As the Conservative Political Action Conference convenes in Washington this week, it is a vital moment for conservatives to take stock of where the conservative philosophy stands at a time when Donald TrumpDonald TrumpAnita Hill: It’s a ‘difficult time’ to be a woman in the US Grow the US military but do it right, not just fast Trump trade data proposal defies common sense, honest accounting MORE is president and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is waging a war against democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.
From the presidency of Harry Truman to the presidency of Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFrench fans to Obama: Run for president here Will CPAC denounce Putin’s war against democracy? Obama lawyers team up to fight Trump MORE there has been a great consensus that has defended America well. This consensus was at the heart of the security policies of every Democratic and Republican president since the end of the Second World War.
The only president who has not accepted the security policies of this consensus is Donald J. Trump, who has a habit of occasionally praising dictators and despots — including Putin — that should be as alien to true conservatives as it is alien to true liberals.
While I describe myself as a Kennedy Democrat and certainly not a conservative, I would hope that the overwhelming majority of CPAC attendees would agree with me in supporting, and disagree with Trump when he does not support, this long-term bipartisan national security consensus.
The backdrop of the CPAC meeting is the now broad consensus throughout the American intelligence community that Putin and Russian intelligence services acted to interfere with the 2016 election for the purpose of electing Trump as president. There are now widespread reports from a range of European sources, reported in European and American media, that Putin and his intelligence forces are now employing the same tactics they used in the U.S. to interfere in elections in nations across Europe, usually seeking to elect far-right pro-Putin candidates.
What Putin is doing, which should deeply offend conservatives and liberals and patriots of all persuasions, is waging a war against democracy across the full landscape of NATO nations. This war is designed to divide democratic nations from within, to divide democratic nations from each other, and to ultimately destroy institutions that bring democratic nations together for common purpose, from NATO to the European Union.
CPAC could perform an invaluable service to democracy, the Republican Party, the American people, the free world and, I emphasize, President Trump by taking a clear and unequivocal position against Russian aggression and in favor of maximum allied unity —‘ and publicly calling on President Trump to do the same.
Given the choices Trump has made regarding national security positions in his government, Putin has reason to be worried that his support for Trump in the election may ultimately backfire against Russia. While Trump has praised Putin and at times insulted friends of America from Australia to Germany to Mexico, and has appeared at times to oppose European unity, the deeply held views of key members of his administration are strongly in the post-war bipartisan security consensus.
When retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis was named as Trump’s choice to be secretary of Defense, I immediately praised his nomination and supported his confirmation.
When Trump selected Army Gen, H.R. McMaster to be his national security adviser, that, too, was an outstanding choice of a first-rate military strategist who is rock-solid in favor of the key aspects of the long-term bipartisan national security consensus.
It was very constructive for Vice President Pence to travel to the Munich security conference last week to reiterate, in the strongest possible terms, as Secretary Mattis has done, American support for the unity and strength of the NATO alliance.
By contrast, President Trump should remove Steve Bannon, who holds very different views and lacks depth of experience and knowledge of national security matters, from the principals committee of the National Security Council.
Should the United States push for some of our European allies to increase their financial commitment to NATO? Absolutely yes. Should the United States seek agreements with Russia that are consistent with our interests and values? Of course we should.
But Russian aggression, Russian attacks on democracy, Russian violation of international arms agreements, Russian annexation of Crimea, Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine, and Russian interference in democratic elections should never be tolerated or accepted and, going forward, should always be deterred.
Current economic sanctions against Russia should remain in effect, and if Russian aggression against nations or democratic elections continues, the sanctions should be strengthened.
It would be a service to America and democracy everywhere if CPAC would re-state these positions in clear and decisive terms, and a service to President Trump if a strong CPAC position would move him unequivocally to these positions — along with every Democratic and Republican president in modern history.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bill Alexander (D-Ark.). He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at [email protected].
The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.