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Countering Russia — the right way

Conservative Review

Because of Trump’s personality, inconsistent dogma on policy, and often unorthodox gulf between his rhetoric and policies, a large schism has emerged on the Right regarding Russia. Many, in their attempt to highlight the severity of the strategic threat from Russia, are whitewashing concerns about NATO and disregarding any strategic diplomacy with Russia. Conversely, many, in their attempt to back the president and dispel the silliness of the allegation that Russia helped elect him, along with their valid critique of NATO’s existing structure and posture, are ignoring the strategic threat from Russia on several fronts.

The truth about NATO

The reality is that Russia is indeed a looming strategic threat. And that is precisely why we should take an aggressive posture to shake up NATO, not obfuscate the organization’s insidious policies that protect the status quo, which helps fuel Russia’s ascendancy as a dominant power. In other words, being anti-Putin doesn’t mean one should reflexively defend NATO. Quite the contrary; the only effective way of countering the real threat from Putin is to demand changes.

There is a spirited abstract and philosophical debate on the Right playing out at various publications over hypothetically defending places like Montenegro and Macedonia against Russia. However, that debate is largely moot unless we properly identify what and where Russia threatens us and why NATO, as it’s currently constituted, will not be a bulwark against Russia unless we pursue our own strong policies independent of NATO.

What are the criteria for joining NATO?

Among other things, NATO’s Membership Action Plan requires candidates to settle their international disputes by peaceful means, to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law and human rights, to have good relations with their neighbors, to establish democratic and civilian control of their armed forces, and to contribute to the development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions and by promoting stability and well-being.

Guess which NATO member has the largest military after the United States? A nation headed by a man who violates all of those tenets and represents the very threat against which NATO was conceived. That is Turkey, headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Now let’s read Article V of the NATO charter:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Think about that. The largest military in the alliance in Europe is Turkey, which is allied with Putin and Iran and is the foremost funder of Sunni Jihad as well as instigator of Muslim Brotherhood subversion in Europe and North America. Yet we would be forced to defend it. And in case of attack by Turkey and its allies, the other nations would be impotent in fighting back without the United States.

Here’s the reality: given the ongoing downsizing of the militaries in Western Europe and the growth of Russia’s conventional and nuclear forces, any conflict with Russia comes down to one factor — the deterrent power of the U.S. If we focus on beefing up our missile defense and nuclear offensive capabilities, we can deter Russia, regardless of the other powers. If we continue allowing our nuclear deterrent to rot, as Mark Schneider warned on my podcast, then no addition of other tiny European nations to the alliance will matter in the event that Russia uses its battlefield-ready, low-yield tactical nukes to win a war up front through first use of nuclear weapons.

Thus, even if we ignore the subversion and hypocrisy of the largest European NATO powers, nothing matters until we beef up our own deterrent, something we must do anyway to deter China, North Korea, and potentially Iran.

Also, nothing about NATO matters until there is a discussion about kicking Turkey out of NATO. As a supposed ally, the Pentagon is selling Turkey our super-expensive F-35 stealth fighters. The first one was already transferred in June, and Turkish pilots are receiving training in flying it at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Raise your hand if you are confident they won’t hand over the technology to the Russians. What’s worse is that Turkey, as an ally of Russia, is simultaneously slated to receive Russia’s latest S-400 missile defense system. There’s now a bipartisan concern in the Senate that, even if Erdogan doesn’t turn over sensitive intel on the F-35 directly to Putin, the Russians will have a front-row seat watching the Turks test the S-400 missile defense system against the capabilities (or vulnerabilities) of the American-made stealth fighters with Russian operatives on the ground.

For anyone to defend the status quo in NATO and oppose any effort to shake the Europeans out of their slumber and duplicity without addressing Turkey is a win for Russia, not the other way around.

Countering Russia in the right theaters

If we actually repaired our ailing nuclear weapons systems and aggressively pursued missile defense, we wouldn’t need to counter Russia in every existing theater in its neighborhood. It’s not worth battling Russia over Crimea and Georgia at this point, and Syria is an insufferable dumpster fire for our interests. The only reason the Russians have obtained power there is because we bailed them out of the Sunni insurgency and helped empower the Shiites and Assad. On the other hand, what is done is done, and for us to now focus on getting rid of Assad and the Russians will only empower the Sunnis. Let’s stop empowering the Russians by ridding them of the permanent civil war for free, and then we won’t have to worry about their unchecked power and the empowerment of Shiites.

Thus, those who believe we should engage in strategic diplomacy with Russia in that theater, the same way Netanyahu has in recent months, are not wrong. Israel has already drawn red lines against Iranian forces and other Assad allies in Syria, while promising not to dislodge Assad himself. In that sense, Helsinki succeeded in reinforcing that commitment.

Russia has been increasing its dominance in our hemisphere for quite some time, as it did during the Cold War. Of concern most recently is its role in empowering Daniel Ortega to destabilize Nicaragua. As Mary O’ Grady recently warned in the Wall Street Journal, Russia “has a large and secretive satellite compound at the edge of the Nejapa lagoon on the outskirts of Managua, and its Interior Ministry has a large ‘police training center’ in the capital’s Las Colinas neighborhood.” Russia is fueling similar chaos in Venezuela and working with other leftist regimes, such as Bolivia.

As noted Latin America expert Joseph Humire of the Center for a Free Secure Society told CR:

Russia has had a resurgence in Latin America over the last decade that is greater than their (USSR) presence in the region during the Cold War. As Venezuela and Nicaragua unfold into complete chaos and political instability, Russia has gained more control of the oil sector in the Orinoco Belt of Venezuela and established itself as a top military partner of Nicaragua, complete with a satellite tracking facility and counter-narcotics center in or near Managua.

Why should we care? Well, for starters, we should care more about the region that is sending us dangerous or poor migrants and killing tens of thousands with drugs than we do about Sunni-Shiite civil wars in the Middle East. Nicaragua is the lynchpin for all potential migration coming north from the Venezuela crisis, which has already flooded Colombia with almost one million migrants. Many of those fleeing Venezuela, or worse, Middle Easterners smuggled through South America, take boats directly to Nicaragua.

As Humire explains:

75 percent of all Russian foreign military sales to Latin America has been to two countries Nicaragua and Venezuela. This is "coincidentally" the two countries, along with Bolivia, that have signed the most bilateral agreements with Iran and received credits/loans from China. The Russia-Iran-China triangle is destabilizing much of Latin America and actively working to delegitimize the United States.

We need to worry about the Russia-China-Iran-Hezbollah axis in our own backyard more than we worry about the Middle East.

So yes, Russia is a force to be reckoned with, and there is a need for strategic diplomacy with Russia in some theaters. But, as Humire argues, we should assert our red lines in the Western Hemisphere the same way Putin stands up for his strategic assets in Syria. “President Trump should not accept anything less from Putin than for Russia to respect the Monroe Doctrine and to stop meddling in Latin America, namely Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Mexico — or supporting Iran's efforts in these countries and the region writ large.”

Russia is certainly a threat, but we need not return to another Cold War in order to counter it. Modernizing our nuclear capabilities and missile defense, forcing a shake-up in NATO, making the right allies in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, and asserting a new Monroe Doctrine will both preclude the re-emergence of another Cold War and obviate the need for us to follow Russia across the map. A true America-first approach to foreign policy should supersede the false choices of political tribalism.

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