Everyone is outraged — Republican and Democrat establishments alike — that President Trump decided to call Russian President Vladimir Putin this week and recognize his successful re-election campaign.
Prominent commentators have taken it a step further, fastening their tin-foil hats and showcasing the phone call as proof of the grand “Trump-Russia” conspiracy theory, which is easily debunked by pointing to the Trump administration’s hawkish policy toward Moscow when it really matters.
Sure, there is plentiful evidence to substantiate the possibility that the Russian election was tampered with to deliver Putin over 75 percent of the vote. As Americans, we recognize that free and fair elections are important to sustaining our republic, and it’s unfortunate when those principles are not applied in other countries.
But President Trump probably made the right decision to go through standard diplomatic protocols. Is it worth burning what’s left of our diplomatic capital with Russia just to stick it to the man who leads the country — and who is quite popular among its people? Doing so would also only increase the continually growing anti-American sentiment inside Russia. Delegitimizing his perceived mandate would put a further strain on current U.S. diplomatic efforts.
Putin represents a nation — and a culture — that is over 1,100 years old, that has developed its own system of governance and customs. If we held every country to the American standard, the United States would maintain very few lines of communication with the great powers of the world. President Trump likely recognizes that America can be a beacon of liberty, but that doesn’t mean that the United States needs to apply Jeffersonian scrutiny when determining whether to trade and conduct diplomacy with other nation-states.
The debate over whether or not President Trump should have congratulated Vladimir Putin on his “re-election” misses the big picture, and it ignores the much more important events happening around the globe that shape America’s position in the world.
It’s more important to take a step back from Russia’s internal political situation and ask ourselves what this means on the grand chessboard of world order. As it turns out, it means very little when we consider what is happening right now in North Korea.
North Korea is in the process of developing advanced nuclear weapons. Its government continually threatens the United States and its allies with nuclear annihilation. Moreover, President Trump is mere weeks away from engaging in unprecedented diplomatic talks with the regime in Pyongyang under Kim Jong Un. Russia, on the other hand, is struggling with an economic and population crisis, while the American economy is as strong as ever. Time is not on Russia’s side, but we can’t simply wait out North Korea.
With each day that passes, North Korea’s nuclear program gets stronger. In 2017 alone, Pyongyang conducted over a dozen ballistic missile tests. Intelligence assessments conclude that most of these missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads.
Along with U.S. allies in Japan and South Korea, Russia and China are the key players in the North Korea dispute. They are the major lifelines to North Korea – the trading partners that keep the regime afloat. If the United States is to succeed in denuclearizing the North Korean threat, this outcome will only be possible by convincing Moscow and Beijing that it is in their interests too.
Forget about the Trump-Putin phone call. Solve North Korea’s ticking time bomb.