Yesterday, American President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for over two hours. Then they held a joint press conference, after which Putin sat down for an exclusive 30-minute interview with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. What came out of the meeting cannot yet be fully determined, as the world leaders met alone, behind closed doors. But both leaders are touting a better relationship between the two countries, as well as other advances toward peace. Predictably, most of the American media has already reacted with outrage at Trump’s handling of Russia. The claim is repeated every day – Trump is soft on Russia. Is this really true? The facts may surprise you.
Is Trump soft on Russia? The answer is yes – and no.
First, the “yes.”
It is inarguable that Donald Trump’s rhetoric, toward Russia generally and Putin specifically, has been “soft.” He has been quicker to criticize Democrats, NATO, and leaders of our closest allies than he has been to criticize the Russian dictator. Those who watch CNN and read the New York Times come away with only one possible conclusion. Because Trump’s rhetoric is often defensive of Putin, and sometimes glowing, he is soft on Russia.
But for those who value action above rhetoric, there is a quite different answer.
Second, the “no.”
Jack Keane knows a little about these things, being a four-star general. And he says Trump has been tougher on Putin than any of the other three U.S. presidents with whom Putin has dealt: Clinton, Bush, and Obama. He lists the following as evidence.
1. The Iranians (Putin allies) fired a ballistic missile in the third week of Trump’s presidency. He sanctioned Iran, and they have not fired another ballistic missile since.
2. The Syrians used chemical weapons on their own people. Trump responded with military action – twice.
3. Russian mercenaries attacked our troops in Syria, and we killed over 200 of them.
4. The Ukrainians wanted anti-tank weapons to resist Russian aggression, and Trump gave them that (when Obama would not).
5. Trump deployed additional troops into Eastern Europe as part of a NATO build-up.
6. Trump pressured NATO countries to increase their spending on defense to the highest levels on record – in accordance with prior agreements made under past U.S. presidents, but never enforced. These nations committed an additional $14 billion dollars. (And the media called this a failing for the U.S., because Trump was “mean” to NATO heads of state in his effort to secure peace and protection. Never mind, his strategy worked.)
7. The U.S. has sanctioned Russia over election meddling.
8. Trump has turned around American defense spending, which had been in decline under President Obama. Specifically, Trump added two significant increases in American military capabilities.
The evidence is clear. For those who value words over action, Trump has gone soft on Russia. But for those who value action, Trump has been demonstratively tougher on Putin and Russia than any president in recent history. It’s not even close.