Cato Institute scholar Ted Galen Carpenter says America was fortunate to survive the first Cold War, the last thing the country needs is another one with the only country on earth that could “eradicate American civilization.”
After a tense set of meetings between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s easy to see that the hoped-for thaw in Russian/American relations implied by the election of Donald Trump might take much longer to materialize than expected, if it does at all.
Tillerson brought the Russians a demand to divorce from Syria, which they rejected unkindly. But Syria wasn’t the only contentious subject that day. Galen Carpenter writes at The American Conservative:
Although the Syria issue was the greatest source of animosity in Tillerson’s meetings, it was not the only one. Frictions also resurfaced regarding Crimea, Moscow’s alleged cyber espionage against the United States, the Kremlin’s reported flirtation with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and NATO’s new military deployments in Poland and the Baltic republics. Although the joint closing press conference sought to portray the discussions as a constructive, albeit candid, exchange of views, it was difficult to hide the reality that U.S.-Russian relations appear to be at their worst level since the end of the Cold War. Even Tillerson conceded that the relationship was “at a low point” and needed to be improved in the interests of both countries.
The ongoing chill should deeply disappoint all Americans. Given Donald Trump’s conciliatory comments regarding Russia during the 2016 presidential election campaign, there was the widespread expectation of a U.S.-Russia rapprochement. Indeed, Trump and his foreign-policy team have had to fight off a concerted campaign by both neoconservative Republicans and hawkish Democrats who accuse them of being Putin’s puppets. Perhaps the administration’s new confrontational stance toward Moscow is an attempt to erect a defense against that assault. If so, it is likely to be a futile effort. Trump haters are not going to be placated by belated hawkish posturing against the Kremlin.
Even more worrisome is the substantive damage to an already troubled bilateral relationship. The last thing that Americans need is another cold war with the one nation that has the military capability to eradicate American civilization if that confrontation ever turned hot. We were fortunate to have survived the initial cold war without it erupting into a horrifying conflagration. We might not be so lucky this time around. The Trump administration needs to return to its original course and seek to improve relations with Moscow. Tillerson’s abrasive performance is a textbook example of what to avoid.
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