Contradictory Positions on Russia Divide U.S. Government

BY HUGO RIOS President Trump, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, holds a meeting in the White House. (Evavn Vucci/AP)

Just one month into the new administration, U.S. President Donald Trump has faced increasing criticism for expressing viewpoints that he later contradicts and for his position on Russia. In a departure from traditional U.S. relations with the Russian government, which has long been viewed as a geopolitical rival, Trump has sought to improve relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin, causing some officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties to publicly oppose Trump’s Russian strategy. However, on Feb. 2, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, contradicted Trump’s viewpoint on Russia, expressing her “support for continuing the sanctions and accused Russia of committing war crimes in the Syrian conflict.” Senator John McCain, one of Trump’s fiercest critics regarding his administration’s contradictory policies, greatly criticized Trump during the Munich Security Conference, a major international forum that addresses global security concerns.

Although the Trump administration’s contradictions may be dismissed as insignificant, other countries have noticed this pattern of uncertainty and wonder how the U.S. government will act internationally, as Trump has focused more of his attention on domestic rather than foreign policy issues. At the same time, Putin’s foreign policy has become more assertive. The Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts are examples of Russia’s superior position over the U.S. in regards to military intervention and peace negotiations, as Russian intervention has forced the U.S. to more often observe than act. Trump’s attempts to use his negotiation skills in relations with Russia have been viewed by his critics as a weakening of U.S. influence abroad. Therefore, Trump needs to be clear and assertive about strengthening relations with NATO allies and addressing contradictions within his own administration. Also, the public should take action as well.  Instead of casting blame and resorting to partisan politics, the public should articulate their concerns and possible solutions to solve these foreign policy issues.

With European governments expressing concern over the growth in Russian political and military strength, NATO has become important once again. I argue that the Trump administration needs to reassure European countries of its commitment to NATO and of using multilateral rather than unilateral responses to military threats. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been better than Trump at reassuring allies and attempting to pull back towards the traditional position of viewing Russia, currently a regional power, as a geopolitical rival that seeks to reclaim its superpower status. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its international successor, Russia, reduced to a regional power, has recovered its economic and military strength. These advances under Putin’s leadership have allowed Russia to exert its political influence in the former Soviet states and even intervene militarily. Ukraine has even sought military aid since 2014 from NATO due to Russian military intervention on its sovereign territory. U.S. sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine should be maintained as a way for Trump to assert his administration’s position, but should remain open to negotiation, depending on Russia’s willingness to restore peace in Ukraine.

This is not to say that the U.S. and Russia should not cooperate. Both Trump and Putin can and should work together on issues that affect all states, including sharing intelligence on terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and reducing nuclear proliferation through agreements such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. But for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia to be successful, Trump must first reconcile and compromise with critics outside his administration instead of resorting to social media such as Twitter to demean them. Trump should call for a joint session of the U.S. Congress and promote bipartisan discussions as Democratic and Republican officials have previously expressed forming a unified consensus on foreign relations with Russia. This way, both the Trump administration and Congress will be able to effectively tackle the United States’ complex relationship with Russia, and the world.