On Friday, Donald Trump surprised much of the world when he announced his support for welcoming Russia back into the G-7, effectively rewarding Vladimir Putin’s government for its recent misdeeds. As the American president pushed his pro-Moscow talking points, which appeared rehearsed, questions arose anew about why, exactly, Trump continued to go out of his way to use his office to help a foreign adversary that attacked the United States.Indeed, the call didn’t really make any sense: the G-7 is intended for the world’s largest democracies and largest economies. Russia falls short in both categories.
During the summit in Quebec, Canada, Trump hosted a press conference and went a little further, suggesting Putin shouldn’t be blamed for Russia’s annexation of Crimea – a crime that helped push Russia out of what was the G-8.
Q: Just to come back to Russia for a second. Something that happened that got them kicked out of the G-8 was the invasion and annexation of Crimea. Do you think that Crimea should be recognized as Russian [territory]?
TRUMP: Well, you know, you have to ask President Obama, because he was the one that let Crimea get away. That was during his administration. And he was the one that let Russia go and spend a lot of money on Crimea, because they’ve spent a lot of money on rebuilding it. I guess they have their submarine port there and such. But Crimea was let go during the Obama administration. And, you know, Obama can say all he wants, but he allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude. So you’d really have to ask that question to President Obama – you know, why did he do that; why did he do that.
Note, Trump basically said the same sentence, with slightly different wording, over and over again, making a point that only he understood. Russia invaded one of its neighbors, and Trump now wants the world to blame Obama, not Putin.
And that’s bonkers.
There’s no point in dwelling on a history lesson – it’s not as if the relevant facts would sway Trump anyway – but short of risking World War III, there wasn’t much Obama (or any other leader) could do to stop Russia’s annexation.
Obama did respond to Putin’s move by imposing new economic sanctions and diplomatic punishments – including helping kick Russia out of the G-8. Trump, meanwhile, responded to Russia’s invasion of Crimea by largely endorsing Putin’s aggression in a televised interview.
But in this case, watching Trump blame an American for Russian aggression may be exasperating, but it’s also part of a larger whole.
Before Trump gave Putin a pass on Crimea, former Vice President Joe Biden responded to Trump’s pro-Russia rhetoric on Friday by writing on Twitter, “Putin’s Russia invaded its neighbors, violated our sovereignty by undermining elections, and attacks dissidents abroad. Yet our President wants to reward him with a seat at the table while alienating our closest democratic allies. It makes no sense.”
Well, no, it doesn’t, unless one considers the possibility that the American president has been compromised in some way by the foreign adversary that attacked the United States just two years ago.
Former White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice added in a New York Times op-ed, “There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.”
It’s an important point. Hypothetically, if Trump were simply Putin’s puppet, carrying out the Kremlin’s wishes from the White House, what would we see? We’d see Trump trying to undermine Western institutions such as NATO, while playing a divisive role within the G-7. We’d see Trump rejecting generations-old U.S. alliances with our friends and neighbors. We’d see the American president publicly defending and extending support to Russia, even siding with the Kremlin against the United States Congress, controlled by his own party.
We’d see Trump ignore his own team, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who had some interesting things to say on Friday.
Speaking at a conference in Normandy, Dan Coats, the intelligence director, outlined a series of damaging actions by Russia in addition to its annexation of Crimea, including its efforts to interfere in American and European elections and the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter living in Britain.
“These Russian actions are purposeful and premeditated and they represent an all-out assault by Vladimir Putin on the rule of law, Western ideals and democratic norms,” Mr. Coats said, according to prepared remarks. “His actions demonstrate that he seeks to sow divisions within and between those in the West who adhere to democratic norms.”
“The Russians are actively seeking to divide our alliance,” Mr. Coats added, “and we must not allow that to happen.”
Coats delivered these remarks around the same time as his boss was blaming an American for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In other words, if the hypothetical were true, we’d see Trump acting pretty much exactly the way he’s been acting.