The Washington Game: Both Sides Have Flip-Flopped on Russia
“. . . at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally. There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia as the enemy.” -1984, George Orwell
To those of us familiar with Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, such a scenario seems almost comical. In the age of information, such political absurdity could never occur! However, in the case of Russia and Putin, a subtle but similar situation has arisen on both sides of the political front. With the 2016 election raising questions of Russian involvement in our political process, we must confront the narratives and developing stances of both parties.
During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney controversially asserted that Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe. President Barack Obama, as well as various liberal-leaning media outlets, accused Romney of having an outdated, Cold War mentality. In many respects, Obama’s foreign policy consisted of his inability to truly recognize their threat as voiced by Romney. He facilitated the failed “Russian reset” in the beginning of his administration. He failed to support Ukraine in their defense against Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Much can be written about Obama’s failure in Syria and the role Russia played. While Russia remained unpopular among Democratic voters, the leader of their party failed to assert himself in strong opposition to the Kremlin. Just four short years later, the Democratic Party has taken the words of Mitt Romney to heart and applied them to their obstructionist and uncompromising opposition towards the current president. The party that laughed at the threat of Russia four short years ago has now embraced it wholeheartedly.
Conversely, the Republican Party has witnessed an increase in Putin’s favorability ratings. According to Gallup, between 2015 and 2017 Putin’s favorability among Republicans increased from 12% to 32%. No reason seems more likely for the jump than Trump’s relations with Putin. Certainly, there is no policy reason: Russia remains close allies with Iran, supports the Assad regime, and threatens American allies overseas. The Republican Party has no concrete reasoning for any degree of favorability towards Russia and Putin beyond Trump, which presents a great deal of concern to many as the identity of the party continues to change under the Trump presidency. The party that once built its identity on opposition to Russia and that had reaffirmed the concerns of Mitt Romney now faces increasing popularity towards Putin and Russia.
While information regarding Russia’s relationship with the current administration continues to come to light in the aftermath of FBI Director Comey’s firing, the claim that Russia was the sole and outstanding reason for Secretary Clinton’s defeat still lacks substantanative evidence. In many respects, Clinton was an unenergetic candidate who lacked an enthusiastic base, strong message, and suffered from dismally low popularity. However, a bipartisan investigation is truly in the best interest of all concerned: either it clears Trump’s name and allows him to focus on key legislative issues, or it reveals wrongdoing which demands punitive action. Both parties must be realistic, consistent, and firm in our opposition to Putin and Russia. We must hold both our parties accountable and do our best to remain reasonably consistent on such key issues.