The president-elect of the United States has a unique opportunity to make America great again. But will he take it? Meanwhile Russia’s president is chucking up points hoping of making Russia a global leader.
After what some call a fake political coup attempt, Vladimir Putin befriends NATO’s critically important Turkey. He assists Syria’s dictator to yet another bloodbath: the total killings amount to half-million people. In Ukraine, he takes 10,000 lives and displaces 1.4 million. For such efforts he is awarded the first-ever global peace prize from a once oil-rich country descended into utter misery by Communist leaders modeling themselves on Russia’s dictators. A sick joke by Venezuala? No, support for Putin’s new world order.
To that end he’s funding far-right parties in the European Union. They reciprocate by lobbying to eliminate anti-Russian sanctions, pressure Ukraine to cave to his aggression, and spread his hateful propaganda. A lack of comparable pushback from law-abiding states encourages him to press on claiming the 21st century belongs to Russia.
According to the recently published report “The Kremlin Playbook” authored by a joint Washington and Bulgaria-based Center for the Study of Democracy, Putin’s sight is set on controlling key former Soviet satellite states including Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia and Lithuania.
If the former KGB operative has a playbook for lesser states what might one contain for a prize like the United States?
Enter Donald Trump.
His failure to condemn Putin’s aggression and criminality is unique to the democratic world. Unless that changes, the president-elect may be dangerous to democracy at home and abroad. The former was highlighted by a threat to imprison his rival, unsubstantiated accusations of “rigged” votes, and a cocky attitude to a fundamental constitutional principle; the peaceful transition of power.
His global worldview unsettles. He considers NATO obsolete, pooh-poohs nation-building in nascent democracies, and offers isolationism as America’s overarching foreign policy: it’s disturbingly Putninesque. Small wonder his election was met by spontaneous applause in Russia’s Duma while Putin was among the first to congratulate. More. Mr. Trump had staffers meet with Russia’s embassy officials before the elections while the agenda for a possible upcoming meeting seem to follow Putin’s agenda. There is no mention of the war in Ukraine. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/world/europe/russia-putin-donald-trump.html)
Do we have the makings of a puppet as per Hillary Clinton’s accusation?
Meanwhile, years of infiltrating American institutions, supported by anti-American comments from “useful idiots” -- Russia is like us, its exceptionalism deserves accommodation, it’s criminal aggression pardoned because it was once a great state, its questionably acquired billions help economies -- are paying off. Some 40% of Americans consider Russia a friend. That’s high tolerance for a country that proclaims America to be its “number one enemy”.
Despite all this America, the global leader of the democratic world, has a worldview diametrically opposed to Putin’s. What is certain is that both views cannot co-exist for long.
The big question is this: Is America’s next president man enough to stand up to Putin? Does he consider the annexing of Crimea and waging war in Ukraine an invasion of sovereignty or not? Are punitive sanctions against a bully the right thing to do or not? Is the bombing of Donbas and Aleppo during cease-fire a war crime? Is the bombing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 an act of terror; killing opposition leaders murder?
Undoubtedly Putin will keep working to bring America’s views on these matters -- all foreign policy -- closer to his worldview. Here, having a pro-Russia president of the United States is a dream come true. But Americans must not allow this. They must insist that caving to Russia will diminish America rather than make it great again.
To this end he must not eliminate sanctions against Russia. Nor hobble NATO by falling for Putin’s ploy favouring some other military alliance that includes Russia. He must not allow America to be trapped -- as in Syria -- by Russia’s pitch for a common fight against ISIS: It’s a clever tactic, a diversion from its own criminality -- terror and propaganda lies -- and more dangerous and far-reaching, by far, than ISIS.
To help him stand firm, Trump needs a moral compass. He can find it in his Republican Party’s underpinnings; strong US defence and foreign policy. Historically, this vision has guaranteed America its global leadership. The good news is that strong believers both in the Congress and Senate can help make this happen.
There is no doubt that today’s global unrest needs resolution. Great challenges create great leaders and thereby great nations. Mr. Trump promised to make America great again. He can do so by standing up to Putin. Caving to him means the opposite: making Russia great at America’s expense.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, formerly president of an international consulting firm and senior policy adviser for the government of Canada, is a founding member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine.