President Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to blame Congress for bad U.S.-Russia relations.
Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2017
He was referring to a sanctions bill that he reluctantly signed Wednesday that he called unconstitutional, but had more than enough votes to override his veto had he chosen to exercise it.
In a sense, Trump is correct. Russia is apoplectic about these sanctions, and relations with the old enemy are souring. This truth was clear on Wednesday, when Vladimir Putin's right-hand man, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attacked Trump in vituperative terms on Facebook.
Medvedev said Trump is now regarded by Congress as an "incompetent player" who must be "liquidated." Trump's decision to sign the sanctions bill, the Kremlin hack went on, shows "complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive powers to Congress." (Medvedev knows about political impotence, having been a puppet president himself with Putin pulling the strings).
What was Trump's response to this personal insult? A Twitter rant blaming Congress.
But let's be clear. These sanctions are not an American attack on Russia, but an overdue response to numerous Russian attacks on America — a response to Putin's unprecedented, multifront assault on our electoral process.
It is a response to Putin's aggressive harassment of American diplomats and persons in Moscow and across the globe.
It is a response to Putin's support for the rampaging murderer, Bashar Assad, in Syria. The rampage that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocents and now fans the flames of groups such as the Islamic State.
It is a response to Putin's enabling of Iran's foreign policy and its development of a ballistic missile program to carry nuclear warheads.
It is a response to Putin's continuing assault on Ukrainian sovereignty, and to Putin's threats to eastern European democracies including Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Trump is right to seek better relations with Putin's Russia. But he is wrong to believe that pursuit can take place amid Russian attacks on our national interests.
This brings us back to the sanctions, because Trump's anger over the legislation is both illogical and strategically deficient.
It is illogical, in that the president seems to believe Congress answers to him. Trump and his officials are openly complaining that Republicans in Congress do not knuckle under to his will. In doing so, they show a severe misunderstanding about the Constitution's balance of government powers.
It is strategically deficient in that Trump ignores U.S. interests. Most obviously, Trump fails to recognize that the sanctions act will encourage European energy diversification. European nations remain reliant on Russian energy exports, which gives Putin a powerful tool with which to influence European democracies into appeasement of his foreign policy.
What's most concerning about Trump's anger, though, is what it says about his mentality towards Russia.
Again, consider how Medvedev described Trump on Thursday.
Were any other foreign government official to utter words such as "impotence" and "liquidated," Trump's response would be immediate and furious. In this case?
No rebuttal to Russia. Instead, he runs to criticize Congress. Such weakness is blood in the water to Putin's shark. If nothing else, surely Trump must know that his reaction will fuel domestic concerns that Russia is holding something over him?
There's only one way for Trump to rectify this. The self-described "counterpuncher" needs to fire back at Medvedev, condemn Russia's foreign policy, and get behind the sanctions bill he has just signed into law.