Of all the illusions surrounding U.S.–Russian relations, none is more dangerous than the notion that Russia can be a partner in the war on terrorism. Yet U.S. President-elect Donald Trump appears to be willing to make a massive bet on Russia’s good intentions. In a recent interview with Time, Trump said that working with Russia to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) can help the United States save both lives and money. “Why not get along with Russia?” he asked. “They’re effective and smart.”
But Islamist extremism is an ideology. It cannot be defeated only militarily. It needs to be discredited, which makes the tactics and principles that guide the struggle against it of paramount importance. It is for this reason that a partnership with Russia in the war on terrorism will be courting a crisis far worse than the one that already exists.
If in the West the individual is seen as an end in himself, in Russia he is raw material for the fulfilling of whatever political schemes are conceived by the state and its leaders. It is this difference in psychology that leads Russia in a national security situation to behave in ways that are incompatible with U.S. values or goals—specifically to use indiscriminate violence against civilians, to cooperate with terrorists, and to act to undermine U.S. moral influence all over the world.
In Syria, Russia’s penchant for using violence against civilians has been amply demonstrated. It deliberately targets markets, hospitals, and homes. As a result, according to the London-based monitoring group Airwars, there have been 3,600 civilian deaths caused by Russian bombings since Russia entered the war just over a year ago, a figure that the director of the project, Chris Woods, described as an “absolute minimum.” The group estimates that the civilian deaths caused by Russian bombings exceed those caused by the U.S.-led coalition by an eight-to-one ratio. According to the Syria Network for Human Rights, another