During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of treating America’s adversaries “with tender love and care” while our allies were “snubbed and criticized by an administration that lacks moral clarity.”
“We’ve picked fights with our oldest friends,” Trump declared in his April 2016 foreign policy speech, adding “We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies.”
Trump was absolutely right. From Iran to Cuba, Obama bent over backwards to court our adversaries. At the same time, he mistreated our closest allies – allowing Israel to get bullied by the U.N. Security Council and canceling missile defense deals with Poland and the Czech Republic in a misguided effort to curry favor with Moscow.
So why, less than two weeks into his presidency, is Trump doing precisely what he criticized Obama for doing – picking fights with one of our oldest friends, Australia, while treating our adversary, Russia, “with tender love and care”?
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When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly challenged Trump on his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring “Putin’s a killer,” Trump responded “There are a lot of killers,” adding “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
Had Obama said these words, every conservative in America would have erupted with outrage.
At the very moment Trump was speaking with O’Reilly, Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza lay fighting for his life in a Moscow hospital, after being poisoned under mysterious circumstances. He was similarly poisoned in 2015, and barely survived. His crime? Lobbying Congress to impose economic sanctions against Russia under the Magnistky Act, a law that itself was named for a Russian human rights lawyer who was beaten to death in Putin’s jails.
Trump says he wants to get along with Putin. There’s nothing wrong with trying. But getting along with Putin does not require excusing this campaign of political murder, or suggesting that the U.S. acts similarly.
Trump told the National Prayer Breakfast that we have to “get tough” because “the world is in trouble.” He’s correct.
For eight years, the Obama administration projected weakness in the world, and the consequences have been devastating – from the rise of the Islamic State, to Syria’s brutal use of chemical weapons on its own people, to the spread of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, and China’s cyberattacks on America and building of military bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea.
We do need to get tough, and Trump is doing so – such as him imposing new sanctions on Iran for its illegal ballistic missile tests.
But as Trump jettisons Obama’s policies of weakness, he should also banish Obama’s troubling habit of treating our allies worse than our enemies – and of drawing a moral equivalence between our actions and theirs.
Marc A. Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.