For example, let us consider the unplanned non-obsolescence of NATO. In the same breath, the president reminded us that he had said NATO was obsolete and informed us that NATO was no longer obsolete. Don’t even get me started on trying to figure out where the United States as such stands on Russia, let alone Syria, China, North Korea… I believe I grasp that the important point to remember is this: my president is the big strong man who tells me what is true and what is fake, and when he decides that there is a new, different, and probably opposite truth it is on me to avoid whiplash.
Attorney General Sessions, we now know, is a bad hombre. If he is a true Southerner and has any sense of honor, recusing himself from investigations of Russian ties with the Trump campaign is not enough. He must self-deport pronto. Senator Al Franken did not force then-Senator Sessions to be a lying liar by asking him questions about Russia. Sessions’ false statements are all on him, and to say otherwise buys into the kind of permissive relativism that Mr. Sessions has attacked for many years. The happiness and perhaps even glee of Democrats here is nevertheless not relevant to the problem: if an Attorney General is not believable as the champion of impartial justice, the jig is up.
- Congressman John Lewis’s biography gives him great moral and civic stature, but no special authority to say who is or is not a legitimate president. The issue is, does his accusation against Trump have merit and substance.
- Trump responded to John Lewis with misdirection and non sequiturs. Trump did not challenge the substance of Lewis’s charge that Russia’s efforts to elect Trump damage Trump’s legitimacy. Lewis did not deny that Trump won 300+ electoral votes. He did question the legitimacy of a victory won in part with Russian cyberattacks, hacking, disinformation, and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign. Trump maligned Lewis and his district (crime infested? really, Trump? no crime problems in your own backyard?) but did not address what John Lewis actually said.
- Lewis hit on one of the main reasons Trump could be perceived as illegitimate, and this past week revealed more about others: e.g. James Comey’s thumb on the scale. Something in his classified briefing yesterday enraged congressional Democrats.
- Michael Flynn’s reported five phone calls with the Russian ambassador while President Obama was announcing the expulsion of 35 Russian spies/diplomats (not to mention contacts between Russians and Paul Manafort and Carter Page and, perhaps, Michael Cohen) look suspicious if not illegal if not traitorous.
- If President Obama had good reasons to not go public in a strong and decisive way about all this during the campaign, that is between him and the co-authors of his memoirs. I do not know enough to condemn or approve of Obama’s silences.
- Trump, weighing all the evidence as best I can, is susceptible to Russian (and perhaps Chinese or Iranian?) blackmail as long as he is president. His best defense is that we elected him knowing full well who he is. He was elected despite openly inviting Russia last summer to commit espionage against his political opponent. And that is a big problem.
The Guardian published a commentary yesterday by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing the West of “needlessly whipping up tension” in Ukraine, which “still faces complex tasks in constructing a sovereign state.” A sly understater of reality, that Sergei!
Meanwhile two Russian ambassadors (currently serving in southern Africa) were recorded drunkenly bragging that “in the future we’ll damn well take your Catalonia and Venice, and also Scotland and Alaska.” Ambassadors Chubarov and Bakharev observe that it would be better to leave Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic countries alone for now, and focus on “Miamiland” and “Londonland.” “Exactly, Miamiland is f–ing 95% Russian citizens. We have a full right to hold a referendum.”
They certainly have the talking points down, even–or especially–while inebriated. Meanwhile Lavrov is given the more tedious task of soberly explaining to Englishmen and Germans why they should feel nervous, guilty, and neutral between east and west while Russia dismembers–oops–brings the eastern half of Ukraine into its fraternal embrace.
Vladimir V. Putin, current President of Russia and future Visiting Professor of Philosophy of International Law, appears to have seized, at least for today, the white man’s burden of duty and rectitude from President Barack Obama. Is he going to be accepting complimentary lifetime memberships from Amnesty International and the ACLU next? Can we handle the truth that “exceptionalism” is largely a dangerous fantasy, coming from such an imperfect messenger as him?
I do not agree with the reaction of some that the op-ed should not have been printed. Putin’s name appears as the author, and he thus assumes responsibility for the contents. Who cares if Russian speechwriters or the Ketchum P.R. firm wrote or edited some or all of it? Barack Obama and (one hopes) John Kerry are perfectly capable of presenting evidence to counter Mr. Putin’s assertion, for example, that the poison gas didn’t come from the Syrian Army. They can also supply relevant context that Putin conveniently omitted. If Mr. Putin is taking advantage of worldwide suspicion of American veracity and arrogance, and who do we blame for that?–he is setting himself up to be judged by higher standards when Olympic time rolls around. Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker notes, by the way, that “American exceptionalism” was coined as a negative reference point by Stalin-era Russian propagandists!
It is at least possible that the sometimes Mr. Magooish spectacle, as some have noted, of the last few days’ diplomacy may yield some good results
- White House responds to Putin’s NYT op-ed (thelead.blogs.cnn.com)
- Putin warns US against unilateral military strike on Syria (thehindu.com)
- The Tsar of All the Concern Trolls (newyorker.com)
The top right headline across four columns in Friday’s NY Times was “Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum.” Please, spare us the parroting of the official story and just give us the news. Other sources led with the press secretary’s “extremely disappointing” or versions thereof. The WSJ used “defying” to refer to Russia in the first paragraph, though the headline was that the grant of temporary asylum “Hits U.S.-Russia Relations.”
One problem with “defiant” is that Russia and the U.S. have no extradition treaty. The broader issue is that the Times does readers no favors by insinuating that we are not living in a multipolar world where if we force down the plane of a South American head of state whose flight began in Moscow, we can hardly expect Russia to hand Snowden over without losing face. As Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s State Duma Committee on international affairs, put it, “Even though Obama said that he wouldn’t ground a plane over some ’29-year-old hacker,’ they trapped Snowden after they grounded the Bolivian president‘s plane.” The U.S. government is quite understandably eager to arrest Snowden–but their actions had the consequence of compelling Snowden to stay where he was and effectively compelling Putin, who was apparently eager to see Snowden leave Russia, to let him stay. Just because Putin has been wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in all this is no reason to misreport Russia’s actions as “defiant.”
- Edward Snowden has been welcomed by Russia – but it had little choice | Natalia Antonova (theguardian.com)
- White House ‘extremely disappointed’ with Russia (aurorasentinel.com)
Hand him over and we will not torture him or execute him. No, this is not a tribal warlord in one of the ‘stans. This is the Attorney General of the United States today, telling Russia that we are not going to abuse or kill Edward Snowden.
- US tells Russia: ‘We won’t torture Edward Snowden if he is extradited home’ (independent.co.uk)