“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”—Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on 21 December 2022
As we celebrate the holidays and look toward a new year, it is important to remember that the war in Ukraine continues. This is day 307 since the Russian invasion in February. Fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and the entire country is subject to air raids from missiles, drones and artillery. While the Ukrainians continue to fight with courage, tenacity and ability, they are still outnumbered and with fewer technologically advanced weapons than their Russian counterparts. It is a a brutal war.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he will send 500,000 additional troops to the Ukrainian front. Such numbers are staggering and could easily overwhelm the Ukrainians on the ground. That is until we pull back the curtain and it reveals that most of the 500,000 are conscripts off the street and, literally, convicts recruited from prisons throughout Russia. They are sent to fight with little or no training and often suffer from lack of adequate weapons, winter clothing and food. Such is the Russian way of war. Even their most vaunted Army units are in trouble as outlined by a recent article in the Washington Post. The “200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade” was considered one of the most elite units in the Russian military. Originally tasked with protecting the nuclear missile submarines of the Russian Navy based in the far northern Kola Peninsula, since the end of the Cold War, the “200th” was often tasked to take on some of the Russian military’s toughest assignments. Last February, they were among the lead elements of the invasion tasked with taking Kharkiv. Since then, their staggering losses of experienced personnel and of state of the art equipment leaves them, in the estimation of several European intelligence assessments, in such a state that it “cannot be considered a fighting force.”
The Russians are losing the ground war. Unfortunately, Mr. Putin is determined to continue the fight. His goal seems to be the total obliteration of Ukrainian culture, quality of life, and the civilian population. In the dark of winter, the fighting on the front will continue with heavy casualties on both sides while attaining only minor tactical advantages. Operationally and strategically, the winter fighting will remain stagnant.
The result? Nearly daily Russian terrorist attacks on civilians in Ukraine. If he cannot win on the battle field, Mr. Putin will punish the civilian population. Terrorism is the only way to describe the continued attacks on schools, hospitals, museums, power stations and water plants. Mr. Putin is determined to destroy the will of the Ukrainians to resist. Clearly, he has never studied history if he believes that a reign of terror descending from the skies will turn the tide of war. He obviously never studied Britain’s response to the intense bombing of World War II, his own nation’s resistance in that same war to the Germans in Leningrad or Stalingrad, or countless other stories of a determined population strengthening their resistance to tyranny while under relentless attack.
Mr. Zelenskyy was in Washington D.C. last week to convey directly to the U.S. Congress and to all of us as citizens that Ukraine will not fall to Russian aggression. They are unwavering in their determination. But they need continued help from the U.S. and NATO and Mr. Zelenskyy was here to make sure that we do not get weak-kneed in our support. With the swearing in of a new Congress in January, numerous MAGA Republicans are pushing to end, or at least severely restrict, the aid we send to Ukraine. (Incredibly, some are open admirers of Vladimir Putin — their view of a strong and effective leader.) For the time being, our support of Ukraine continues thanks to the Omnibus Bill passed by the House and Senate as they headed out the door for the holidays. The all encompassing bill (ostensibly a 1.7 trillion dollar spending bill, it is packed with numerous amendments addressing everything from tax law to the Electoral Count Act of 1887) included 45 billion dollars for Ukraine. Thus Mr. Zelenskyy’s statement that this is not charity, it is a fight for the rule of law and the sanctity of democracy. I agree with him.
The war in Ukraine is not some far off, obscure war where the average American could probably not even find it on a map (of course the average American isn’t very good about locating places on a map of the United States). It is nothing less than a line in the sand that western democracies will not see the post World War II world order go up in flames. Ukraine is the first attack on European soil since the 1940s where one country is determined to take over another through military force. The West either believes in supporting democracy or all democracies will be threatened. The Baltic States, Finland, Norway and Sweden certainly understand the stakes due to their borders with Russia. Polish history makes them very aware of the dangers of this Russian threat. This is the biggest test yet as to whether we in the U.S. and NATO believe what we say or whether we are going to look away. Our domestic politics sometimes obscures this point. But if we do not help Ukraine, we may as well tell the world that we are no longer a world player, and China would certainly be glad to hear that as they continue to threaten a peaceful Taiwan.
The size and scope of our support is growing as the conflict continues. The U.S. and NATO are walking a fine line in trying to keep Ukraine in the fight and capable of defending themselves without expanding the war into the rest of Europe. In November, a missile landed in Poland near the Ukrainian border and killed civilian workers. It turned out to be a Ukrainian air defense missile gone astray, but it raised serious concerns as it exemplified a possible Russian provocation. President Joe Biden declared that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. What if the next “stray” missile is Russian and we have the intelligence to support the fact that it was not accidental? Such a scenario will severely test NATO resolve and engender debate as to the appropriate response. (Most likely the response would be measured and on a similar scale, such as a cruise missile slamming into the launch site from which the missile came. The problem, of course, is that a miscalculation or misunderstanding the intent can quickly lead to a massive escalation.)
I have at least two recommendations to move our country’s support of Ukraine to a new level. One is to declare Russia a terrorist state. There is no question that they meet the criteria. The torture, rape, abduction and murder of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers are war crimes. Mr. Putin’s order to indiscriminately bomb cities and towns along with the deliberate targeting of humanitarian facilities are terrorist activities. Car bomb or exploding drone? No difference. To do so incurs certain legal and international actions and the West is not certain how the Russians might respond, as well as concern over the second and third order impacts on our other friends or allies. At this point, it is necessary. Make the proper diplomatic preparations and then do it.
The second game changer would be to give the Ukrainian military offensive weapons. The U.S. and NATO are reluctant to do so in fear that the Russians would see it as provocative and a possible act of war should they be used against the Russian motherland. It is a risk worth taking in my opinion. Through training, effective intelligence to monitor their use, and other measures to modify the weapons the West can minimize the chances that the Ukrainians would misuse the weapons. The rationale for supplying them is that as long as Russia has safe havens for their missile launching aircraft, drones and ships, they run no risk and can fire at will to destroy Ukrainian cities. Bringing Russian logistics hubs, training centers, and bases in occupied Ukrainian territory into the war raises the stakes for the Russian military and contributes to the unmistakable decline in Russian morale. It could help to convince more Russian soldiers to defect or go home (thousands already have), and the increased destruction of the Russian military could lead to increased unrest in Russia, including some in the government that do not want to see their military and economy destroyed because Mr. Putin has some kind of crusader-like vision quest for Ukraine. It is worth the risk.
I am sure that efforts already are under way to curtail third party efforts to supply Russia. Most notably, Iran is sending armed drones in vast numbers for the Russians to use against Ukrainian cities. There is also open source reporting that North Korea is probably supplying Russia with artillery and ammunition for use in the war. The U.S. and other nations have the means to make this too painful for those countries to continue their support. To date, China has not helped Russia militarily. Diplomatic efforts must continue to ensure that they do not do so.
As it is, Mr. Biden promised to send a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. This is a very advanced air defense system. It will take time for the battery to arrive and for the Ukrainians to get properly trained in its use. Some have criticized the decision as being provocative and could lead to an escalation by the Russians. Not so. As Mr. Biden pointed out, it is a defensive weapons system. It won’t be used unless the Russians continue to attack Ukraine.
To me it is not only important from a geo-strategic viewpoint for the U.S. to continue to support Ukraine. It is in our national interests to help them. It is not an act of “charity” or done at the expense of our own citizens. It is absolutely a case of pay me now or most certainly we will be paying much more later, including with the blood of our sons and daughters.
Unless you were on vacation on a tropical island last week, you undoubtedly heard about yet another criminal act by the ex-president. Just when you might be thinking that we’ve heard it all, that it is impossible for Donald J. Trump and his wholly owned subsidiary formerly known as the Republican Party to further debase and destroy our nation, we find ourselves shaking our collective heads over another despicable and corrupt violation of our nation’s laws, morals, ethics and sense of duty.
As his actions continue to come to light through the actions of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection and the conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected president of the United States, one has to wonder why the man is still walking the streets creating hate and discontent throughout the land. He needs to go to jail.
Yes, yes, I know. He is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law following the rules under our system. That said, it is not clear why he has not been arrested and forced to post bail. Were I to have his track record, I know that I would have already taken a “perp walk” into court.
To me, perhaps the most despicable and shameful aspect of the last week was the reaction by nearly every senior elected Republican official in the land. Most of them attacked the FBI and DOJ. Not one that I heard of even took a “wait and see” approach. Instead they followed in Trump’s footsteps and attacked, attacked, attacked — with the vilest and darkest comments imaginable. Do you want an example? How about Senator Rick Scott (Tr-FL) who, following the execution of a court approved search warrant, said; “This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it’s like what we have thought about the Gestapo and people like that — that they just go after people. What we thought about the Soviet Union.” Rick, you make me proud to be an American. Or perhaps the comments from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Tr-GA) — as fine an American as you would ever want to meet — who is yelling to “Defund the FBI.” And in the finest Trumpian way, she is selling caps and t-shirts with that slogan for a mere thirty dollars. I could go on and on, but I would rather not.
For those that have never dealt with material classified Top Secret (TS) or Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) you may not understand the impact of Trump’s actions. Not only is the information highly classified, but what is really causing most of those SCI classifications is what is commonly called “sources and methods.” In other words, the way that the information was obtained. Foreign intelligence services receiving such documents could reverse engineer the information in order to find out where it came from. Perhaps it is a highly placed mole. Perhaps it is good old fashioned espionage. Perhaps it is through secret technology capabilities. Or a variety of other sources. The point is, people’s lives may be at stake and the country’s safety and security are certainly at risk by carelessly handling the documents.
I will not go into explaining or rebutting all of the silly excuses that Trump is putting forth and finding support for from his employees in the wholly owned subsidiary. All of it is total fantasy and as big of an unbelievable lie as is possible to concoct. There are no “oops” moments with TS and SCI material. It is always signed for and always guarded. Nearly every time it is created and maintained in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It is not even discussed outside of those facilities. The Oval Office is not a SCIF. The few times it is taken outside of a SCIF, it is signed for, and carried in a special satchel that is literally handcuffed to the courier. Afterwards, it is signed back in. If the same person does not return it and sign it back in, there is big trouble. Like losing your job and going to jail trouble.
The point of bringing this up is that there can be no “accidental” leaving of documents around or just borrowing them for awhile or anything else. Even taking into account that one is dealing with the President of the United States, there would be no chance of a breach.
Unless it was done intentionally.
How was this accomplished? I do not know. I will leave that to the FBI. Just as importantly, why was it done? Again, I do not know, but I will merely state that Trump does nothing that he cannot monetize. The Washington Post reported that at least some of the classified documents had to do with nuclear issues. I will just ponder the fact that during Trump’s administration he and his inner circle, including his son-in-law, wanted to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly it was for nuclear power plants, but many experts concluded that it could also lead to Saudi Arabia building nuclear weapons. Thankfully, cooler heads in the National Security areas of the government were able to stop such a deal. Coincidentally, after leaving office, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner landed a two billion dollar deal with the Saudis. Last month the Saudi funded LIV golf tour held a tournament at Trump’s Bedminster course in New Jersey. Could there be a connection? I do not know. People are just asking.
In my opinion the FBI should not be asking what he was going to do with that information but rather what did he already do with it?
There is a larger picture here. Trump clearly cares nothing about the laws, norms or traditions of the United States or what it means to be president. It appears that he thought that as president, he owned the country, everything in it and everyone that worked in the government. Whether his approach was that of an autocrat or a mafia boss does not really matter, he believed that anything he wanted was his. (For the record, I think he operates like a mafia boss. Autocrats at least have an ideological base to operate from. Trump only cares about himself and making money. He has no underlying beliefs, be they good, bad or indifferent. He only cares about what rewards him.)
Trump and his fellow conspirators and abettors should be held to account to the fullest extent of the law. For everything. I think the impeachment charges brought against him were insufficient. By this I mean that twice the House tried to simplify his transgressions to one, easily understandable charge rather than the full breadth and depth of his criminality. They gambled that the public would buy into something that could be easily digested. They also saw as their primary goal to remove the cancer from our government and keep it from ever returning again. They only needed him to be found guilty on one charge. They failed.
The DOJ cannot fail. Trump needs to be stopped. Trumpism will not die if Trump is removed as too many other politicians (especially certain southern governors) have learned his lessons. At least if Trump is indicted, tried and convicted, the leader of the cult will be disgraced and removed. Millions of people will think that it was a kangaroo court and that he was set up. They already think that, so there is nothing to lose by acting and a lot to lose if we do not hold him accountable. Those same politicians taking the mantle of Trumpism will also see that if they become president, they can do whatever they want because there are no consequences. His cult members argue that Trump is the most persecuted president in our history. I want him to be the most prosecuted.
Cries that these actions are unprecedented are true. Primarily because we never had a full scale mafia boss as our president before. But if his home can be raided, then anyone’s can, they cry. Two points. Mar-a-Lago was not just a residence, it was a club. People come and go. Memberships are sold. It is not exactly like the FBI searched a two story colonial on a cul-de-sac. Secondly, yes, if you break the law, conspire to over throw the government, take TS and SCI documents home to your basement, you can probably expect a knock on your door from the FBI. That is the point. No one should be above the law. Not even an ex-president who is now, under the law, just a regular citizen like the rest of us. No magic wands to declassify documents. No thoughts in his head that everyone should instinctively obey. Just follow the law.
I fear for our republic, I fear for our democracy and I fear for our future. Trump and his cult followers and collaborators in Congress are the single greatest domestic threat to our country and our way of life since the Civil War. I am very afraid there will be more domestic political violence. Firing up the cult to attack FBI officers and federal judges is dangerous, as we saw earlier this week in Ohio when one of the cultists tried to kill FBI officers at their area headquarters.
For nearly 22 months now, Trump has been doing his best to destroy this country and make himself the Dear Leader. It is not getting any better. During the dangerous response to the pandemic during his administration I opined in one of my postings that Trump may in fact be an agent of Vladimir Putin because things were getting so bad, it could not be by accident. It had to be by design. Chaos, discord and political violence in the U.S. are right in keeping with Putin’s goals. No one person in our history has done more to align with the goals of an adversary than Trump has done. I cannot forget those meetings between Trump and Putin, alone, with only Putin’s interpreter. We may never know what words were exchanged, but Trump’s continued actions designed to undermine our government on every level may tell us more than any transcript.
In what should be more than a war of words, the term “genocide” is being tossed around in the wake of the fighting during Putin’s War. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term prior to his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that the Ukrainians were committing genocide against the Russian speaking population of Donbas in the eastern part of Ukraine. Indeed, it is part of his disinformation campaign to justify his invasion and he connects it to his declaration that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis.” There is a long history of this sort of talk from Mr. Putin. In short, the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II is glorified in Russian history beyond any level that we in the United States may understand. He is trying to build support for his war by tying it to the success of the Soviet army against the Nazis. Forgotten in that telling, of course, is that in 1939 the Soviet Union was allied with Germany via a non-aggression pact and they divided Poland between them. Also conveniently forgotten is that in April and May of 1940 the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn forest.
In 2022 we face a difficult situation. President Joe Biden called Mr. Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities taking place in Ukrainian areas occupied or under siege by Russian troops. At last count, Ukrainian government prosecutors were investigating about 5,800 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with more uncovered everyday. These are facts which, unfortunately, many of us can see for ourselves each night on the national news. Last week Mr. Biden took it a step further during an event in Iowa by saying that Mr. Putin is “a dictator that commits genocide.” Later, he doubled down on his statement saying, “Yes. I called it genocide. It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” Which has a basis in fact, as Mr. Putin repeatedly claims that Ukraine should cease to exist as a sovereign nation. He believes it should be Russian with only Russian speakers living there.
War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are all legal terms under international law. Each is the result of ever more horrifying actions of one people against others. Genocide, however, has usually been reserved for the most heinous of crimes and gives another level of importance to the events in Ukraine. As if they were not already of utmost importance. The moral stakes are as high as they can be.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often called the Genocide Convention) codified the United Nations resolution of 1946 that made genocide a crime under international law. In Article II, the Convention document defines genocide as meaning “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I will leave it to the international law experts to define what “in whole or in part” means, but it would seem that actions by one nation attempting to eliminate another does not have to succeed in entirely wiping them out. Merely trying to do so is a crime. In fact, the Convention states that conspiracy or incitement to commit genocide is itself a crime. Certainly it is easy from what we know in open source reporting that the Russians have violated at least four of the five genocidal actions under the Convention.
Sadly, whether brought up on war crime charges or for genocide, it is unlikely that Mr. Putin or any of those in his inner circle or those carrying out his orders will be brought to trial. Under the Convention the investigation and trial of such crimes are to be undertaken by the nation in which they occurred or in international court.
The real issue here is a moral one. It raises new questions about how NATO should support Ukraine and how this conflict will end. If we in the West truly believe in the slogan “Never Again!” — meaning we will never again sit by and watch the slaughter of thousands or millions of our fellow human beings as occurred in the Nazi death camps — then now is the time to step up. This is a major test of the world order and a test that will have consequences for decades to come. Russians are deliberately torturing, killing, beheading, raping, and desecrating civilians in Ukraine. I’ll repeat that. Deliberately. Even though I cannot understand how human beings can be so cruel to others — and yes, I know my history from around the world including here in the U.S. — it is none-the-less happening. It is an instrument of planned terror. It also provides a look into the psyche of the average Russian. Only by dehumanizing an opponent — thinking of them as “scum” (Putin’s word) and other than human — can people be so cruel.
These actions also impact how the war will end. How can Ukraine reach a negotiated settlement with Russia if the Russians are attempting to wipe out the very meaning of what it means to be Ukrainian? How can the West broker a settlement with a country accused of genocide? Is anything short of a complete defeat of Russia rewarding their genocidal policy? Does giving up Ukrainian territory — rewarding Russia for committing genocide — even make sense? Such questions have a significant impact on the course of the war, who gets involved, and its outcome.
My thoughts on NATO and with that, U.S. support to Ukraine have evolved over the course of the last few weeks. I think we need to go all in. Not with troops in Ukraine — at least not yet — but with every offensive and defensive weapon we can reasonably give to Ukraine. I am sure that we are providing valuable intelligence data to the Ukrainians (surprise Russian flagship Moskva!) to help them with their targeting but we should take that a step further to allow them to attack into Russian territory to hit supply, fuel and military targets. Continue to put our best military minds to work with imaginative, but deniable, actions that hinder the Russian military. Sanctions are the public face of such efforts — and they are beginning to work — but there is much more to do. Our covert capabilities are excellent. There is more to do without directly fighting the Russians.
The moral imperative is there now. I have come to understand what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about how this is a fight for the future of western democracies. It may sound like hyperbole, or over-dramatization on their part, but as we see the ruthless brutality of the Russians such statements take on more meaning. Importantly, remember why Mr. Putin started this war. Once the propaganda is removed it is for one major reason. He saw a direct challenge to his totalitarian regime. If Ukraine — where many Russians have family members as do Ukrainians in Russia — becomes a full fledged western democracy sitting fully on his border, he will soon have internal domestic problems as more and more Russians clamor for a similar assimilation into Europe. As it is, many of his troops are seeing a way of life that they could not imagine. In addition to the subjugation of a nation, there is a reason Russian troops are carrying away washing machines, laptops, televisions and other consumer goods. They cannot get them in many parts of Russia and certainly, many average Russians cannot afford them.
Mr. Putin is desperate to maintain his way of life and to rule Russia with an iron fist. That is why Ukraine is such a threat. He must destroy it in order to show that the western democracies of NATO cannot succeed in protecting it, therefore no nation should think that democracy is a way of governing that succeeds. How far he is willing to go in this scorched earth policy we can only guess. This is the first time in my experience that sober, knowledgeable people are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Many surmise that Mr. Putin thinks such weapons are a viable option if needed to succeed in Ukraine. That should give all of us pause and emphasize once again how serious this war is and how much more serious it can become.
We get easily distracted by such things as “The Slap” at the Academy Awards show, or whether we now have to wear masks on airplanes. Life goes on, yes, but the stakes are higher in Ukraine than many believe. Five million people to date have left Ukraine for other countries. This in its self is a humanitarian crisis. It is also part of the Russian plan to destabilize western Europe by disrupting the ability of democratic governments to care for their own people and the refugees.
Genocide is underway. There is a massive humanitarian crisis underway. Terror is raining down on the civilians in many Ukrainian cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Russia is reportedly deporting women and children from occupied areas to camps in Russia. More atrocities will be uncovered. Mr. Putin is trying to destroy the ideals of western democracy. The list will grow longer.
If we mean “Never Again!” we need to act on it.
If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military. Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action. In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.
Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News. It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment. For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam. “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”
To me, it is easy to believe. It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved. He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution. His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal. If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker. You are there to be had.
Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker. He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”
This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising. A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new. I still find it depressing. Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.
- In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
- Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser. Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that. The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death. Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
- Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
- In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.” When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
- In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.” “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
- In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes. Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene. He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular. He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
- Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border. He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
- This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
- In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO. This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin. His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore. We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s that simple.” (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works. But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
- It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel. Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed. This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction. Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage. Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.
There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military. He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.
Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers? You bet I do. His track record is abysmal. To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.
As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person. Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.
And then it gets worse.
There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief. People die when the president gets it wrong. For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned. It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession. In the military it is known as force protection.
As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true. The evidence is startlingly clear. The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.
Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat. The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately. Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved. Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.
As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration. The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.
And then it gets worse.
Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.” These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.
The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious. Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation. When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him. When that did not quite pass the smell test, the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.” Well now. That is not an intelligence term. Most intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable. The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.” When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does. The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting. The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body. The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.
Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc. the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke? The answer is easy. The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.
So now we all know about it. Who knew about it when is not now important. What is Mr. Trump going to do? Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick. Despicable.
It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.
The signal to Mr. Putin? Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable. It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home. Kill our folks. Interfere in our election. Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure. Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.
To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin. My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin. My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there. Putin is the name, blackmail the game.
No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc. Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret. I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions. Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies. US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes. My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.
Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather? It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians. And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather. I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.
We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent. It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.
During his 2016 Inaugural Address, Mr. Donald J. Trump talked about “American carnage” — a dystopian view of the United States that he promised to fix. Little did we know that actually he was predicting the future. Our country is in shambles and disarray and the Trump Administration does nothing.
Mr. Trump and his cronies are trying out two strategies moving forward during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus:
- Declare victory and go home. We could have lost 2 million Americans and it looks like we’ll only lose about 150,000 so, as Mr. Jared Kushner said from the White House last week, people should recognize “that this is a great success story.” The number of deaths is exaggerated anyway. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
- Make the case that all Americans are “warriors” that are fighting to regain the American way of life just like in WWI or WWII and of course there will be casualties along the way. This is war and people die in wars. Get over it. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
Meanwhile, over 77,212 Americans are dead. The virus is spreading into areas that have yet to feel the full brunt of the pandemic. There is no widespread testing, tracing or methodical isolation. I have concluded that for most Americans, we are on our own. We will get no help from the government. We will have to make personal choices as to what is safe and what is not. As the song playing in the background during Mr. Trump’s factory visit in Arizona says, “Live and Let Die.”
The federal government, as a reflection of Mr. Trump, has failed miserably in fighting the pandemic. Mr. Trump’s leadership has been inept, incompetent, divisive, vindictive, callous, resentful and antagonistic. He’s worked hard to win the award as The Worst President Ever. In fact, in my feverish mind with too much time on my hands, I believe he has worked too hard to reach this level of destruction throughout the land. It cannot just be incompetence and a failure to learn from what works or does not. It has to be deliberate. Why is that? Why would he work so hard to destroy the U.S.A.?
There are several possibilities.
- It is deliberate. Mr. Trump did not invent the coronavirus or introduce into the U.S. Once here, however, perhaps he seized the opportunity to use it to fundamentally disrupt our way of life and to bring us down in the eyes of the world — no longer the greatest country on Earth. There is, after all, a reason that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Mr. Trump to be president. Why would Mr. Trump call Mr. Putin when news broke that General Michael Flynn’s prosecution was dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as he did yesterday? What were they celebrating? Did the Russians work on Mr. Trump’s behalf for the opportunity to destroy us?
- It is a sign that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I don’t mean this in any “the dude’s cray cray” kind of way. I mean it in a serious, albeit judgmental, way that he is ill. He is a known narcissist. He claims he is a stable genius. He acts irrationally. He has no empathy for the tens of thousands dead. He seriously suggested that people should inject cleaning disinfectants into their bodies to fight the virus. He fires anyone that disagrees with him. He lied about the magnitude of the threat. He is vengeful. He seems to enjoy chaos and dysfunction. Perhaps he enjoys playing a bigger than life figure that commands death or salvation based on his whims. Perhaps he enjoys the harm done to people, especially, it seems, in “blue” states. Perhaps he is not just a text book case study of a bad leader but rather an unstable individual emotionally, intellectually and mentally unfit for the office.
- It furthers his agenda. The sad statistics are that a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 sufferers and especially deaths are immigrants, minorities and the poor. For four years, Mr. Trump has raged about the “other” — those not “like us.” He supports armed white militia members storming state capitals with their guns to insist on “liberation” from the safer at home policies around the country. In his eyes they are “very good people.” Just like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Mr. Trump tends to emphasize that many of those dying are old or with underlying health conditions. They use the old “they were going to die anyway” meme. Is this a chance to cull the herd in his mind just as some of these far right groups argue? Under the cover of the pandemic his administration has implemented draconian measures at the border, denied asylum seekers respite as required by U.S. law, and limited legal immigration — all outside of and in addition to the travel restrictions in place. From the moment he declared his candidacy for president in front of paid supporters he has railed against non-white (and for that matter non-male) members of our society. Kids in cages anyone? What he may or may not believe in his heart does not matter. His actions are clear.
- He cares only about himself and making money. He honestly does not care how many Americans die or struggle financially as long as it does not impact him negatively. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to profit financially off of the pandemic. In short, he is an opportunist. At the very least, Mr. Trump sees a chance to consolidate his position and to remove any impediments to his power within the government and to replace good people with lackeys. Many Inspectors’ General professional life expectancy is measured in the amount of time before they do their job and call a foul on Mr. Trump. There are gaping holes in the diplomatic corps and in every cabinet agency in the government. Mr. Trump claims he does not need them. Those that are left are not the A-Team or even the B-Team. It is more like F-Troop. At this point in time, it is obviously part of the plan to eliminate the “Deep State” as he sees it. He does not care that the Deep State (of course there is no such thing) of professionals and experts are needed in times of crisis. Jared Kushner will take care of it. The pandemic covers nicely for an ever more blatant power grab beyond what we have seen over the last few years. Mr. Trump has learned that he can get away with anything without consequences.
There may be other scenarios that may be equally plausible or outrageous. The bottom line is that our national response to the crisis was badly bungled and continues to be an embarrassment. The sad part is that this not nuances of policy. People are dying. The numbers continue to go up. Many more will die as more and more states are pushed by Mr. Trump to ignore CDC guidelines and to open up their economies without the testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure in place.
Pay attention to what he says and does. We have learned that he projects his personal feelings onto others and in the process of his complaining he tells us exactly what he intends to do to further destroy the norms, regulations and laws that govern our day to day discourse.
At one point I thought maybe we had Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show as president. Ted was not deliberately a loose cannon, he just had no clue. Unfortunately, this is serious business.
Deliberate or not, Mr. Trump changed the American way of life well into the future, if not forever.
On Wednesday, the President of the United States defended his decision to abandon the Kurds in northern Syria as “strategically brilliant.” With scores of Kurdish fighters and civilians killed and approximately 200,000 people fleeing the fighting as refugees, he went on to say of the situation, “It’s a problem we have very nicely under control. It’s not our problem. They’ve got a lot of sand over there… There’s a lot of sand they can play with.”
Yesterday the president sent Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo to confer with Turkish President Recep Erdogan to stop the slaughter of the Kurds. Mr. Trump congratulated himself for solving a crisis that he started by giving a “green light” to Turkish plans to conduct an operation perilously close to ethnic cleansing. In reality, Mr. Trump gave away the farm and tried to make it sound like it was the cows’ fault.
If this is Mr. Trump’s idea of a “great deal” I want to sit down with him because I will walk away with everything that I want. Our negotiation with the Turks was totally one sided — theirs. Turkey got everything they set out to achieve when they crossed the border last week and the Kurds got nothing — maybe not even their lives. Fighting continues today during the supposed “pause” — and the Turks emphasized that it was not a cease fire, merely a pause in an ongoing operation.
In exchange for the Turks’ five day pause in the fighting, the Kurds got a directive to leave their homes and flee or surrender to their fate at the hands of the Turks. And the United States looks weak and foolish.
The Russians got everything they wanted in Syria. And we look weak and foolish.
The Syrians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
The Iranians got everything they wanted. And we look weak and foolish.
Last night this is what the President of the United States said about the abandonment of our Kurdish allies.
“Sometimes you have to let ’em fight. Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let ’em fight and then you pull them apart.”
It is clear that Mr. Trump has no appreciation for human life or respect for anyone not named Donald Trump Sr. These callous remarks reflect so much about his outlook on, well, everything. He even seemed to endorse ethnic cleansing when he said of the Turkish attack on the Kurds that Turkey had to do it, because the Turks “had to clean it out.”
It is a national embarrassment, except that Mr. Trump knows nothing about shame.
Turkey got their “safe zone” in the former autonomous Kurdish region of Syria. In return, the United States promised to lift all sanctions imposed or threatened. Syria re-occupied parts of northern Syria without firing a shot after years of not having the ability to go there. Iran increased their influence in the Middle East and now has an uninterrupted supply line from Tehran to their surrogate Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as access to the Israeli border. Russia is now the primary power broker in the Middle East. ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos to make attacks in the region and coming dangerously close to freeing their thousands of fighters from prison camps. (Several hundred are known to have already escaped. Mr. Trump said that the Kurds released them just to embarrass him.)
Here is what the world saw of some of our country’s best fighters. Abandoned camps left so hastily that food was left out and personal items forgotten. Russian television loved showing the videos of their troops surveying that scene. U.S. troops are holed up waiting to be airlifted out. U.S. aircraft attacked our own former anti-ISIS headquarters after the troops left so quickly that officials feared useful ammunition, equipment and other assets would fall into the hands of other armed groups.
I am sure Russian President Vladimir Putin is tired of winning. He certainly is getting a fabulous return on his investment in the 2016 election.
Reasonable people could make a case for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. It could have been done in a disciplined, methodical and diplomatically sensible way over time that protected the interests of the Kurds as well as our NATO ally Turkey. It could have included a viable resolution to the fate of thousands of hardened ISIS fighters imprisoned in the region. Instead we just bugged out and left the world the worse for it.
Other countries certainly took note. Allies, friends and enemies now know that the United States no longer stands by its word and that the president could wake up any day and undo decades of diplomacy on a whim.
Strategically brilliant? About as brilliant as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in 1938 and declaring “peace for our time.”
It isn’t funny anymore.
The past week showed the lunacy of Mr. Trump and his actions as president in all their weirdest manifestations. From calling American Jews “disloyal” to Israel (among the oldest tropes of anti-Semites) if they vote for a Democrat, to calling the Prime Minister of Denmark “nasty” (his go-to slam on women of power who don’t do what he wants), to acknowledging himself as the “second coming of God” and the “King of Israel,” to calling his hand picked Chairman of the Federal Reserve the “enemy,” it was hard to keep up with his unraveling. It was yet more bafflegab. As the old saying goes, “you can’t tell the players without a score card.”
None of these were the low points of the past week, however. That honor goes to Mr. Trump’s participation in the Group of Seven (G-7) summit over the weekend in France. The G-7 has through the decades provided a forum for the world’s seven strongest democracies to reach a common understanding of problems facing the world and to provide an opportunity to face those problems with a common purpose. This year’s meeting could more properly be called the G-6 and some guy named Trump.
Symbolic of the entire American fiasco were the pictures of the meeting on climate change where all of the G-6 were there, along with the leaders of other nations invited to sit in on the session, and an empty chair where the President of the United States was to sit. The proffered excuse for his no-show was that he was in meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A scheduling conflict. Except that both Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Modi were at the climate change round table as is clearly shown in pictures of the group in session.
Does anything symbolize our current status in the world of international diplomacy more than a picture of an empty chair?
Whatever one’s view on climate change and its importance to the world (I think it an existential threat to our well being, physically, economically and militarily) to have the supposed leader of the free world missing in action shows that the United States is no longer the leader on the world stage. Reports from other weekend meetings indicate that Mr. Trump was marginalized by the other world leaders because they were focused on important issues related to the future of their countries while Mr. Trump spent much of his time bragging about his trade war with China, pushing to have Russian President Vladimir Putin reinstated to the G-7 (making it the G-8 even though Russia still occupies Ukrainian territory in Crimea — the reason they were kicked out — and oh by the way, they are not one of the world’s leading economic powers or democracies) and touting his Doral, Florida golf course and resort as the finest in the world and the anticipated site of next year’s G-7 summit (thus making a profit on one of his business dealings by making foreign leaders and their entourages pay him for the privilege of fulfilling their duties.)
It was clear to observers that the G-6 were merely tolerating Mr. Trump and their goal was not to engage him on substantive issues, but rather to assuage him, flatter him and otherwise keep him occupied so that he did not blow up the primary focus of the work they were trying to do. They knew he would not be part of any solutions so their only objective was to keep him from making the situation worse. They mostly succeeded.
In other words, the world is moving on without the United States. “America First” has become “America Alone.”
It is, once again, obvious that Mr. Trump has no understanding of history or why the world has been at relative peace for the last 75 years. Decades of building trust through multi-lateral organizations such as NATO took down barriers that had resulted in two world wars in the span of twenty-five years. Peace resulted in tremendous economic prosperity in many parts of the world and raised the relative standard of living for most people on earth.
The number one beneficiary of that peace and prosperity? The United States. By taking the lead around the world, we could shape these institutions to our benefit. Other countries were willing to follow our lead because of our economic and military power, but also because they too benefited. It is to our distinct advantage to be part and parcel of these institutions and to set the agenda through our strength and seasoned leadership.
To Mr. Trump this system exists only because previous administrations were chumps and allowed the rest of the world to take advantage of us. Obviously, he has no understanding that the circumstances that led to World War II — the U.S. going it alone in isolation, imposing strict tariffs, the Great Depression — are being recreated by his vacillating and impulsive policy announcements via Twitter.
Real diplomacy aims to achieve a win-win for those involved. Mr. Trump’s core belief is that there are never any win-win situations. Only winners and losers. One must win at all cost — even if that means lying, cheating, and subverting your friends. Otherwise, you are a sucker.
An example would be Mr. Trump’s dealings with Denmark over Greenland. The U.S. could argue that Greenland has important strategic interest to the U.S. for two reasons. The geo-strategic reality that a militarily resurgent Russian Navy must pass through the U.K.-Iceland-Greenland Gap to get to the open Atlantic Ocean — simplifying the U.S. Navy goal to locate those forces, especially submarines. The other is the growing importance of the Arctic to commercial interests, including shipping, for which both Russia and China have ambitious plans. If Mr. Trump understood diplomacy and the multi-lateral nature of our alliances, he would know that Denmark — the Danish kingdom includes Greenland — is one of our greatest allies including sending troops to support us in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffering 43 of their brave soldiers killed in action. Instead of cancelling a state visit — rarely offered by the kingdom — and calling the Prime Minister “nasty” he should have made the visit, talked with the Danish government and worked to see how to meet both nation’s interests while preserving the goals of the U.S. Instead he got mad when they would not sell the island at his demand, as if we would sell Puerto Rico to the French because they want to protect their interests in the Caribbean.
So the world simply moves on without the U.S. and works together without our input. The resulting impact on our foreign policy and national interests is that we lose our seat at the table. All Mr. Trump can do is throw a temper tantrum and disrupt. Indeed, he considers himself a disrupter, a position that has some great appeal to his supporters.
In reality, he is not a disrupter, he is a destroyer. He breaks things and destroys in a fit of pique or just to show that he can. A real leader may shake up the status quo, but has a plan and a strategy to implement a new, and one hopes, better idea. Not so with this president. He breaks things, blames others for it, and expects the world to pick up after his mess. He has no grand plan.
Our friends and allies have learned the game. So have our adversaries. Our friends do not want to play anymore. Our adversaries see a chance to take advantage of the situation. Our friends simply placate him to his face so that he stays out of the way and then they go and do what they want without our input. Our adversaries flatter him and then do whatever they want without fear of consequences.
It may be a stretch to say that we are becoming irrelevant, but our influence is quickly waning.
This may be our weakest international position since before World War II.
You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.
Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development. The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States. It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does. A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation. It is a totally different ball game. It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension. Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind. Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known. In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)
In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.
It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is. For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss. This would be no routine investigation.
Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power. They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power. In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent. No movie studio would make this movie. Too preposterous.
To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent. As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power. I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent. But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.
Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War. He knows what he is doing.
This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum. Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues. How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations? And how should they be held to account? If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong? There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent. My head hurts.
Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet. Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.” Conspiracies lurk everywhere. None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened. They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons. They just do not. Yes, paranoia runs deep. Into your life it will creep. (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.) You are not paranoid if it is true.
The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room. He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.) Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.
In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions. The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization. The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy. They want them gone. The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions. The Russians want them removed. Now. Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org. Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.
My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access. What other evidence exists?
Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words. This list is not exhaustive but representative.
- As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
- At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
- The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union. Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
- He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others. He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
- He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil. This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally. That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
- When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump responded “I think the European Union is a foe.” The EU contains our closest allies. The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
- He continually belittles NATO in public. It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works. He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001. NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there. It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO. Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
- He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote. Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
- He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8). The Russians were expelled following their annexation of Crimea. Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
- At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.” This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
- Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
- Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians. This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
- He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda). The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)
And so on. Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.
So, what to think? Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly? I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it. From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely. It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family. That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself. With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money. Period.
Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved. It is beyond comprehension. The President of the United States works for Russia. Incredible.
The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible. I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be. However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger. We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens. And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019
Mr. Donald J. Trump held his first cabinet meeting of the year on 2 January. In keeping with his reality show background, the meeting was televised. The meeting was really a 90 minute monologue on just about everything that Mr. Trump stewed about over the holidays. There were many newsworthy elements to be found in the transcript ranging from the border wall to the economy. Many of the statements were provably wrong or misleading. The list of falsehoods is too long to go through here.
Among the many untruths from the meeting perhaps the most troubling, at least in terms of asking oneself “where the heck did that come from?” were his comments on Afghanistan. In a discussion about a continued U.S. military presence there, he launched into a bizarre statement full of previously unknown “facts”. In addition to slandering our allies that have fought and died alongside US troops there he said,
“Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.
The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”
No one. No one, on the left, the right or the respective wing nuts of either side have ever said or believed that the Russians went into Afghanistan to fight terrorists or because they had a “right” to invade them. Bipartisan efforts during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush worked to isolate and punish the USSR for that invasion.
The real reason the Soviets invaded was the Brezhnev Doctrine. In 1968 Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union put forth as a basic tenet of Soviet foreign policy the right to interfere in the affairs of any communist country anywhere in the world. The Afghan government was communist when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and they occupied the country until their withdrawal in 1989. While true that the occupation was a drain on the Soviet military and the occupation became unpopular with the Soviet people, it did not bankrupt them or otherwise lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were numerous reasons for the fall, but Afghanistan was more of a symptom of all that was wrong with the Soviet system rather than the cause. They definitely did not enter Afghanistan to fight “terrorists.”
Only one person is pushing the narrative that the Soviet Union had a “right” to invade Afghanistan to stop “terrorism.” That one person is Vladimir Putin. He is pushing a new revisionist history that is pure propaganda and is designed to restore his view of the glory of the Soviet empire in order to stoke nationalist sentiment in Russia, entrench his own power, and provide the basis for his adventurism in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and elsewhere in the hope of restoring that empire.
And now I guess there are two people pushing that line, one of which is the President of the United States.
As the Wall Street Journal put it in part in an editorial,
“Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.”
Is the president ignorant of history or is someone feeding him propaganda that he willingly repeats? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this should raise alarm bells. Either the president really is ignorant of important world events that continue to shape international relations today, or he is willingly repeating Mr. Putin’s revisionist history meant to restore the luster of the former Soviet Union. Either answer is deeply troubling.
What are we to make of this? In the continued chaos of this administration it is easy to lose track of the multitude of “absurd” statements and actions coming out of the White House. However, given the president’s propensity to support and defend all things Putin, one must ask again, “what is going on?” The answer may be even more troubling than we can imagine.