The Corner

National Security & Defense

We’re All on Board for Getting Tough with Russia, Right, Democrats?

President Trump and Russia’s President Putin shake hands during a news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A significant number of elected Democrats, progressive columnists, and mainstream-media commentators are volcanically angry over reports that a Russian military-intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, and apoplectic at the thought that the Trump administration did nothing in response.

We’re all on board for getting tough with Russia for the long haul, right, guys? You really mean it this time, and this isn’t just a useful tool to use against President Trump, right? If there’s a Biden administration, we’re not going to see another “reset button” ceremony or the “the 1980s called to ask for their foreign policy back,” right? There will be no more dismissing of the idea of Russia being a top geopolitical foe as a “preposterous notion,” right? The Democratic Party won’t tweet out statements from the Russian president to attack a GOP opponent, right?

We won’t see a President Biden meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and tout the “need to continue to establish a closer and closer relationship. . . . Time to push the reset button and change the atmosphere . . . it’s in our self-interest and I hope in the self-interest of Russia to have our relationship grow,” right? Because that’s what Biden said in a meeting with Putin in 2011.

You’ll understand if some Russia hawks are skeptical. From late 2003 to 2008, the United States witnessed an impassioned, outraged, highly motivated anti-war movement . . . that pretty much faded out after Barack Obama was elected. One extensive survey of anti-war demonstrators concluded, “Democrats, who had been motivated to participate by anti-Republican sentiments, withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, if not policy success in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The majority of the anti–Iraq War movement was an anti–George Bush movement; once Bush was out of office, many Democrats stopped worrying about Iraq — or Afghanistan, or Libya, or Syria, or drone strikes, or any other aspects of the ongoing war on terror. Once fervently “anti-war” Democrats were fine with a slow draw down in Iraq, a surge of more troops to Afghanistan, or new military operations in Libya or Syria or other corners of the world, as long as a president they liked was commander-in-chief.

It would be nice to have a broad, bipartisan coalition supporting policies that are tough on Putin and the Russian government until it changes its behavior. But one can’t help but suspect that the anti-Russian sentiment among Democrats is mostly an anti-Trump sentiment — and that if Trump departs the political scene, this sentiment will depart with him.

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