The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Seeing Russia Clearly, Whether the President Wants to or Not

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why we need to keep track of Russia’s aggressive actions, whether or not President Trump wants to do the same; the Democrats’ favorite rising star is beginning to wilt in the spotlight; a surprising controversy in Paris; and The New Yorker offers some familiar complaints about the Constitution.

At What Point Do We Hold Putin and the Russian Government Accountable?

President Trump, on Twitter this morning: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Perhaps this is just the typical morning fuming before the eyes of the entire world, but if Trump wonders why he gets called a puppet of Putin and why so many people speculate that Putin has some sort of leverage over him . . . it’s comments like these that add fuel to that fire. If Trump is genuinely bothered by those accusations, it’s entirely within his power to stop them, or at least mitigate them, by taking a tougher line with Vladimir Putin.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s put aside the allegations of hacking and stealing data and then funneling it through WikiLeaks during the 2016 election.

Did the United States make Russian intelligence use that Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, England?

Did the U.S. make Russian-aligned separatists use a Russian military anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a Malaysian Airlines jet, full of innocent civilians? More than a few aviation experts will contend that a Boeing 777 cannot easily be mistaken for a military aircraft, and air-traffic and radar records indicate that no Ukrainian aircraft was within 30 miles of the Malaysian Airlines plane — meaning either the separatists knew it was a civilian jetliner and fired anyway, or the Russian military handed off anti-aircraft weapons to militants so utterly incompetent that they couldn’t distinguish between military and civilian aircraft. In any other context, we would consider that state-sponsored terrorism.

In 1983, the Soviet military shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, and President Reagan held a nationally televised address calling it “a crime against humanity” and “an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.” He suspended negotiations on some issues and pushed for other countries to bar Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, from their skies.

I seem to recall a lot of us finding Obama’s response in 2014 muffled. There’s no statute of limitations on accountability; the Trump administration could press Putin’s regime hard on this, but they choose another path.

The four-year anniversary of the attack on Malaysian Airlines is tomorrow.

Did the U.S. make the Russian military roll into Crimea?

When Syria’s Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, after the regime in Tehran, who’s the first to defend him? Why is Russia so eager to end investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, using veto power at the United Nations again and again?

I recall during the election, an esteemed former colleague — who at one point knew Russia pretty darn well — insisting that Russia was “going to help us defeat ISIS.” Unfortunately, Russian forces have sometimes refused to strike ISIS targets in parts of Syria they control. In Syria, Russia has been absolutely brutal in hitting anti-Assad forces, inflicting plenty of civilian casualties, yet they never brought that ruthless ferocity to the fight against ISIS.

And at least once, some forces aligned with theirs took shots at our forces. Why did a large group of Russian mercenaries fire upon American special forces in Deir al-Zour Province in Syria? (They paid the price; anywhere from 200 to 300 members of the opposition died, and no Americans were harmed.)

Why does the Russian military conduct mock invasion drills just beyond the territorial waters of NATO members?

Just how is the United States supposed to react to this steadily worsening record of aggression? In this context, why would anyone find Russia hacking, stealing data, exposing private emails, and perhaps even mixing in some disinformation so unthinkable?

At what point do we hold Putin and the Russian government accountable for its actions?

Trump said at a recent rally: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”

No, he’s not “fine.”

‘I’m Willing to Learn and Evolve on this Issue as I Think Many Americans Are’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic party’s new favorite young Democratic Socialist and effectively a congresswoman-in-waiting, appeared on the new Firing Line. Her comments about Israel . . . did not go smoothly. Margaret Hoover asked about her characterization of Israel:

Hoover: You use the term “the occupation of Palestine,” what did you mean by that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Oh — I think, what I meant is that the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to housing and homes.

Hoover: Do you think you can expand on that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Yeah, I think — I am not the expert on geo-politics on this issue. You now, for me, I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution in this issue. And I’m happy to sit down with leaders on both of these . . . for me, I just look at things through a human-rights lens, and I may not use the right words — I know this is a very intense issue.

Hoover: That’s very honest and you’re going to — and when you get to Washington and you’re an elected member of Congress you’ll have an opportunity to talk to people on all sides and visit Israel and visit the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez: Absolutely. And especially with the district that I represent, I come from the South Bronx, I come from a Puerto Rican background. And Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night. But I also recognize that this is an intensely important issue for people in my district, for Americans across the country. And I think at least what is important to communicate is that I am willing to listen. And that I’m willing to learn and evolve on this issue as I think many Americans are.

Maybe 28-year-old members of Congress are rare for a reason.

Should a Governments Bar a Particular Performer from a Site of Terror Attack?

Meanwhile, over in France, there’s controversy brewing over a Muslim rapper who’s scheduled to perform at the Bataclan theater — the site of the terrorist attack in 2015 — and whether he’s sufficiently anti-Islamist.

Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, writing over at the Gatestone Institute:

The concerts will most likely not be canceled. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that “freedom of speech” has to be respected and accused the complaining organizations of playing the game of the “extreme right.” Muslim organizations spoke of “Islamophobia.”

Laurent Wauquiez, president of the conservative Les Républicains party, said that “the role of the police and the army is to watch over the safety of people and not wait passively while people get killed.” He also said that if the concerts were held, it would be a “sacrilege” and the second death of the victims of the attacks. Other conservative politicians shared his opinion.

They were immediately accused of “racism”.

Most mainstream French media outlets remained silent. Those who broke the silence accused the lawyers of needlessly wanting to reopen old wounds. Virtually no journalist spoke of booking Médine’s concerts at the Bataclan: those who did, such as Edouard Philippe, invoked “freedom of speech”.

ADDENDA: Amazon’s discount-filled Prime Day starts at 3 p.m. Eastern, so you may want to peruse the NR book gift list I compiled back on Cyber Monday . . .

I notice none of the objections to the Electoral College, and the argument that it somehow unfairly favors Republicans, address the fact that Democrats won presidential elections in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012. Odd how the unfairness seems to fade away when the Democrats run charismatic candidates and only kicks in when Republicans run better candidates.

Over in The New Yorker, John Cassidy laments, “Despite being trounced in the popular vote in 2016, the G.O.P. has controlled the upper chamber since 2014.” Why, it’s almost as if senators are elected to six-year terms, and Republicans did exceptionally well in the 2014 midterms! And it’s almost as if Republicans got no votes in California in 2016 and Democrats ran two candidates in the general election to win almost twice their usual total of votes — which is in fact exactly what happened!

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