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Syracuse National Security Expert says Tougher Tone Needed Against Putin After Missed Opportunity

A Syracuse University Political Science Expert considers President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Putin a missed opportunity … while causing damage that could impact this and other countries. 


President Trump could have put the Russian leader on the defensive on issues important to the U-S if Trump had pressed Putin.

“…like elections, like hacking, like economic relations … and you don’t do that by being silent.  You do that by being vocal," said Bill Smullen.  "We had an opportunity in Helsinki and that moment passed.  We didn’t take advantage of it.”

Bill Smullen, head of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, says the US missed an opportunity to confront Russian election interference – especially after the consensus of the intelligence community.

“We have got to hit this head on and just tell Russia, ‘enough.  No more.  And if you do it there’s going to be a penalty, an economic penalty or diplomatic penalty.’  We need to let them know it is unacceptable behavior to try to meddle in American political or financial business.  They feel they can do it and get away with it.”

That rebuke was of course lost when Trump supported Putin’s assertion about not being involved.  He worries that the fallout after the summit could compromise US intelligence efforts and even military alliances, in part due to Trump’s performance at the press conference and since.  Smullen has experience in the importance of public perceptions when he worked for Colin Powell and others in the government and military.

Bill Smullen would like to see congress, Secy of State Pompeo put more pressure on Russia, Putin to explain actions in US and other areas.

“What you do when you prepare a leader is that you script him or her, and you prepare them for every likely question and give them proposed answers, which I routinely did for the people that I served when I was in Washington.  Because you don’t want to have a slippage of the tongue.  You don’t want to have an embarrassing moment where you misspeak.”

Going forward, Smullen would like to see others in Washington apply some pressure on actions taken by Putin.  Congress will have the chance to do that in upcoming meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“What we need to do is remind the secretary and remind the president that Russia still has not answered up to whether or not they did or will continue to meddle in our political affairs here in America.  So I think there needs to be an express challenge.”

Ultimately he’s concerned about the relationships all over the world, following conciliatory meetings with Russian and North Korean leaders and more adversarial visits with NATO allies.

“I don’t think our brand as a nation is in a good place.  Instead of threatening our allies, we need to be building relationships so that we once again have collaborative opportunities to counter evil nations or tyrant leaders.”


Smullen believes further diplomatic mistakes could be made in Afghanistan – if the U-S talks directly with the Taliban.  A New York Times report suggests the Trump administration is seeking such meetings.

“I’m not sure that I would put an awful lot of hope in the Taliban wanting peace.  What they want is a role in the future of that country.  I mean that is where they have lived for a number of years and they want to continue to live there on their terms, not on the terms of the Afghan Government.”

Smullen suggests any talks would have to include the Afghan government for any hope to move past an intractable war in at least a quarter of the country’s districts. 

“We need to have a plan and it isn’t just sitting down opposite the Taliban, who would love to see us say, ‘ok, we’ll depart and be at peace forever after.’  I’m not sure that (would) last for more a few days or a few months.”

Smullen has called US efforts there “a fool’s errand,”  and wonders if peace is a possibility even after $21 Trillion of American military spending to combat terrorism.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.
John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.