Putin Wouldn’t Be Invading if Trump Were Still in the White House

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Putin Wouldn’t Be Invading if Trump Were Still in the White House

Feb 28th, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Nile Gardiner is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 26, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The enemies of the free world see this period as a window of opportunity within which to undermine and erode American leadership.

The Trump administration was far tougher on Putin’s Russia than the Biden team.

President Trump kept America’s foes on their toes, especially the Russians and Chinese.

The enemies of the free world see this period as a window of opportunity within which to undermine and erode American leadership

President Trump was derided by his political opponents as an isolationist, soft on strongmen autocrats like Vladimir Putin. The Left painted him as a populist who undermined America’s alliances while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by dictator regimes.

Having met the former President several times in the White House, and having closely observed and interacted with the foreign policy workings of his administration, I saw a very different picture. I witnessed first hand a presidency that was deeply committed to strengthening America’s leadership in the world, believed closely in working with America’s allies, and actually put the fear of God into America’s enemies.

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In many ways the Trump Presidency was the antithesis of the weak-kneed Biden Presidency. The humiliating debacle of Biden’s reckless Afghanistan withdrawal would not have happened under Donald Trump, a leader who was highly respected by America's military, and was not afraid to deploy American firepower to deadly effect. We saw this in both Syria and Iraq respectively, where Trump ordered U.S. forces to hit back hard against Russian mercenaries, as well as the leadership of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

I am convinced that the Russians were strongly emboldened by the disastrous nature of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal, and by the fact that they were no longer facing a far more aggressive and unpredictable President in the form of Donald Trump. Putin has clearly read Biden like an open book, predicting correctly that the former Senator from Delaware would not threaten any kind of U.S. military action, would be slow to arm the Ukrainians, and would spend a great deal of energy coordinating with the appeasement minded European Union, with Germany and France at the helm.

The Trump administration was far tougher on Putin’s Russia than the Biden team. They fought an aggressive campaign against the hugely controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, implemented the toughest sanctions against Moscow since the end of the Cold War, and applied tremendous pressure on Germany to toughen its stance toward Russia. At the same time, the Trump White House made increasing defence spending among NATO allies a top foreign policy priority, resulting in nearly all NATO partners stepping up to the plate and pledging significant increased spending commitments. NATO was in a far stronger position at the end of the Trump Presidency than it was under Barack Obama.

It is no coincidence that the Russian invasion of Crimea happened under Obama’s watch, and the reinvasion of Ukraine is happening right now under his Democratic successor Joe Biden. Both presidencies are weak-kneed foreign policy disasters. The Russians know this, the Chinese know this, and so does practically every U.S. adversary from Tehran to Damascus to Kabul. The reality is that America's enemies don't fear Biden, and believe he does not have the stomach for the fight. In Trump they faced a President who they deemed to be dangerous and often hard to read.

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This is why the next three years are so incredibly dangerous. The enemies of the free world see this period as a window of opportunity within which to undermine and erode American leadership before the possible return of a much more hardline Republican administration. Putin is acting now because Biden is toothless, Socialist led Germany is energy dependent on Russia, Emmanuel Macron is busily dividing the NATO alliance with his delusional calls for a European Union Army, and the European Union is deeply split and unlikely to impose crippling sanctions. Russia and China will take full advantage of this unprecedented situation, and could even open a war on two fronts if Beijing's Communist rulers move against Taiwan during the remainder of the Biden presidency.

President Trump kept America’s foes on their toes, especially the Russians and Chinese. In contrast, President Biden has been on his knees, driving a superpower in decline. The timing of Putin's Ukraine invasion is no coincidence. It is a clinical strategic calculation based on the fact the U.S. is led today by a President without a spine.

This piece originally appeared in the Telegraph