the U.S. The use of Turkish airbases has been a cornerstone of American efforts against ISIS and a downgrade or loss of those bases as a result of closer Russian-Turkish cooperation could severely hamper U.S.-led military operations in the region.
These moves send a loud signal, one that the international community is listening to closely. The Russians are once again a significant influence in the Middle East, both militarily and diplomatically, and are able to effectively engage with regional powers when America seems to be floundering.
The recent executive order issued by the White House which bans immigration from seven countries in the region, as well as the promotion of Steve Bannon, a former media executive, to a high position on the National Security Council only adds to this perception. Cooperation with Russia, as Trump has suggested, would not lead to significantly greater advantages for the U.S. in the region while it would provide Russia essentially a free hand to further entrench itself in the area.
Claims that Russia would be able to work with the U.S. on combating the Islamic State seem insignificant given that the terrorist group has lost significant numbers of fighters and territory in the last year. Throwing the doors of Middle East policy open to Russian influence under a thin veneer of securing America’s national security interests would result in the exact opposite, a further destabilized region with less room for the U.S. to maneuver both militarily and diplomatically.
Along with the Middle East, Europe has become a theater in which the new administration should try to strengthen partnerships with long-standing allies rather than seek accommodation with Russia. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 was a fragrant violation of international law, and NATO should have responded by reaffirming its commitment to a policy of mutual defense and close cooperation on security issues.
President Barack Obama understood this and increased both the amount of personnel and equipment rotating through Poland and the Baltic States. When Trump criticizes NATO and suggests that the alliance has outlived its usefulness, he not only demonstrates a lack of in-depth foreign policy experience but also undermines the notion of closer cooperation and signals to the Russians that they can continue to act aggressively in Eastern Europe.
Although Russia does have certain legitimate grievances concerning the rapid NATO and European Union expansion to its doorstep in the post-Cold War era, the binding of Western and now Central European nations has helped preserve peace on the continent since the end of World War II. For the U.S. to turn its back on NATO would undermine a cornerstone of American foreign policy over the past half century, which has proven its worth many times over.
In short, Russia has demonstrated its willingness to aggressively confront any perceived challenges to its return as a major global power. It is of the utmost importance that the U.S. prevents an autocratic and aggressive Russia from gaining a major hold in the regional politics of the Middle East and Europe.
To do so would be to severely weaken America’s national security and the ability to safeguard its interests around the world. It is imperative for the Trump administration to take immediate action to preserve and strengthen our alliances with European and Middle Eastern partners. Engagement with Russia could prove useful, but it must not transform into a policy of appeasement.
Daniel Cohen, from Hartsdale, N.Y., is a senior at Muhlenberg College, where he is an international studies and history major.
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