Most Trump critics on social media are outraged about this but I’m fatalistic. We already know that he’s more apt to believe Putin than his own intelligence deputies. So what good would it do to demand that he obtain a formal denial? What sort of anxiety do we imagine Putin would feel upon being “pressured” by Trump?
It’d be a bizarre replay of the ending to “The Godfather.” Except this time, when Michael assures Kay that he didn’t have Connie’s husband killed, she goes skipping off contentedly without a doubt in her mind.
Not everyone is as dead inside as I am now:
This is indeed disturbing. The bounty specific issue is not cut and dry, but we know Russia has supplied Taliban under guise of “fighting ISIS.” This at a minimum needs exposed and should lead to real consequences for Russians. https://t.co/FHjXceRnzc
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) July 29, 2020
The intel community’s view of the “Russian bounties” story is mixed, as Kinzinger says, but it was alarming enough to have been included in the written version one of Trump’s Presidential Daily Briefs. Trump assures reporter Jonathan Swan that he reads plenty of what’s presented to him. So why didn’t he notice that claim and raise it with Putin?
Swan pushes him on the fact that Russia also supplies the Taliban, which should lend extra credence to the idea that they’re paying bounties on U.S. troops. If you’re willing to pay for the bullets used to kill Americans, maybe you’re willing to pay extra for using those bullets effectively. That’s when Trump resorts to one of his grossest rhetorical tics, one which he’s used in defense of Russia before, by implying that they’re no worse than we are. The most memorable example was when, as a candidate, he was challenged on his interest in detente with Putin. What about the fact that they kill journalists, he was asked? With any other politician that would draw a standard diplomatic answer about having to deal with unsavory characters in the name of the greater good. “Nixon went to China, Reagan dealt with the Soviets,” yadda yadda. Trump’s response was, “Our country does plenty of killing, too.” Fifteen months later, after he was inaugurated, Bill O’Reilly asked him a similar question and got a similar answer: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”
What’s so jarring about that reaction is how incongruous it is with Trump’s general philosophy of life, politics, really everything, which is to maximize one’s own self-interest at all times. It’s right there in his motto, “America First.” If someone wrongs you, you don’t agonize over whether you started it, whether you had it coming, whether it balanced the moral scales, or so forth. You counterpunch. You hit back. You assert your dominance. Likewise, if a foreign power is accused of killing Americans, we don’t normally pause to reflect on historical equities between the two nations, moral equivalencies, and so forth. We assert our own self-interest. We make sure, whether by rhetorical or military force, that they stop. That was a source of Trump’s appeal in 2016, that he wouldn’t be some weak-kneed Obama-ite who let the U.S. get pushed around on the world stage. From now on we assert our interests unapologetically. Mess with us and see what happens.
But when Russian misbehavior comes up, suddenly that logic goes out the window for him. “Defending Russia with anti-US whataboutism is usually Russia’s purview, not America’s,” as a Twitter pal says. Why is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military grasping for justifications for anti-American activity by Russia in Afghanistan?
His response leaves you wondering what he’d say if the reports of Russia paying bounties for dead Americans were confirmed. The odds that he’d cough up a “Well, they owed us one” can’t be worse than 50/50.
This clip is circulating today as news is breaking that Trump has begun to fulfill his wish of withdrawing U.S. troops from Germany, another de facto concession to Russia. Reportedly 6,400 will come home while 5,600 will shift to other positions in Europe, with some 24,000 Americans left over — although given that the plan will take years to implement, we’re left to wonder if it’ll end up being canceled next January. A guy whom Republicans used to cite for his prescience about Russia until he betrayed the King isn’t a fan of the move:
It is a gift to Russia coming at a time when we just have learned of its support for the Taliban and reports of bounties on killing American troops. The move may temporarily play well in domestic politics, but its consequences will be lasting and harmful to American interests.
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) July 29, 2020
Here’s Trump on the bounties and Afghanistan. Exit quotation from Dan Foster: “Far as I can tell only two bad things could happen long-term as a result of U.S. withdrawal: remilitarization of Europe (only an issue if EuroZone shaky and members headed in diff directions) or Russian preponderance (only an issue if Russia is a bad actor). So should be fine.”