After the National Archives confirmed on Friday that Donald Trump brought classified national security documents to Mar-a-Lago, the former president issued a long, rambling response, insisting the controversy was unimportant. But toward the end of the written tirade, the Republican added an unrelated thought, seemingly in passing.
Trump was apparently trying to argue that he didn’t have time to worry about tasks such as presidential records keeping. He was, Trump added, “too busy making sure Russia didn’t attack Ukraine.”
How subtle. The former president wants the public to know Vladimir Putin didn’t invade Ukraine during his term — unlike the current U.S. president.
There’s been plenty of related chatter of late in Republican circles. Putin targeted Georgia during George W. Bush’s tenure, Crimea during Barack Obama’s terms, and all of Ukraine after Joe Biden became president, but the Russian autocrat’s ambitions were restrained during Trump’s time in the White House. This, the right tells us, should be seen as proof of ... something.
National Review’s Rich Lowry made the case via Twitter last night, “The sheer unpredictably of Trump, his anger at being defied or disrespected, his willingness to take the occasional big risk (the Soleimani strike), all had to make Putin frightened or wary of him in a way that he simply isn’t of Joe Biden.”
That’s certainly one way of looking at recent events, though it’s probably not the best way.
It’s important to acknowledge what motivates the Russian leader. The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum summarized matters nicely a few weeks ago:
[Putin] wants to put so much strain on Western and democratic institutions, especially the European Union and NATO, that they break up. He wants to keep dictators in power wherever he can, in Syria, Venezuela, and Iran. He wants to undermine America, to shrink American influence, to remove the power of the democracy rhetoric that so many people in his part of the world still associate with America. He wants America itself to fail.
It led The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin to add yesterday, “Trump’s foreign policy sought to do much of what Putin wants to achieve, including intimidating Ukraine by withholding vital defensive weapons.”
Quite right. Putin wanted to undermine the NATO alliance, and Trump undermined the NATO alliance. Putin wanted to weaken the E.U., and Trump made little effort to express his disdain for the E.U. Putin wanted to weaken the U.S. political system, and Trump was unnervingly aggressive in trying to weaken the U.S. political system.
Putin wanted to hurt Ukraine, and Trump launched an extortion scheme that threatened to hurt Ukraine.
Why didn’t the Russian leader deploy troops into Ukraine during Trump’s term? Perhaps because Putin was so pleased with an American president who pursued goals in line with Moscow’s agenda.
Had Putin launched an invasion, it risked upsetting the course he was already delighted to see. Why would the Russian leader get in the way of the progress Trump was already delivering?