The Corner

National Security & Defense

Trump’s Comment On American ‘Killers’ Isn’t as Bad as You Think; It’s Worse

I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when a Republican president equated America with Russia — and did so in a way that echoed the worst of fever-swamp radical leftism. There has already been enough commentary on Trump’s headline-grabbing initial response to Bill O’Reilly’s claim that Vladimir Putin is a “killer.” Trump said, “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” I’d like to focus on the follow-up, when O’Reilly gave him an opportunity to amend his statement:

O’REILLY: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

TRUMP: Well — take a look at what we’ve done, too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’REILLY: Yes, mistakes are different than –

TRUMP: We made a lot of mistakes, OK, but a lot of people were killed. So, a lot of killers around, believe me.

In response, I’m reminded of a quote from our founder, William F. Buckley, Jr.:

[T]o say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

When I was a young man living for the first time in the heart of leftist America, I was stunned at the number of books and lectures that made the case that there was no moral difference between the United States and its enemies. Some even went so far as to declare that we were somehow worse than the Soviets — or on some kind of par with Imperial Japan for Nazi Germany because, after all, we dropped a nuclear weapon. We engaged in area bombing. They killed. We killed. What’s the difference?

Trump’s point echoes these slanders, and it does so in a way that impugns not just our national honor but also the integrity of the American fighting man (after all, who else is doing the killing?) Yet there are fundamental moral and legal differences between Russia and America. Russian forces act with utter disregard for the laws of war. American forces go beyond the requirements of the laws of war to safeguard innocent life. Russia is acting on behalf of a genocidal tyrant, seeking to extend his reign. America acted to depose a genocidal tyrant, terminating his rule. America had just legal cause for war in Iraq — Saddam Hussein violated Gulf War cease-fire agreements and U.N. resolutions while continually shooting at American pilots and trying to kill an American president — while Russia had no just cause to invade the Ukraine. America’s wars are not like Russia’s wars, and American warriors cannot be lumped in with Putin’s killers. 

It was heartening to see a number of GOP lawmakers condemn Trump’s remarks, but Trump himself has to stop equating America and Russia. He’s done it before, and I suspect he may do it again. By doing so, he’s not only obscuring the truth, he’s injecting nonsensical moral relativism into American foreign policy — a relativism that can undermine national resolve in the face of an increasing Russian threat. Ultimately, our nation is only as resolute as its people, and Trump is blurring the lines between American virtues and Russian wrongs. In the event of a future crisis, Trump’s words could prove not just misguided, but dangerous. 

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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