The Corner

National Security & Defense

Putin’s False Equivalency

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Anatoly Maltsev/Reuters)

We are in dangerous times. Amid the hysteria over the Russian summit, the Mueller collusion probe, nonstop unsupported allegations and rumors, the Strzok and Page testimonies, the ongoing congressional investigations into improper CIA and FBI behavior, and a completely unhinged media, there is a growing crisis of rising tensions between two superpowers that together possess a combined arsenal of 3,000 instantly deployable nuclear weapons and another 10,000 in storage. That latter existential fact apparently has been forgotten in all the recriminations. So it is time for all parties to deescalate and step back a bit.

Trump understandably wants to avoid progressive charges that he is obstructing Robert Mueller’s ostensible investigation of Russian collusion, and he also wants some sort of détente with Russia. Mueller has likely indicted Russians, timed on the eve of the summit, in part on the assumption that they would more or less not personally defend themselves and never appear on U.S. soil.

Add that all up, and Trump apparently has discussed with Putin an idea of allowing Mueller’s investigators to visit Russia to interview those they have indicted.

But in the quid pro quo world of big-power rivalry, Putin, of course, wants reciprocity — the right also to interview American citizens or residents (among them a former U.S. ambassador to Russia) whom he believes have transgressed against Russia.

Trump needs to squash Putin’s ridiculous “parity” request immediately. Mueller would learn little or nothing from interviewing his targets on Russian soil — and likely never imagined that he would or could.

On the other hand, given recent Russian attacks on critics abroad, Moscow’s interviewing any Russian antagonist anywhere is not necessarily a safe or sane enterprise. And being indicted under the laws of a constitutional republic is hardly synonymous with earning the suspicion of the Russian autocracy.

Most importantly, the idea that a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Professor Michael McFaul — long after the expiration of his government tenure — would submit to Russian questioning is absurd. Of course, it would also undermine the entire sanctity of American ambassadorial service.

McFaul, a colleague at the Hoover Institution, who would probably disagree with most of my views, years ago was targeted as an enemy by Vladimir Putin and more recently has been sharply critical of the Trump administration. But, of course, he is a widely admired patriot, a scholar, and voices his candid views, like all of us, under the assumption of free speech and absolute protection under the Constitution. As an ambassador, he was also accorded diplomatic immunity as insurance that his implementation of then U.S. policy would not earn him retaliation from Moscow, both then or now. McFaul is wise enough not to voluntarily submit to be questioned by Russian operatives, and the U.S. government must never suggest that he should.

So, Putin’s offer, to the extent we know the details of it, will soon upon examination be seen as patently unhinged. In refusal, Trump has a good opportunity to remind the world why all American critics of the Putin government — and especially of his own government as well — are uniquely free and protected to voice any notion they wish.

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