We’ve all seen the photos, where Donald Trump preens and panders to Vladimir Putin. We’ve seen the handshake, where Trump’s hand is underneath Putin’s, a subtle yet obvious hint of who is dominant in the relationship. And it’s widely known that “the president dissuades, if not prohibits, the mentioning of any intelligence which is not favorable to Russia.” Last week, the lid finally blew off when it was revealed that Putin has paid bounties to Taliban rebels in Afghanistan to kill American troops. Former ambassador Michael McFaul, nails the Putin/Trump dynamic in a Washington Post editorial, which is both pithy and powerful. While deeply disturbing, this effort by Putin is not surprising: It follows a clear pattern of ignoring international norms, rules and laws — and daring the United States to do anything about it. Putin sees the United States as his central enemy. He fears our democratic values; believes that we actively promote these values to undermine autocrats, including himself; and loathes the liberal international order, which, in his view, serves American hegemony and weakens Russia. This latest act is designed to keep the United States bogged down in Afghanistan. More alarming is President Trump’s response: Nothing. This, too, follows a pattern of fealty before Putin, as the president has consistently praised Putin, dismissed Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, never criticized Russian annexation of Crimea, and uttered not a word about violations of human rights and growing autocracy in Russia. Trump’s embrace of Putin, despite the clear costs to U.S. national security, has tightened. But this latest moment of indifference — silence about the killing of American soldiers — marks a new low. […] Equally disturbing, Trump’s alibi for his lack of a response to the apparent Russian-ordered contract killing of American soldiers in Afghanistan is incompetence. The Washington Post Fact Checker staff has documented more than 19,000 falsehoods uttered by Trump as of June. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Trump was not orally briefed about this intelligence. That in itself is a damning indictment of the president and his national security team. National security adviser Robert O’Brien receives the Presidential Daily Brief, as do other senior national security officials. Why did none of them tell Trump about this intelligence since the White House learned of it last year, especially before he called Putin a half-dozen times, invited him back to the Group of Seven or announced American troop reductions in Germany? During my five years in the Obama administration, the president reviewed relevant intelligence before calling any head of state or undertaking any major foreign policy decision. That process does not appear to be functioning in the Trump administration. […] But even if Trump just learned about the bounties, he has still not said what he will do about them. Instead, he has denounced the reporting on this intelligence as “Just another HOAX,” again defending Putin instead of siding with U.S. intelligence officials and our soldiers. It’s no wonder Putin thought he could order the killing of American soldiers and face no serious consequences. What a cast of characters. The KGB assassin who rose to become dictator of Russia and one of the world’s richest men and the trust fund baby, game show host, who improbably and impossibly became the leader of the free world — with the KGB assassin’s help. There is no telling […]
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