Our elite politicians have established a bipartisan consensus to harbor intense hatred toward Russia. In the wake of the latest Russian hacking allegations, political figures of all stripes have been tripping over one another to prove that their hawkish Cold War fever is unmatched. Failed presidential candidate Evan McMullin claimed in McCarthyite fashion that President-Elect Trump is “not a loyal American” for his openness to a rapprochement with Russia. Senator Clair McCaskill called alleged Russian hacking “an act of war.” Such a radical, extremist statement implies that the US must respond to Russia as if a state of war exists between the two countries. Conflict with a nuclear-armed power is insanely entertained in the highest levels of our government.
Contrary to being an enemy, Russia can become an indispensable ally in helping America significantly weaken a persistent national security threat-radical Islam. Since the Chechen Wars of 1990s, Russia has been at the frontlines in fighting a radical jihad that demands independence for Chechnya, a region in the Caucuses mountains. In perhaps the most savage episode of Islamic terror in Russia, Chechen separatists murdered over 300 school children during the Beslan school siege of 2004. The 2013 Volgograd bombings took 34 lives, with Chechen terrorists claiming responsibility.
As of February of this year, three to four thousand Chechens traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. Their return to Chechnya-with arms, combat experience and training from IS-would spell disaster for Russian national security. The destruction of IS would prevent such a nightmare scenario from becoming a reality. Regardless of one’s opinions on the legitimacy of Chechen sovereignty, one cannot deny that Islamic terrorism has shaken Russia to its very core. America too is weary of this foe. Successful alliances in foreign policy are shaped by identifying and harnessing key mutual interests.
Russia’s war on Islamic terrorism continues as their military is fighting with the secular Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad against the Islamic State. Critics allege that Russia is merely focused on fighting anti-Assad rebels, not IS. However, this claim fails to recognize that most of these anti-government forces have unsavory ties to groups like Al-Qaeda. In the wake of this fall’s botched cease-fire, brokered between the US and Russia, several Syrian rebel groups declared their allegiance to Al-Nusra, an anti-Assad militia with dubious ties to Al-Qaeda. To consider rebel opposition in Syria as pro-America would be shortsighted and foolhardy.
In the course of training Syrian rebels aligned against both Al Qaeda and Assad, the US has only found 60 individuals who fit the bill. Al Qaeda killed or captured 90% of these rebels, meaning America has spent $500 million on successfully training four to five pro-US rebels. The program intended to train 5,000 annually. Why should the US devote so many resources to a tiny, residual force while condemning Russia for throwing valuable weight behind fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups? This oft-condemned state of affairs means that the United States does not have to devote its own precious, costly resources to the Syrian conflict. Indeed, Donald Trump rightfully sees a foreign policy of backing some non-existent “moderate opposition” against Russia in Syria as irrational.
While many decry Bashar Al-Assad’s-and by extension Vladimir Putin’s-human rights record in Syria, they fail to recognize the alternative scenario of a power vacuum. That reality would be an unfathomable catastrophe for the country’s numerous minorities-particularly Christians. While Christians have faced genocide at the hands of ISIS throughout Iraq and Syria, the Assad government has extended security to this vulnerable and persecuted religious minority that has rich roots in the Levant spanning several centuries. The Christians of Aleppo were under government protection during the siege of the city. The Christians of Homs were violently expelled by opposition rebels in 2012. Syrian Christians of all denominations-and by extension other national minorities such as the Shia Alawites-see Bashar Al Assad and his ally, Vladimir Putin, as the only viable forces standing between their survival and genocide.
In closing, those like President-Elect Trump who attempt to recognize and act upon common foreign policy interests between the United States and Russia represent a positive future for both our own national security and global stability. The 19th century realpolitik of great powers respecting and recognizing each other’s’ sovereignty and legitimacy must return to the world stage. While much remains to be seen, early signals from President-Elect Trump indicate that the constant vilification of Russia could come to a much-needed close. A new, dramatic shift in foreign policy is perhaps on the horizon.