As the deadly Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to escalate, it's important to remember how we got here. Russia's interference in the 2016 election played a part in giving us Donald Trump's presidency, which ultimately weakened the U.S.’s position on a global scale. Considering Trump's actions in office, his recent claim that "there would be no NATO if I didn't act strongly and swiftly" is ridiculous, to say the least.
NATO is arguably the strongest it has ever been, and its strength and unity have been on full display in the wake of the deadly invasion of Ukraine, but it's Joe Biden — not Trump — who should get credit for the strength of the alliance. The president has spent the last year trying to heal rifts in our relationships with other countries in the alliance and clean up the dangerous mess wrought by Trump.
Trump prioritized forming and strengthening a U.S. relationship with Putin while abusing our foreign allies.
And while it's unclear what NATO's next steps will be as it tries to avoid a direct war with Russia, its purpose is clear as it stands with Ukraine in solidarity against Vladimir Putin's threats and deadly attacks on innocent civilians.
Biden mentioned the importance and resiliency of the alliance in his State of the Union address. Everyone who watched needs to understand how central the alliance's role is to counter Russia and the ripple effects this will have on people in the U.S. — like the increase in gas and food prices during an already high inflation period. His messaging was a far cry from that of the former president, who discussed pulling out of NATO with his national security officials because he didn't see the point of it. (Trump administration officials have described how they had to try to persuade him not to withdraw countless times.)
While the 2016 election seems ages ago, people in the U.S. shouldn’t forget Russia's influence and interference in that election and their consequences on the future of our diplomacy. The election of Trump played into Putin's overall strategy. He knew that a Trump presidency would be crucial to moving his own despotic agenda forward if Trump was successful in weakening NATO — the alliance that has for so long deterred Russian aggression.
And how would Putin know that? Well, on the 2016 campaign trail, Trump expressed interest in withdrawing from NATO, previewing what his administration would be like if he was elected.
With Trump's election came few consequences for Russia's interference, and instead, Trump sought to cultivate a cozy relationship with Putin and other Kremlin officials.
From when Trump entered office in 2017 to 2019, he had at least 16 private conversations with Putin. While these meetings alone are controversial, it's how he tried to shield the public from knowing what was discussed that's even more concerning. According to a 2019 Washington Post report, Trump went as far as to seize notes from his own interpreter after a 2017 meeting with Putin.
One thing is certain: It appeared that the U.S. was propping up Russia, and that in and of itself was a threat to U.S. interests overseas, because Trump was seen as cozying up to a dangerous dictator.
Trump prioritized forming and strengthening a U.S. relationship with Putin while abusing our foreign allies, which ultimately caused serious rifts in the decadeslong relationships with NATO that needed significant repair when he left office. And even out of office, he continues to indulge the Russian leader. Days before Trump tried to take credit for NATO's strength, he called Putin's invasion of Ukraine "genius" and "savvy."
In Trump's statement patting himself on the back about NATO, he also said "it was me that got Ukraine the very effective antitank busters (Javelins) when the previous administration was sending blankets. Let History so note!"
Well, let history also note that Trump's first impeachment was because he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate then-presidential candidate Biden and his son Hunter in 2019. As leverage, Trump placed a hold on significant congressional financial aid to Ukraine, which Congress had already approved. Undoubtedly, as the news of Trump's attempt to strong-arm Zelenskyy became public, it only continued to play directly into Russia's hands.
While many people in the U.S. are horrified by the images of bombs, destroyed buildings and fleeing and trapped Ukrainian refugees on their screens, it's hard not to feel as though we are in full crisis mode, especially as many families in the U.S. are feeling the direct impacts of inflation on their finances here at home. But, as the midterm elections approach, they shouldn't be swayed by Trump's tough-guy campaign rhetoric. The truth is that he set the stage for the mess that Biden inherited both domestically and internationally. I wonder why he isn't taking credit for that?