When President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in December 1987, I sat in front of a television screen at a Paducah auto repair shop, angry and “in my feelings.”
I firmly believed that Reagan had betrayed his pledge to promote “Peace Through Strength” and that this treaty would give the Soviet Union a significant advantage in conventional weapons capability. NATO was in trouble (so I thought), and the Warsaw Pact would have free reign to bully and threaten Western Europe without that nuclear deterrent.
Ultimately, I decided to take my criticisms further.
Three fellow UT Martin students (Jeff Reed, Tim McCoy, and Van Jones … yes THAT Van Jones) had started an underground student newspaper called “The Fourteenth Circle” and I asked if I could write an op-ed condemning the treaty and its policy implications. They allowed it, and the “Clardy Speaks” article ran on page two. I was proud of myself that I had, in my vivid 20-year-old imagination, established myself as a Cold Warrior.
As it turned out, I was totally off the mark. The Soviet Union collapsed within four years after the Washington Summit, and the INF Treaty was an integral piece in keeping a proper strategic balance in U.S./Russia relations for the better part of three decades.
Then along comes the ham-fisted Presidency of Donald Trump.
His foreign policy has been, at best, a comedy of errors as his temperament, inflated sense of ego, and sophomoric posturing have all harmed U.S. foreign policy, as he articulates it through Tweet and Rant.
Worse, though, is the fact that the President has now led the United States into a dangerous new era where Moscow can violate treaties, bully its neighbors, and play the United States like a violin on the world stage.
It wasn’t enough that Moscow could interfere in the internal domestic politics of Ukraine, order invasions into Georgia and South Ossetia, and threaten the energy supplies of its neighbors. No, the Russians felt so emboldened as to meddle in a basic staple of American democracy: our elections.
At this point, the President has become Putin’s number one cheerleader by insulting the tireless work of the U.S. intelligence community, questioning the acumen of American military leaders, and—in full view of a global audience at Helsinki—siding with Putin in the face of allegations that the Russians were involved in upsetting an American election.
No matter how loud the President screams, “There was no collusion,” the evidence and facts say otherwise.
Now we have a situation where the Russians have violated their obligations under the INF and countless other arms control agreements, with a full expectation that all Washington will do is pick up its proverbial marbles and go home. In response, the Trump administration has pulled the U.S. out of the INF treaty.
So what are the possible implications of all these actions by Trump?
- The Russians will now feel emboldened to stir up trouble in the Middle East, especially given Washington’s frenetic posture in the region (e.g. ardent support for Israel and harsh anti-Muslim sentiment). Even signaling a precipitous withdrawal from Syria was music to Putin’s Ears.
- To add insult to injury, Kentucky’s Republican leaders have been eerily silent on this point.
Senator Mitch McConnell was a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution, and Senator Rand Paul its armchair cheerleader, after the fact. Neither one has given these events any serious thought or consideration to vocally criticize this dangerous policy direction for fear of alienating “The Leader.” At least, I don’t see anything in the political ether where they have voiced concern.
Excuse me….but I thought that United States Senators had oversight responsibilities over U.S. treaty obligations, and were a co-equal branch of government when it came to the crafting of foreign policy. Either I misread the Senate’s Constitutional obligations or our Senators have.
- Any attempt to curtail the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist states and non-state actors has been stymied. Can we really determine if Putin is keeping a tight grip on his nuclear and chemical weapons arsenals? This is at best an educated guess.
- Finally, our allies in Europe (and around the world) will give Washington the proverbial (maybe literal) side-eye when it comes to its historic treaty obligations and overall assertions of credibility.
These are urgent reasons why a change in the White House is desperately needed in 2020. Democrats need to find a consensus candidate with whom moderates and progressives can support, work hard around the clock to get that candidate elected, retake the U.S. Senate, increase our majorities in the House, reverse Trump’s insane policies, and somehow restore order to the geopolitical environment.
These recent developments in U.S./Russia relations should be a signal to Democrats of the fierce urgency of obtaining victory in 2020. Our nation’s security strongly depends upon it.
Written by Dr. Brian K. Clardy, Associate Professor of History at Murray State University, and member of the Calloway County Democratic Executive Committee