Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and the Future of the Liberal World Order

Fifty-four years ago this month, former President John F. Kennedy delivered the “Strategy of Peace,” a powerful address that captured America’s indispensable leadership at the height of the Cold War. Kennedy knew that our country could not guard against the Soviet Union alone, for he believed that “genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts.”

Incredibly, the man who now leads the United States seems to find himself locked in an alarming and perilous embrace with the Russian government. These ties threaten to weaken a system of alliances that have held Russia—and countless other threats to the international community—at bay since the conclusion of the Second World War.

In his Senate testimony two weeks ago, former FBI Director James Comey affirmed a disturbing suspicion: that Donald Trump first undermined Comey, by leaning on him to drop his investigation of former National Security-Adviser Michael Flynn, and then removed him from his post. Since then, events have escalated at a dizzying pace: Trump accused Comey of lying under oath about their interactions earlier this year, even as he cheered Comey’s public assertion that the president wasn’t under FBI investigation. Soon, reports emerged that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating obstruction-of-justice allegations against the president—revelations Trump was none too happy about. And all the while, rumors have continued to swirl that Trump may fire both Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing the special counsel inquiry.

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But Trump’s reckless handling of these events should not distract from a startling reality: As the president faces accusations of colluding with the Russians during last year’s campaign, his policies in office have aligned almost perfectly with the Kremlin’s goals. If Moscow wanted its interference in America’s election to yield dividends, it could hardly have hoped for more.

Just as importantly, while Trump has expressed concern over the “cloud” the Russia investigation generated, he has seemed indifferent overall to Russia’s direct attempts to interfere with the American democratic process. According to Comey’s testimony, Trump never asked him about the meddling, or how to prevent similar interference in the future. Not once.

Trump himself has seemingly courted the favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 2016 presidential campaign. He’s repeatedly praised Putin’s leadership, refused to condemn Russian efforts to disrupt the U.S. system of free elections, and openly encouraged Russian hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Friday’s explosive report from The Washington Post confirmed that Putin was deeply and directly involved in an operation to hurt Clinton’s candidacy and help elect Trump.

What’s more, in every way he can, Trump has deferred to Russia on matters of foreign policy. After Russian forces deployed their hacking tools during the recent French presidential election, Trump invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the White House and failed to repudiate the attack against a vital American ally. Instead, during his meeting with Lavrov, Trump divulged highly sensitive classified information provided by Israel, another crucial U.S. partner. (That May 10 meeting also came a day after Trump removed Comey, who was leading the inquiries into collusion; Trump told the Russians that the director’s dismissal had alleviated “great pressure” on him.) Even more recently, the Trump administration has reportedly taken steps to return two diplomatic compounds that former President Barack Obama stripped from Russia following its actions during last year’s election.

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To make matters worse, Trump has done far more than just extend open arms toward the Russian government. He wavered on the United States’ commitment to defend its fellow members of NATO; his aides have reportedly tried to undermine the European Union; and he himself has alienated key partners by lashing out at individual leaders and pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

When Americans step back and consider this stunning series of actions, they should be left with unsettling questions: What are Donald Trump’s reasons for doing this? What exactly does he have to hide?

In the “Strategy of Peace,” Kennedy described his belief that peace “must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. … We must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together.”

Today, it is the responsibility of this generation of Americans to help preserve international peace, to honor the allies who have stood by their side for decades, and to maintain the United States’ place as the leader of the free world.

The American system of checks and balances is only as strong as the leaders who have the character and courage to enforce them. Unless they denounce and punish any attempt to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, demand accountability from the administration, and put their duty to their country over their duty to any political party, those checks and balances won’t protect America’s democracy.

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