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Politics & Government

U.S. Expels Russian Officials. What Message Does It Send?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Even through the Cold War, the U.S. never expelled this many diplomats from Moscow. President Ronald Reagan kicked out 55 Soviets in 1986. Yesterday, President Trump ordered 60 Russians out. It was a show of solidarity with NATO allies who did the same. This was all to punish Moscow for the alleged poisoning of a former intelligence officer and his daughter on British soil. Here's White House spokesman Raj Shah.

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RAJ SHAH: The United States is responding to Russia's action - as I called it, brazen and reckless. So this is the U.S. response. We want to work with Russia. You know, the ball's in their court - it's - with respect to how they want to respond.

GREENE: All right, so that's one thing we're watching - Russia's next move here. But also, what does this tell us about President Trump days after he gave Vladimir Putin a friendly congratulations for winning another six years as Russian president? I want to bring in Kori Schake. She worked on the White House National Security Council under President George W. Bush, and she joins us this morning from London.

Welcome to the program.

KORI SCHAKE: Thank you.

GREENE: So can President Trump have it both ways here? You praise Putin, you celebrate his re-election, then you kick out a bunch of his diplomats.

SCHAKE: Well, I think the Trump administration in general has lots of internal chaos and lots of internal contradictions in their policies. But the White House deserves an enormous amount of credit for making such a big statement. You know, this happened - this was a violation of British sovereignty, and the United States government kicked out almost three times as many suspected Russian intelligence agents as Britain did. This is terrific that the Trump administration did this. And despite the president's occasional playing footsies with Vladimir Putin, they really did the right thing.

GREENE: Well, if this was a tough message that you like and support this move, who was the president sending the message to? Was it just Russia?

SCHAKE: No. He's also sending a message to NATO allies that we're going to stand in solidarity with them and that we're not just going to do the minimum necessary by our treaty obligations, but that we're going to stand up strong and tall and be a leader of the alliance. I think that's a really important message, especially for the Trump administration to send because the president very often sounds like he doesn't actually believe in the liberal, international, rules-based order that the United States built after World War II.

GREENE: Well, do you sense a real shift in philosophy in this president? Or do you...

SCHAKE: (Laughter).

GREENE: Is this just one moment where he's saying like, OK, we're going to stand with you, NATO, in this one instance?

SCHAKE: I'm deeply skeptical that Donald Trump has a philosophy of international relations or governance. There are a couple of things that he has clearly believed for a very long time, and one of those things is that allies are a net loss for the United States. The president's fundamentally wrong about that. America's a great advantage as the dominant power in the international order has been legitimating our power by making it consensual by creating international institutions where countries that aren't as strong as us have a say in the rules of the order. The president doesn't appear to believe that. But his administration is acting in ways that pretty much uphold that, and that's very much in America's interests.

GREENE: I mean, I guess the Trump administration would argue that being tougher on NATO countries and, you know, taking a tougher message with American allies has caused NATO countries to step up, and do more and not rely so heavily on the United States.

SCHAKE: Yeah, the president would clearly say that. But it - and to some extent, it's true. But every American president has argued NATO allies need to do more. Dwight Eisenhower would be shocked that NATO allies don't do more. And yet it is still very much an American national interest and a huge American advantage that our allies do as much as they do. And they started doing more even before Donald Trump was elected president. They started doing more because Russia is behaving in very dangerous, very destabilizing ways that the NATO allies are working together to counter.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about John Bolton, who is coming in as the president's next national security adviser. He wrote a piece in The Hill in February saying that the Trump administration has neither developed nor deployed a coherent Russian policy; Putin's global aspirations are not friendly to America; the sooner he knows we know that, the better. Are we about to see a much tougher policy with Russia coming from this president?

SCHAKE: Oh, I sure hope so. I think there are lots of areas to be worried about John Bolton's judgment and his influence on administration policy. But on Russia, he's actually been quite closely aligned with much more traditional American foreign policy than the president himself has been towards Russia.

GREENE: She's deputy director general for the International Institute of Strategic Studies (ph). She also served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. She joined us on Skype. Appreciate your time this morning.

SCHAKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.