Hunter: Let President Trump try to work with Russia

May 17, 2017 Issues: National Security

President Trump is under assault for his posture toward Russia and Vladimir Putin. This is true even as American presidents are fully within their prerogative to establish working relationships with world leaders, and President Trump most certainly deserves the same opportunity.

None of what has incited controversy should be seen as altering the view that Russia is a competitor that will take advantage of any weakness.

Recall in 2001 when President George W. Bush said he found Putin to be “very straightforward and trustworthy” and he “was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Then there was President Obama’s hot mic moment with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, telling him that Putin should give him more “space” and that “after my election, I have more flexibility.” No less unforgettable was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presentation of a “reset button” to the Russian foreign minister.

Despite these exercises in diplomacy, Putin has been emboldened. So much so, even after Bush saw his soul and Obama was afforded flexibility, Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

President Trump is acting as any president would, but his administration faces new challenges with Russia. Russia is fighting the Islamic State in Syria while also factoring into the debate on North Korea and Iran. All the while, Putin makes no apology for defending Russia’s interests.

Neither does President Trump when it comes to our own. This was underscored by the missile strike in Syria that occurred without Putin’s knowledge or consent.

Now a recent meeting in the Oval Office with a Russian diplomat is inciting new fears, even though it in no way shifted the U.S.-Russia relationship — just as Presidents Bush or Obama were unable to influence Russia through their own diplomatic endeavors.

If anything, President Trump is demonstrating a willingness to work with Russia but only to a point. A more accurate presumption should be that President Trump might not care too much what Putin thinks when it comes to putting America first.