Without Mueller report cloud, Trump should normalize relations with Russia – Washington Examiner

President Trump is breathing a huge sigh of relief now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report has finally drawn to a close and failed to produce any evidence of Russian collusion. But now Trump needs to capitalize on the moment by strategically lifting sanctions and trying to normalize relations with Russia, lest he risks falling under the influence of establishment, pro-war influences here at home.

To maintain his hold on power, Vladimir Putin is willing to take his nation, even the world, to the brink of nuclear war. He’s already said he “wouldn’t want a world without Russia.” It would be wise for the U.S. to learn from its past mistakes and avoid its failed policy of foreign intervention and democracy-building in Russia. Trump simply needs to call a truce and make Russia a non-event.

Even before the Mueller report was released, it had been clear that Trump is no Russian pawn — he struck Syria (a close Russian ally) after former President Barack Obama refused to, and has only amped up the sanctions against Russia. These sanctions, implemented by Trump and the presidents before him, haven’t achieved their goal of regime change or a “nicer” Putin. Instead, they’ve just solidified Putin’s political position by giving the Russian people a scapegoat to blame for all their problems (the West).

Trump is a successful businessman, so he knows the persuasive role of carrots and sticks. He has demonstrated it with both North Korea and China. But if he wants to de-escalate tensions with Russia, the nation with the most nukes, he must offer its people a taste of Western economic opportunity and freedom. The more than 60 rounds of U.S. sanctions on Russian companies and individuals, and the Russian countersanctions, have severely limited trade, while visa requirements have limited travel to the West. Lifting these restrictions on Western goods and travel would allow Russian people, especially those with money and sway in Russian politics, to realize the benefits of friendship with America.

Putin fears losing the support of his people, especially his inner circle, far more than he fears the economic ramifications of the sanctions America imposes. More sanctions, as many in Congress have called for, would only further play into his hand. But strategic sanctions relief, resulting in growing respect for the West among Russians, could force Putin to seek better relations.

An improved Russia relationship would push the nation to also partner with the U.S. on foreign policy issues, and significantly decrease our spending on proxy wars like those in Syria and Ukraine waged against Russian-backed militias. Finally, we could cut back on our trillion-dollar defense budget. Right now, frankly, the U.S. has far more to fear from $22 trillion of debt than from the self-preserving dictator Putin.

Many in the Pentagon benefit greatly from our spending toward preparing for total war with Russia and China. They’re part of the same military-industrial (and now intelligence) complex that sought to pressure Trump into escalating tensions with the Russians by perpetuating the now-disproven collusion scandal. They argue Putin attempted to influence the U.S. election (as may have the Ukrainians, whom the U.S. still supports unwaveringly), and that Putin is a despot with a dismal human rights record. That part is true — but so was Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and countless others like them. When the U.S. helped eliminate their regimes, we faced the consequences of instability, terrorism, and even more human rights abuses. Putin has the world’s largest arsenal of nukes. If we back him into a corner, should we gamble on his hesitancy to use them?

Trying to force regime change isn’t the answer, either. Russia is a motley state of different ethnicities held together by the unrelenting grasp of its dictator. If released, it would likely fall apart into many republics, some of which (like Chechnya) have a history of terrorism, while others have long been eyed by China, another powerful U.S. adversary that could neatly step in to fill Russia’s void.

We stand to gain little from regime change in Russia, but much to gain economically from normalizing relations. Detente with Russia could open up countless closed-off markets (like Belarus and Kazakhstan) to Western goods, and help to resolve other costly conflicts like North Korea and Syria. Now that President Trump has been vindicated from accusations of collusion, he can return to the negotiating table with Putin — using his trademark entrepreneurialism and a renewed resolve for peace.

Adam Barsouk is a medical student, cancer researcher, and Young Voices contributor.

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