When it comes to Russia, lawmakers walk a fine line between embracing Russia and reverting to a policy position reminiscent of the Cold War.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was repeatedly slammed for his apparent soft stance on Russia. Republicans and Democrats both raised concerns that Trump would fall into the trap of trusting Russian President Vladimir Putin too much, and might “give away the farm” in negotiations.
In an interview with Yahoo! News's Bianna Golodryga, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) discussed Chinese and Russian foreign policy and how he would like to see President-elect Trump engage with the leaders of their respective countries.
Golodryga asked if he thought Trump went too far by taking a phone from Taiwan's leader and possibly endangering future negotiations where China could be a crucial player.
“We need China, do we not?” she asked.
Rohrabacher, responded by talking about China's aggressive policies and human rights abuses, which are often overlooked by politicians, then called for a stronger approach when dealing with China:
“We don't need China. China's against us no matter — the Chinese are not our friends alright? That's why they are building islands in the middle of the Pacific and claiming all kinds of territory and threatening to shoot us down if we cross over that territory. They have territorial claims all over the world. They are the world's worst human rights abusers.”
When Golodryga interjected to mention that China is the world's second largest economy, Rohrabacher echoed Trump's sentiments on China:
“They're the world's second largest economy because we have acted like fools and built up their economy. We have transferred wealth. We have transferred technology. We have opened our markets to them while they have controlled everything on that side. No, the Chinese dictators are not our friends.”
When the conversation switched to Russia, Rohrabacher said it's time to move on from the past and develop a better relationship with Russia:
“If it's right for us to join in and cooperate and have a better relationship with Russia in order to defeat radical Islam and to pull China back a bit, well that's a good thing. And that's what this is all about. Russia is not longer the Soviet Union.”
In language similar to the kind once famously employed by Barack Obama in a debate with Mitt Romney, Rohrabacher accused lawmakers of trying to relive the Cold War.
After talking about China's human rights records, Golodryga mentioned Russia's history of humans rights abuses.
Secretary of State John Kerry called for a war crimes investigation over Russia's bombing of hospitals and population centers in Syria. Russia has denied targeting civilians in Syria.
In recent years, political dissidents and reporters in Russia have been jailed or killed under mysterious circumstances that are reminiscent of the Soviet Union's tactic of silencing political dissidents during the Cold War.
While Russia has received more coverage of its record on human rights, China's human rights abuses have gone largely unnoticed by the American news media, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Human Rights Watch's 2016 World Report offers this bleak description of China's human rights stance:
Ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for more than six decades, China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematicaly curtails a wide range of human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. While there have been a few modest positive developments in 2015 — authorities, for example, reduced the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 55 to 46 and issued directives garunteeing students with disabilities “reasonable accomodation” in university entrance exams — the trend for human rights under President Xi Jinping continued in a decidely negative direction.
The report continues on to state that Chinese leaders “reject the universality of human rights, characterizing these ideas as 'foreign infiltration,' and penalizing those who promote them.”
During his interview with Golodryga, Rohrabacher may have appeared out of touch as he dismissed Russia's human rights abuses, but Peter Ross, a Contributing Editor for U.S. News and World Reports, said in an op-ed that Rohrabacher knows exactly what he's talking about when it comes to Russia:
“Rohrabacher, who helped the former president formulate the 'Reagan Doctrine,' harbors no illusions about the Russians. He understands they play hardball, that they will take whatever they can get whenever they can get it, and the United States always must remain on its guard in its relations with Moscow.”
Golodryga asked why Rohrabacher doesn't view Russia and China the same, and he mentioned the lack of political reform and an opposition party in China. Ross continued to say in his op-ed that Rohrabacher's position in Congress provides him with the most recent information regarding China and Russia:
“As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, he's up to speed on all the issues.”
Rohrabacher argued that rather than treating Russia as an enemy, the United States should work with Russia to help accomplish “peace in the world.”:
“To take the belligerent stand now against Russia, treating them as if they were the Soviet Union, which you obviously do, is going to lead to more conflict and make us less safe. Because we've got Radical Islamists and we've got Chinese who are making all kinds of overtures and actually offensive operations against us in the South China Sea and elsewhere.”
Rohrabacher told the Los Angeles Times, “The Cold War is over. Putin is not Satan.” While his views on Russia may draw criticism from his colleagues, he appears to have a larger view of world's threats.