- - Thursday, February 8, 2018


We all remember those images of a smiling Hillary Clinton in 2009, standing with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who played along with the entire charade of the Obama administration’s Russian “reset” knowing he was dealing with a real patsy. How in the world did the new secretary of state get the word wrong on the plastic button anyway?

Hillary’s Russian reset proved to be anything but — in fact, it was the beginning of amateur hour when it came to American-Russian relations. President Trump is changing all that, resetting relations for real in fields like national security where it matters, without the plastic buttons from OfficeMax and the sickening fanfare.

Mr. Trump realizes that Russia pushed too far. He knows that the U.S. needs to get back to a position of strength when it comes to dealing with the Kremlin, since only then can we collaborate effectively to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems. That is to say, Russia will work with us only when it realizes it can no longer take advantage of us.

You can’t really blame Moscow. Under Mr. Obama, we had a White House that gave in to dictators at every turn, effectively handed Iran all it wanted militarily, along with cargo planes full of cash delivered in the middle of the night. Think back — you can date so many of our problems with Moscow to that day when Mr. Obama told Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that “he would be more flexible after the [2012] election” on bilateral problems. Can you imagine the chit-chat over shots of vodka in the Kremlin? Can you believe the president of the United States really said that?

That was likely the day when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to get all he could get before an adult was back in the White House. That was the day he probably decided he could take Crimea if he wanted, could push back against the European Union in Ukraine and could conduct cyberwarfare with impunity against American interests worldwide.

What a hand Mr. Trump was dealt! To walk into this hornet’s nest and fix it would take a special kind of person, cut in the Reagan cloth.

It seems Mr. Trump is following the Gipper’s playbook.

Mr. Trump’s authorization to sell U.S. weapons to Ukraine is not a decision I agreed with. I don’t think it is our fight, and I certainly don’t want American youths sent to battle pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. However, the move did draw a very specific red line for the Kremlin.

The new American defense strategy, which includes developing short-range tactical nuclear weapons to match Russia’s capability in that area, is another feature of the Trump reset. The only effective way to deal with Moscow is to make Russian officials worried about an American response to any moves they see as targets of opportunity.

Perhaps the most striking development I have noticed in Russian-American relations can’t be found in the public pronouncements from the White House. I see the recent incidents in Syria where someone is attacking the remaining Russian forces in-theater as most likely a covert American shot across the bow.

The Russian air base at Khmeimim, Syria, recently was attacked by drones with sophisticated navigation systems attached to rudimentary aircraft. At least seven aircraft were destroyed and multiple Russian service members killed and injured.

The Russian Defense Ministry has been screaming loudly for weeks that the Pentagon is harboring Islamic State terrorists at bases in Syria. What that really means is that America is most likely seriously arming anti-Assad forces as possible proxy forces against the Russian presence in the region, which threatens both American interests and allies like Israel. Russia is likely encouraging Iran in its challenge to U.S. and allied interests in the region as well.

The Feb. 3 downing of a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot with man-portable air defense weapons — ManPADs — was a significant development that got everyone’s attention. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a warning shot from Mr. Trump, decisively delivering the message that America is back.

Mr. Trump has to find ways to project a strong America while he rebuilds our military, which will take some time. I think the president’s military parade idea is part of this strategy. In any event, this president seems to have come a long way in his quest to get Washington back in the game.

L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

• L. Todd Wood can be reached at ltwood@123washingtontimes.com.

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