Updates on The War, American Optics Version

Donald Trump and his fan club are fond of saying that Vladimir Putin would never have attacked Ukraine during Trump’s presidency. Of course, the Trump cult’s favorite big claims on behalf of their idol are always the claims that cannot be backed up with proof or tangible results. Since Daddy had his butt handed to him by a crotchety old fool in November 2020, it is conveniently impossible to test this article of faith about Trump’s influence over Putin.

Nevertheless, in this case the cult is protesting way too much, and exposing themselves on a particularly weak point. If, as we shall never know, Putin might have refrained from this overt invasion of Ukraine during a Trump term, we might ask ourselves why. And we might have enough self-respect not to accept the cult’s implied answer, namely that Trump is so big and strong that no one would dare to try anything on his watch. On the contrary, and as is patently obvious from the cases of North Korea and China, even leaving aside the most glaring case of Russia, America’s opponents did not see Trump as any kind of threat, but rather as a dupe, a complete idiot they could manipulate on the world stage for their own advantage and for the prestige of putting themselves in friendly photo ops with the American president. Put simply, if Kim Jong-Un can make you look like a fool, repeatedly, while scoring massive public relations and diplomatic victories for his rape-and-starvation regime at your expense, then you must certainly be the dumbest and weakest president in American history.

But then there is the special case of Vladimir Putin’s relationship with Trump and his team of losers.

Putin had already invaded Ukraine two years before Trump’s election, annexing Crimea in 2014. And while NATO and the G-7 were trying to present some kind of unified objection to Russia over this provocative and illegal act, Trump was out front on the world stage openly making Putin’s case for him, including the case for letting him back into the G-7 (or rather 8) in good standing, and directly declaring — exactly reciting the Putin regime’s script — that the Crimea situation was over and settled, the territory was important to the Russian military, and after all, the Russians had done so much good work rebuilding Crimea (“they’ve spent a lot of money there”) that it would be unjust to tell them they were not allowed to keep it, since “it’s been done a long time.”

Trump’s ally and campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted on charges related to his years getting rich as a top advisor to the pro-Putin party of Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych. 

Colonel Douglas Macgregor, currently Tucker Carlson’s favorite foreign policy analyst, who has repeatedly argued on air that Russia should invade Ukraine and Ukraine should surrender peacefully to Putin’s invading army, was a top advisor in the Trump administration, and a short-list candidate to replace John Bolton as Trump’s national security advisor. In fact, Macgregor has been an overt Putin propagandist and apologist vis-à-vis the Russian occupation and division of Ukraine since 2014, as explained in a 2020 article from Ukraine’s Euromaidan Press. Speaking on Russia Today, Putin’s global propaganda channel, Macgregor said, regarding a corrupt “referendum” being orchestrated by Russia to justify Russian annexation of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, that: “Everybody should shut up, they probably should have a vodka and relax, let the referendum go through, and let the Ukrainians then talk directly to the Russians.” In other words, let Putin dictate the future of Ukraine, and reduce the actual government of that country to pleading for a small piece of the pie on Putin’s terms.

And of course Trump himself was impeached over his attempt to hold up promised military support for Ukraine in order to squeeze personal political favors out of the Ukrainian government, showing how seriously he took Ukraine’s plight, and how much interest he had in repelling Putin’s aggression.

Oh, why bother going on with this. Donald Trump was in large measure a pawn and dupe of Vladimir Putin, has frequently expressed personal admiration for Putin’s strength and genius, allowed his campaign and administration to be directed or infiltrated by Putin apologists, and of course shared a core of supporters with Putin, the alt-right populist authoritarian crowd (and its millions of fellow-traveling “grassroots conservative” converts), in love with imaginary strongman heroes who promise to make America (or Russia) great again. If Putin would not have invaded Ukraine during a Trump presidency — a big if — it would only be because he knew he could get other, perhaps greater, advantages by playing with his American toys instead.

Republican congressman and GOP persona non grata Adam Kinzinger proves he is a conservative with this comment:

Actually, I made a similar comment in support of Kinzinger himself a few months ago. But that’s not the point. Kinzinger claims that Zelensky is “three times the man” Trump and Congressman Madison Cawthorn are combined. Seriously? Three times? If you added four or five zeroes to that estimate, you would still be undershooting the mark by a good distance. It is possible to be a little too conservative in one’s thinking, as Kinzinger demonstrates here.

Speaking of men much bigger than Donald Trump, President Joe Biden, though apparently senile (difficult to tell with Biden), has at least spoken directly against Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and openly criticized Putin’s moral character, which Trump, by stark contrast, has continually refused to do, right up to this past week. However, as I have noted in recent days, it has become increasingly clear that the U.S. and European response to Putin’s aggression was intended to be much more show than substance, and depended for its full effect on Ukraine succumbing to the invasion quickly, before the West’s heel-dragging became too obvious — that is, before anyone could reasonably say that terrible atrocities were partly the indirect result of Western inaction. 

As to why the United States should continue this act of talking one game while playing another, one need only consider all those arenas in which America is still expecting to “work with” the Putin regime, as though this were a reasonable attitude toward a tyranny that has firmly established itself as a lawless global aggressor which identifies its so-called national interests with brutal takeovers of neighboring, peaceful countries. The U.S. still wants Putin’s cooperation, even “partnership,” on North Korea, Iran, climate change, and the rest of the diplomatic hocus pocus, even as he occupies a sovereign nation, attacks hospitals, and threatens all countries which offer support to Ukraine. 

Such backdoor diplomacy-as-usual from the U.S. shows Putin that he merely has to wait and triangulate long enough, that he still has real bargaining leverage with the West, and especially with the U.S., which will eventually allow him a way out of the mess he has created if he plays his cards right, thus allowing him not to suffer the total loss of face that an absolute surrender and pull-out from Ukraine would entail. And yet only such a complete loss of face, suffered as soon as possible, can achieve the civilized world’s real long-term interests here, namely to mortally weaken the Putin regime within Russia, to establish that no freedom-friendly nation and genuine ally of the civilized world is “insignificant” enough to be abandoned to tyrannical marauders, and to give China pause about the depths of Western resolve in opposition to totalitarianism’s expansionist dreams and propaganda.

At a bare minimum, it is incumbent on the Biden administration to shift American rhetoric consistently (rather than merely on alternate days), in the direction of denying “global partner” status to Putin’s regime outright, and openly and decisively separating Russia, as both a population and a geopolitical entity, from Putin and his thugs, who must properly be understood and treated not as the legitimate government and representative of Russia, but rather as, in effect, illegitimate occupiers of Russia’s territory. The Biden administration will not do this, because they are cowards and small-minded administrative state progressives — whereas Trump did not (and still won’t) do it because he admires, supports, and effectively serves Putin, which is why he was so enthusiastically supported by Putin’s propaganda machine in 2016.

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