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'Putin Is an Evil Man' -- WSJ -2-

12 May 2018 6:32 am

I was an object of occasional but pointed criticism in various organs of the Kremlin's propaganda machine. Sometimes the complaints were from Russian government officials, lamenting my "old Cold War mentality." Often the alarm about my hawkishness was given voice by random Russian citizens, chosen for their scrupulous honesty, no doubt, and the acuity of their political insights. A retired Red Army officer earned favorable press notice by claiming to have manned the surface-to-air missile in Hanoi that had destroyed my plane. He was a modest hero, a Russian newspaper tribute to him described, who had done his duty and earned the respect of his grateful nation.

With the inauguration of the Obama administration came its vaunted reset of relations with Russia, which sought Russian cooperation on arms control and other security issues at the cost of not troubling Moscow too much over its endemic corruption, repression and intimidation of its neighbors. Sanctions imposed by the Bush administration the year before were lifted. Two missile defense sites under construction in Poland and the Czech Republic would be canceled to placate Russian objections. NATO enlargement was largely shelved.

It's fair to recognize welcome developments the reset might have encouraged. Russia agreed to let us fly military supplies to Afghanistan through their airspace. Russia agreed to join the international sanctions regime against Iran. The administration would also credit the new START treaty to the reset. (I didn't think that was a good deal, so I wouldn't include this among welcome developments.) I didn't see many other benefits to our outreach to Russia. Nor did I expect any.

Vladimir Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds, which include the destruction of the liberal world order that the United States has led and that has brought more stability, prosperity and freedom to humankind than has ever existed in history. He is exploiting the openness of our society and the increasingly acrimonious political divisions consuming us. He wants to widen those divides and paralyze us from responding to his aggression. He meddled in one election, and he will do it again because it worked and because he has not been made to stop.

Putin's goal isn't to defeat a candidate or a party. He means to defeat the West.

President Trump seems to vary from refusing to believe what Putin is doing to just not caring about it. To his credit, he overturned the Obama policy and supplied lethal assistance to Ukraine. But he needs to comprehend the nature of the threat Putin poses. He needs to understand Putin's nature, and ours.

Last year, President Trump implied that our government was morally equivalent to Putin's regime: "We got a lot of killers -- what, you think our country's so innocent?" he told an interviewer. It was a shameful thing to say and so unaware of reality. He said it as Russian bombs fell on Aleppo hospitals, as Ukrainian soldiers defended their country from another Russian attack, as the most vile false accusations pitting Americans against Americans coursed through social media, disseminated by an army of trolls paid by Putin to destroy the fraying bonds that hold our society together.

We must fight Vladimir Putin as determinedly as he fights us. We will stop him when we stop letting our partisan and personal interests expose our national security interests, even the integrity of our democracy and the rule of law, to his predation. We will stop him when we start believing in ourselves again and when we remember that our exceptionalism hasn't anything to do with what we are -- prosperous, powerful, envied -- but with who we are: a people united by ideals, not ethnicity or geography, and determined to stand by those values, not just here at home but throughout the world.

This essay is adapted from Sen. McCain's new memoir (written with Mark Salter), "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations," which will be published on May 22 by Simon & Schuster.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2018 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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