Thursday, March 16, 2023

History History Repeating Itself

A politics professor and Eurasian scholar, Jessica Pisano, wrote a piece for Politico Magazine shortly after the invasion by Russia of Ukraine.  Perhaps anticipating nonsense such as Hannity and Graham are spewing now, she asked readers to

Consider where Trump and Biden stand on three key issue areas the Kremlin cares deeply about: NATO, political leadership in Ukraine and undermining democracy. Under Trump, there was little daylight between Russia and the United States on these issues.

 Even as Trump’s vocal criticisms may have inadvertently strengthened the alliance, Trump worked to diminish the influence of NATO, reportedly planning to withdraw from it in his second term. As a candidate, Trump had even remarked that, “Maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, that’s not the worst thing in the world"...

When Zelenskyy beat an incumbent president in a landslide, Trump actually withheld military aid to Ukraine, sending personal emissaries to Kyiv to try to pressure and undermine Zelenskyy in the eyes of Ukrainians by asking him to “do us a favor, though"...

And Biden has worked to protect democracy. Unlike Trump, rather than questioning the integrity of contests his party lost, Biden has spoken forcefully about the close legal scrutiny and fairness of all the 2020 elections. And he has supported congressional efforts to protect the franchise in the United States.

In Trump, Putin had a fellow-traveler. Far from ensuring world peace, the Trump years instead offered Putin a useful pause he utilized to further military readiness and prime the Russian population for a hot war.

She concluded

Far from deterring Putin, Trump did the opposite. Thanks to Trump, Putin was able to take advantage of a period of apparent detente during which Trump actually pursued Putin’s own policies of weakening NATO and democracy and destabilizing the West — leaving Putin free to prepare his war against the free people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government.

The argument that Russia had "a realistic fear" of the ex-President bears a resemblance to two widely held views persisting from the Ronald Reagan era. One is that the Soviet Union folded only because of the fear of President Reagan or of the military buildup (i.e., Pentagon empowerment) he engineered, rather than the commitment of Mikhail Gorbachev to restructure of the Soviet system because it was hopeless.

Contrary to myth, Reagan was not the only American president who helped bring down the Iron Curtain but played a role similar to that of the presidents (Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter,) who preceded him and also implemented a policy of containment. 

Nor was President Reagan responsible for the release of the last 52 of the 66 Americans taken hostage by the Shiite government in Iran, evidently as punishment of President Jimmy Carter for having the temerity to allow the deposed Shah of Iran to receive medical treatment in the USA.  After being held for 444 days, those hostages were freed moments after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President. However, in 2016, the Annenberg Public Policy Center in its fact check noted "experts we interviewed, including those who have spoken directly to the hostage-takers, say the motivation for releasing the hostages then was a hatred of Carter."

Vladimir Putin did not invade Ukraine on President Trump's watch because they were getting what they wanted from Trump, whom they helped elect in 2016 and hoped to see re-elected in 2020. Yet once again, Republicans try to create an alternate reality, a portrait of an ex-President as the tough guy contrasted to a wimpish Democratic president.  A powerful and false message, it never should go unanswered by Democrats.

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