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Platform Check: Clinton, Trump Sharply Divided On Approach To Russia


The presidential race this year has been extremely personal, focused on the character of the candidates. That's especially true this week. But elections are also about ideas and policies. And that's what we want to talk about next.


HILLARY CLINTON: We should raise the national minimum wage.


DONALD TRUMP: And we will build the wall.


CLINTON: Our tunnels, our ports, our airports - they need work. And there are millions of jobs to be done.


TRUMP: New trade policies that put American workers first.

CORNISH: This is Platform Check, where we examine what the candidates say they will do if they become president. Today - what to do about Russia - we're going to talk with Kimberly Marten. She's a professor of political science at Barnard College. Welcome to the program.

KIMBERLY MARTEN: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: So, Kimberly Marten, for you, just how bad is it between the U.S. and Russia?

MARTEN: It is really bad. The kind of military planning that Russia has had in recent years is what's called information warfare, which is attempts to disrupt political systems and to create confusion. And there are many people who believe that we are currently in an information war with Russia. That is how bad it is.

And I think that in addition to the hacking that we have been hearing about, really the inability to get any cooperation on the Russian side in Syria when there's a terrible humanitarian crisis is just an indication of how bad things have gotten recently.

CORNISH: So Hillary Clinton has touted her success collaborating with Russia during her days at the State Department, something that foreign policy watchers have called the Russian reset. Here's what she said about that in the last debate.


CLINTON: I've stood up to Russia. I've taken on Putin and others. And I would do that as president. I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that's fine, and I did as secretary of state. That's how we got a treaty reducing nuclear weapons.

CORNISH: Kimberly Marten, do you think that's the case - any evidence that Clinton will find success negotiating with Russia based on her experience as secretary of state?

MARTEN: You know, Audie, the problem is that it takes two to tango. And during the time that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was mostly dealing with a different Russian president, with Dmitry Medvedev, and he was much more interested in cooperation with the West.

Since 2012, things have gone really pretty steadily downhill. And in the last few weeks, things have gone downhill very quickly. So, yeah, she's got that experience, and yes, if anybody can cooperate with Putin she probably could. But it's not clear that Putin wants to cooperate with the United States.

CORNISH: Now, Donald Trump has said a lot of different things about Russia. He's praised Russian - the Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the debate last week, moderator Martha Raddatz asked him about the differences between he and his running mate, Mike Pence. And here's how that exchange went down.


MARTHA RADDATZ: He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

TRUMP: OK. He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.

RADDATZ: You disagree with your running mate.

TRUMP: I think we have to knock out ISIS. Right now Syria is fighting ISIS.

CORNISH: Now, Trump seems to be saying there he'd be willing to work with Russia to fight ISIS. What other concrete proposals has he made?

MARTEN: He hasn't really made very many concrete proposals, and he has said kind of contradictory things about Russia. He has praised Putin as being a strong leader. And he did have two of his former campaign advisers reach out to Russia quite strongly in ways that have actually brought them under investigation by authorities.

So nobody knows for sure what a President Trump would do because it would all depend on who his advisers are because he doesn't really have any policy experience himself.

CORNISH: Based on what you know about the political realities in Russia, how would our relations be any different under either of these candidates?

MARTEN: It's not clear. The one thing we do know is that Vladimir Putin seems to have a personal dislike of Hillary Clinton. It's also not clear that he would really want Donald Trump to win because if Trump wins, it's really uncertain what Trump would actually do, whereas Hillary Clinton is more of a known quantity because we know the kinds of sort of mainstream Democratic advisers that she would bring into the White House with her.

CORNISH: That's Kimberly Marten. She's a professor at Barnard College and directs the program on U.S.-Russia relations at Columbia University. Thank you for speaking with us.

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

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