CLAIM: Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine because of “the shortsightedness of ‘America First.’”
VERDICT: FALSE. President Donald Trump held Putin at bay, despite claims by Democrats and “Never Trump” detractors.
After Russia invaded Ukraine on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who campaigned for president in 2012 on the idea that Russia was the greatest geopolitical foe of the United States, took a well-deserved shot at former President Barack Obama for having mocked that idea during the race.
Romney also blamed President Joe Biden for his weak posture, as well as President George W. Bush for failing to respond to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.
However, he also implicitly blamed Trump, even though Putin never invaded any other country during Trump’s term in office.
Romney’s full statement was as follows:
“Putin’s Ukraine invasion is the first time in 80 years that a great power has moved to conquer a sovereign nation. It is without justification, without provocation and without honor.
“Putin’s impunity predictably follows our tepid response to his previous horrors in Georgia and Crimea, our naive efforts at a one-sided ‘reset,’ and the shortsightedness of ‘America First.’ The ‘80s called’ and we didn’t answer.
“The peril of again looking away from Putin’s tyranny falls not just on the people of the nations he has violated, it falls on America as well. History shows that a tyrant’s appetite for conquest is never satiated.
“America and our allies must answer the call to protect freedom by subjecting Putin and Russia to the harshest economic penalties, by expelling them from global institutions, and by committing ourselves to the expansion and modernization of our national defense.”
“America First” was Trump’s foreign policy, which involved strengthening the military but avoiding wars abroad by using economic pressure and occasional, effective displays of force, using unpredictability to preserve “peace through strength.”
Romney’s reference to the 1980s recalls a moment in the third presidential debate in 2012, when Obama mocked Romney’s focus on Russia by declaring: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
Subsequently, in Obama’s second term, Putin invaded Crimea in 2014, with no significant response from the Obama administration. By that point, Obama had made repeated concessions to Russia on missile defense, the Syrian regime, and other issues.
But Trump took a different approach. While pleasant — or obsequious, critics said — to Putin in public, he slapped heavy sanctions on Russia, blocked the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, attacked Syria after it used chemical weapons, wiped out Russian mercenaries in the Middle East, and sent military aid to Ukraine.
The argument that Putin was encouraged by “America First” rests on the idea that Trump somehow appeased Putin. Those who spread the “Russia collusion” hoax repeatedly argued that Trump’s public friendliness to Putin was incriminating.
However, the argument runs into the simple fact that Trump was the one president Putin did not dare to confront.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.