Former top Trump Russia adviser details stark contrast between ex-president and Biden
Hill has a particular perspective on this slow-moving crisis that US officials say could lead to war in Europe at any time. As a White House national security aide, she advised then-President Donald Trump on Russia and Ukraine – and became a star witness in the impeachment proceedings that resulted from his conduct.
Now, outside of government as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, she is among the Russia experts Biden has consulted as he rekindles foreign policy priorities shared by all presidents since World War II, to except for Trump.
After Trump derided and weakened the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Biden joined NATO on behalf of Ukraine.
After Trump pressured Russia’s beleaguered neighbor for his personal benefit, Biden pushed Americans into a shared sacrifice to defend Ukraine’s right to self-determination.
“You couldn’t get a sharper contrast,” Hill observed in an interview.
For now, at least, she sees Biden’s approach paying dividends.
As described in his recent memoir, There’s Nothing for You Here, Hill followed an unusual path to become one of America’s leading experts on Russia. Raised in a working-class family in Britain, she turned college scholarships into advanced degrees from Harvard and an analyst position at the National Intelligence Council from 2006 during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Witnessing Britain’s industrial decline helped her understand the populist appeals Trump made to the White House. But the famous real estate developer’s handling of foreign policy in the Oval Office — driven not by expertise or national interest but by his experiences, impulses and personal interests — was unlike anything Hill or his colleagues at national security have ever seen.
“There is no American team for Trump,” Hill recalled. “Not once did I see him do anything to put America first. Not once. Not for a second.”
This showed in Trump’s praise for the authoritarian leader of Russia, an American adversary who had bolstered his finances as a business leader. This has manifested in its reluctance to embrace America’s mutual defense commitments to European allies, which for decades constrained Russia’s behavior; instead, Trump treated NATO as what Hill called a “protection racket.”
Most notoriously, it showed in Trump’s attempt to press Ukraine’s president for fabricated dirt on Biden to help his 2020 election campaign. He framed US military aid as political leverage as Ukraine faced the long-standing Russian military threat that now worries the world.
“All of this just told Russia that Ukraine was a playground,” Hill said.
At home, Trump has softened Republicans’ once hawkish approach to Russia. Today, top Fox News hosts and other conservative voices — “the ultimate stooges,” as Hill calls them — buttress the Russian case as armed conflict looms.
Yet even friendly foreign counterparts have found limits in Trump’s scattershot style, which for Hill conjures up the old idea of ”playing chess with a pigeon.” Russia’s attempt to overthrow Europe’s post-Cold War security order, beginning in 2008 with its invasion of Georgia and continuing with its 2014 takeover of Crimea, requires a stronger negotiating partner. stable.
“At the end of the day, Putin wants some sort of deal,” Hill said. “They think Biden is the kind of president who could actually get a deal done. Trump never could.”
So far, Biden has brought NATO allies together by rejecting key Russian demands, bolstering their forces in Europe and threatening punitive sanctions even as they guarantee a domestic economic backlash. Steeped in decades of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, the Democratic president has also won support from high-profile Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have avoided Trump’s embrace of Putin.
This show of determination at least got Putin thinking. Biden has warned for weeks that Russia could launch another invasion of Ukraine at any moment. This is not yet the case.
“They might have thought we were going to collapse, and we didn’t,” said Hill, who became a US citizen 20 years ago. “That might have deterred a full-scale invasion. Now (Putin) is recalibrating, recalculating.”
But the enduring success of Biden and his European allies will depend on his ability to stay. Even if Russian tanks don’t cross the border, Hill envisions a protracted “boa constrictor” siege in which Putin applies increasing pressure in hopes of bending Ukraine to Russia’s will.
“The real challenge is keeping everyone together for a considerable period of time,” Hill concluded. “It will last a long time.”