The Corner

Trump Has Been Tough on Russia (Except Rhetorically)

An assistant shows the mock “reset” button which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, March 6, 2009. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via Reuters)

This tweet from Donald Trump is inviting a lot of mockery this morning.

There’s just one problem: Trump has a point.

Barack Obama sold out our Eastern European allies on missile defense. He slow-walked aid to Ukraine and did little more than shrug when Crimea was annexed. He said “never mind” on his own “red line” in Syria and turned a blind eye to Putin’s intervention there, in large part because of his obsessions with getting the Iran deal. The Russian meddling in our elections started on Obama’s watch — and not just our elections but those of many of our allies. When Mitt Romney famously said Russia was our No. 1 geopolitical foe, Obama mocked him for it as did countless liberal journalists who are now converts to anti-Russia hawkery.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made life harder for Russia diplomatically and economically thanks to revving up our oil and gas production. It hasn’t been as tough as some — including me — would like, but it’s been tougher than the Obama administration. Or at least it’s not unreasonable.

The mockery of Trump’s claim arises, I think, from two sources. The first is Trump himself. The administration has been tough on Russia, but Trump himself has not been rhetorically tough. For reasons that have launched a thousand theories, the president cannot bring himself to speak harshly about Vladimir Putin in a convincing way.

The second, related, reason is that the Russia investigation has become a carryall for anti-Trump obsessions among the press and Democrats generally. The narrative (God, I’m getting sick of that word) is that Trump is in league with the Russians. There’s no room in that storyline for the Trump administration to be hindering Russia. Nor is there room for the inconvenient fact that Obama deserves a good deal of blame for Russia’s mischief at home and abroad.

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