In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. First up is Russian Policy. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.
Russia is engaging in destabilizing actions along its borders, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and attempting to recreate spheres of influence that undermine American interests. It is also propping up the Assad regime in Syria, which is brutally attacking its own citizens.
Donald Trump would overturn more than 50 years of American foreign policy by abandoning NATO partners — countries who help us fight terrorism every day — and embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin instead. We believe in strong alliances and will deter Russian aggression, build European resilience, and protect our NATO allies.
We will make it clear to Putin that we are prepared to cooperate with him when it is in our interest — as we did on reducing nuclear stockpiles, ensuring Iran could not obtain a nuclear weapon, sanctioning North Korea, and re-supplying our troops in Afghanist an — but we will not hesitate to stand up to Russian aggression. We will also continue to stand by the Russian people and push the government to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens.
This is affirmation in large part of the present foreign policy approaches to Russia. It is far too general to really indicate what would or should be done in new specific ways to deal with Russia and to influence Putin to be truly cooperative and see the error of taking an aggressive stance and fomenting unrest in places like Ukraine and Iraq. It notes that we should continue to cooperate when it is in our interests. This makes sense but it is too passive of a position. It needs to look at ways to create a long-term cooperative context.
Nor does it outline any specific very good ideas to show our interests in good relations with the increasingly oppressed Russian people who have to pay for Putin’s wars, see their meager freedom further restricted, and pay for major economic mistakes.
Russia is fomenting unrest and instability and trying to influence the politics of Eastern Europe and places in Western Europe like France. New efforts at public diplomacy, cultural exchanges, support of democratic institutions and free media, and sustaining citizen participation in civic life with these nations should be intensified. Obama has spoken while in Poland about the need to maintain democratic norms in that country with the current rise of authoritarian tendencies there and elsewhere. But more likely needs to be done. Republican efforts to limit our public diplomacy efforts and cutting back on our State Department diplomacy and aid budget have not helped.
The DNC platform position reflects the fundamental elements of the President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry strategy on Russian issues over the last nearly 8 years, which has seen successes and its disappointments. The key elements of a strategy for dealing with a Putin-led Russia remain to bolster NATO and to keep Europe united, especially in maintaining the sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The administration has been intensively engaged in seeking a diplomatic solution that will protect the integrity of Ukraine and its democracy. We are also helping the Ukraine military through training and providing defense supplies. Again the platform has not spelled out any specifics and this is a highly uncertain and moving situation.
What is not also said here is the supreme security goal vis-s-vis Russia must be to avoid a nuclear war between Russia and America.
The U.S. approach to the Russian presence in the Middle East (specifically in Syria) centers on diplomacy, trying to contain the damage that Russia is inflicting on the Syrian people in support of the brutal Assad regime. This problem is likely to persist into the new term of out next president. The preferred U.S. path is through a combination of “sticks” like hard sanctions and “carrots” in trying to find a compromise that would in stop the conflict, protect the Syrian civilians, and lead to a new Syrian broad-based government with Assad and the full participation of all groups in Syria. This remains a work in progress and will test whether Putin’s aim is to destabilize the region and to extend Russia’s military presence and influence in the region while pushing Western influence out. The last is not likely, since America and Western powers far out-class in quantity and quality what Russia can provide in the long run, making any push for Russian hegemony costly and dangerous to maintain.
The key to our policy is recognition by Russia that it is in a much weaker position and the benefits of good relations with the West are better that a policy of aggression. This lesson needs to be understood, and diplomacy and dynamic economic growth by the West is the way to influence this trend.
In the end, the main aim must be for a common accommodation between Russia and the much stronger and attractive democratic West, which will result in a “win-win” outcome for both sides and real cooperation to deal with global dangers and challenges.