July 23, 2024

The Russian bear is a paper tiger




Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Russian bear is a paper tiger

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – During the campaign, Donald Trump often spoke admiringly about Russian President Putin, citing his strength as a leader and how Putin has out-maneuvered President Obama in Syria, where Russian-backed government forces are gaining ground in the years-long conflict. Putin was one of the first world leaders to call Trump to congratulate him after last month’s election.

More than almost anything, Putin craves respect on the world stage for himself and for the former super power he heads. That is all well and good except the key word is “former.”

Trump is treating Putin like a co-equal in the pecking order when Russia is a country teetering on the edge of economic ruin with a military that in no way is comparable to the United States’ armed forces. By courting Putin to the extent he has, Trump perpetuates the myth of the plundering and menacing Russian bear.

Trump is not alone in elevating the image of Russia’s dominance. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney declared Russia the greatest existential threat America faced. Romney looked prescient when Putin went into Crimea and seized that part of Ukraine. And when it appeared that Putin might make a move on the Baltic states, NATO troops upped their presence in the three former Soviet republics to counter Putin’s threats.

In fact, Putin’s military provocations outside Russia on the international stage help distract Russian citizens from their economic troubles. The country is dependent on its oil exports, and with oil prices in a long decline, that has hurt the standard of living in Russia.

Russia has limited capability to correct its precarious economic situation. Although it is the largest oil exporter in the world, it is not part of OPEC oil cartel. When Russia threatened Western Europe with cutting off its pipeline, Putin couldn’t make good on those tough words because his economy couldn’t risk losing the revenue, even for a short while to make a point.

Granted, Russia still has nuclear weapons, but so does Pakistan. And while this is part of the equation, when you weigh Russia’s overall defense posture, its military budget is lower than that of Saudi Arabia.

President Obama did the right thing when he began to redirect U.S. resources and power in the pivot to Asia. China is the threat to America’s strength in the world, not Russia. China’s economy is slowing but it is still booming, while the Russian economy is in shambles.

So, Trump is picking the wrong enemy when he flirts with starting a trade war with China while he gives Russia a free pass on its meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian hackers were behind the flood of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton campaign.

Yet Trump continues to maintain the hacker could have been China or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds.” He doubled down on that assertion in an interview with Time Magazine, which just named him “Person of the Year.”

Whatever Trump’s beliefs in the relative merits of China versus Russia, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) made its decision earlier this year when it declared the Yuan, China’s currency, one of the major world currencies, along with the dollar, the British pound, and the Euro.

Nobody is talking about the ruble, not even Putin.

Maybe the key to bringing Putin’s aggressive impulses to heel is to treat him with great respect. That’s what Trump has been doing. The danger of course is that Putin will take this show of respect as tacit permission to keep doing what he’s been doing, which is to pretend that the Russian paper tiger is still a first-rate power, and an expanding one at that.


          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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