Tomorrow's newspaper column:
Opinions may vary. Mine is that Putin played Trump like a balalaika. Example: agreeing to work with Russia to create an “impenetrable cybersecurity unit” is like inviting Mexican drug cartels to build his border wall. (After bipartisan derision, Trump pretended he knew all along it couldn’t happen. Riiight.)
Worse was denouncing, on foreign soil, our intelligence agencies and free press while claiming “no one knows” who hacked the election. Which never occurred. But is Obama’s fault. Even Trump’s UN ambassador said “everybody knows” it was Russia. (Keep your résumé up to date, Nikki.) Backfilling, she defended Ivanka’s place-taking for daddy, saying she’s part of a “public service family.” I may not understand the term.
Every involved US intelligence agency and every member of Congressional intelligence committees, Republican and Democrat, agrees that Russia alone was behind the hacking. Virtually all acknowledge its purpose was to help Trump win, and that it was on orders from Putin. Still to be determined is to what extent Trump’s team was in on it, although Don Jr. is stumbling toward implicating everyone, making a tougher sell for Foxolimjonesians insisting it’s fake news. (If there weren’t still people who claim Trump never lies and was an honorable businessman, it’d be an impossible sell.) Besides, who wouldn’t believe denials from a man who ordered hacking and one who benefitted?
This much is clear: under Trump, there’ll be no consequences for Russian election interference, let alone unequivocal acknowledgement. Time to “move forward,” the men agreed. Because a malign invasion by a foreign adversary is no big deal. Not to Trump, not to his loyalists. Unless the aim had been different.
It was a lopsided engagement: A novice Secretary of State and a gullible president, neither with diplomatic experience, alone in a room with a seasoned kompromat political operative and a former KGB agent around whom people seem predisposed to become dead, with or without poison or bullets in their systems. Usually there are official note-takers at such meetings. That there were none is a thought-provoking decision, leaving only he-said/he-said versions of the extent to which hacking was discussed and claims of innocence accepted. One assumes, though, that the two known spies among the four will have made records of some sort. To be stashed with the other stuff.
In fairness (for this columnist is nothing if not fair), a ceasefire in a portion of Syria was implemented, and if it lasts that’s a good thing. Then Rex Tillerson said US and Russian objectives in Syria are “exactly the same” and that maybe the Russians have “the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.” Wow.
Admittedly, US foreign “policy” has been changing at the speed of Twitter; but it’s long been stated that “we” want Assad gone, while Russia continues to prop him up and abet his crimes. We’re left to wonder why he said it, and what Trumpists would have said, had it been John Kerry. With that and Trump’s “fuggedaboudit” attitude toward election interference, Putin got what he wanted, likely including giveaways about which we may never hear. If cooperation with Russia, with its major military and minor economy, is desirable, having easily manipulated amateurs on our side and professional malefactors on theirs bodes worrisome.
For those who’d dismiss this as left-wing blather, read what the editor of The Weekly Standard, about as right-wing as there is this side of Breitbart, had to say. True conservatives still exist, even as they’re powerless in their own party.
In terms of economic impact, meeting Putin was a sideshow. The G-20 summit, at and before which Trump handed leadership of the free world to Germany and economic supremacy to China, was the main event. By its end, centuries of respect for the US had all but evaporated. Trumpites who think our past leadership was only about giving money away are unconcerned. But Europe, China, and Japan had forged their own agreements by the time Trump got there; and with the US alone in rejecting the Paris Accords, such self-inflicted isolation will be disastrous, and not just in trade and energy production. In a connected, dangerous world, reputation is currency and incompetence has far-ranging consequences.
“Make America Great Again.” Turns out it contains a homophone.[Image source]