Obama, Not Trump, Was Weak on Russia

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 June 23, 2017|
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When he first came into office, Barack Obama promised to reset relations with Russia. He vowed to undo the purported damage of the George W. Bush Administration to Russo-American relations by making deals with Moscow over the contested issues of NATO and European Union “double expansion.” Obama wanted to get Russia onboard for nuclear arms reduction talks. He also wanted to create more amicable relations in order to address the supposed threat of global warming.

By 2011, the United States had signed a nuclear arms treaty with Russia that effectively reduced the efficacy of our nuclear arsenal, while allowing for Russia to increase the effectiveness (and size) of its own. Also, Obama fed into Russian aggression by not holding Moscow accountable for its unlawful invasion of Georgia in August 2008. He also indicated that he could accept limitations on NATO and EU expansion.

In short, deference rather than deterrence was the basis of Obama’s foreign policy toward Russia.

The Russians could not believe how lucky they were to have such a pliable U.S. president. Russian leadership said the right things about cooperation and friendship, all while steadily improving their ability to threaten Russia’s neighbors. As time progressed, the era of good feelings between America and Russia faded—especially as the United States intervened in the Libyan civil war.

Initially, the Obama Administration promised only to lend humanitarian aid to Libya, but the onset of “mission creep” resulted in the United States taking the lead in toppling Muammar Gaddafi. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama had crossed a red line that Obama could never come back from. Also, Putin held a particular animus for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he claimed had personally promised him the United States would not move to topple Gaddafi’s regime.

Putin is an egoist and is therefore highly sensitive to the power of the image in international relations. In Putin’s mind, he had attempted to play nice with the Obama Administration: he stepped down as president to become prime minister and allowed for his chosen successor, Dmitri Medvedev, to take over. He had “generously” signed the nuclear arms deal with the Obama Administration (even though Russia made out like bandits and America’s strategic arsenal was harmed). Putin even looked the other way; ignoring his years of experience when it came to Western humanitarian intervention and begrudgingly acceding to the Obama Administration’s calls for international support for intervening in Libya. In fact, to Putin and his supporters, he was gracious to the West in not heeding the desperate calls for assistance from his long-time client, Bashar al-Assad, whose regime was rapidly losing control of Syria. The image became that Russia was being pushed around by America.

The final straw for Putin was the 2011-12 protests that swept across Russia when Putin announced that he was returning to the presidency. Putin blamed the United States—particularly Hillary Clinton and her chosen ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, for inciting the riots. Of course, this was likely not the case. But again, Putin is convinced of his own popularity among the Russian people and could not countenance that his clearly undemocratic return to power would have been naturally opposed by a vast number of Russians. From that point onward, Putin loathed the Obama Administration and Clinton, and sought to make the West pay.

For Putin, his only hope for making Russia a great power was in forging the proposed Moscow-led supranational economic union—the Eurasian Union—that would have spanned from Vladivostok to Lisbon. Building it up first with former Soviet bloc states, such as Belarus, and (Putin assumed) Ukraine, the Kremlin planned on rehabilitating the old Russian Empire for the 21st century.

Alas, that was not to be. Putin’s client, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in a popular revolt in Ukraine and replaced with a pro-American leadership. The new Ukrainian government opted to move toward membership in the European Union and NATO instead of forging closer ties with Russia. For Putin, always seeing an imperialist American behind every bad event in the former Soviet space, he immediately assumed that the West was plotting against him.

The United States looked on as Russian forces marched in and illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The Obama Administration did little to shore up NATO’s defenses or reassure our finicky European partners in the aftermath of that invasion.

In fact, Putin’s forces doubled down and expanded their operations into the Donbass—even shooting down a civilian airliner. As if that wasn’t enough, the Putin regime, sensing weakness everywhere on America’s part, intervened in the ongoing Syrian civil war on the side of Assad.

Obama did little to rebuff or even signal American opposition to these moves. The Obama Administration did impose economic sanctions on Moscow. Yet in typical Russian fashion, rather than being cowed by such measures, the Russians have been induced toward greater aggression in the military and diplomatic realm. The goal of the Obama Administration should have been conflict mitigation through selective escalation (such as shoring up our deterrence and building up missile defense in the Baltic States). Unfortunately, though, the Obama Administration was haphazard in its response which only encouraged greater Russian adventurism.

While Russia is a purveyor of “fake news” with their state-owned propaganda arms, such as TASS and Russia Today, the hacked information that had been disseminated to WikiLeaks and other sources was factually true. This only did more damage to the Clinton campaign, which had been ailing from its outset.

Meanwhile, as the highly contentious 2016 presidential election got under way, Putin found another avenue of not only undermining America, but also getting back at those in the Democratic Party with whom he believed had tried to overthrow him and to prevent the creation of the Eurasian Union.

Even if Putin didn’t hate Hillary Clinton, it’s likely he would have sought to sow discord within the American electorate. Using his vast cyber warfare capabilities, Putin ordered attacks on computer servers at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters. The Republican servers were better defended, whereas the Democratic servers were compromised quickly. Thus, it was easy for Putin’s agents to get their hands on damning information (like how the DNC had rigged their primary to favor Hillary Clinton) and spread it like wildfire.

While Russia is a purveyor of “fake news” with their state-owned propaganda arms, such as TASS and Russia Today, the hacked information that had been disseminated to WikiLeaks and other sources was factually true. This only did more damage to the Clinton campaign, which had been ailing from its outset.

Even so, as accusations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence during the campaign mount, there is no verifiable proof that this ever occurred. What did happen was that the Trump campaign was boosted by the timely Russian leaks of DNC and Clinton campaign emails—but so what? Politics is often impacted by international events.  

Recently, the Washington Post published a story headlined, “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Punish Russia for Putin’s Election Assault.” According to the Post, senior CIA officials met with President Obama last August and warned him that the Russians were aiming to undermine the American election by helping to defeat Clinton and elect Trump. The mainstream media has taken this as proof-positive that Trump’s presidency is illegitimate and that the ceaseless investigations into Trump-Russia collusion accusations should expand. In fact, all that this proves was that the Obama Administration’s continuous soft spot for the Russians came into play again.

Was the revelation that Putin may have ordered a cyber offensive against the American election system in 2016 really that groundbreaking? We’ve known for some time that Russian hackers were running roughshod over the entire election process, particularly on the DNC side. What does this prove? That the Russian command-and-control system for conducting cyber warfare is strong?

Why didn’t Obama order retaliation of some kind? Oh, sure, he apparently ordered our cyber forces to plant electronic bombs in critical Russian systems, ready for detonation in the event of war. But in what way is that akin to the kind of attack—and fallout—that the Russians have caused over here?

Like the sanctions imposed on Russia following their unlawful annexation of Crimea, in what way would the placement of electronic bombs in critical Russian systems really prevent Russia from acting aggressively? If anything, given Russian behavior recently, it might just encourage them to act more aggressively; to double down while they still think the West is weak and they could potentially run the table on America.

Was the revelation that Putin may have ordered a cyber offensive against the American election system in 2016 really that groundbreaking? We’ve known for some time that Russian hackers were running roughshod over the entire election process, particularly on the DNC side. What does this prove? That the Russian command-and-control system for conducting cyber warfare is strong? Don’t all political leaders have to order their armed forces to launch any kind of attack against another state? And, in what way does this prove the Left’s other claims that Trump’s campaign staff colluded with the Russians to bring down the Clinton Campaign? How? And, even if they did, what law did they violate?

Fact is, today we’re dealing with this “scandal,” because Obama’s posture toward Russia was weak and submissive. From the start, Obama (and Clinton) had a poor understanding of who Putin was and what Russia means to our foreign policy. Obama had a minimum of four months to respond to Putin, thereby saving Hillary’s candidacy (potentially). Yet, he delayed and deferred his response to the next administration (as with so much else).

Face it: Barack Obama’s continual weakness and thoughtlessness in the face of increasing Russian aggression created the current strategic environment that we’re all suffering through today. I’ve never been happier knowing that Donald Trump defeated Clinton in 2016. Under Trump, we will be dealing with Russia from a position of strength, as opposed to weakness.  

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About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican Congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs The Weichert Report, www.theweichertreport.com, an online journal of geopolitics. He holds Master's degree in Statecraft & National Security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an Associate Member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in Political Science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
  • Dan Schwartz

    Not so fast, Brandon. When you write (no ¶ break) you fail to point the finger to other villains, including Susan Rice, Lindsey Graham, Samantha “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) Power, Kelly Ayotte, Obama’s Rasputin Valerie Jarrett, and the biggest of all, John McCain — Putrid Wilsonian Progressives all.

    “As time progressed, the era of good feelings between America and Russia faded—especially as the United States intervened in the Libyan civil war. Initially, the Obama Administration promised only to lend humanitarian aid to Libya, but the onset of “mission creep” resulted in the United States taking the lead in toppling Muammar Gaddafi. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama had crossed a red line that Obama could never come back from. Also, Putin held a particular animus for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he claimed had personally promised him the United States would not move to topple Gaddafi’s regime.”

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  • URstandingwhere

    Trump’s FoxGOPutin 1 the country 0. The chickens will come home to roost. While digging a hole, quick give Trump a golden shovel, maybe he’ll tweet himself deeper.

    • John Smith

      You are playing checkers while President Trump and Putin are playing 3 dimensional chess. Please continue to snipe from your rocking chair though. You make yourself sound so (idiotically) smarter. Lol

  • Well, insofar as I understand and respect that intelligent people can greatly disagree, I will say simply that while I enjoy reading the author and often agree with him, in this case I mostly disagree.

    Since I have been writing on these subjects for a long time, then rather than contest the author here I will simply say that all of my counter-points are contained in my political writing on Russia and anyone interested can find them on the internet. Of course if the author wishes, I can submit a detailed polemic as a friendly rebuttle in line with the gentlemanly practice of intellectual debate to AG.

    I will limit myself here in saying that as a Pole who is very aware of the difficult Polish-Russian history, I continue to believe that the West – broadly understood – not Russia, remains the predominant threat to Polish statehood and culture in our time.

    • Arlo Falconbrook

      I agree. As the EU becomes more and more the EUSSR with it’s totalitarian disregard for nations and cultures it is the real threat. This article characterizes Putin and Russia as old style 19th Century strongman imperialists, but that is a simplistic and largely erroneous view. Take for example the situation in Ukraine – the US via Clinton and Obama, egged the coup d’etats against the legitimate government of Ukraine on with promises of treasure and support. And because the MSM (the same MSM that lies and misrepresents DJT at every turn) decided the ethnic Ukrainian forces were the “good guys” blithely demonizes the ethnic Russian side as the “bad guys”.

      I’m not saying the Russians (either the 50% of the Ukrainian population that identify as ethnically Russian or the Russians in Russia) are blameless but there is a lot of mutual bad behavior so far as Ukraine is concerned and the USA via Clinton (boosted by the MSM) did as much as possible, just as they did in Libya, to promote regime change in the most destructive way possible and in a way to almost guarantee civil war. The Crimea is an extension of that and it is also useless to label that as some sore of simplistic imperialistic land grab by the Russians. For anyone who has spent any time in Ukraine and in Crimea knows it is much more complex and arguably the Russians are doing far more to protect their “people” than any European (or until recently) American leaders are doing in respect of their “people” who are systematically being hung out to dry and told to just get used to being exterminated by jihadists.

      Putin is no doubt a very unpleasant man and has consigned many enemies to the bottom of the Volga. But he also has a clear eyed view of what is required in the 21st Century of what it takes to protect ones culture from those who would destroy it. There is no one in Europe who fits that bill – indeed they are antagonistic to the very idea of a country protecting it;s culture. Poland, Hungary, the Baltics indeed all the former Soviet Republics must be seriously wondering whether they escaped a demon in Russia only to be embraced by the devil in Europe.

  • Stick

    My sense is Obama and Hillary gave Putin the wink and nod on Crimea.

    • Yoda0060

      I think by then , Putin had already sensed that Obama was too much of a coward to stand up to him / Russia for doing it

  • machiaevil

    Yeah Obama was weak on Russia because he stopped short of starting a nuclear war, let’s hope Trump shows more guts! Typical Murikwan patriotard lunacy.

    • Yoda0060

      If you think that the only proposition, that Trump might have with Russia, entails the use of nuclear weapons, then you are one stupid fool. Personally, I considered Obama’s show of weakness with Russia, as being for more likely to cause a nuclear war with them than not.

      • machiaevil

        Because staging a coup in Ukraine causing civil war and unleashing Islamist terrorists against undesirable leaders in the Middle East is a show of “weakness” in your patriotard mindset? Get lost, monkey. I’ll be burning the flag this July 4th.

        • Dave781

          Of course you will be burning our flag this July 4th because you are a Russian troll.

          • machiaevil

            Most people that will be attending my flag burning event are Americans though.

  • joulesbeef

    Trump still is weak on russia.. he wanted to under the minor punishments we gave them already and wanted to give them back the compounds for nothing.

  • Thomas Upton

    Wouldn’t it be scary if what we have now was exactly what Putin was hoping for, the Trump presidency hobbled and ineffective due to claims of collusion with Russia. Where the Democrats and the media are actually being the pawns that in their haste to condemn Trump are actually doing what Russia had hoped they would. Making America inward looking and weak and not an effective counter to Russian aggression. How does Rachel Maddow feel about being a Russian pawn I wonder??

    • John Smith

      Methinks she, in all of her super smart, high IQ, nightly lecturing of how we are missing President Trump’s shortcomings, that we are setup for Vladimir Putin’s takeover of the narrative. She is, for all of her accolades as an intellectual talent, nothing more than his “useful idiot” in this global theater of the absurd. Alas, she is so blinded by her ideological hatred that she will NEVER see it until it is far too late…
      Way to go Rachel. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. You put party ahead of country.

      So sad…

  • gda

    Lets face it, Obama was weak on EVERYTHING. He was frozen with fear lest he do the wrong thing, so he did nothing, even when given the best of advice. He dithered, when he should have delegated. Fortunately, we now have a POTUS who appoints the best, expects the best, and delegates instead of dithering.

  • aj1575

    Obama is gone, the question now is, what is Trump doing now to go after those who attacked our democracy?

  • DisgustedwithElitism

    ‘Mr Obama says: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defence, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”

    Mr Medvedev replies: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …”

    Mr Obama retorts: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”‘

    from “Barack Obama microphone gaffe: ‘I’ll have more flexibility after election'” (www. telegraph. co. uk/ news/ worldnews/ barackobama/ 9167332/Barack-Obama-microphone-gaffe-Ill-have-more-flexibility-after-election.html)

  • Dave781

    At last a mostly truthful article about Putin and Russia from American Greatness. Yes, the Russians really did try to influence our election and yes Putin really did favor Trump.

  • Mark Dee

    The big issue now isn’t in the rear view mirror. The big issue is how will the US address Russian cyber warfare and election interference with a CiC in place that can’t even admit what Russia did? That clearly demonstrates Trump puts Trump first and the USA second.

  • Tom

    You state as a fact that “Using his vast cyber warfare capabilities, Putin ordered attacks on computer servers at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters.” even though there is no objective evidence to support that. The DNC’s Crowdstrike claimed it was Russia, but does not have a credible track record (see Ukranian artillery stories), and also refused to let US authorities examine the DNC server. Meantime, Assange said the source of the Wikileaks material was Seth Rich, who was mysteriously murdered. Another oddity about the Seth Rich murder is how furiously Brad Bauman, the DNC’s PR operative, worked to discourage any investigation of the murder. All this stuff about Russia meddling is just an effort at diversion from the very real, and very criminal (and ongoing if Hodgkinson is any indication) activities of the DNC.