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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Leonardi

Why young conservatives should support Trump's Russian reset

image by Politico

Photo by Politico

It’s widely known that conservatives do not occupy most administrative or teaching roles on college campuses. Some studies have shown that liberal professors outnumber conservatives on campus by a factor of nearly 12 to 1. Despite this, grassroots, college-based organizations like Young Americans for Freedom or Turning Point USA have sprung up and encouraged students to think critically on political philosophy. Abortion, economics, and immigration are all issues that conservatives commonly discuss in political forums. However, one issue that young conservatives haven’t discussed enough is the issue of national security.

In a speech recently given at the University of Illinois, former President Barack Obama mentioned the issue of national security, where he condemned Donald Trump’s rhetorical support for improved diplomatic relations with Russia.

“What happened to the Republican Party?” said Obama. “It’s central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism, and now they’re cozying up to the former head of the KGB.”

Although it seems to be hypocritical for Obama to mock the GOP for supporting a policy that he once attempted, his comments highlight the evolution of the conservative view on foreign affairs.

Young conservatives often look to the example of Ronald Reagan when forging their own opinions. Throughout his presidency, Reagan identified a major hallmark of conservatism - that government must conserve the liberties of an individual. This theme is perhaps best summarized by Barry Goldwater when he said:

“{the conservative} looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order.”

Reagan wanted the West “to transcend Communism" so that liberty could persist. He rightfully saw communism as the greatest threat to American liberty during his presidency. In a retrospective speech given in 1994, he explained that he was “anti-Russia” because of its embracement of communism.

“In the end, it all comes down to leadership. That is what this country is looking for now. It was leadership here at home that gave us strong American influence abroad and the collapse of imperial communism. Great nations have responsibilities to lead and we should always be cautious of those who would lower our profile because they might just wind up lowering our flag.”

In perhaps one of the most significant moments of foreign policy, Reagan also said:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace … General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate ... Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

At that moment, Reagan subdued the greatest threat to western values by ending the spread of communism. A few years after this speech, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the principles of democratic-capitalist states were globally venerated. The mission of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was accomplished.

Communism has now withered away, only being found in failing nation-states.

In the first two years of his administration, President Trump has demonstrated an idiosyncratic willingness to diplomatically engage with Russia and a frustration with members of NATO.

For example, this summer President Trump participated in a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and faced heavy criticism from both parties of the political establishment for speaking favorably of Russia. The talking point from both sides of the political establishment was essentially the same - Russia is America’s greatest geopolitical enemy and should not be favored.

Although it is obviously a geopolitical adversary to America, the political establishment has failed to critically explain why Russia is still America’s greatest geopolitical foe - forcing young conservatives to search for answers.

It’s become clear that what communism was to Reagan, terrorism is to Trump. Trump campaigned under the mantra of “America First,” emphasizing that American involvement (or lack thereof) should be dictated by what is in America’s best interest. However, much like Reagan did with communism, Trump rallied the world against what he believed was the greatest threat to human life and liberty - terrorism. In one of his first major diplomatic addresses, President Trump addressed over 50 middle-eastern leaders in Saudi Arabia:

"This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil … Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned."

It is in these strong words that we see part of why Trump says things like getting along with Russia is “a good thing, not a bad thing”. Trump sees Russia as a potential geopolitical partner in protecting American freedom from terrorism.

Because its first mission no longer fits our current geopolitical circumstances, NATO has been repurposed to fight terror. The only time Article 5 of NATO was invoked was by the United States after the attacks on September 11, 2001. The second time that participants of NATO seriously considered invoking Article 5 was after the deadly attacks in Paris, France in November 2015.

Trump sees persistent, Cold War-esque belligerence against Russia as an antiquated policy that obstructs the efficient protection of Western values. Trump believes that NATO partners should fairly contribute to the alliance and renew their focus on NATO’s overarching mission - defeat all forces that threaten liberty and freedom.

The root action in the word “conservative” is conservation. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” In the case of national security, it is important to protect and preserve the principles which constitute conservatism. But it is imperative that we develop our approach to national security so that it fits our circumstances, and protects our values against the greatest threats to our liberty.

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