I’d best be careful since the omniscient social media gurus are scanning the Internet in search of “fake” stories. Then again, for liberal progressives, anything that doesn’t meet their orthodoxy is deemed fake. That’s what happens when you live in your bubble world, safe space of unicorns, rainbows, binky toys, and hot cocoa.
And it was this same exact self-defined world of reality that led one Barack Obama down the primrose path of seeing the world as he wanted it to be, not as it was.
As an incoming new president, you’re faced with a very stark reality once you get that first “for real” national security brief. And you have two choices: continue walking down the yellow brick road in search of the mythical Wizard of Oz, or get real and understand that intransigent ideology and campaign rhetoric mean little to the despots, dictators and theocrats of the real world.
Obama chose the former, and eight years later, after receiving an adult version of a participation trophy, the Nobel Peace Prize, we have a world in utter chaos. But, according to Obama’s own words, he’s done a really good job.
Now comes the choice that will have to be made by President-elect Donald Trump. One of the rather disconcerting tales from his campaign revolves around “trusting” Russia and Vladimir Putin. Now, let me make myself clear, Barack Obama has no room to speak to anyone about U.S.-Russian relations. It was Obama who sarcastically admonished Mitt Romney for his appropriate classification of Russia as the major geopolitical threat in the 2012 debate. And to follow suit, it was Obama whose foreign policy with Russia was based on a binky toy and having “more flexibility.”
Therefore, Obama has given Donald Trump many examples of what not to follow. However, how does President-elect Trump see Russia? Even George W. Bush said he gazed into Putin’s very soul. Hmm, I find it hard to see something I don’t believe exists — a former KGB colonel with a soul? Now, that’s about as oxymoronic as you can get.
Putin has played Obama like a really bad banjo; will he be able to do the same with Trump — especially the lie about Putin being trustworthy in the fight against ISIS? Putin’s whole endeavor into the Middle East has been and will be to bolster the Bashar Assad regime in Syria in order to maintain a warm water sea port in the Mediterranean Sea…not fight ISIS.
And why wouldn’t Putin want to fight ISIS? That answer is simple: Putin remembers the last time Mother Russia got engaged in fighting against Mujahideen — Islamic fighters — in Afghanistan, and it didn’t end well for the old Soviet Union. Putin will only support Assad and fight those who threaten him. He has a grander strategic vision, and isn’t looking at being bogged down in a quagmire. There’s another place, a region, Putin is eyeing. It used to be called the Soviet Union.
As reported by the BBC, “Lithuania has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may test NATO in the weeks before Donald Trump becomes US president. Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said he was “very afraid” for the Baltics, as well as the Syrian city of Aleppo. Nowhere is the troubled transition of Donald Trump being watched more carefully than in the Baltic states.
Lithuania believes its dark view of Russian intentions is justified by its geography and its history. Once part of the Soviet Union, it is now a member of both NATO and the European Union. It has a land border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. In the capital, Vilnius, there is a mural showing Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin locked in a passionate embrace. The fear here [Lithuania] is that the United States is keen to see Russia as a potential partner and reluctant to share the view in Eastern Europe that Moscow presents a potent and immediate military threat.
The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad represents an important military outpost between Poland and Lithuania with its coastline on the Baltic Sea. “The new administration doesn’t come in until the second part of January,” Foreign Minister Linkevicius said. “I’m very afraid and concerned about this period not just because of the regions which are close to here but let’s hope that Aleppo is not smashed from the ground by then.” Lithuania has noted with alarm that Moscow has been reinforcing and re-equipping its powerful military bases in Kaliningrad. It is only 25 years since an order was given from Moscow to send in the tanks to crush peaceful protests for independence in Vilnius.”
Some may say that’s fear mongering and stoking flames, but it’s the harsh reality on the ground, and it’s a reality that has precedent.
Consider the words of a despot who claimed his expansion and designs were meant to protect ethnic Germans who he believed were threatened…in a place called the Sudetenland. That same person made his move, and the world did little in response. He continued to Czechoslovakia, and then the full “blitzkrieg” came overrunning Poland, who still had horse-mounted cavalry against a modernized war machine that had been tested in the Spanish Civil War.
Vladimir Putin has made intonations about protecting ethnic Russians, perhaps like those in Kalinigrad. He has modernized and improved the Russian military machine. And Putin, much like Hitler, has deployed Russian military capability into Syria, perhaps as a means to test out new strategies and tactics in preparation for something bigger, as Hitler did.
The harsh reality is you can’t listen to Putin’s words, but must carefully assess and analyze his actions – that’s what Donald Trump is going to need in his national security advisors. And they must tell a President Trump not what he may want to hear, but what he needs to hear.
The choice for a President Trump will be simple: continue on with the campaign rhetoric and make mistakes like his predecessor, or decide based on the reality being presented, and communicate his guidance and intent not just to his administration, but to the American people.
Vladimir Putin feels emboldened, as well he should with a very weak Barack Obama in the Oval Office for eight years. Just as with the supposed Syrian red line, there have been no consequences for Putin’s blatant belligerence. Now, like the savvy KGB agent the is, Putin is probing and trying to assess Donald Trump — and the folks in the Baltics are nervous about Putin, the hunter, stalking his new prey.
Trump’s talk about NATO and seeking a relationship with Putin has served, to this point, to cause Putin to believe he may be able to advance his interests even more — and it appears that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia believe he will. Again, that which sounded good and popular during a campaign has nothing to do with clear and present dangers rooted in reality.
Yes, this is the ultimate cat and mouse game; chess, not checkers. This isn’t a video game and there are no “safe spaces.” This is real geopolitics and deal making doesn’t happen if you don’t hold the high ground — which sadly, America does not.
My counsel to President-elect Donald Trump, keep your cards close, and no longer play the populist game. You, sir, have been dealt a pretty bad hand by your predecessor, but you can still win. You have to “red cell” Putin and assess his objectives for the next 3 to 4 years. From there you can develop your strategy to deny him his designs.
But first, it begins with the open mind, and not, as Obama, an intransigent ideologue too proud to say, “I got this one wrong.” This isn’t about seeking war, it’s about deterring one, and being once again the beacon of liberty.
We’ve already had our version of a Neville Chamberlain. We can ill afford another.