Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Is Trump Putin’s Useful Idiot?

By Noah Rothman
Commentary
October 12, 2016

With 28 days to go before Election Day, it’s fascinating to watch as Democrats discover Donald Trump is conspicuously supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This allegedly shocking revelation that only now dawned on them has compelled the panicky left to demonstrate to the American public that the reviled Russian leader is pulling Trump’s strings. Their latest efforts are, however, not nearly as damning as are Donald Trump’s own statements.

Over at Newsweek, reporter Kurt Eichenwald thinks he might have stumbled on the smoking gun in the form of a leaked email exposed by the Russian intelligence laundering outfit WikiLeaks. In that email, he discovered two sentences he had written, which had been emailed to Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta by Clinton confidante and political hitman Sidney Blumenthal regarding the Benghazi attacks. The content implied that Blumenthal believed the deadly Libya attack was “preventable” and a result of State Department negligence. That Eichenwald quote was misattributed to Blumenthal in a report on the leaks published by the website Sputnik, a Kremlin-run web outlet described as the Buzzfeed of pro-Moscow misinformation. But here’s the rub: Trump himself repeated the misattributed quote just as Sputnik had reported it at a recent campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

“Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin?” Eichenwald asks. Good question. Sputnik—a pro-Moscow propaganda shop—peddles precisely the dreary stuff on which the Trump campaign is predicated: namely, negative news about the United States. It stands entirely to reason that the Trump campaign, which has a special affinity for outfits like RT (also Russian-owed) and InfoWars (a conspiracy site dedicated to exposing supposedly treasonous American elites) would find that Sputnik also has a special way of validating their prior convictions. As links between Trump and the Kremlin go, though, this is some weak sauce.

That does not mean that Donald Trump has not compromised himself in service to Russia’s interests. Trump denied that the United States had any concrete knowledge that Russia was behind the hacks of Democratic National Committee computers, infiltrations that turned up communications now coincidentally showing up in WikiLeaks document dumps. He insisted that China might be behind the attack or perhaps even hackers with knowledge of computer systems no more sophisticated than that of his pre-teen son Baron. According to intelligence community sources who spoke with NBC News, however, Trumps was specifically and personally briefed by U.S. intelligence officials who indicated that the Russian government and Vladimir Putin were behind the attack. Trump was privy to the same intelligence that led the White House to publicly blame the Moscow for the unprecedented intervention into American electoral politics.

At Sunday night’s debate, Trump went out of his way to distance himself from his own vice presidential candidate. Mike Pence had diverted from the celebrity candidate’s line when he said the U.S. had to respond forcefully to Russian “provocations” and should entertain strikes against its terror-supporting client in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. “He and I haven’t spoken, and he and I disagree,” Trump said on Sunday when asked about his running mate’s comments. He went on to insist that Russia and Assad were forces for stability and counterterrorism in Syria. This assertion has come even amid a deluge of reports indicating that Moscow has used controlled weapons and struck humanitarian targets in Syria, including a United Nations aid convoy (which both the U.S. and the U.K. have accused Russia of attacking with credible evidence). These are only the latest developments in Russia’s campaign against Assad’s enemies in Syria, which opened with a brazen strike on U.S.-backed rebels and a CIA-provided weapons depot.

The evidence exposing Trump’s support for to Russian interests materialize almost daily, but this is a trend that anti-Trump Republicans had been observing for over a year. Trump has defended Putin who has presided at a time in which journalists and opposition figures conspicuously wind up dead. “I think our country does plenty of killing,” Trump told Joe Scarborough. He has said NATO is “obsolete,” and flirted with the prospect of ignoring Baltic nations if they invoke the treaty’s mutual defense provisions following a Russian attack. Trump has contended implicitly that Russia should have free reign in the Middle East and has said as much explicitly about Europe. Trump has given the appearance that he’s working on Moscow’s behalf for some time, but only after Moscow began to repay the favor did Democrats express their disfavor.

To Democrats just waking up to the threat posed by Moscow’s intervention in American politics with the aid of a willing accomplice, welcome to the party. This is a pattern of behavior anti-Trump Republicans have observed and condemned for well over a year. Democrats who thought this dynamic provided them with advantage played a dangerous game. Now that the Oval Office is within reach of the object of their terror, they’re pulling out all the stops. It is only through fortune and not their efforts, though, that Trump appears likely to fall short.


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