The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

If All of Your Trusted Friends Say You’re Wrong … Maybe You’re Wrong

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich greets Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at the Sharonville Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio July 6, 2016. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Let’s put aside what all of President Trump’s critics are saying — of course they will go to DEFCON 1 after Trump’s comments at his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. Let’s see what the president’s usual allies think of Trump’s performance.

Laura Ingraham: “Hint: Don’t use ‘strong and powerful’ to describe Putin’s denial re. election meddling. Use words ‘predictable and damaging to US-Russian relations’ to describe Russian meddling.” (In a subsequent interview with Sean Hannity, Trump instead repeated that description, saying that he “thought Putin was very, very strong.”)

Newt Gingrich: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”

Brian Kilmeade, on Fox & Friends this morning: “When Newt Gingrich, when General Jack Keane, when Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention and it’s easily correctable from the president’s perspective. Nobody’s perfect, especially [after] ten intensive days of summits, private meetings, and everything on his plate. But that moment is the one that’s going to stand out unless he comes out and corrects it.”

Brit Hume: “Gingrich is dead right about this. And he’s nowhere near the only Trump defender who’s appalled at Trump’s response today. And Trump’s subsequent tweet did not undo the damage.”

Mark Corallo, who briefly worked as a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team: “Clarify? How about apologizing for equating in any way the United States of America and the regime of a murderous kleptocrat?”

Matt Drudge went with the headline, “Putin Dominates In Hel” — meaning, Helsinki.

The editorial board of the New York Post: “President Trump sought to boost US-Russian ties when he met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. But his failure to publicly hold the Russian accountable for his aggressive behavior — on numerous fronts — will only embolden him and fuel more tension down the road … President Trump had a real opportunity to forge a new relationship with Russia by projecting strength and commanding respect. He failed to do so — and it likely will come back to haunt him.”

Post columnist Michael Goodwin, another usually-friendly-to-Trump voice: “With Putin, Trump bordered on being deferential. He looked hunched over, as if trying to minimize their height differences . . . The wishy-washy “both parties” dodge serves to create a moral equivalency between Putin and Coats, and between Russia and America. What happened to America First?”

Trump’s comments were “appalling,” declares . . . er, our old friend Byron York, now with the Washington Examiner, and one of the media voices most likely to examine an issue in the light most sympathetic to the president.

Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake is among those who have argued that the claims that Trump has some sort of illegal tie to Russia lack any credible evidence. But he concluded that Trump demonstrated shameful gullibility yesterday:

After Putin said he would allow U.S. law enforcement officials to come to Moscow and watch as his police question the 12 agents Mueller indicted, Trump responded by calling it “an incredible offer.”

It isn’t. Putin was falsely equating his own country’s information operation against the Democratic Party with the U.S.’s refusal to recognize an arrest warrant for William Browder, the chief executive of Hermitage Capital. Browder has spent the last nine years of his life pursuing justice for Sergei Magnitsky, his Russian lawyer, who died in prison in 2009 after exposing embezzlement by government officials.

And who knows what Trump said in private to Putin; they met alone (with only translators present) for two hours before meeting the press. But Trump’s failure to summon a micron of public outrage at Putin’s false equivalency is telling . . .

Even on arms control, Trump is playing the sucker. Right now, Russia is in violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, something Putin himself confirmed in March when he unveiled a new line of nuclear weapons (and an animation showing a Russian nuclear attack on the U.S.). Why would Trump seek new arms control agreements with Russia when it keeps violating the old ones?

It’s worth noting that Trump got really tough with Germany over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline . . . but after he met with Putin, Trump said he knows where they’re coming from and wishes them luck. What happened to the tough guy? What happened to the master of “the art of the deal”? What happened to America First?

Douglas Schoen is a Democrat, but as a Fox News analyst, he’s deviated from his party quite a bit over the years. He was scathing, declaring that Putin ate Trump’s lunch:

When asked if he would hold Russia accountable for any of its past actions, Trump deflected and deferred. President Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Russia on this issue only serves to weaken the Western alliance and encourage further Russian incursions into the territory of sovereign nations now that Putin knows Trump will give him a pass.

Most importantly, on election meddling, Trump refused to stand with U.S. intelligence and charge Putin with interference, saying he doesn’t “see any reason why it would be” the Russians carrying out the illegal meddling. For a sitting U.S. president to say publicly that he believes a foreign leader over his own intelligence team is shocking and admonishable. At a time when our democracy faces grave threats, it is deeply troubling that the president would side with the very country who attacked us.

Congressional Republicans, including ones who are usually supportive of the president, kept making clear that the president had gone out way too far on a limb.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas:U.S.–Russia relations remain at a historic low for one simple reason: Vladimir Putin is a committed adversary of the United States. In the last few years alone, Russia meddled in our presidential campaign, violated arms-control treaties with the United States, invaded Ukraine, assassinated political opponents in the United Kingdom, made common cause with Iran in propping up Bashar al-Assad’s outlaw regime in Syria, and cheated not only in the Olympics, but even in the Paralympics. These are not the actions of a friend, an ally, or merely a nation with aligned interests. Until Russian behavior changes, our policy should not change. The United States should stay on the strategic offensive against Russia by maintaining sanctions, rebuilding our military, modernizing our nuclear forces, expanding missile defenses, sending more weapons to our allies, and producing more oil and gas. Strength is the one language for which Vladimir Putin needs no interpreter.”

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma: “I trust the assessments of Dan Coats, Gina Haspel & their teams more than I trust a former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin. U.S. Presidents should meet w/ foreign leaders. But we must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts & human rights abuses around the world.”

When’s the last time you heard from Ash Carter, secretary of defense in the later years of the Obama presidency? As far as Obama administration officials go, he was one of the least partisan and most respected ones, rarely if ever shooting his mouth off. His comment yesterday? “I never saw or imagined so uneven a handover of American security interests and principles with nothing in return . . . It was like watching the destruction of a cathedral.”

The Long and Irritating History of American Presidents and Vladimir Putin

I nod in begrudging acknowledgment that former President George W. Bush sounded foolish when he declared, “I looked into [Putin’s] eyes and saw his soul.” I enjoy reminding people about Hillary Clinton’s “reset button” — stolen from a hotel pool or jacuzzi in Geneva by Philippe Reines and mistranslated with label that said “overcharge.” We all relish reminding everyone about President Obama’s smug, oblivious “the Eighties called, they want their foreign policy back” jab in his 2012 debate with Mitt Romney. I remind people about Obama’s uncomfortable “This is my last election . . . After my election I have more flexibility” pledge to then–Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Yes, the Democrats have traditionally been collectively softer on the Soviet Union and Russia, always more inclined to see Moscow’s leaders in a more sympathetic light, always more willing to make tangible concessions in exchange for intangible promises. Yes, there’s some laughably implausible politicking in their reinvention as hawks. There’s nothing wrong with rubbing Democrats’ noses in their past dismissiveness of any threat from Russia.

But the question is . . . what do we want to do about Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression today?

A Key Point about Tyrants, the World Stage, and Technology

This weekend, we had friends visiting from out of town, and some wanted to go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Back in 2008, I went to one of the museum’s temporary exhibits, about the 1936 Olympic Games, displaying how Hitler largely pulled off the propaganda victory he wanted — with the notable exception of Jesse Owens blowing up the argument about Aryan genetic superiority. (Owens returned home to the United States to live under our own legal racial discrimination.)

Sports boosters and some foreign-policy thinkers have argued, decade after decade, that the privilege of hosting big international sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cup makes despotic, authoritarian, or brutal regimes stay on their best behavior. But it never works out that way. Russia just hosted the Olympics and World Cup, and they’re as aggressive as ever. We didn’t see much improvement in China’s behavior before the Beijing Olympics. Qatar’s building its stadiums with what amounts to migrant slave labor. As I wrote only-partially-tongue-in-cheek a few weeks ago, we would be better off having the World Corruption Games.

I was reminded of that when I read this comment by John Hayward: “As I’ve mournfully noted many times, the Internet was supposed to be a super-weapon for freedom, but instead it has become an instrument of tyranny, a weapon that can be used by authoritarians against free societies. Authoritarianism is now more viral than liberty.”

Dictators and brutal regimes look at all technology advances with one overriding question: “How can I use this to stay in power?”

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to chat with Tony Katz sometime today.

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