Prior to President Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Mark Dubowitz joined Fox News to discuss the issues that Trump should raise with Putin. Below are highlights from Mark’s interview on Fox News’ America’s News HQ.
Eric: So Mark, if the President is intent on defending democracy, you would think that this meeting would be the time to do it directly to Putin’s face. What do you think the President should say?
Mark: Eric, the President has to go to the summit with Putin and understand that Putin is not an ally. He is not an American friend. He’s an adversary—and he’s probably one of the most formidable and dangerous adversaries that the United States has in the world.
So, the President has to go with no illusions about who he is going to be speaking to, and he is going to make it very clear that we have serious problems with Putin’s Russia. Not only interference in our elections—but Russian foreign policy in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe and around the world. So, he’s got to put it all on the table and not go in there with any illusions or delusions about the man that he’s talking to.
Eric: Do you think anything he says will indeed potentially change Putin’s policies?
Mark: I don’t think it’s necessarily what he says. I mean, the President’s policies have been actually fairly strong. If you look at the Trump administration’s policies versus [those of] his predecessor, he’s engaged in nuclear modernization, he’s unleashed US energy against Russian energy, he has provided lethal weaponry to the Ukrainians to defend themselves from the Russian military, and he’s also countering Iran which is Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East. So, from a policy perspective—very good. But the President needs to continue to reinforce that, continue to make it very clear to Putin that policy—anti-Putin policy—will continue as long as Putin remains a threat to this country.
Eric: And the administration, I mean it doesn’t jive really with the President’s rhetoric, because the administration has even slapped on tougher sanctions against some of the oligarchs and people close to Putin in connection with the election interference as well—of course we know that Mueller has indicted 13 Russians for that. You know, the President somehow keeps on giving Putin a pass. Here’s a tweet from last Thursday. He says:
“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election! Where is the DNC server, and why did Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!”
Why do you think the President seems almost intent on looking the other way when it comes to Putin on this issue?
Mark: That’s exactly right, and I think the President unfortunately remains obsessed with this argument that somehow the Russians gave the President the election—that they handed the election to Donald Trump. I think most of us realize that’s just not true. I mean, the President won because of his policies, because he was able to actually tap into the concerns and fears of many Americans. So I think he needs to move beyond this obsession, and he needs to not only fashion his policies and his rhetoric to a much more robust and aggressive policy against this Russian president, and stop denying what is so obvious to everyone: that Vladimir Putin of course interfered in our elections. But he didn’t do so with any consequence this time. He might do so with some consequence next time.
Eric: What type of consequence would you like to see? What type of action do you think the President should tell Vladimir? I mean, President Obama on the sidelines of that meeting told him to knock it off. That doesn’t seem like very much of a strong message at all. What would you like to see from the President when it comes to this issue?
Mark: Well, he’s going to bring it up. He’s going to bring it up and make it very clear to Putin that if there’s any Russian interference in the midterms or the next Presidential election or any large elections, that there will be serious consequences that Putin will pay, and not just sanctions, but other consequences using all instruments of American national power. And if Putin has any desire to have a better relationship with this President and this country, then Russian interference in our elections will be absolutely antithetical to that objective.
Eric: And meanwhile he’s also raising some eyebrows with his criticisms of NATO. He’s going to go to a NATO summit a few days before the meeting with Putin. Why is that significant? You know he’s going to get an earful when he sits down in Brussels. What do you think he will take from that NATO confab that he will take into the meeting with Vladimir Putin?
Mark: I think the President needs to do at NATO what he didn’t do at the G7 in Canada—which is he needs to find a way to unify our allies, our European and Canadian allies against Moscow and against some of the threats that we all face. I mean, I understand the President’s frustration that the Europeans and Canadians can sometimes be very frustrating, but they are our allies. They’ve been our longtime allies: they share our interests, they share our values, and they certainly are people that are on our side and not on Putin’s side. But if the President remains angry and divisive at the NATO summit, he’ll be handing Putin a major victory as he did in Canada and as he has increasingly [done] by creating a division—a transatlantic division between the United States and Europe as well as a North American division with our friends up in Ottawa.
Eric: Russia and Iran continue to back Bashar al-Assad with such horrible consequences. And you know that Putin wants the US to withdraw troops from Syria. What do you think the President can say? I mean, look at The Wall Street Journal. Here’s an editorial pretty tough on the President saying:
“The Trump administration has reacted by waving its hands and begging Mr. Putin to stop…Mr. Putin has been watching all this and wondering if Mr. Trump can be conned as easily and as often as Barack Obama was.”
What possible agreement, if any, could come on Syria, and do you see any possibility that US troops will be withdrawing—which is exactly what Putin and the Mullahs in Iran want of us.
Mark: Well, Eric, exactly. That’s exactly what they want. I’m very worried that President Trump may withdraw US troops from Syria. I think it will be a disaster. I think it would be an Obama 2.0. President Obama withdrew Troops from Iraq in 2011. That gave rise to ISIS. It proved an open path for Iran to continue its hegemonic activity—its destructive activities in the Middle East. I think if President Trump withdrew US troops from Syria, we would be giving up all of our leverage. We will be creating an opportunity to finish the land bridge between Tehran and the Mediterranean, and I believe it would rise again. So this would be Obama 2.0, and I hope the President does not go down that path.