SALT LAKE CITY — Russia and China are out to embarrass the United States and prove that democracy and capitalism will fail, Rep. Chris Stewart said Thursday.
Both Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping want to weaken the U.S., and Xi has a plan to make his country the "not a peer to the United States but the single dominant power in the world" by 2048, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in China, the Utah Republican said.
"In some cases they will work together and in some cases they won't," Stewart said during a forum on national security hosted by the Sutherland Institute at the Utah Army National Guard North Salt Lake Readiness Center.
Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he's often asked what he sees as the biggest threats to the U.S. Quoting a now retired military commander, he said Russia is the only existential threat, North Korea is the most dangerous and China is the most complicated.
The three-term congressman defended President Donald Trump's approach to Russia, though he conceded he was frustrated with his joint press conference after meeting with Putin last month.
"For almost two years now, this president and other people around him have been accused not of jaywalking or stealing bubble gum. They’ve been accused of treason virtually every day by many, many people," Stewart said.
Stewart said he understands why Trump would be defensive about that.
But the Trump administration's actions clearly show its willingness to confront Putin, "which is why his press conference was so frustrating to me because it clouded that reality and created this image that he somehow prefers a strongman like Vladimir Putin, who we know is a KGB thug," he said.
"He makes my job harder with some of his tweets and some of the things he said in that press conference are an example of that," Stewart said.
"But putting aside what he said and how ineloquent he might have been, who is the president who went to NATO and said, 'You have to increase your spending on defense,' and the point of that, of course, is Russia," he said.
Trump also increased U.S. military spending in part to counter Russian aggression, according to Stewart.
He said on a recent trip to the Baltic states, he saw Russian tanks across the border.
"I can tell you, the Baltics have a legitimate reason to be afraid," he said, adding Putin could take them in 48 hours and the U.S. could initially not do anything about it.
"Then the question we have is, 'Are willing to go to war with Russia over the Baltics?'' Stewart asked. "The thing we have to decide is does Vladimir Putin know the answer to that question."