According to President Trump’s enemies, the list of his high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as his domestic and foreign policy failures, is so overwhelming that it would be almost impossible to add something substantial to it.
However, some tireless folks keep digging and finding more grist. For example, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has identified yet another huge foreign policy failure of Mr. Trump’s, this time that "he shows no interest in democracy promotion, and that, too, is more important than ever, because democracies are much less prone to war.”
Citing Michael Mandelbaum, Johns Hopkins emeritus professor of U.S. foreign policy, Mr. Friedman asserts that "The principal disturbers of the peace — Russia, China, and Iran — are all dictatorships that seek popular support, can no longer get it through economic growth, don’t have the option of getting it through democracy, and in fact fear that democratic demands and democratic forces will unseat them. Their aggressive policies are designed to protect their regimes against, most of all, democracy.”
Unsurprisingly, grand Trump-hunter Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, agrees. He laments that the "past decade has demonstrated that democratic change is not inevitable, but must be doggedly pursued by free societies” — which Mr. Trump neglects to do.
Barack Obama’s ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, agrees: "For 70 years, the United States has led the global effort to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency and with few exceptions, these words are no longer part of America’s official vocabulary.”
In practice, to "promote democracy” means an increasingly confrontational approach to Russia, China and Iran, the designated exemplars of authoritarian anti-democracy.
I cannot say too much about China or Iran, but when it comes to Russia I believe the blame goes to those in Washington whose failed strategic vision during the first decade and a half after the fall of communism and the dissolution of the USSR led to missing a historic chance for a rapprochement with that country.
At that time, Russia was ready and almost begged to be admitted to the Western world. But the Washington swamp was not interested, since it was confident that it then had the unlimited and indefinite power to run the world. Russia’s interests could be largely ignored.
Not only that, but if the West had been sincerely interested in building a strong democracy, then it would have assisted with Russia’s difficult transition from a planned to a market economy. This was not supposed to be a charity but an investment in a potential strategic partner that, by the way, would be later in a position to check both Chinaand Iran.
Billions of dollars indeed were spent, but if one follows the money trail, it went in the opposite direction. Bluntly speaking, Russia was robbed. Details can be found in Janine Wedel’s book, "Collision and Collusion,” or the U.S. congressional report, "Russia’s Road to Corruption: How the Clinton Administration Exported Government Instead of Free Enterprise and Failed the Russian People.”
Washington under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama delivered a sharp nyet to Russia’s aspirations to join the West. The Kosovo war; successive rounds of NATO expansion (and, most damaging and crossing all of the Kremlin’s red lines, the 2008 Bucharest declaration to induct Ukraine and Georgia as well); and color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine made it clear that the only acceptable Russia was a satellite state begging for handouts. Why are we shocked that Russia turned to other partners in Eurasia, including China, Iran and our nominal ally Turkey?
Since 2014, the sharpest standoff is in Ukraine. If President Petro Poroshenko gets his way, that standoff will get sharper still. His stunt in November trying to run naval vessels through the Kerch Strait from the Black to Azov seas produced the Russian response he hoped. Congress obliged right on cue with more sanctions and promises of lethal weapons to Kiev’s regime.
For good measure, Washington has pulled out of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty concluded by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Preparations are underway to test missiles in that range for deployment in Europe, giving Russia only a few minutes to decide whether notice of an attack is real.
What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, something could go very, very wrong. "In our games, when we fight Russia and China,” Rand analyst David Ochmanek said, "blue gets its ass handed to it.” In other words, in Rand’s war games, which are often sponsored by the Pentagon, the U.S. forces — colored blue on war game maps — suffer heavy losses in one scenario after another and still can’t stop Russia or China — red — from achieving their objectives, like overrunning U.S. allies.”
Other than pumping up military spending, which is already three times China’s and 10 times Russia’s, what is the benefit of running such risks?
For what it is worth, some of the American Founding Fathers had a poor opinion of democracies. John Adams: "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet, that did not commit suicide.” James Madison: "Democracies … have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
But Mr. Friedman, following George W. Bush, tells us that "democracies are much less prone to war” than nondemocracies. Really? How many countries has the U.S. bombed or invaded in the past three decades compared with the "principal disturbers of the peace,” Russia, China or Iran?
Democracies are more peaceful? What would Serbs, Somalis, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Yemenis or Syrians say to that — and maybe soon Venezuelans and Iranians?
Besides, one who might beg to differ on Mr. Trump’s supposed failure to promote democracy is his secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who stated that when it comes to Venezuela "every option is on the table to deliver to the Venezuelan people the democracy they deserve” and pledged the U.S. to securing a "free and democratic Venezuela” and support for the "Venezuelan people’s aspirations to live in a democracy.”
Messrs. Friedman, Mandelbaum, Schiff and the rest of the democracy promoters crowd should be thrilled.
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.
Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow State and National Research Nuclear Universities. He is the author of the book "Operation Elbe”, which describes joint US – Russia anti-terrorist efforts.