Terry H. Schwadron
July 20, 2018
The divide couldn’t be more clear. Or, frankly, more depressing.
After days of unsuccessfully trying to explain himself, President Trump continues to deal with the deepening murk about whether he accepts the idea that Russians are trying to interfere with American elections.
So, what does the Divider-in-Chief do? He’s inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit him in the White House– our White House. Double-Down Donald apparently just cannot hear the waves of outrage since he met with Putin last Monday.
Meanwhile, the Russians are moving to take advantage of the private talk between Trump and, according to the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Just as predicted, meeting in private results in bad outcomes.
As Russian officials were telling reporters that they were moving ahead on important verbal agreements that Putin and Trump reached, American officials were scrambling to figure out what actual agreements, if any, had been reached, according to The Washington Post. The American agencies, to say nothing of you and me, don’t know what was discussed, other than in general terms, never mind agreed. Because the two leaders met privately, with no notes or transcripts, Trump is put in the position of acceding or saying that he doesn’t agree — or wouldn’t — to one policy change or another.
“At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications. The uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s suggestion of some sort of new arrangement or proposal regarding Syria, in particular, was striking. . . ” the Post reported.
All we have is Trump saying the meeting was “a tremendous success.”
State Department aides suggested that the tete-a-tete called for follow-ups by underlings on “modest” proposals. One suggestion was for more cooperation in Syria against “terrorists,” although Syrian President Bashar el-Assad, backed by Russia, calls anyone opposing his government a terrorist. (U.S. Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters that any U.S. military coordination with the Russian military in Syria would require congressional approval or a waiver.)
Other proposals included cooperation towards denuclearization in North Korea and enforcement of UN security rules within 50 miles of the Israeli border, but no one seems to know what exactly that means.
In other words, it is hard to know what success looks like, exactly.
It appears that the Russians know where they are headed, and this country does not.
But the murk is deeper:
· It has become clear that FBI Director Christopher Wray and others are growing exasperatedwith Trump’s failure to recognize Russia’s continuing campaign to meddle in American life. Wray hinted to NBC that he has considered resigning.
· There has been new anger in Washingtonabout whether the United States might make former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul available for questioning about his work with Russian dissidents in return for giving the FBI access to the 12 recently indicted Russian hackers. The White House didn’t rule it out despite drawing “ire and astonishment from current and former U.S. officials. Such a proposition is unheard of. So is the notion that the president may think he has the legal authority to turn anyone over to a foreign power on his own,” said The Post. Then they announced that while Putin had good intentions in mind, the answer would be no. Still, the Senate swiftly adopted a resolution 98–0 opposing the “making available of current and former diplomats, officials, and members of the Armed Forces of the United States for questioning by the government of Vladimir Putin.”
· The New York Times reportedthat U.S. intelligence had presented Trump with specific evidence pointing to Putin’s direct involvement in directing the information campaign as far back as January, 2017, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. The report concluded that “the shifting narrative underscored the degree to which Trump regularly picks and chooses intelligence to suit his political purposes. That has never been more clear than this week.”
· Bizarrely, coincidentally, Maria Butina, a Russian agent, on charges stemming from her actions to wheedle her way into influencing Republican and gun-promoting groups like the NRA. The NRA was a big contributor to Trump.
· House Republicans were planning to voteon a spending bill that excludes new money for election security grants to states, saying that enough money has already been spent. That just seemed to provoke Democrats who say we need to harden state election computers to stop Russian interference.
The oddity of Trump’s semantic arguments over his standing with Putin over his own government and the growing body of criminal charges against Russian individuals seems to have congressional Republicans in a jam, serve as a delight to late-night comedians, and is becoming a never-ending morass for the president, whose public approval polls were showing a dip (not that they mean much).
And it was keeping the president from the simultaneous confusion he is sowing in failing to return migrant children to their parents, the growing unease over the effect of tariffs and the international mess he continues to stir with wavering public support for NATO and European allies.
For sure, there is no delight in watching the endless re-runs of presidential misspeak. It is horrible. Rather, the president shows himself to be a self-centered, needy guy who will say anything to gain acceptance among his loyal voters. Unfortunately, most Republicans in Congress are willing to let it all pass as Trump misstatements rather than to demand actions that comport with U.S. policy; today’s resolution was a hopeful sign, but I wonder how far that goes.
Trump has brought about chaos. This situation requires clarity, even if we disagree with the results.