The Cable

Samantha Power Scolds Trump for Embracing Russia as it ‘Tears Down’ World Order

Just in time for Trump's inauguration.

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Outgoing U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power slammed President-elect Donald Trump, Russia, and the burgeoning threat of “authoritarianism and nihilism” in a an unusual 11th hour speech just days before Trump takes office.

Without explicitly naming Trump, Power scolded the incoming president for not taking a harder line on Moscow, especially after he was briefed on the scope of apparent Russian meddling during the recent election. Trump repeatedly denigrated U.S. intelligence findings pointing the finger at Russia for election-season hacks meant to boost his chances of winning.

“Allowing politics to get in the way of determining the full extent of Russia’s meddling…would undermine our core national security interests,” Power said in a speech Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. What is not healthy is for a party or its leaders to cast doubt on a unanimous, well-documented assessment of our intelligence community that a foreign government is seeking to harm our country,” she added.

She underscored how Russian meddling in the election, including the hacking of Democratic emails and their release through Wikileaks, made true some of George Washington’s warnings about the “baneful influence” of foreign interests in U.S. politics.

It’s not about the leader we chose – it’s about who gets to choose that leader, Power said. “That privilege should belong only to Americans,” she added. 

While Russian intervention around the world — from paramilitaries in Ukraine to strike fighters over Syria to email hacks in the United States — seem unrelated to each other, Power identified a common thread: “What Russia is against.” Russia took “one aggressive and destabilizing action after another” in recent years, she said, recounting its illegal annexation of Crimea, war in Ukraine, and “atrocities” in the Syrian civil war to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Moscow, she said, is not trying to shape a new global order, but rather “tearing down the one that exists.”

“This is what we are fighting against,” Power said. “Having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.”

Power also cautioned the incoming Trump administration about seeking too eagerly another “reset” with Russia. Trump and some of his closest advisers want a much closer relationship with Moscow, ostensibly to fight terrorism, and the president-elect has floated the idea of scrapping U.S. economic sanctions as a sweetener.

“Easing punitive measures on the Russian Government when they haven’t changed their behavior will only embolden Russia,“ she said. President Barack Obama attempted a reset with Russia at the beginning of his term, but secured only limited gains before bilateral ties became frosty. Now, with Russia actively seeking to dynamite the existing order in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, is not the time for olive branches, Power said. “2017 is not 2009.”

But she noted, with alarm, that fond feelings for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, aren’t just confined to Trump and his inner circle. According to a recent poll conducted by YouGov and the Economist, 37 percent of Republicans view Putin favorably, up from just 10 percent in 2014.

“That is an alarmingly high proportion for a leader that has had journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians murdered,” Powers said. She warned Russia would continue to exploit fissures in the United States’ highly partisan political landscape. “We cannot let Russia divide us,” she said.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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