LBJ professors debate contested future of US-Russia relations

Emily O'Toole

Two LBJ School of Public Affairs professors debated about one of the 21st century’s most disputed foreign policy predicaments: relations between the United States and Russia. 

The Texas Political Union hosted a debate Tuesday where the professors focused on the allegations against the Kremlin of meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as President Donald Trump’s current relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Government professor James Galbraith was assigned to support the stance that Trump is right in his dealings with Russia. 

Despite Russia’s formidable military power and influence in Syria and Crimea, fear of Russia due to its hacking abilities isn’t warranted, Galbraith said.

“State governments in the United States were spooked by Russian hacking of our electoral system, though no such hacking has occurred,” Galbraith said. “For more than six months now, Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination.”

Galbraith said Trump would be correct if he believes that America can cooperate with Russia.

“Democracy works properly only when linked to reasonable standards of evidence and common sense,” Galbraith said in an email. “The United States as a democracy has many flaws, but fragile vulnerability to the siren songs of Russian internet trolls isn’t one of the more serious dangers.”

History professor Jeremi Suri said the debate was about the shift in policy toward Russia from former President Barack Obama to Trump, and he doesn’t foresee the U.S. being an ally with Russia, since it is a threat to democracy and capitalism. 

“Trump … overwhelmingly went out of his way to embrace Vladimir Putin,” Suri said. “Putin has built his regime … on making us an enemy. This regime is explicitly built on the repression of democracy.”

Suri came to a conclusion in opposition to Galbraith’s — Suri said Trump’s position on Russia is wrong because of hatred in the world.

“Our world today is filled with too much hate,” Suri said. “Russia is a propagator of that hate. Trump is actively not only staying silent, but encouraging this behavior … He is deathly wrong on Russia.”

Government freshman Erick Razo said this is an issue both politicians and students alike should be informed about.

“Everyone should be well-informed,” Razo said. “This is something that could potentially lead to warfare (and) could affect taxes by increasing military power. These are all issues that affect the everyday American, specifically students who are rising into a new voter population.”