Is a “relationship” with Russia good or bad? (Podcast)
Is good or bad to have for America (via it’s President) to have a relationship with Vladamir Putin and Russia? We discuss this in-depth.
Chase: This is the EMPWR.us Podcast with Chase Sagum and Brett Nielsen.
Brett: Okay Chase, talking about the Russia-America relationship–you know, the relationship between America and Russia. The topic of this podcast being: is a relationship with Russia good or bad? This topic comes to the forefront, with the–whether it’s true or not, I don’t know–but the seeming, you know, warming of relationships due to Donald Trump’s election. We all know that Barack Obama has taken a very staunch Anti-Putin, “Hey, let’s not be the best of friends with the Russians, we can’t trust them, etcetera”–that has been his basic foreign policy approach towards Russia. But with Trump’s, you know kind of coming in, and he has said some, what people believe to be some positive things about Putin before, there’s this conversation about, you know, Russia: “What do we do with Russia? What’s the Trump administration going to do with Russia?”
So that’s the question Chase, to start with. Is having a relationship with Russia–is that a good thing or a bad thing? Talking to them, working with them, having a, you know, public discourse and private discourse with them. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Chase: Good question. I think, look no further than the difference between Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan spoke to his friends and he spoke to his enemies. His perceived enemies, or at least on the national stage his enemies. Reagan had a fantastic relationship with Gorbachev. Clearly during a time when America was at odds in the middle of the Cold War with Russia, yet he still talked with them and developed relationships with them. The relationship may not have been on the same, you know, ideological foundation, but it was still a relationship. On the other side, Obama–if he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t talk to you at all.
Chase: But on the same side of things, he let’s you do whatever the heck you want to do. So with Reagan it was like, “Look, Gorbachev, we’re gonna talk. We’re gonna be friends. Oh by the way Gorbachev, don’t do that, you know, I’m gonna call that evil.” Obama, on the other side, says, “Well, I’m a tough guy, I’m not gonna talk to Putin. But then I’m gonna let Putin annex Crimea.” So I’m actually of the side that I do think, I do think it’s good to have a relationship with Putin and Russia, but on the same side I think we should be way more aggressive with Putin in regards to what we do and do not accept. And I don’t–I’m not advocating sending in troops, but there’s no reason why the President of the United States can’t get up in front of 300 million people, within hours of the annexation of Crimea, and denounce it. You know, that kind of strength.
Brett: Well and had Obama had some sort of relationship–
Chase: It may not have happened.
Brett: Yeah, or he would have come from a position to where he could have had a conversation with Putin and the Russian government to say, “Clearly we oppose this, clearly we’re gonna have some words to exchange here, but let’s talk about interests here and figure out a way to make this happen.” The difference, you know, some people will say, “Well the United States doesn’t have a diplomatic relationship with Cuba, or with Iran, or with North Korea.” There’s a major and key differences between Russia and these groups. Sure we consider them all to be relative enemies, if you will.
Brett: But Russia is not, does not have a constitutional decree that says, “Kill all Westerners, murder Jews, and blow up Americans” like Iran does. Or North Korea for example, which is consistently and constantly threatening the United States verbally with military action. That doesn’t happen with Russia. There may be some belief that they’re an enemy and that they’re subverting us, which is probably true. They are subverting us around the world. But look, this is a country–the United States and Russia combined, Chase, own 90% of the world’s nuclear arms. This is not, this is not Iran. This is not Cuba. These people have more nuclear warheads than we do. We don’t know how many they have, because smartly the Russian government won’t give up those numbers. Of course our president, Obama, says, “We’re gonna shrink our nuclear armaments and we’re gonna tell everybody how many nuclear warheads we have.” That’s the difference, right? But you look back at like, President Bush, the relationship he had with Putin. Putin knew, “I don’t want to mess with this cowboy. I don’t want to put myself in a position where I have to go head to head with this guy” and look, Bush probably knew as well, “I don’t want to mess with that cowboy.” But they’re talking, they’re working together, they’re figuring out a way for there to be agreements in place. And I think that Trump and his new secretary of state Tillerson, who has, from all accounts that I’ve been able to read, a pretty good relationship, a business relationship with Putin–look there is no reason on earth why we can’t sit at the table with the Russians and figure out ways to work together. We will never fully see eye to eye, ever.
Chase: For sure.
Brett: There’s just too many differences between the two. That doesn’t mean that we can’t figure out a way to get along.
Chase: One of my favorite stories, and this to me would be a good example of, how we, how this should be handled–of course, we’re not the president of the United States and we’re talking like we know how it should be handled. But looking at this from the outside perspective, a great book on Reagan’s relationship that we both read, Reagan at Reykjavik, outlines the inner details and negotiations between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev during the tail end of the Cold War, and one of the fascinating stories about it is there’s this story where they kind of work out this arms deal, and they’re friends, but Reagan and Gorbachev are just ripping into each other during these negotiations, and Gorbachev is ripping into Reagan for being absent-minded, and Reagan is ripping into Soviet communism right in front of Gorbachev. It’s this very confrontational, almost brotherly type of thing. Like, you love your brother but as soon as he does something stupid you call him out for it.
Brett: You call him out for it, right.
Chase: And they work out these negotiations and a couple years later–this is probably 1984, ‘85? Just the beginning of Reagan’s second term. Then Gorbachev invites Reagan to do a tour of Moscow, and of Russia. Kind of a–at the end of his presidency in 1988, kind of a celebratory farewell tour. Reagan of course does it, goes and stays with the Gorbachevs. Him and Nancy go out there, they go around and they do their handshakes and hugs and it’s a great cordial time, and as he’s doing these tours around different cities in Russia–in the Soviet Union at the time–he’s at the pulpit denouncing communism, its legitimacy, the lack of rights it gives to its citizens…
Brett: Unbelievable leadership.
Chase: Unbelievable leadership. I would, I think we’re missing them, I think the American people are missing what you’re saying. They’re not understanding how we should be talking to and befriending Putin, and at the same time speaking against all of the bad things that their government is involved in. At the same time.
Brett: That is an interesting point and the only way that that can be established is if we have confidence in our values. We have confidence in where we stand. This is one of the problems that Barack Obama and his administration have had for the last eight years. They don’t have a clearly defined foreign policy, Chase. No one knows what they’re doing! One day they’re bombing, you know, Libya, overthrowing tyranny in North Africa, and the next minute letting Assad run roughshod over his people for a decade, you know what I mean? There is no coherent foreign policy, is the problem that we have. Reagan was very, very clear. And I think that Trump’s gonna be very, very clear. I don’t think there’s gonna be much gray area. But let me give you an example of where American and Russian interests for the most part align, but because we’re not working with them and talking with them, where we’re never gonna get anywhere. That’s in Syria.
Right so, Syria you’ve got–I mean gosh, it would take us forever to explain it all–but really at the end of the day you have, in Syria you have three different groups that have some degree of power. You have the Bashar Al-Assad regime. He’s the dictator of Syria, has been for many decades. He’s the “official” if you will, the government of Syria. You’ve got this, you’ve got Syrian rebels who oppose Assad and have been at war with him for years now. And then you have ISIS, who…they want to kill everybody. The Russians have always supported Assad. He’s their guy. They like him, they want him to run the country, they have no problem with Assad. The Americans of course have a big, big problem with Assad. We don’t like him, he’s a tyrant, he kills his people, and he attacks Israel, right? So we have differing views there. But you know where we have common ground? Is on ISIS. ISIS has attacked and killed Russians. ISIS just assassinated the Russian diplomat in Turkey. ISIS–we all know what they’ve done to the West, and we all know what they’ve done in America. They’ve killed hundreds of Americans on American soil. We have a common interest there, but guess what? Obama and Putin aren’t working together in Syria to eradicate ISIS. Why? Because we don’t talk. We don’t have a relationship. We can’t work together. And so there is no coordination. There is no collaboration. And ISIS continues to be immune from a collaborative and coordinated effort against them.
Chase: Yeah it’s clear that now with the appointment of Rex Tillerson, that there will be a good, there will be a productive relationship with Russia. What I don’t know, Brett, and I hope–I’m optimistic but I’m doubtful–that this administration, this new upcoming administration will be clear on the things that Russia does wrong. You know, the next time Putin is re-elected through another set of absolutely illegal and illegitimate elections, we need to say something about that. That’s one of the things that–one of the, maybe the only thing I’ve ever agreed with Hillary Clinton in the last 20 years, was when she called out Putin for the illegitimacy of his re-election. You know, we need to do more stuff like that, but it doesn’t need to be the secretary of state, it needs to be the president of the United States. And I’m cool with it if we can combine both good relationships with Russia but at the same time call them out, I think that works. If we’re just gonna have a good relationship with them, but then allow them to stifle the free speech of their people, or you know, the human rights of their people, then I think we’ve got problems. I also think we can’t allow–we know that they don’t just want Crimea. We know they want all of Ukraine.
Brett: All of Eastern Europe.
Chase: Where are we going to draw the line right there? We have to draw it somewhere.
Brett: And look, my last point would be, you know, after World War II, the United States and Russia–The Soviet Union–became immortal enemies for all time. That’s where it really started for us. And for 50 or 60 years, we lived in this world of what political scientists term as MAD. M-A-D. MAD, which stands for “mutually assured destruction.” What that meant was, you had these two nuclear powerhouses staring at each other. If one nuked the other, the other would rain nukes on the other and then the whole world would blow up and we would all die. That’s the concept of mutually assured destruction. So what did Reagan do? In ‘84 he released a presidential decree that essentially said “nuclear warfare cannot and must not ever happen. And so look, Russia, we agree”–and Russia agreed, the U.S.S.R.–”that that’s true. That we’re never gonna attack each other from a nuclear standpoint.” Great! Lay that groundwork and then build from there. Okay look, we’re not gonna launch each other’s nukes at each other, so let’s find areas where we disagree and see if we can find an agreement. But at least they were talking. The Obama administration has spiraled the relationship all the way to the ground. Putin can’t talk to him, Putin doesn’t trust him, Putin doesn’t like him and Obama feels the same way about him. And as a result of that there’s this really interesting, weird tension between the West and Russia that hasn’t existed since the fall of the wall. And that’s dangerous. And I hope, and I think, that the Trump administration is gonna be able to bridge some of that gap.
Chase: You know there’s gonna be all of this–obviously the news that has come out in the last couple of weeks and is gonna continue to come out about Putin and Russia’s involvement in our elections. My thoughts on that is, look, no one’s responsible for our elections outside of us. The American people, we are responsible for our elections. If we’re gonna be bamboozled and persuaded by Russian propaganda, that’s our fault. That’s our people’s fault.
Brett: Right. Ignorance.
Chase: We did it to them, actually, in the 70’s and 80’s.
Brett: Not just them.
Brett: We’ve done it all over the world.
Chase: So we’re a little hypocritical in saying, “How dare someone do it to us.” It’s on us to educate ourselves, on our own people, about the choices we should be making. We can’t, you know, we should not live in a world where we think that secretively in the night Putin’s going to take our nation from us through propaganda, I mean that’s just absurd.
Brett: Yeah, I think bottom line, Chase, the question that I’m trying to answer, and that you’re trying to answer is, “Is the relationship with Russia a good or a bad thing?” It’s an absolute good thing.
Brett: As long as it’s done in the way that Reagan provided, which is we are clear on our morals, we’re clear on our values.
Chase: And we’re tough on them.
Brett: And we’re tough on them. But you know what? We can still sit down. And we can figure out ways to work together.
Chase: Here’s a big question. Tillerson as secretary of state. There was a 500 billion dollar oil deal between Exxon and Russia that was essentially exed because of the banning of exports on the oil by the sanctions. By the EU. Do you open that deal up? Is that a good thing, is that a bad thing in your mind? ‘Cause one of the first things I think that comes to question when you talk about a relationship with them is are we prohibiting them from growing? If we’re gonna prohibit a 500 billion dollar oil deal, that’s going to create friction in a conversation.
Brett: This is where Trump is gonna be so essential. He has said multiple times–time after time–“I will make a deal. I’ll make a deal!” That’s the only way that we can get along with the Russians is, look, you went into Crimea, you took NATO land–
Chase: You’re gonna give us Crimea back and you can start trading oil.
Brett: Something along those lines, whatever it is. I don’t suggest to even have the answer. All I’m saying is, look Russia is very upset and somewhat crippled by the fact that we’ve sanctioned them. It has hurt them–it’s hurt them. But like we’ve talked about on other podcasts, sanctions…that’s a form of proactive belligerency. That’s a form of…we’re attacking you. Maybe not with guns and tanks and cannons, but we are attacking you economically which can be just as damaging, if not more so, than a military confrontation. Russia is hurting from it, so we know that they don’t want it. That’s a great place to start to make a deal. Okay well what’s more important to you Putin? Crimea? Or a 500 billion dollar perpetual oil deal? Well, he might have an answer, and it might be Crimea. Okay, now we know. But at least we’re talking, right? That’s the important thing. And that’s what Tillerson and Trump are going to be able to do is to they’re going to be able to reopen a dialogue and have a conversation with somebody who–Putin, of course–a country that we should be talking to. This world, although Russia is not what the U.S.S.R. was–not even close in terms of their economic power, their military power, they’re not even close to what they were during the Cold War–but at the end of the day, Chase, it really is still a bipolar world. There are two powers that own all the nukes. And that speaks in foreign relations. That’s the biggest determinate on who holds power.
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