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foreign policy

Trump: Soft on Putin, Allies Left in the Wind

Donald Trump's encouraging Russia to find the 30,000
e-mails that were erased from Hillary Clinton's server (per her attorneys) has raised legitimate concern that "there's something going on", a phrase you might remember Trump leveling at President Obama after Orlando.

Forensic technology has convinced U.S. intelligence that the Wikileaks release of Democratic National Committee e-mails and documents originated with the Russian government. That they expose a corrupt tilt toward Clinton over Sanders by the committee and were released just before the Democratic convention seems beyond coincidence. Is Vladimir Putin, his favorable comments taking advantage of Trump's susceptibility to flattery, trying to influence the election? And has Trump — easy prey to a compliment — fallen in thrall to Putin?

"He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that", Putin has said about Trump, and Trump has returned the compliment saying about Putin "at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country."

The exchange of mutual admiration between the two has been going on since 2007, according to this timeline put together by CNN. Before heading to Moscow with his Miss Universe beauty pageant in 2013 (enough exposure for him to now say, "I know Russia well"), he tweeted the question, "Do you think Putin will be going…if so, will he become my new best friend?"

But now Trump has invited a foreign country to spy on his rival for the presidency:

"Russia, if you're listening. I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens."

Trump has already played into Putin's hand in several ways. That all signatories would join in common defense if any one of them is attacked is the sacrosanct deterrent basis of NATO, yet in a startling late-June interview with David Sanger and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Trump threatened the decades-long stability of NATO by saying he would come to the aid of countries attacked by Russia only after determining that those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us”. He has called NATO "obsolete". "When NATO was formed many decades ago we were a different country. There was a different threat”, he said, evidently viewing today's Russia under Putin as benign.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?", Trump asks. That would be welcomed by those who ask just when did we decide that Crimea and Ukraine were vital to our national interest? At various moments Trump has said, "I would get along with Putin; I've dealt with Russia". "I think in terms of leadership, [Putin's] getting an A". "He's actually liked in his country, which is hard to believe, because he is essentially a dictator". But "he's respected, unlike our president".

Putin has said, "Mr Trump has declared that he’s ready for the full restoration of Russian-American relations", and separately, “What’s wrong with that?”, which drew applause from business executives in his audience yearning for smoother economic relations. "Is there anything bad there? We all welcome this, don’t you?”

Trump has said he would get along "fine" with Russia, would “get along very well” with Vladimir Putin. “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia,” he told MSNBC. David Rothkopf, CEO & Editor of Foreign Policy magazine said in a television interview, "I think it's absolutely clear that there is some kind of alignment between Putin and Trump, and Trump is perfectly willing to play along…to accept the support of Putin despite Putin's record...despite the threat he poses to our top allies in Europe".

Trump has never met Putin. Hillary Clinton has had direct dealings. She is despised by the Russian president for her accusing his party of fraud in the 2011 parliamentary elections and for — according to him — instigating the huge street protests that erupted against him by signaling the support of the U.S. government. “Putin will eat your lunch,” she said in a speech directed at Trump. If Trump is elected president, it would be like “Christmas in the Kremlin”, she has said.

the vulnerable moment

That's the backdrop as we move inexorably toward our nation's moment of maximum vulnerability, when our democracy's leadership changes hands January 20th. It is a moment when our adversaries may probe for weakness and will be tempted to test us.

Will China challenge our ships or overflights of the South China Sea with more than close encounters to test the new president's reaction to a serious incident?

If Donald Trump becomes president, will Vladimir Putin surmise that he can make his next move, knowing that our electorate has installed a president utterly inexperienced, extraordinarily ill-prepared for the job, and very much an admirer of Putin. The fear is that Putin, who views the collapse of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical

catastrophe of the [20th] century," might next move to annex the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) in his conjectured step-by-step plan to reassemble that union. In Trump, would he have an America president who will let that happen?

It's difficult to know. "I'm an intuitive person", says Trump. He gets what he knows from newspapers and what he calls "the shows", presumably meaning the Sunday talk shows. Until Paul Manafort and Carter Page came on board — both of whom have have had dealings in Russia — he has had no foreign policy advisors. Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whom he talks with, Trump responded, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things" — to himself, presumably. "My primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff."

And if Hillary Clinton becomes president that day, would Putin find that an irresistible moment to create havoc. In return, we need also to worry about the hawkish Ms Clinton and her history of intemperate personal remarks about the Russian leader, such as equating him with Hitler for his advances into Ukraine and voicing her doubt that George W. Bush had gotten a sense of Putin's soul because as a former KGB agent he probably didn't have one. Amid all the hoopla on Inauguration Day, we will need to hold our breath.

Whether we ever should have expanded NATO, pushing up against Russia's borders — the triumphalist and reckless response to the end of the Cold War begun in the Clinton administration with the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and extended by the still more provocative addition of the Baltic States during the Bush administration — is a moot point, because now we're stuck with the NATO pledge to defend them all.

it's money that matters

Mr. Trump does not value NATO for its intrinsic purpose of deterring aggression — irrespective of whether all members are paid up. That's "outdated", he says. "We're spending too much money because these countries are not paying their fair share", he said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The Atlantic Alliance, he says, is “unfair, economically, to us, to the United States, because it really helps them more than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.”

He views our alliances more as deals; they seem for him to be first and foremost financial transactions. “When they don’t pay up, they’ve backed out of their obligations, then we no longer have an obligation to defend them,” he said. “You always have to be prepared to walk from something. I don’t want to get out of NATO. I want the countries of NATO to pay us”. The threat of dishonoring the pledge to NATO is justified as a negotiating tactic to get other nations to foot the bill for their security.

That is his stance globally. “We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher”, he said to The New York Times. America was “systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Middle East, many states in the Middle East, for instance protecting Saudi Arabia and not being properly reimbursed for every penny that we spend.”

That's not all wrong, of course, and he has stirred the latent resentment of the American taxpayer that we have for so long been picking up the tab for the security of the world. In a country where nothing dissuades the public from thinking that 28% of the national budget goes to foreign aid (actually, 1%), that has great appeal. The dilemma is, what if this position is taken beyond bluff. Would Trump risk dismantling the global security architecture that has maintained the peace in most of the world for decades?

"I alone can fix it" Trump said in his acceptance speech about America's rigged political system. ("The language of a dictator", said Hillary in hers). Alone, he also will fix the payment shortfalls of laggard nations: "We can't be taken for suckers with Germany, Japan, South Korea. They should pay us, pay us substantially, and they will if I ask them. It somebody else asks them, they won't."

self-responsibility

The Trump foreign policy goes beyond just getting nations to pay up. He wants to tear up the

1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty whereby the U.S. would come to the defense of Japan if attacked. "We have to immediately go and start World War III, okay? If we get attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us. Somehow that doesn't sound so fair." And, "We have 28,000 soldiers on the line in South Korea… We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this". In fact South Korea agreed to pay $866 million in 2014, "making it arguably cheaper to keep U.S. forces there than on the American mainland", said The Weekly Standard. And Japan's budget for this year shows $1.7 billion in direct support of U.S. costs, said The Wall Street Journal.

Our standing ready to defend has made it unnecessary for the two countries to go nuclear, which they would likely have to do, faced with nuclear North Korea and China as neighbors. Which would be fine with Trump.

“You have so many countries already — China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia — you have so many countries right now that have them. Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

With China growing increasingly aggressive and reviving ancient claims for Japan's Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Trump plan of all four countries facing each other with nuclear weapons would be a high-risk abandonment of the calm the United States has achieved for decades in the region.

Trump would solve the North Korea problem with ease. He would have China assassinate Kim Jong-un. Of course, China won't even impose sanction of North Korea, so worried is it that the poverty-stricken horde will come across the border. Short of that solution, he has suggested the U.S. bomb North Korean nuclear sites, which would likely be Clinton's move as well– or Obama's before that — the moment the supreme leader proves that his missiles can reach Hawaii or the U.S. mainland.

Trump has even countenanced using nuclear weapons in Europe, if a military conflict breaks out, saying, “You don’t want to, say, take everything off the table.”

Like the Obama administration's irritation with Middle Eastern countries that refuse to put their troops at risk and expect the U.S. to fight their wars, Trump speaks of halting purchases of oil from Arab states that do not either reimburse the U.S. for its war costs or commit troops to the fight. “We defend everybody. When in doubt, come to the United States. We’ll defend you. In some cases free of charge.”

"I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us” if Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons, Trump has said. “It’s going to happen, anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them, or we have to get rid of them entirely”. He said in an interview with the conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection, I don’t think it would be around.”

And finally, Mr. Trump promises to defeat ISIS "very, very quickly". He would crush Islamic State and send American troops to “take the oil”. Except he has also said he (first, we'll assume) "would unleash ISIS" to topple the Assad regime. It is an idea typically lacking altogether in forethought of the consequence, which would be a gift to ISIS of full control of Syria. But Donald assures us, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me".

2 Comments for “Trump: Soft on Putin, Allies Left in the Wind”

  1. WKD

    Sorry, but what I see no fix here. Other being biased toward Clinton, how does this article help us understand how to fix this country. From my long-time experience, including living and working in the Far East, Middle East and Asia for many years, the problems are much deeper than Clinton and Trump, and neither one of them will be able to fix the problems, in spite of their promises. Trump shoots off at the mouth without thinking and as a result is more controllable. Clinton is a seasoned politician that knows how to lie and get away with it, so you really never know what is on her mind and this is dangerous. I am not happy with either candidate, but if I had to pick someone, I would pick Trump since he exposes himself and is therefore controllable. Clinton, on the other hand, is secretive and very dangerous. She is vindictive and filled with hate and anger, her body language says it all. Bill knows, he has been on the receiving end and, by the way, so has Obama. I would be 100 to 1 odds that Michelle hates Clinton with a passion, although for the sake of her husband’s legacy and the Democratic Party, she would never admit it.

    If you really want to fix this country you need to address issues such as campaign reform, establishment of a more representative form of government, getting big business out of government business, and revamping the stock market so that outside investors do not control major ongoing business. concerns, Clinton and Trump are just bit players in the grand scheme of things.

    • Alex Klein

      The implicit fix is not to vote for Trump, whose plan is to rip up all that is orderly in the world and let everyone go nuclear. Trump is no team player, constantly runs off the rails, so how do you assume he will somehow be controllable? And it is Hillary who is filled with hate and anger? Evidence please? Have you not noticed that it is Trump spouting venom, slandering everyone daily for the past year? As for bias, I note another article just under this one titled “E-mail. Benghazi. Why So Little Attention to the Clinton Money?” That doesn’t sound very biased for Hillary. And you finally fault this one article on the subject of Trump’s policies for failing to fix everything wrong in the world.

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