Via the Weekly Standard, tough spot for Cotton here. He’s clearly eyeing a presidential run down the line and just as clearly positioning himself to coopt some of Trump’s nationalist base when he does. But Cotton’s a hawk in the McCain/Rubio mold and being tough on Russia goes with that particular territory. When forced to choose between ingratiating himself to Trump fans and sticking with his positions on national defense, which would he choose? Watch below and you’ll have your answer.
What about Tucker, though? The reason he and Cotton are discussing Russia and jihadism in the first place is because Carlson’s trying to analogize Moscow’s hacking operations to spying conducted inside the U.S. by American allies like Israel, the UK, and so on. If we tolerate the latter countries running spy rings here because they’re on our side, Carlson wonders, why don’t we tolerate Russia’s hacking since they’re on our side too — against Islamic terrorism, at least? (Never mind that the charge against Russia isn’t merely spying but calculated leaking to try to influence a national election.) If Russia’s sort of like Great Britain, then its DNC and Podesta operations aren’t such a big deal. Maybe Carlson’s just playing devil’s advocate to make for a more interesting interview, as he notes after one response that he agrees with everything Cotton just said before continuing to press him. But it’s hard not to view this in tandem with Hannity’s Strange New Respect for Julian Assange, as part of a broader pro-Russian shift by Fox News aimed at getting its viewers to support Trump’s coming rapprochement with Putin. Trump himself stoked the Strange New Respect this morning:
Julian Assange said "a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta" – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
In 2010, when asked about Bradley/Chelsea Manning leaking to Wikileaks, Trump said, “I think it’s disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something.” Sarah Palin, who once called Assange an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands” who should be pursued with the same urgency as Al Qaeda, took to Facebook to publicly apologize to Assange now that he’s done his duty to America by damaging Democrats. The line has been set among populists: The leaked material hacked from Podesta and the DNC led to a virtuous outcome with Trump’s election, therefore those responsible for it, like Assange, are essentially virtuous and trustworthy too. How this squares with the idea, also advanced by populists, that the hacked material wasn’t the difference between victory and defeat is unclear.
Where does Tucker fit into all of that? When he asked Russian dissident Garry Kasparov yesterday why he should have to send his 19-year-old American son to defend Estonia, was that a devil’s-advocate question to challenge Kasparov or part of a pro-Russian Fox shift? (The answer, of course, is that America willingly made an obligation to Estonia under NATO in the hope that the threat of American military power would avert war between Russia and any European country. It’s worked pretty well so far. And unless your 19-year-old has voluntarily enlisted, he has nothing to worry about. Although Kasparov had a good answer too.) As for Russia supposedly being “on our side” against ISIS, that’s sort of true and sort of not. They have attacked some ISIS targets in Syria, but it was Carlson’s own Daily Caller website that noted not long ago how Russia has a curious habit of striking non-ISIS rebels in Syria rather than ISIS itself, a point also made by Cotton. That’s because Russia’s first priority in Syria is propping up its client Assad, not defeating ISIS. If anything, having ISIS around is a useful pretext for them to assert themselves as a lead player in Syria and beyond. They’re using a similar strategy in Afghanistan, in fact, legitimizing the Taliban on grounds that it’s supposedly the best bulwark against ISIS in that country, much to the annoyance of American military leaders there. But oh well. Trump says we’re going to do some sort of Wonder Twins power-up with Putin to wipe ISIS off the map, so I guess Russia is good now.
Exit question: Paul Ryan’s holding out hope that Trump’s intel briefing on Russia this Friday will set him straight about the DNC and Podesta hackings. Is he serious or is that just his way of dodging a difficult topic for the time being?