Potential Trump Secretary of State nominee and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's interview with Yahoo!'s Bianna Golodryga went viral after Rohrabacher called Russia's human rights abuses "baloney" and questioned the reporter's motives, asking where she was from. When Golodryga said she came from Moldova, a former Soviet republic, Rohrabacher answered that that was good because "the audience knows you're biased." Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, also compared Vladimir Putin to Mikhail Gorbachev, because both were both powerful leaders of countries the U.S. needed to be friends with.
Golodryga had compared Russia's human rights abuses to those of China, a country Rohrabacher insisted was not America's "friend," and later suggested was one of the reasons a closer U.S.-Russia relationship made sense. "I said they are both human-rights abusers. How am I wrong?" Golodryga asked Rohrabacher. "How are you wrong? In China they don't have an opposition party," he answered. While Russia is no longer officially a one-party state, more than a decade of rule by Putin and the concomitant crackdown on opposition has made those forces weaker than they've been since the fall of the Soviet Union. Rohrabacher dismissed allegations Russia had interfered with elections in the U.S., saying such things happened around the world and that the U.S. did it as well.
Rohrabacher called China the world's "largest human rights abuser." With a population of 1.2 billion, there isn't a larger anything than China. But the U.S. has allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are vicious human rights abusers as well. Not only does the U.S. decline to take an antagonistic position toward those countries—it sends them billions of dollars in military and other aid every year. Saudi Arabia has been dropping U.S.-made bombs in Yemen for the last year and a half.
"We don't need China," Rohrabacher insisted, "China is against us no matter, the Chinese are not our friends." He suggested the country of 1.2 billion people had become the world's second largest economy because the United States had "acted like fools," building up China's economy, and bemoaned the normalization of U.S.-Chinese trade relations. "We have transferred wealth, we have transferred technology," Rohrabacher said. "We have opened our markets to them while they have controlled everything on that side."
Golodryga asked about whether it was wise for President-elect Donald Trump to "provoke" China by talking to the president of Taiwan, given China's potential role in keeping North Korea and its nuclear aspirations in check. "The last thing that's going to motivate the Chinese is that they want to do favors for us, because we're kowtowing to them, we're telling them how sincere friends we want to be," Rohrabacher said. He's not wrong there, but would eventually be.
"If the Chinese are ever going to intercede for us," Rohrabacher continued, "it's going to be based on that we have a strong leader who is not a push over, and a strong leader who will actually threaten them, not military action, threaten them with consequences if they're supporting the military dictatorship attaining nuclear weapons power in Korea." But what's going to motivate China to curb North Korea is the threat North Korea presents for regional stability, unless Chinese leadership are led to believe the U.S. was willing to take up the costs of dealing with North Korea instead.
Rohrabacher claimed that China's military build-up in the South China Sea (he called it "the middle of the Pacific"—it is not), its threats to shoot down planes over territory it claims, its "territorial claims all over the world," and its human rights abuses, all meant that the Chinese were "not our friends." He did not explain why Russia's human rights abuses precluded it from being America's "friend," choosing instead to question Golodryga's motives in bringing that up. As for the assertion that China has made territorial claims around the world, it's unclear where that came from. China is involved in several territorial disputes in Eastern Asia and the surrounding waters, but those can hardly be characterized as being "all over the world." On the other hand, the U.S. has military installations all over the world while China does not.
"Russia is no longer the Soviet Union," Rohrabacher explained, "there's a bunch of people here who want to treat it like it's still the Soviet Union and get into cold war, that's not what Donald Trump wants, it's not good for America, and it's better to cooperate with them to take on our real enemies."
Unfortunately, Rohrabacher appears to view China as one of those enemies. A cold war with China would be as inadvisable as one with Russia. U.S. national security interests in the South China Sea are as murky as those in Crimea. If Trump wants the U.S. to be friendly with any country willing to be friendly with it, he should avoid not just bellicose rhetoric toward Russia, but toward China as well. Friendly relations with Russia, or China or any other country, however, do not require a whitewash of human rights abuses.
Watch the whole interview below: