Putin and Erdogan are meeting in Sochi. That resort town is for more than the Olympics. The meeting, said the New York Times, is an opportunity for Putin and Erdogan “to consolidate their gains in Syria in the wake of President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of American troops.” Talks between the two men “highlight the loss of American influence in the days since Mr. Trump ordered troops to withdraw from northeast Syria.”
At the airport in Ankara, before he left for Russia, Erdogan said something almost touching: “With my dear friend Putin, we will discuss the current situation . . .”
It is a new world, yes, one that some Americans like, a lot, and one that others of us think is ominous. Last year, after his latest fraudulent election, Erdogan staged his latest inauguration. The list of attendees was instructive, and predictable: Medvedev of Russia (standing in for Putin). Orbán of Hungary. Maduro of Venezuela.
Maduro pronounced Erdogan a “leader of the new multi-polar world” — which is accurate.
The year before, Orbán had said, “We all sense — it’s in the air — that the world is in the process of a substantial realignment.” He was meeting with Putin — who hailed Hungary as an “important and reliable partner for Russia in Europe.”
That is certainly true.
After the Americans cleared out and Erdogan invaded Syria, Erdogan met with Orbán, in Baku. The Turk thanked the Hungarian for his support on the world stage — as well he might have. Orbán has, for example, blocked EU resolutions against Turkey.
Two articles this week tell us about Putin and Orbán, and their influence on Trump — their influence on him when it comes to Ukraine, in particular. For a Times report, go here; for a Washington Post report, go here. Putin and Orbán hate Ukraine, of course. Ukraine is a new democracy under siege. Indeed, Putin is warring against Ukraine, literally.
A State Department official, George Kent, testified before Congress on Ukraine. Specifically, he addressed the question of why our president is thinking and acting the way he is. Putin and Orbán have filled Trump’s head — a receptive head, to be sure.
Let me bless the names of two other officials: John R. Bolton and Fiona Hill. Bolton, as you know, was until recently Trump’s national security adviser; Hill, until recently, was the leading Russia expert on the National Security Council staff.
Earlier this year, Trump received Orbán at the White House. According to the Times, Bolton and Hill opposed this development. They believed that Orbán “did not deserve the honor of an Oval Office visit, which would be seen as a huge political coup for an autocratic leader ostracized by many of his peers in Europe.” Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, or acting chief of staff, was enthusiastic about the visit, as he is about Orbán.
No one is more enthusiastic than Trump. “It’s like we’re twins,” Trump said to Orbán. We learned this from David Cornstein, an old friend of Trump’s who is now our ambassador in Budapest. Orbán has built an illiberal regime that some find enviable. Listen to Ambassador Cornstein: “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”
Finally, listen to Mark Esper, our new secretary of defense: “We had no obligation, if you will, to defend the Kurds from a longstanding NATO ally,” meaning Turkey. So now NATO is important, in the minds of the Trump administration? We must oblige the anti-American, Islamist dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but we’re not so sure about the liberal democracies of Europe?
It is a new world, ladies and gentlemen, and as conservatives know all too well, new is not necessarily good.