by Josh Hammer
For years, Democrats and their cable news echo chamber conjured up and broadly disseminated the most lurid and patently ludicrous rumors about former President Donald Trump being a corrupted and (literally) compromised agent of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. Democratic talking heads ultimately tried in vain to distance themselves from this sordid oeuvre‘s most far-fetched talking points, such as the infamous “pee video kompromat” from the discredited Steele dossier. But for four years, Democrats’ unquenchable obsession with the “Russiagate” hoax pervaded, distorted and sullied our politics.
The irony is that Trump, on actual substantive merits, toed a very hawkish line on the Russian Federation. He shored up missile defense in Central and Eastern Europe, which the Obama Administration had undermined as part of its ill-fated Russian “reset.” He repeatedly stood strong with America’s ex-Iron Curtain allies, delivering a powerful, Reaganesque 2017 foreign policy speech in Warsaw that was aimed squarely at Moscow. He unilaterally withdrew the United States from certain bilateral and multilateral accords—such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—that buttressed Russia due to the simple fact that it did not comply and America did.
Trump also adamantly opposed and issued strong sanctions to try to prevent the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a nearly completed, but stalled, 764-mile natural gas pipeline connecting Russia with Germany via the Baltic Sea. Nord Stream 2 was, and remains, an indispensable tool by which Putin and Russia can deploy energy and economic leverage over the European continent, permitting the Kremlin to both crowd out ascendant American natural gas exports and dangle energy sufficiency as a “sword of Damocles” hovering over vulnerable European heads.
On Wednesday, roughly a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel left Washington, D.C., the United States and Germany issued a joint statement signing off on the completion of Nord Stream 2. The Biden Administration’s approval of Nord Stream 2 marks the culmination of a stunning about-face. Biden himself has often called Putin a “KGB thug.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki asserted just last month that the administration “continues to believe that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe.” State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday—just one day before the Biden/Merkel joint statement—blasted the pipeline as a “Kremlin geopolitical project that is intended to expand Russia’s influence over Europe’s energy resources and to circumvent Ukraine.”
Merkel undoubtedly is happy with this outcome, and there is no one happier than Putin himself. But America’s core Central and Eastern European allies, such as the Visegrad Group nations of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, undoubtedly are livid at what they rightly view as a destructive and self-defeating kowtow to Moscow and Berlin.
In May, I interviewed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw for Newsweek, and there was perhaps no issue on which he was more passionate than he was on the correctness of Trump’s unwavering anti-Nord Stream 2 stance and the wrongness of Biden’s gratuitous flip-flop. Even more important, the deal hurts U.S. natural gas exporters, effectively depriving them of access to the key European market. Astoundingly, Biden’s greenlighting of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline comes on the heels of his lamentable decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline here at home.
What could possibly explain such bizarre and counterproductive behavior? On the rhetorical front, Biden—now tottering in his political dotage—is not exactly known as a paragon of lucidity. And if a recent Politico report on Vice President Kamala Harris’ hellish office is any indication, the Biden Administration more generally is a disjointed and fractious mess. In terms of selling out domestic natural gas producers and exporters—well, Biden and his political party have never much cared for them anyway.
But the clearest reason for Biden’s move is his desire to appease Merkel and give Germany a major and visible geopolitical win. Germany is the most powerful European Union member state and exercises outsize influence over the continent’s economic and political affairs. The EU may be headquartered in Brussels, but Berlin is the crown jewel of the European integration project and the indispensable bulwark, in the aftermath of the U.K.’s successful Brexit, against the centrifugal threat of greater Euroskepticism. If one wishes—as does the modern globalist Left, and as does the modern Democratic Party that is very much a part of that globalist Left—to fortify the EU and preserve its status as an iconic transnational institution, then signing off on Nord Stream 2 makes a great deal of sense. Liberal regimes such as Germany and Belgium win, whereas nationalist regimes such as Poland and Hungary lose.
The United States, of course, also loses. As does Democrats’ feigned and disingenuous moral high ground as a corrective counterweight to Trump’s purported pro-Russia dovishness.
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Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek. A popular conservative commentator, he is a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation and a syndicated columnist through Creators. A frequent pundit and essayist on political, legal, and cultural issues, Hammer is a constitutional attorney by training. He is a former John Marshall Fellow with the Claremont Institute and a campus speaker through Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Young America’s Foundation, and the Federalist Society.
Photo “Pipes” by Uwe Aranas (CC BY-SA 4.0).