Donald Trump refused to talk to Robert Mueller about Vladimir Putin. Trump was happy to talk to Putin about Mueller. And while Trump was chuckling with Vlad over the “Russia hoax” he didn’t bring up Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. This is your 2016-2019 summary.
While the news of Trump’s “very good” call with Putin on Friday may have been enough to drive up followers to the endless screaming Twitter account, there was more to the talk than just the skull-splitting spectacle of Trump relishing his victory over the law. Among the items Trump mentioned when reeling off the contents of his hour plus chat, The Washington Post reports that his position on one topic was particularly notable.
Trump: “Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.”
What’s particularly confusing about that statement, is that it’s completely at odds with one made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo less than twenty four hours earlier. Pompeo not only said that the Russians have already “invaded” Venezuela, but that Russians and Cubans were the ones actually controlling the country. And while Trump said that Russia was only interested in humanitarian air, Pompeo said that Russians were in the country “protecting their economic interests.”
Why did Trump state something so completely different than his own secretary of state? Because it’s what Putin told him. As Trump has demonstrated again and again since before taking office, what he’s told by an authoritarian ruler is what he believes — experts, intelligence, and evidence be damned.
It’s easy to be grateful that Trump isn’t lining up carriers and preparing a fleet of landing craft to carry an American military force into Venezuela—so far as we know. Considering that “decent man” Dick Cheney would have had the U.S. in Caracas months ago, Trump’s less aggressive take on the situation seems to be something of a relief.
But what’s concerning is that Trump is, once again, ignoring the analysis provided by his own military and intelligence sources and trusting Putin to tell him about Russian intentions. Trump already followed that pattern in Syria to its bitter end. And, while honestly there may have never been a good solution in Syria that didn’t end with either Russia in control or direct military confrontation with Russia, Venezuela is much less of a settled question.
The future of that nation, the stability of the region, and the way it shapes everything from a new round of refugees to the international energy market is still in flux. It’s a situation that doesn’t demand a military invasion, but it does demand leadership. And Trump is providing leadership … unfortunately, it’s Putin’s leadership.